Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Love Letters

I have posted before with other blogs I adore, but this one has something special about it.

Letters of Note is a collection of papers that have nothing in common except being in some way funny, touching or extraordinary. It frequently fills my eyes with tears of laughter or emotion (beware, desk readers), two recent examples being this hilarious response to a botched speeding ticket and this gorgeous reply to a small boy from a children's TV star.

I have always been fascinated with letters. By the time I engaged in any sort of correspondence beyond the birthday thank-you note, mobiles, texting, email and instant messaging were all at their height. But so many of my favourite novels were filled with scribbling heroines, sisters swapping revelations via telegrams delivered on horseback and true love exquisitely expressed with only pen and paper, that I wished I had some reason to write to someone. My diaries may have provided a physical written outlet, but there's nothing quite like receiving a letter just for you. 

Email and Facebook messaging are too instantly gratifying, too quickly back and forth, to replace the feeling of a long-awaited, carefully thought out reply on paper. During my first year at university I rather pathetically tried to resurrect the letter, demanding siblings and friends write to me in my pokey little halls room, but it never caught on. By the time the information had arrived, it was no longer relevant - everyone within reach of Facebook and text already knew. But as such I do have a few lovingly preserved missives from my sisters, mum and boyfriend at the time, so much lovelier to look at than a hastily-typed email.

Letters of Note is a treasure because it is a sort of online museum of correspondence. People bother to write and mail a letter for all sorts of reasons - gratitude, anger, sadness and usually, love. There is a letter from a man, dying of Leukemia, saying goodbye to his three-year-old son and one from a 26-year-old on death row thanking a reporter for believing in him (as well as lighter reading - see this fake memo from an irate Disney executive.)

What I love most about this blog is that what makes letters 'notable' is not simply their place in history or fame, but the sentiment within and the honesty or eloquence used to express it. It has inspired me to write more of my communications down on paper. Letters can be cherished, re-read and passed on to future generations and it seems a shame to lose that simply because I was born in the wrong century.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The 'Next' Factor

There is something equal parts compelling and abhorrent about this year's X Factor. The contestants range from the bland to the surreal, with a few actual stars snuck in there to confuse things. One thing that has had me ranting at the TV every weekend is the judges' collective blind eye to anyone who sounds exactly the same as an existing artist. In fact they bloody love it.

Freaky Friday?
Irish imp Janet has clearly stolen Ellie Goulding's voice in a shady Little Mermaid deal (seriously, have you seen the Goulding anywhere lately? Yeah, she's off gesturing wildly at her throat while Janet strokes the shell necklace that is the source of all her muted, squeaky blahness.)

Adele-lite Jade has a voice that could lull you to sleep. Literally, because all we've heard since it dropped in January is Adele's bloody album, and one more husky note could actually anesthetize me. I love Adele as much as the next easy listener, but this snivelling Scot has 2% of her voice and 0% of her personality.

Adele's voice would eat Jade's for breakfast
Then we have Johnny, who I actually do love, mainly because I love a classic gay with a set of brilliant one-liners - "Those lads are like Chippendales; I'm more of a chipolata." However, he has got through entirely on a bizarre, nasal Etta James impression that clearly won't work with anyone else's songs. I'd keep him in for his 'Oooh matron' humour alone though (and the fact he is a real life Derek Faye.)

Who dear, me dear, Etta James dear? Yes dear
Luckily many have been cut by this point, but we also waded through a guy trying his best to be Damien Rice but coming out a bit Damien Semolina, a Shania Twain lookalike wearing an actual cowboy hat and even two clear Glee obsessives channelling Finchel. Not one of these people sounds like anything near themselves, and yet we hear the word 'original' bandied around far too much. Why is no-one pointing out that yeah, you can hold a tune, but you're holding it in the tribute-act style of Tina Turner? Even 'larger than life' lezzer Sami is a strange Jo from S Club/Jane McDonald hybrid.

They're no better across the pond; fantastic 18-year-old hopeful Melanie Amaro strolled in with a killer set of lungs and a fresh face, but sang Listen note-for-note AS BEYONCE. It was like she was auditioning for Beyonce's maternity cover.

There is a point at which imitation stops being flattering and starts being frightening, and I think this is that point. Not one of the US X Factor judges pointed out this weird Sasha Fierce ventriloquism; Paula Abdul even called her 'original.' Maybe on Paula's medication that sounded original, but from where I was sitting it was pretty carbon copy.

Come on X Factor, have another look at your show's name (and its definition) and let's get some vaguely interesting people in there, preferably singing in the voice they were given.

My tips are Misha and Amelia Lily from the girls, The Keys and The Estrelles from the groups and John from the boys. But going on the show and its hype so far, we'll end up instead with a whole new range of artists sounding exactly like someone already in the charts. Le sigh.