- Consider this photograph of Simon Cowell's jeans:
- This is one of my favourite memories: I'm gurgling with laughter with my legs up on our sofa while my friend Adam, his legs also up on the adjacent sofa (I do not remember the year I stopped intimately putting my legs on the sofa in the same room as my friends, but it happened sometime mid-twenties and I'll never claw it back), does the same, and the room is filled with the sort of ephemera of two 15-year-old boys hanging out – Xbox control pads, empty Dr Pepper bottles, Pringles (Texas BBQ flavour) tubes, which, to get the last final Pringles out of, we wedge into arm-deep instead of tipping the tube up and sliding the Pringles out of it, because we are 15 and our minds don't work yet – and we are watching The X Factor. It's Saturday, early evening/late summer, the audition stage of the process, and just the absolute most irritating girl is auditioning in full 2003 garb – and by that I mean flat skater trainers, red combat trousers, leather thong single shell necklace over a white ribbed tee, fleece gilet – and she is awful. Like she is atrocious. Not just as a singer, which she is a weak example of, but atrocious as a human too: she leaps through her pre-audition VT, telling us "she was born to do this" because "she was singing in the womb", the energy of a children's TV presenter locked in a cupboard full of Haribo and gak, and when she gets the inevitable head shake no she descends through emotions like layers of hell – "please please please, Simon, please" turns to "you'll regret this, Sharon" turns to a dastardly "this isn't the last you'll see of me!" before running out of the audition room and – I shit you not – jumping mid-air and clicking her heels, then out through the automatic doors away into the car park. I'm in bits. It's the funniest thing I have ever, ever seen, and seemingly doomed never to see again – I've never seen the clip on any "bad auditionee" compilation, any anniversary special, nothing. I've re-watched entire old episodes of Pop Idol on YouTube to try and see it again. I'm not convinced it never happened and I just remember it as a fever dream. There is no evidence of this. The lost clip. But I will remember, vividly, the gilet, the soft click of the heels, the legs on the sofa, the laughing until I hurt, the singing in the womb, said all like one word, explosive hyperactivity, singinginthewomb: I'll remember it, all, forever, the moment will be replayed to me crystalline in the fragments of seconds my life flashes before my eyes before I finally give up and die, as the synapses in my brain ignite and then flare out, one last time, before purple darkness through to black. Simon Cowell was wearing jeans throughout.
3. In ancient times we would have ceremonies all the time. Autumn equinoxes, the torching of huge wicker men. Feasts and parades. The leaves turn orange and the nights grow crisp and we would mark the occasion by setting fire to something enormous and having a village-wide conkers tournament. And do you think: do you think, when that happened, anyone ever said: "No, I'm not going to watch it this year"? Do you think they said: "What, again?" Do you think they pretended they were not going to go to, like, the bonfire-with-a-virgin-inside lighting, and instead go out to whatever the ancient equivalent of a nightclub was instead, because it always ends the same way, the virgin burning – screaming, wailing, the sound of hands frantically banging on wood, then quietly ceding to the slow crackle of fire and then the collapse of sticks and the sway of smoke, the high sour smell of flesh on the air – but then actually when they go on the ancient equivalent of WhatsApp and see Who Is Up for a Banger Tonight, turns out everyone is inside with their onesie on and their feet up on the sofa watching the virgin burning, just like last year, just like the 12 years before it, and anyway it's howling a gale outside and you can't get a cab so fuck it, beans on toast and a watch of the slaughter. Do you see what this analogy is for yet.
4. So we can all agree that The X Factor is as inevitable as the seasons, as the turning of the earth, as death—
5. Back to the photo. You, (idiot), you think this is the promo photo for the new series of The X Factor, but also it sort of looks like a Bond movie that is being made at once on a budget and not, Scherzinger the femme fatale in see-thru trousers, Dermot the fans' least favourite Bond in history, Sharon a sort of sassy Moneypenny reboot, Louis a lost and baffled Q. ("It looks like a pen, it sounds like a pen… it's actually a bomb detonator"), and there, in the middle, The Big Fella, Cowell as your cat-stroking villain, who has seized all of Saturday night TV and plans to use it for nefarious means, all the weekend primetime Autumn through Winter scheduling beneath his iron grip, Cowell laughing to the dark cold sky as the phone-in vote coin comes rolling in. Me, (smart), I see it for what it really is. It's not a picture of any of those things. It's a picture of Simon Cowell's jeans.
6. Who is it that is still auditioning for The X Factor? In the year of our lord 2017? Have we not tapped every last sap of talent out of this country? There can only be a finite source of talent. Not all of us are talented. I am not, and you are not. Most of the people you know are not. It is fine. We cannot all have talent and we cannot all have hope. But some people have both. And yet, year after year, thousands of them line up for hours on end, at stadiums around the country, sing for lines of producers, then more producers, praying they are either stand-out talented enough to make it through to the judge's houses or stand-out wacky enough to make it to a televised audition, or just good-looking enough to make it two rounds in before being reassigned to a girl- or boy-band, thousands of people, every year, despite knowing that even if they win – if they endure week after week of high pressure work and high exposure singing, if they knock out every opponent ahead of them, if they let a stylist dress them in something appalling for a film premiere, even if they beat everyone out – there are the cautionary tales of Leon Jackson, Matt Cardle, Sam Bailey, Joe McElderry, Ben Haenow. The Haunting Spectre of Steve Brookstein. Even, knowing all that. Knowing all those odds. That even if they succeed they can still fail. They queue and queue and queue and wait and wait and wait for the high prince of jeans and sheux, Simon Cowell, to lift his thumb up for honour or down for death.
7. Here's my theory: Simon Cowell is so transcendentally rich now that he can dress far beyond the confines of human taste and still somehow work the look. This is, truly, what we all want when we crave richness: not the power, not the glory, not the beautiful white houses and the manicured lawns. We desire to be so rich that we cannot be touched by the petty social norms of the people. We want to be so rich we can dress like this—
—and not have anyone say anything. As a scholar of Cowell's looks, I can tell you this is at the higher end of his smart-casual spectrum (the highest extreme, full suit, no tie, shirt unbuttoned to his tits, is saved for X Factor finals and Royal Variety Performances; the lowest end, knitted jumper with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows paired w/ high jeans and black Chelsea boots and wire-rim glasses, is for the earliest audition rounds and general day-to-day wear; his holiday outfit, Topless Jeans Boi, is saved for once-a-year sunny destinations only, and even then I think he's realised that this look is so bad that even being astoundingly rich doesn't excuse you from it).
But, like, truly look at it:
"Simon, you, err— you know we're going to take your photo, right?"
"It's just ah— I dunno if you want to. Err. Change the jeans, or—"
"It's just most— normally, when people wear bootcut jeans, they wear them so, ah, you can see the. See the boots."
"But ah obviously you're going for more of a look where the boots – pointed boots, pointed black boots, with blue jeans – you're going for more of a 'my feet look like tiny devil's hooves, pointing out from the end of my denim leg tubes' sort of thing, which obviously I respect—"
"You gon— you gonna tuck that shirt in, homeboy?"
"Yeah we'll Photoshop the face"
This entire outfit looks like he bought it with a leftover BHS voucher in the sale, but it probably cost more than your annual rent does, and that alone is depressing enough, that Simon Cowell has invented BHS Couture, but then again: is it? Take this outfit and use it as inspiration: I aspire to be this rich. I crave this amount of power. That I can dress in what is, sartorially, a mullet – business on top, jeans party below – and still have a net worth in the tens of millions. Dressing like your dad popping in to your cousin's wedding after a morning spent at B&Q and still having thousands of people line up to worship you with their song, crying, the people, crying and shuddering when you don't like them, their entire family flooding into the room to beg, Please Simon, Please.
In a way, Simon Cowell's jeans are the biggest fuck you currently on the planet: fuck you do I need to wear jeans that look good, or fit, or don't have that gross sort of rib-effect crease pattern near the top of them; fuck you am I not going to wear said jeans four inches too long for my legs and pair them with well-polished sheux. Attaining richness is essentially becoming a person who can flex, who can do things normal people can't, in a way that becomes second-nature, casual: see Your Instagram Faves on the timeline, flexing in Gucci; see your favourite rappers, flexing on the hood of a supercar. This is Simon Cowell's flex. He wears jeans so appalling they are a crime, and nobody says anything to him, because he is astonishingly rich, and holds the keys to every city. Do not fuck with a man willing to so debase himself in public. Do not mess with a man who so flagrantly wears these jeans.
8. Here are the constants: autumn (inevitable), winter (inevitable), The X Factor straddling the Saturday nights of both (inevitable), Simon Cowell's appalling jeans. This is the natural order of things. Anything else would feel bizarre.
'The X Factor' begins on ITV this Saturday.