The shocking footage has angered people on social media.
An old clip of The X Factor has gone viral after it brutally showed the judges – Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne – telling a female contestant they were unimpressed because she was “overweight” and needed “a lot of work” to make her look the part.
The footage has resurfaced just a month after it was announced that the formerly-popular Saturday night talent show has been cancelled after 17 years. Despite once producing top name artists including Little Mix, One Direction, and Alexandra Burke, the series suffered a notable decline in ratings as its outdated format presumably began to wear thin.
And watching this video is a reminder of just how dubious the show really was. Sure, it’s a clip from the archives – it dates back to 2004, where unethical words and practices were almost commonplace on our screens – but that doesn’t excuse just how unacceptable the objectification of the woman really was.
The footage went viral on TikTok before making its way on to other social platforms including Twitter and Instagram. It opens with music manager Louis Walsh telling the contestant Samantha, who had missed her own honeymoon to attend the audition, that she’s “nothing special”.
“You sound nice but look like a shop girl,” chimes in big boss Simon Cowell, somewhat nonchalantly despite how cruelly judgmental his words were. The camera then pans to Samantha as she uncomfortably receives the insults. “Okay… that’s something that can be worked on,” she bravely tells the judges.
“Well, it’s a lot of work,” replies Simon.
The hopeful goes on to say, “I know what you’re saying. That I’m overweight, basically,” to which Simon Cowell bluntly responds: “You are. You really are.”
It’s excruciating to watch, and while you’d hope this kind of exchange would never make it on air these days, it’s a sad reminder that at one point in time, this kind of brutalism was deemed acceptable. In fact, it was probably encouraged for the sake of ‘entertainment’.
Louis Walsh then tells Samantha it’s a no because it would be “mission impossible” to get her where she needed to be. But somewhat surprisingly, Simon and Sharon decide to give her the green light and put her through. Just as the audition ends, however, Sharon tells the contestant: “Mrs. Go on a diet, and I’ll see you at the next round.”
Samantha appears elated at the news, but it no doubt would have knocked her confidence.
The TikTok clip was shared on Twitter by plus size lingerie and clothing blogger George, who co-hosts the Fat Chat podcast. “How grim,” she captioned the video, before adding: “Sadly when you grow up fat you realise that this isn’t shocking, this isn’t bad editing, and this isn’t something that has gone away. I was always the before photo in magazines, my body always had the thing that they circled and said was shameful.”
Other users agreed that the scenes were shocking, while many said that watching it brought up bad feelings. “This made me so nauseous with flashbacks. I feel so bad for her and whatever horrible feelings it may have given her about her body, I just hope she’s happy and thriving and in peace now far away from these vultures,” posted one follower. “I probably sat watching, hating myself and thinking of ways to lose weight,” replied someone else.
It’s disturbing to see someone insulted for the shape of their body, especially considering this was a singing competition. But the more we share these kinds of uncomfortable videos, the more we start conversations about what is and isn’t acceptable – and the more chance we have of leaving unnecessary cruelty like this firmly in the past.