What My X-Factor Experience Revealed About The Dangers of Comparison

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from the X-Factor asking me if I wanted to come to an invite-only audition (oh the glamour). A producer from the show had seen me at a gig and asked for me to come, pretty old me! I was obviously flattered but I had never seen myself doing something like that.

In the past, when people had told me with unsolicited authority that I should go on a show like the X-Factor, I had always shaken my head. “Fuck no!” which was usually met by a puzzled, frowny face, to which I would defend: “It’s just not my path.” But on this day, as I stared gleefully out my window, I could feel myself being swayed. Here they are specifically asking for me. Maybe I should give it a go. No harm in auditioning, right?

Now let me be clear: I’ve always had qualms about reality television and in particular with singing competition shows that aim at pinning singers against each other in a gladiator-esque fight to the death. What happens is it cements the idea of what we as artists are constantly trying to escape: our success is dependent on how many people we beat. On the flip side of that, everyone else’s success is a reflection of our own failings. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” Theodore Roosevelt said. Not only is comparison the thief of joy but it’s the thief of a self-loving, sustainable life in the arts!

I am constantly having to remind myself of my unique talent and abilities instead of comparing myself to others. Like Taylor Swift, who earned $73.1 million last year, while I started working as a nanny again to help fund my expensive taste in high quality gluten free bread. Why aren’t I a platinum selling recording artist touring the world with a girl posse to boot?! I HAVE ACHIEVED NOTHING!!

These shows also perpetuate the belief in a supposedly narrow limelight; that only a few people will be able to achieve success (and certainly not after you hit 30). We constantly hear the phrase: “This is her last chance to make it,” as though, if you don’t get to work with Dani Minogue you’ll die in a hole or worse, take a 9-5 job in corporate marketing.

But how do I define success? And does climbing the ranks of a reality TV show (X) Factor into that? (see what I did there) Either way, I was ready to find out!

The day came and I shlepped with my guitar case to Olympic Park. When I arrived in the waiting room it was like a scene from every Idol show from the last ten years: young hopefuls warming up with their head to toe H&M wardrobes and their parents eagerly by their side. I cringed and turned away to sign in.

They handed me an application form: a ten-page document that included questions like: “Describe an emotional time in your life” and “What happened in your childhood that made you want to sing?” They may as well have written: “Please describe the most traumatic moment in your life so we can milk it for ratings.”

I skipped most of the questions as I’ve always hated this aspect of the show. An artist’s personal life has nothing to do with the success of their sound or their ability to sing with emotion. But that’s what these shows are built on and what people have come to expect as they sit comfortably on their couches on a Wednesday night, tissue box in hand.

Who was I kidding? I didn’t want to do this! Looking around the room and seeing people whose dreams were pinned on this show, people who have been back years in a row, their hopes still set on reality TV fame. I thought about walking out, but I’d come this far.

Then I noticed someone I knew, a well-respected musician sitting there with his arm around his girlfriend. As soon as I saw him I turned away to hide.

Was it that I was embarrassed to be seen with the people here or was I embarrassed that I was more like them than I was ready to admit. Being seen here meant revealing my own desire for the very thing they all sought: stardom.

As much as I reject superficiality and say that I’m all about the art and connecting with people, I’d still like to do so with a big fan base and a tonne of money and red carpets and all the glamour of a “successful” life.

It was then I caught myself in a macro reflection, the kind where you zoom out and realise you’re doing the very thing you’ve been scrutinising (like road rage, technology consumption or childish behaviour).

Here I was beating everyone else down in order to prop myself up. Comparing myself while still asserting my high and mighty ideas about the dangers of comparison. I sat up in my chair and looked around. 

How can I have more compassion for everyone I come across, while learning that that compassion is a reflection of the way I love myself? The way I nurture my own dreams, which are just as legitimate as anybody else’s.

And even though I still want to achieve more, where I’m at right now is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. I have a great job teaching music and inspiring people, playing gigs where little girls dance in front of me, going for long idle walks in my leafy neighbourhood. I’ll never be Taylor Swift and she’ll never be me: living a dope-ass life where I can still go to the supermarket without staging a coup.

I will not define success based on the number of people I’ve beaten. Everyone has their own path. Mine is unique and doesn’t fit neatly into a category on a reality television show.

“What you think about others is basically a declaration of what you think about yourself.” – Osho

And I choose to think with love.

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