The X Factory: A Formatted, Engineered Show That Leaves No Room for Creativity

The Israeli version of 'X Factor,' hosted by supermodel Bar Refaeli, is a disciplined, soulless production.

One episode of the Israeli version of the "X Factor" television show begins with the contestants making their way from around the country to the arena in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood of Tel Aviv. One comes by car, another on a bicycle, while a third arrives by train. At one time all roads led to Rome, then later to Berlin, but now they lead to Yad Eliyau.

The indoor sports arena at Yad Eliyahu (or as the nouveaux riche call it, "Nokia") is a building with a history. Singers such as Eyal Golan and Dudu Aharon have taken it by storm, but more than anything the walls of the arena have been permeated by the sweat of Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball players like Chen Lippin and Kevin Magee. The arena has served as the shrine of that benevolent dictatorship called Maccabi Tel Aviv. Here is the physical space where it has proven its supremacy over its rivals, the fortress representing its near-perpetual reign over Israeli basketball.

So Yad Eliyahu is a rather big building to use as a television studio. The next time a talent show is shot in the area, it will be filmed at a place like Yarkon park and the one after that will be in adjoining Ramat Gan, spreading across the entire urban region.

But "X Factor" would be a flop without its size. It's reflected in a lot of ways — the biggest studio, the biggest investment, the biggest brand, the biggest Israeli celebrity in the world. It's of Titanic proportions, which makes it either invincible or could sink it.

Fascist architectural style has an affinity for large, simple, symmetric buildings. The space should be able to accommodate masses of people and bring them together for a common experience (whether a military parade, a musical act or a fiery speech), infused with the values that the regime wants to instill. Size is also supposed to pose a threat, testifying to the eternity of an idea or an empire vis-à-vis the nothingness of the citizenry.

Yad Eliyahu is a building that evokes awe among all those who enter — spectators, basketball teams and contestants on reality shows. It's not a place that evokes creativity. It's a place that tramples you underfoot.

"X Factor" is a disciplined production. There's a tight format, a standard studio and also rules. The rules don't deal just with a points system or the number of contestants but also with the atmosphere, spirit and feeling expressed in reaction to a sentimental life story and the contemptuousness of the judges. Everything is formatted — both the laughter and the tears.

On Wednesday, when one of the contestants lightened the atmosphere and all the judges started to dance, even that looked like joy that remained within bounds. On "X Factor," even freedom is formatted.

Show host Bar Refaeli, the Israeli model, interviews one of the female contestants. "Do you think you have the X factor?" she asks.

What is the X factor? No one can say exactly. The X factor is a mystical element that everybody wants. Its symbol the "X" — is everywhere, in gigantic form on the studio wall, on the roof of the arena and the corner of the television screen all day on Channel 2. That's the shape that members of the audience form at Yad Eliyahu when they hold hands and salute the show. Everyone is united under this cross for at least the next thousand years.

Tal Givoni