It’s no news that people have always admired Italy for its food, landscape and cultural history but when it comes to music it has never been envied much compared to other European musical scenes. Despite the melody that comes from the simple pronunciation of Italian words which makes it easy to then create music from it, it has always been very hard for Italian artists to make it outside their national boundaries.
When X Factor Italy debuted on television in 2008, it was a big risk. A British format in a country with strong views and opinions on music was to be taken very carefully and not many people thought it was going to work well. After seven years and nine editions the talent show is at its peak. Being awarded worldwide for its characteristics that differentiate it from the others, it soon became one of the most followed pay-TV programs in Italy with an average of 900.000 viewers per episode.
X Factor launched some singers that are now the most acclaimed and loved by the Italian audience. Some of the winners and runners-up have even had the chance to be seen internationally like Marco Mengoni who won two MTV EMA Awards as Best European Act in 2013 and 2015 and Francesca Michielin who co-wrote Amazing, a song from The Spiderman’s 2 soundtrack. Obviously some have gone further than others, as it always happens everywhere, but despite their talent and the huge success in their home country, none of them have made it to the UK or US yet where the music business is more influential.
While in the UK X Factor is seen more and more as the decay of music, the Italian edition has improved so much during the past years that it is now highly respected in the national industry. In the original edition of the show in Great Britain the contestants often sing the current hits or popular songs and the judges are taken from the current music scene like Rita Ora and the Radio 1 presenter Nick Grimshaw. On the contrary, X Factor Italy wants to distance itself from the mainstream. It’s becoming a show for those Italians who still love and value music and believe in its development. Judges give their contestants a wide range of songs to choose from, including pop hits and underground tunes as well. This way they really let every artist’s real musical personality come forward instead of only creating characters that will sell a hit or a record, if lucky enough.
The audience of the show has changed as well. While at first people watching from home were mostly teens looking for their next cute idol, they have now grown into a sophisticated one made of experts in music, people with great taste who truly want to discover a new artist.
Simply put, X Factor has been a blessing for the musical future of Italy. Pop melodic ballads are the easiest to sell there but the latest results of this edition, according to the bands and singers still going towards the finale with the majority of votes, show that Italians seem to finally have found love for indie rock and avant-garde music.
Usually the industry expects Italian artists to sing and play in a certain way. Their mother-tongue is the only language accepted as even big music labels shut their doors to people that want to sing in English and give a more international vibe to their music. For this reason, despite the Italian musical cultural heritage,the record industry did not seem to give too much credit to the quality and originality of its artists until recently.
Maybe it’s because of the few resources and not traditionalist at the core of the industry that such artists haven’t been able to take off yet. Luckily though some still believe in the power that X Factor had for the Italian music scene so far and its potential has pushed the producers of the show to try a different tactic for this year’s edition. First of all, Italy has introduced a unique new category in the show: the Bands with full instruments and such.
The panel of judges is also now formed with the best strategic intentions: Elio, an Italian artist with a deep and renowned musical knowledge, Fedez, the most famous rapper of the moment and two British artists, Mika and Skin, lead singer of Skunk Anansie. Their combined experience can surely help the X Factor contestants to take the right and, hopefully, most successful direction. It’s a small improvement but it can make a huge difference in the future of these contestants.
Perhaps, though, the judges are not the answer for Italians that want to make it abroad either. Last year an Italian young man named Andrea Faustini attended the X Factor UK and even though the audience always showed an incredible support for him during the competition to the point that statistics saw him as the potential winner, he only came third behind Fleur East and Ben Haenow. A few months after the show Andrea released his debut album Kelly which only peaked at number 14 on the UK Album Charts and did not have any radio coverage at all. Simon Cowell, the creator of the X Factor franchise, commented on Andrea’s decision of running in the UK version of the show saying “I don’t want to seem rude but after watching the Italian version of the show I must say that maybe Andrea came to the UK because he was scared, the level is much higher in Italy”.
Why do Italians have such bad luck abroad then?
Comments from experts, though, show the opposite. In fact the approval of great quality of X Factor Italia and its participants comes from Cowell again who spoke about it while in Italy for a press conference. “I do really believe the Italian X Factor is the best in the world” he said. “The production and the judges are unbelievable but at the end of the day it’s all up to the artists. They are great and for what I have seen so far, I love them all”.
He also added that having Skin and Mika on the panel can be an incredible help for the contestants to face a more international reality from the very beginning. He is very happy with the other two judges as well: “I have never seen judges that dedicated to be honest. They really want to find new artists and that shows how generous they are. They want other people who love music to have the same chance they had years ago and unfortunately that’s not always the case”.
Producers and artists are putting all of their effort onto making X Factor the best they can to leave a mark in the industry. In a country that lacks opportunities for youth, this talent show is an extremely valuable tool and almost one of the only ways for new artists to be seen and express themselves.
Through the years the prejudices that people had for those coming from talent show are slowly fading as well. Sergio Carnevale, member of the famous Italian prog band Bluevertigo says “This show is only a test. Every year they choose contestants who already have their own musical background and often already have experience playing live. Just because they have not had their big opportunity yet, it does not mean they are less talented than someone that gets immediately signed by a record label. This is their big opportunity, it is up to them to show how much they want it and how much they are willing to work outside of the show to keep their career going. I do not understand why those who take that road should be taken any less seriously”.
So the language seems to be the only barrier at the moment that stops these artists from being appreciated on a larger scale. The new Italian singers and bands rising in these few years are overcoming this issue step by step. Elisa, The Kolors (whom we’ve talked about before here) and Francesca Michielin are some of this new generation of artist that are starting to explore different genres of music and are starting to use a different language for their lyrics. In the next five years things might finally change and some Italians may finally have the international recognition they deserve.
It’s strange, almost fascinating, how a country with poor musical recognition has been able to revolutionise such a popular talent show turning it into something really sophisticated and valuable for the development of its country’s music industry.
Words by Giovanna Paglino