The X Factor. It's the UK's most popular show. Millions of us sit down in front of the television each Saturday night to watch the spectacle in all its glory. We laugh, we cry, and sometimes we cringe as the contestants sing their hearts out in a bid to be crowned winner and receive that all-important recording contract (and release a poor cover version that bags the Christmas number-one slot in the charts). As the years have gone by, it's become a standard ingredient of the show to include a novelty act each season. We've had Jedward, the Irish identical twins with ridiculous hairstyles and even more ridiculous routines each week. Then there was Wagner, the Brazilian lion tamer who could not sing well at all but was pure entertainment. (His rendition of "Love Shack" by the B-52s, complete with bongo drum playing, is one of his more eccentric performances.) Last year there was Johnny Robinson, an outrageous gay man who actually did have genuine talent but sadly covered it up in a succession of camp performances and weekly flirting with judge Gary Barlow. This year we have Rylan Clark.
I'll be blunt: Rylan embodies a gay stereotype. He has little in the way of singing talent, and there is no way he will win this year's X Factor or be taken seriously as a pop star. But what he does have is the entertainment factor. His over-the-top personality and equally over-the-top performances make him fantastic viewing, and I believe that the show would be rather dull without him. From his original audition, where he was out of tune but thoroughly entertaining, Rylan has been compelling to watch. His "judges' houses" performance wearing an outfit that simultaneously channelled both Grace Jones and Kylie Minogue is now legendary, thanks to the reaction he had when Nicole Scherzinger told him he was through to the next round. Now The X Factor has reached the live stages of the show, and every Saturday night Rylan is pulling out all the stops to put on a good show, despite his lack of vocal ability. He is television gold.
Rylan is a character who divides people, the gay community most of all. There are those who love him and others who cannot stand him. The vitriol aimed at Rylan from gay guys includes comments about him being "an embarrassment to homosexuality" and someone who "represents all that is wrong about the gay world." This is something that annoys me. Yes, Rylan embodies a stereotype, but is that really such a bad thing? By camping it up each Saturday night, is he really bringing shame on the gay community? I don't think so. In fact, I think Rylan Clark should be celebrated for being such a bright flame and a beacon of pride on primetime television. He has the guts to be himself without caring about what people may think of him. I applaud that.
The cruelty coming from various sections of the gay community is inexcusable, and it is a typical example of the gay world not being as open and accepting as it is perceived to be. On the surface the gay world appears to be free-spirited and accepting of all sorts of people, whether they be gay, straight, black, white, big, small, pink, purple or tangerine, as the color of choice seems to be for some guys. If you look at the scene, you'll find that it is indeed a vibrant place, with people whose flames burn brightly and others who are more reserved and not obviously gay. (I detest the term "straight-acting.") The truth is quite different, though. There is tension between factions that bubbles under the surface. Comments such as "beef, not mince" and high levels of chastising are commonplace. Camp guys are looked upon as a lesser species by others within the same demographic. It is sad to see.
I spoke to some people about this and was shocked by the responses I received. One person said that he would never hang around with a camp person, because they would embarrass him. One asked me why on Earth he would want to associate with a "pansy." A third person just laughed and said he likes to be friends with normal people. Now, I'm not actually sure what constitutes "normal." It is a word that I seldom use, because there is no fixed definition of what a "normal person" is. What I do know is that camp guys whose sexuality is easily identifiable are just as human as me and you. I have butch friends, camp friends, different types of lesbian friends (including self-proclaimed "dykes" and "lipstick lesbians"), cross-dressing friends, transgender friends and everything in between. I see them all as equal. Their differences are what makes them so wonderful. The way they behave isn't something I give much thought to, because, ultimately, they are all wonderful souls.
My school of thought is one that I apply to Rylan Clark. I don't know him personally, but from what I have seen of him on television, he seems like quite a nice person. Yes, he is camp, and he has had moments that have made me cringe, but I don't think he's an embarrassment at all. Rylan is a young guy who has been provided with a fantastic opportunity and is living in the moment, clearly enjoying every second. He makes the show, and in the process he is potentially helping young people who don't have anyone in the media whom they can identify with. So stick a label on him, call him names and make derogatory comments. Ultimately, the people who knock Rylan are saying more about themselves than they are about him. As I said before, I applaud him.