IN a surprising move, Simon Cowell has announced that the theme tonight's X Factor will be political protest songs.
After last week's disappointing "love songs" theme - don't they sing love songs every week? - the high-trousered pop supremo decided to reflect the role that political engagement has played in popular music with a special programme on Left-wing anthems.
In sneak previews, I have been given exclusive access to, the show starts off with X Factor favourite Rhydian belting out Billy Bragg's There Is Power In a Union in his usual wholehearted style. (The camera pans to the judges and we see Louis Walsh punching the air resolutely as Rhydian sings the chorus: "The union forever defending our rights! Down with the blacklegs, all workers unite!") Same Difference, the brother-and-sister group who have no problem singing love songs to each other, are up next, but they seem to struggle with the subtleties of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a-Changin'.
"That was frankly terrible," says former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who has replaced Sharon Osborne for one week only to add some political gravitas to the panel (with Sharon going to Question Time in a swap deal.) "I just didn't believe that you understood the importance of that song to 60s counter culture and I wasn't convinced by what your version had to say on such abstract notions as freedom, peace and love."
"Err, no," say Same Difference, their fixed smile slipping not one bit as she rips them to shreds. Thank heavens, then, for Leon, who tackles Fight the Power by American rappers Public Enemy with a gusto that scares some of the children in the audience to tears.
"That was great," says appalling host Dermot O'Leary. "Yeah," says Leon. "I really thought it was important for the X Factor audience to get behind Public Enemy's message of Black Power in racist modern America." "Wooh, yeah," says appalling host Dermot O'Leary. The show is rounded off by girl band Hope, whose decision to cover the song Killing In the Name Of by American hardcore band Rage Against The Machine, rather backfires due to its foulmouthed final verse.
"This whole night has opened my eyes," says Simon Cowell as the crowd goes wild.
"I always thought that pop music was about inconsequential love songs sung to a disco beat by interchangeable young puppets that I could control for two to three years before throwing on the scrapheap.
"Now I realise that music is a force for a change and I should be signing up young singer-songwriters with fire in the belly who want to overthrow capitalism."