Endemol has teamed up with RTVe to produce one of the most extraordinary talent contests I have ever witnessed. The Spanish national broadcaster has come up with some fairly out-there TV formats in the past (Ankara for example), but Hijos de Babel (Children of Babel) is something else altogether.
The twist here is that each of the aspiring singing stars has to be an immigrant. Now, when I first heard about this I thought it was quite a clever idea, but I wasn't quite expecting it to result in X Factor meets Big Brother meets Eurovision meets some dodgy political theatre.
None of the contestants performing on the show's opening night appeared to be unusually talented in the singing department and none of them were exactly what you would call lookers. This was surprising because on the last series of Gente de Primera I was genuinely amazed how much more talented the Spanish pool of wannabees had been than their Ango-Irish or even American counterparts.
No, here the most important thing seems to be the relative quality of the sob story. "I left Colombia because of the violence....I've been living rough on the streets of Bilbao....I haven't seen my father in Cuba for years" etc. Whilst these were recited a particularly ikky little piano tune was played in the background. Believe it or not, the tradtional journey home VT for the X Factor hopefuls goes easier on the saccharin. I wouldn't be surprised if they were handing out tissues in the audience.
With public sympathies now swelling, each tuneful immigrant then has to ritually lick the Spanish culo. "Spain is truly the land of opportunity... 'glacias a toros' for letting me live in this utterly wonderful country...ésta es la madre patria" etc.
The pool of finalists contains a Colombian chola with plenty of attitude and hand gestures, a pair of intense Arabs, some cheeky-chappy Cubans and the token arrogant Argie (who expressed concern that her level has deteriorated since she came to Spain.)
An Indonesian girl with a perma-smile who sang Kirring me Softry in a way that had me wishing myself quickly dead, might have blown her chances by admitting that almost every € she has earned in Spain has been remitted to her homeland to help repair her family's roof. (Conditions which must have been normal in Indonesia for generations were also then described as absolutely unbearable.) There was also a girl from Ecuador who reminded me how people who break into song in social situations using heavy vibrato really ought to be randomly tased.
During their individual performances each act also had to contend with some of the most horrendous choreography and stage effects I have ever seen in my life.
It being Spanish prime time this live production kicked off at 10pm and finished at 1:45am. On a Tuesday. Don't these people have jobs? By 12:30 UK time the presenter looked as if he had had several cafe solos and a line of coke to keep himself going through all this grotesqueness.
He ended up by reading out a phone number which other new citizens who think they have a special talent could ring and leave their personal information. You have to wonder whether la migra will be listening in to that line.