Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cheryl Cole and The X Factor: The Final (Geordie) Word

I went to the wrong school. That’s my excuse when friends down South ask me why, despite an entire childhood on Tyneside, there’s scarcely a twang of Geordie in my speech.

Quite how I avoided the accent is a mystery: it was my background music for more than 20 years. I can tune in and understand every word perfectly: I can even communicate with Kevin, our house painter, when he’s in full flow. His accent is so strong it renders Jo utterly speechless with admiration and incomprehension. I’d be a brilliant Cheryl Cole interpreter.

In fact, my wife swears that my hidden Geordie dialect emerges after I’ve had a couple of pints of Tyneside Blonde down our local pub, but I know that it’s not very authentic. Sure, I may find “upaheight” a more economical use of language than “it’s up there on the top shelf”, or fret that my wife “blethors” or about the “clarts” which perpetually adorn Izzy’s wellingtons. I may conjure up an entire vocabulary of Geordie abuse when United are a goal down, but I can’t reproduce the fluent, passionate language of the Angles and the Venerable Bede, the delicious (but sadly endangered) burr of the people of Redesdale and the North Tyne, where I spent every teenage weekend, or the sharp, expressively precise language of Tyneside, my home until adulthood and ambition drew me south. No matter how many pints I consume, I still call a "short" a "shirt", and I probably always will.

Mind you, Jo’s from California, so she’s scarcely one to judge. Nor is Mike Darnell, the President of the Fox network. He lives in a nice house in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas, a permanently sunny, botoxed world as far removed from Newcastle as you could possibly imagine. According to some tabloids, he it was who decided to first axe and then reinstate our Cheryl Cole for the US version of The X Factor. Now they say the final decision has been made: Cheryl is out. And all because of her accent.

Personally, I don’t believe a word of it. Darnell’s a genius: he virtually invented reality television; he understands better than anyone how to create a popular hit; and he adores the English – he jumped when I brought him Amanda Byram for Paradise Hotel (OK, she’s Irish, but it all sounds the same in Calabasas). Did he really worry that Cheryl’s speech might be an impediment?

There’s something terribly fishy about this whole U.S. X-Factor Geordie-hating story. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out Paula Abdul was involved. Many thought American Idol improved when she finally departed. Quite why she’s back in Cowell’s good books I can’t imagine, but I doubt Paula would want to be upstaged by someone prettier and wittier. If Cheryl had returned and Paula stayed, you can bet fur would fly and tears flow. And I doubt Fox would have insisted that Cheryl had emergency elocution lessons: self-defence more like.

Perhaps she should have developed her own mid-Atlantic drawl. I find it almost impossible not to impersonate people when I’m with them: from Americans to Italians, Brummies to Belgians, my accent flows with the crowd. According to Jo, I’m particularly embarrassing when I’m abroad. In Italy I only have to step off the plane before I lapse into Italianglish, flinging my arms around and shouting loudly at waiters.

Jo claims I don’t speak a single word of actual Italian. She’s wrong: I speak fluent musical notation: “Andante Sostenuto, Affretando, Subito Pianissimo”, I cry with confidence once the Chianti takes hold.

Admittedly, these words aren’t much help when you’re trying to order squid or sea bass, but I’m sure they’d be pretty useful if I was asked to be a judge on the Italian version of the X-Factor. And I know I’d be perfectly understood, because I’d be speaking them without the slightest hint of a Geordie accent.

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