by Marc Ridley (EQ's resident X-Factor columnist)

You didn’t seriously think you could escape it did, you? The X Factor is back, and I’m afraid you’re just going to have watch it. Don’t worry: you’ll enjoy it, in time. I’m sorry, but this was always going to happen. You’re just going to have to take a deep breath and dive right in.

There are many reasons to dislike – no, wait, detest – the X Factor. For many, the ITV, Saturday night behemoth is everything that music shouldn’t be: manufactured, mass-produced, idiot-targeted mainstream mulch… What’s more, the whole thing is way too full of itself: the petty histrionics, the pretentious costumes, the unfortunate correlation between people’s talent and their willingness to open their mouths… And that’s just the judges. Throw in the painful singing and enough pyrotechnics to sink the Belgrano and it’s enough to make you reach for the narcotics during the ad breaks.

But I’m here to argue that The X Factor is a force for good. First of all, it does something that precious few TV shows do these days: bring live music onto prime-time TV, and in a massive way. There are millions of people out there, all hanging on to every single note, however out of tune it might be. And as a music fan, it’s awesome to see a music show get the biggest ratings for any programme on telly.

Now I know the world needs another Shayne Ward about as much as it needs another credit crunch, but let’s face it: it’s not about the winner. Even though the likes of Alexandra Burke and JLS have managed to come up with some pretty winning records as far as the charts are concerned, for every decent winner there’s a Jedward and an Olly Murs.

The X Factor’s real success is all about the two hours every Saturday that remind us exactly what music should be about: entertainment. I know that the cynical voting system and Cowell’s relentless micromanagement make it ridiculous to argue that the X Factor democratises music, but it’s not quite right to argue that the X Factor ignores real talent. Whether you like their music or not, the winners are undeniably talented. These people haven’t found themselves queuing outside a conference centre in the rain for six hours to be sworn at by Sharon Osbourne by accident: they’re people who have practiced tirelessly for years; who have dreamt of having an audience even half the size of the X Factor’s; who could sing before they could walk. They deserve a Christmas Number 1.

So when the opening bars of Carmina Burana burst onto your screen and Gary Barlow drones out his Simon-approved script about 2011 going to be the X Factor’s BEST YEAR EVER, don’t reach for the remote (John Barrowman’s on the other channel and I think we can all agree that that is NOT the answer). Just sit back, ignore your instincts and enjoy a few hours of relentless excitement, unashamedly glossy production and, above all, triumphant live music.

It’s time. To face. The mu- Oh, you get the drift.