X-Factor judge’s words have ‘thrown out all efforts to combat stigma on mental health’ – MP

Comments by an X-Factor judge have thrown all efforts made to combat stigma on mental health out of the window, a Nationalist MP Mario Galea said on Tuesday morning.

In a passionate speech, Galea, who has often spoken about his own mental health, blasted X-Factor judge Howard Keith Debono over comments he passed during last Sunday’s talent TV show.

Controversy has erupted over the episode, which has since been taken offline, after the judge told a nervous contestant that she had shown “unnecessary drama.” The singer seemed very agitated before and after her audition but managed to deliver an almost flawless performance nonetheless.


Another judge, Alexandra Alden, also remarked that stage fright usually affects the performance.

Impressed by her singing, Howard Keith noted that, usually, people suffering from stage fright do not manage to sing so well. The contestant got the approval of all four judges, but the commentary continued after she left the stage.

x factor judges words have thrown out all efforts to combat stigma on mental health mp - X-Factor judge’s words have 'thrown out all efforts to combat stigma on mental health' - MP

“Normally, when people have stage fright it shows through their performance. I am not here to judge drama, to judge whether people can act or not. I am here to judge the music and the vocal performance. On her performance she has nothing to worry about at all,” Debono said.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday morning, Mario Galea said the contestant has an anxiety disorder, something he also suffers from. He said the comments made during the show were “unfair,” adding that mental health conditions were not as visible as other health conditions.

“This is not drama, Mr Howard. This is mental health.” He continued that the Howard Keith’s words carried more weight since he is a public person and the programme is so widely watched. “Do not continue to hurt us,” he pleaded.  

“He has thrown away all efforts made to combat stigma. You might be good at music but you know nothing about mental health. I do not come here and speak about music. Please stick to your boundaries.”

Having earlier spoken about suicide and the lack of preventive services, Galea even said that such comments could further dissuade people with mental health issues from seeking help, which might also lead them towards suicide.


Howard Keith Debono’s reaction

In a Facebook post on Monday, Howard Keith said no one had discouraged awareness towards social anxiety.

He asked, however, why “ family members, close friends who are aware of certain severe conditions (if that is the case) encourage contestants to be judged on national TV when the career path they want to pursue requires certain boxes to be ticked which might trigger even further the said conditions?”

Singing requires being on stage in front of people & people will always judge, he continued.

“Ultimately we’re there to judge on what we see & hear. I’m not there to say things for the sake of gaining popularity. I’m there to be honest no matter what! First thing we normally do is put the contestants at ease & tell them “don’t worry this is just music nothing to be scared of, take your time & enjoy “to encourage them to overcome that hurdle. In the particular case of what aired yesterday, what we all honestly expected after the entrance of a contestant who seemed anxious was that she wouldn’t be able to sing or go through with her performance. To our massive surprise she was totally ok whilst singing, no jitter in the voice, no flaws. In the vast majority of cases normally the actual performance Is the part that always suffers.”

“First & foremost I was there to judge a vocal performance & that I did & gave her a “yes” cause she deserved it. Ignoring what I just experienced would not have been honest so it required the same level of honesty as my vocal judgment. At no point did anyone discourage awareness towards social anxiety. Infact in the same program there was a 15-year-old girl who told us her story of social anxiety, wrote a song about it to raise awareness & we encouraged it whole heartedly. Now, truth be told, some people come there for their 5 minutes of fame. Some because they were pushed or encouraged by a friend or family member, some portray a personality during the first phases & a completely different personality in the live shows making us question who they really are, others because they want more out of their career, whilst others simply because they were never given a chance. We are there being ourselves for better or for worse. I try to give benefit of the doubt to anyone who deserves it especially when they have the vocal tone to back it up. Nothing different to what I’ve been doing all these years. We are 4 judges & This is me!”

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