For most people, the X-Factor is long gone. From national obsession to vague recollection in a couple of months. As a parent of young kids, nagged to within an inch of my life to go to the tour, it's still a frightening reality. Packed into Sheffield Arena with the rest of the ITV massive, I'm on edge. I survived the long months of the series with some heavy self medication. As I'm on driving duty, I am robbed of my alcohol shield and must face the vanguard of trash culture unprotected.
The show opens with fireworks, flashing logos and the voice over guy bellowing: "Get ready for the night of your life". My head hurts. Each act is preceded by a video package on the big screen, just like on telly. First up is "CHER LLOYD".
Cher used to be a constant source of irritation in my living room. Her skin made me question my investment in HD TV and she had the poise and demeanour of a skank who considers spunk on a cream cracker a hearty breakfast. More to the point, for an old fart like me with delusions of street cred- she was not real enough. In the flesh, it's a different story. If I was a judge, I'd say: 'she owned the stage'. She can sing a bit, dances OK and has genuine charisma. The crowd are up dancing straight away. Well, they're holding their camera phones up and swaying- the 21st century equivalent of dancing. On this evidence, Cher will have a career. Probably a crappy, Black Eyed Peas style career, but she's going to be around for a while.
Most of the other acts balance each other to create a perfect blandness. Paije, the youngster who has been compared to Lenny Henry, Morgan Freeman and Winston Silcott, has a nice voice but zero stage presence. As he larks around in a shiny suit, his eyes suggest he can hear the clock clicking down from fifteen. On the other hand Aiden has tons of stage presence; well he stands still, and couldn't hold a tune in a bucket.
Armed with this knowledge they will rise up to build a society designed to let everyone fulfil his or her potential rather than blindly falling in to make more money for The Man. Unfortunately, my 18 year old self is drowned out by the screams.
Mary has the audience in the palm of her hand from the off. Like Andy the bin man before her, she was pushed as our proxy on the TV show. If she could escape Tesco, we too could dream that, one day, we could escape normality to be ruthlessly exploited in the name of light entertainment. Big lass, big voice- what's not to love? She peppers he performance of 'Could it Be Magic' with waves and thumbs ups and obviously means it when she says she's delighted to be here. This will be her one and only round of the arenas, but they'll always be room for someone who can belt out the Bassey on the chicken in the basket circuit and good luck to her.
Katie is the bizarro Mary- devoid of warmth. The lowpoint of the X-Factor auditions was her execrable version of 'We are the Champions' with her inexplicably proud parents beaming along. The scene was the obvious culmination of years of head patting and relentless private tuition. Cheryl Cole personally instructed Robert Mugabe's secret police to snatch Gamu so that her fellow dead eyed automaton could progress and we all have to pay the price. There are few more painful ways to spend three minutes than listening to Katie do her slowed down, 'soulful' version of The Beatles' 'Help'. My daughters stick it for a few seconds before remembering the smuggled Maltesers in my pocket. She is simply dreadful.
I wasn't looking forward to Wagner. Over the dark winter months, his OTT antics had been just the ticket as I drunkenly sank into the settee. After a couple of bottles of wine, he qualified for that most over used modern accolade- laugh out loud. True, the joke has worn a bit thin but, when he bangs the bongos in 'Love Shack' or inappropriately handles the dancers while moving to 'La Vida Loca' in the Rita, Sue and Bob Too style, Wagner remains something else.
Rebecca opened with 'Show Me Love'- the ultimate slam dunk. The song has been the soundtrack to the nation's drunken and drugged revelry for the best part of twenty years and there can't be anyone alive who doesn't get a slight tingle when the bass kicks in. After that, the Scouser did a couple of slowies and looked fine. It was enough for me, but she failed the Malteser test miserably.
I've never experienced full on teeny-mania before. In my own teenage years in the early 80s, I steered clear of mainstream acts, styling myself as an anarchist outsider. When agitprop heroes CRASS used to come to town, they would supplement their performance with video installations replaying footage of Nagasaki, Auschwitz and intensive farming to hammer home their point. The same message about the insanity of the capitalist system is put across far more effectively by the boyband One Direction (or 1D as the kids have been told to call them). Take any five not bad looking lads from any school in any town and you could manufacture 1D. Forget style over substance- this is a brand underpinned by nothing at all. They can't sing and they can't dance- although they did manage to walk in a circle on the secondary stage. As the hapless quintet struggle through 'Only Girl in the World' and 'Kids in America' my 18 year old self reminds me that Marx taught of the crisis of alienation. That one day, the masses will realise that capitalism has sold them a lie; that their experience is so far removed from the way things should be.
I'd never actually buy a ticket to a solo gig or anything rash like that, but I can think of worse ways to spend 90 minutes like: watching Robbie Williams or Bolton Wanderers or The King's Speech.
Armed with this knowledge they will rise up to build a society designed to let everyone fulfil his or her potential rather than blindly falling in to make more money for The Man. Unfortunately, my 18 year old self is drowned out by the screams. The majority are happy with the concept of a band without any of the integral skills required to mount a passable musical performance. It's not only the teenies either. The trio of thirtysomething Sheffield women next to me are going ape and making it clear what they'd like to do to the young popsters. If 1D were locked in a room with them, I doubt if they would escape with their lives. At the other end of the spectrum, my 6 and 8 year old are up dancing and hero worshipping. I'm quite chilled out about the whole thing. No-ones getting hurt are they? One Direction are talentless, but they are probably living out scenes of such spectacular debauchery each night in their hotel rooms, so they're not going to be that bothered. Some execs are getting richer and the crowd are lapping it up. My 18 year old self sneers at my complacency then mutters something about Nuremburg before skulking off.
Top of the bill is Matt Cardle, the posh lad from Essex who pretended he was a painter and decorator. And he's good. Not brilliant but better than a lot of things that get pushed as entertainment. He starts of with Katy Perry's 'Firework' and rounds off with his Xmas number one. In between, he shows off his unusual vocal style and builds an easy rapport with the audience. I'd never actually buy a ticket to a solo gig or anything rash like that, but I can think of worse ways to spend 90 minutes like: watching Robbie Williams or Bolton Wanderers or The King's Speech.
The show ends with a spectacularly poor version of Bowie's 'Heroes' by the entire company, but it does not dampen the crowd. My six year old daughter states that it has been the best night of her life. I'm pleased she's enjoyed it, but feel a little guilty. Although my 18 year old self was a self righteous prick- he did have a point now and then.
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