This is it folks, we're about to find out who's won the second-most coveted title in music after MTV's Best Video With A Message. Of course, when I say 'about to', I mean in around four and a half hours' time. Just like last night, ITV plans to stretch tonight's final like a pair of Anne Diamond's Spanx. So bite down on a leather strap, make sure your glass is full of neat alcohol, and let's get started.
From the thousands who applied, only two remain. But sadly this is a singing competition, rather than a remake of Battle Royale, so all those hopeless also-rans are all still out there somewhere. Only two minutes in and there's already been more screaming than a Friday 13th marathon - this is going to get worse before it gets better.
Dermot's given up on the lame dance routines and has turned up in full black tie. Mine's the prawn cocktail thanks. Coming up later are Coldplay and Westlife. Talk about the bland leading the bland. The judges make their most dramatic entrance yet, descending on a slow-moving lift: Ground floor, perfumery, stationery and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery. So that's Kelly's outfit sorted anyway. As for Louis, he's been rifling through Hugh Hefner's wardrobe and settled on a red satin dressing gown. However, I think it's safe to give the Bunnies the night off.
"Expect flashing lights and maybe a couple of old friends" warns Dermot ominously, but his words are about as comforting as "It's fine once you get in." Here's one of the boybands that made the live finals, but given how much they swapped members, it's hard to tell which one it is. Joining them onstage are Misha B, Janet, Sophie and Two Shoes, followed by Craig, Johnny and Sami. They're doing a fast-paced recap of every song you got sick of hearing this year - like a horrendous Capital FM megamix. For some reason Goldie has also turned up - someone needs to tap her on the shoulder and tell her she's a few weeks late. She's wearing an odd outfit, combining one of Beyonce's glittery bikinis and Nanette Newman's marigolds.
Marcus has to choose his best performance of the series, and he's wisely chosen Higher and Higher. It suits his Motown vocal style perfectly, and it's uplifting without being anodyne. More importantly, it'll still appear to the millions of kids who've never heard it before. He's giving it 110 per cent (© Simon Cowell) and it's fantastic, with key changes that are intentional rather than accidental. Louis calls him a "born little pop star" which doesn't sound nearly as complimentary as he intended it to. Meanwhile, Olly and Caroline are still marooned in the stands exchanging platitudes with shouty scousers, and proving once and for all why they're best left on ITV2.
Do you know the Muffin girls, who live on Drury Lane? Don't worry if not, they're here now to reprise Don't Let Go in front of 'fousands' of people. They make an explosive entrance, firing out from beneath the stage and managing to land on both feet. Thank goodness there were no weight miscalculations, otherwise they could have been fishing Jesy out of the rigging. They're singing well, but they need to learn how to moderate their facial expressions when vocalising. I don't know whether they want to win the contest or go ram-raiding. Olly has found some Minimixers in the audience, so he does some beatboxing as they attempt to rap: L to the I to the T to the T to the L to the E to the MIX. Now I'm no urban music expert, but I've always thought that rhythmic spelling is best left to cheerleaders, rather than rappers.
My enduring memory of this series will be Kelly Rowland attempting to fish silver confetti out of her bra.
With round one out of the way, it's time for the customary seasonal songs. "Ready for Christmas? It's about to arrive" drones Gary in his distinctly unfestive monotone. Oh sweet baby Jesus, they've saddled him with Last Christmas. I won't even compare it to Wham's original - it barely lives up to Whigfield's cover version. Still, he remembered to shout out the 'Merry Christmas' bit, and managed to make it sound a little more effective than JB's now legendary "Mewwy Cwissmas" when JLS murdered it a few years ago. Since we're at the final, none of the judges are going to criticise the performance, so there's just lots of well-meaning blah. Speaking of which, Olly and Caroline are still doing their half-arsed vox pops - this time with a salad-dodging Adele lookalike in opera gloves, and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
Tulisa introduces Little Mix using the exact same wording as last time, but with all the enthusiasm of your Mum leaving a voicemail. The girls look half dressed, and they're attempting an almost-acapella Silent Night. They're not quite as good as they think they are, so some of the more melismatic moments threaten to get away from them. Louis is scribbling frantically, looking awfully pleased with himself. I thought he was making a list of the girls' hometowns so he could tell them all to vote, but it turns out that his proud bon mot was "Little Mix, big future". Yeah, fuck you Dorothy Parker.
More stupid audience blather, as we realise that this week's motif is finalists rendered in food. Last night, Marcus was recreated using Marmite on toast, and tonight someone's turned up with a 'Little Mixican' pizza. As we return to the stage, the judges are asked for their most memorable moments, and it's as teeth-grindingly predictable as you'd expect. Gary tells us that he came to put a "musical stamp" on the show, but ended up with Goldie's legs wrapped around his head. Poor bloke, I wouldn't even wish that on Robbie.
To accompany a black and white recap of the story so far, Westlife are here with their farewell performance of a song originally written and recorded by an American Idol contestant. This is a world where music is just a commodity to be passed around, like a joint at a sixth former's party. Fair play to them, they're doing it live and it's not half bad, but I only say that because the footage of the contestants' journey was so dull that I had no choice but to actually watch them sing.
There's just time for yet another recap, in case you missed all the other ones, along with some stock phrases. No point me transcribing them, so please feel free to reorder the following words as you see fit: journey, amazing, first audition, can't believe I'm here, Wembley, journey, final, let anyone down.
The contestants are finally ready to unveil this year's winner's song, and it's Cannonball by Damien Rice. Another melancholy epic to help tip those seasonal suicides over the edge. But of course it's been rearranged to make room for a choir, a key change and gigantic swell in the final chorus. Who cares if it kills the meaning of the song? It's not like this show has ever been about the music. The changes are most noticeable when Marcus yells "Courage, teach me to be shy!" He's singing so hard that the veins in his forehead manage to displace the Botox. I have a feeling he's going to wake up with curiously stiff ears. "If I was looking for the perfect pop star and fed everything into a computer..." I don't want to think about what other horrors might lurk in his hard drive. Gary's either crying or he's coming down with a nasty case of pink-eye. Either way, he needs to start washing his hands in the bathroom. Let's have some video messages from Marcus' family, and Robbie Williams. Well, he was hanging around the studio and had a spare couple of minutes.
Tulisa's sleeping pills are kicking in, and the autocue's still stuck on her original introduction. "This is it guys..." Again. The Concrete Mixers are doing the same song, but their interpretation is a little softer. Jesy sings that she can't see what's going on. But it might help if she opened her eyes. Just saying. The girls harmonise well, but there's a little too much vibrato on some of the vocals. They've also pared back the arrangement to such a degree that what should have been the dramatic breakdown feels like they were ready to give up and walk offstage. The problem is, X-Factor loves to take these minimalist records and reconfigure them as epic tear-jerkers. So the acts have two choices - either keep it bleak and soft, or rip its balls off and throw it at the wall. The girls' rendition sat somewhere in the middle, neither fish nor fowl. Not to worry - the judges seemed happy enough, so what do I know?
A brief attempt to plug the next show on ITV's uninspiring schedule fucks up royally, leaving Dermot listening to his ear-piece as Philip Schofield and Christine Bleakley blather over a static shot of their bored-looking audience wearing christmas hats. Dermot seems pretty embarrassed - better late than never I suppose.
He cheers up momentarily to introduce Coldplay, who are here for the fill-in-time-until-the-results-are-counted slot. The stage has been daubed in neon paint, so I half expect to see the Blue Man Group on drums. Lasers are firing, glowsticks are being waved and the crowd is going wild. Chris Martin starts out on the acoustic guitar for the first song, then switches to the piano which he manages to sweat all over. If that's what he gets like after one song, I'm amazed he can get through a whole concert without turning to dust. Not the best advert for a macrobiotic diet. I know they're one of the biggest bands in the world, but neither of these songs has any substance to it - they could have been written by Louis' magic computer.
At long last we're ready to find out the winner of X-Factor 2011. Our finalists and their mentors take to the stage, amid random bursts of flame. Let's hope that's not what happens to their fledgeling recording careers. Little Mix are the winners, and although I was backing Marcus, it's probably the right decision. After what happened to Joe McElderry, Leon Jackson and Shayne Ward, it's clear that Syco don't have a clue what to do with young male singers. Since Little Mix have surpassed everyone's expectations and seem to be genuinely nice girls, maybe they've got a chance at filling the void left by Girls Aloud. Their encore of Cannonball ends with a ticker-tape explosion, which means that my enduring memory of this series will be Kelly Rowland attempting to fish silver confetti out of her bra.
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