I don’t know about you, but I always feel disappointed whenever ‘boot camp’ pops up in the X-Factor schedule. Year after year, I keep hoping that the producers’ promise to shake up the format will see our 200 hopefuls put through their paces by Louis Gossett Jr, then shipped off for six months in the Helmland Province. Instead, we get a three hour double bill of screaming, crying and preposterous eyebrow sculpting, as our would-be popstars are forced to choose from a woeful shortlist of songs, and subdue any passive aggressive tendencies long enough to get through a two-minute performance.
Before we get into the forty five renditions of ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you move like Jagger’ that comprise tonight’ show, we need to see the contestants getting ready for the next round. That means tons of blusher, a celebratory round of biscuits and orangeade, and one girl optimistically trying to zip two enormous pairs of shoes into an overnight bag.
As everyone descends on the Echo Arena in Liverpool for three days of torture, they’re given a soft start with a welcome party. Anyone expecting a no-expenses-spared lavish media affair is in for a big disappointment. A few strategically placed mojitos aside, it’s clearly a Yates’ Wine Lodge that’s been rented for the afternoon. Meanwhile, the judges are reviewing the tapes upstairs, where Gary explains “Anyone we don’t think can cut it, we’ve got to send ‘em home” just in case anyone thought they’d tuned into University Challenge by mistake. Most of this is for Nicole’s benefit, since it’s apparent that she was only present for about four of the initial auditions. As for Tulisa, she’s busy watching the playback and wondering aloud “What was I thinking?” To be fair, some of her outfits were pretty egregious.
Tonight’s edition sees all our previous favourites taking it in turns to fuck up royally
Louis will be disappointed to be stuck up there, since he’s missing a PA by his favourite lads “The amazing JLS.” The crowd are so thrilled, that they’ve become incapable of speaking without a random cliché generator – lots of talk about “grabbing it with both hands.” They could at least let the boys finish singing first. The most entertaining moment is watching great swathes of Damian Rice enthusiasts trying to muster some telegenic enthusiasm for a boyband that’s wetter than Tom Daley’s gusset.
Onto the show proper, and it’s time for some “potentially devastating news”. Having reviewed the tapes (and seen the hotel bill for three days’ accommodation) the decision has been made to send a third of the contestants home. Although Louis tries to milk the reveal of every name, we’ve only ninety minutes, so it soon dissolves into a montage of teary goodbyes. But none of the people being culled are in any way recognisable, because they weren’t featured during the audition stages. For those left standing on the stage, the pressure’s now on. Best activate the giant digital countdown clock – which conjures up the image of Jack Bauer attaching electrodes to someone’s genitals to get them to perform a Kelly Clarkson song.
The following day, and Gary’s in a great mood. He walks through the backstage holding area with a cup of Typhoo, and comments “It’s great to hear ‘em all singing.” Forgive my cynicism, but something tells me he’s going to be dunking those words in his tea and eating them before the day’s out. Unusually, things get off to a pretty good start, as we see a number of different girls putting their own spin on Respect. They all sound pretty good, even when mashed together in a variety of keys and tempos. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it for the rest of the show, if you tuned in to hear people sing well. The remainder of tonight’s edition sees all our previous favourites taking it in turns to fuck up royally, only to be saved by the merciful judges who want to give them another chance. Fair play, but it does negate the point of these ‘sudden death’ auditions.
Gary’s busy advocating yoga and boasting that he’s totally stiff
Most of the boybands are paired up to battle it out, but for all their butch posturing, it’s like an even more homoerotic version of the gang rumble in West Side Story. Nicole does her best to encourage them by wobbling her giant earrings and giving some serious duckface. Although she redeems herself slightly by shooting down one stroppy band of rejects who ask how they came to the decision to send them home: “We based it on that audition right there.” You tell ‘em sister.
Here to answer the eternal question “How will they handle ABBA week?” that dogged most of the acoustic singer-songwriter auditions, Lucy Spraggan and Jahmene both manage to wipe their arses on Maroon 5. I’ll leave you with that mental image for a moment. Still here? Great. Gary’s busy advocating yoga and boasting that he’s totally stiff. Meanwhile, Tulisa reaches under the desk for her lipbalm.
Now, it wouldn’t be bootcamp without one group of girls bitching at each other.
Star of the show is the improbably named Collagen Westwood, who’s decided to style herself on Pete Burns, and spends most of her lackluster performance threatening to burst out of her plastic bustier, like the Incredible Hulk at a Rocky Horror night.
This is the X-Factor’s answer to The Empire Strikes Back
Gary’s stiffness must have worn off, since he’s getting really pissy about the woeful performances on display. Word of his bad mood has made its way backstage, where contestants are warning each other that “Apparently they’re cutting loads of people.” Nothing to do with the fact that this is supposed to be boot-camp.
Curtis and the two Jameses are here representing the owl-faced methodone crowd, which makes their performance feel more like a musical therapy session in a remand centre than a talent show audition. It’s hard to shake the feeling that, if they weren’t singing together, they’d be in a junkyard somewhere, locking a dog in a fridge.
Another unfortunate threesome comes in the form of Rylan, Ottavio and Gathan, who are gayer than a Glee boxset. Rylan has wisely discarded the T-shirt with his own face on it, but he’s replaced it with a weird jacket boasting horse-hair epaulettes, that looks as though he’s fighting off two pint-sized Cher impersonators. On labeling their performance a ‘Diva Hoedown’, Nicole tries to high-five Louis, but he mistakes it for an awkward handshake. Ottavio and Rylan also attempt a double high-five, but their wrists are so limp, they just end up slapping each other.
The last couple of threesomes have their own issues to contend with. Hayley and mad-eyed Nicola have been deserted by Tammy, and decide to perform without her, leaving a bunch of weirdly silent gaps in their song. Nicole implores them to improvise in an inexplicable southern accent. Between them, they do enough to survive another day, which should at least give the sound technicians enough time to adjust the volume on Nicola’s microphone.
But there’s tension for the last three guys - Jake, Adam and Robbie - because Homeless Robbie has been drinking lager in the park and sleeping on a sofa instead of rehearsing. After fucking up his lyrics, Robbie puts his microphone down and walks off the stage. Speaking backstage, he tells us “I had nothing to lose, and yet I feel like I’ve lost more than anyone else.” We see him loping off into the distance, but this is too much of a downer to end part one on. Unless this is the X-Factor’s answer to The Empire Strikes Back. In which case, I won’t be too surprised if tomorrow’s installment sees Tulisa dressing up as a bounty hunter and tracking him down for a triumphant comeback.
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