Two and a half hours. I know the producers of the X-Factor want to make a big deal about the return of the live shows, but I could cook a leg of lamb in less time. Throughout tonight’s show, we’re going to hear lots of people saying “I’ve waited my whole life for this.” And chances are, that’s how I’m going to feel about making it to the end of this broadcast. No sense complaining about things I can’t change, so on with the show.
It’s amazing how overly familiar it all seems once the opening titles are out of the way, as well established routines and clichés keep popping up like Vietnam flashbacks throughout tonight’s excessive running time. The first of these is MISTER Dermot O’Leary’s entirely unnecessary Gangnam Style dance routine. For a show that’s supposedly all about fun, the look on Dermot’s face suggests he’s finally realising the true price of his Faustian pact. With Syco Productions. As the dancers slope off the stage, Dermot welcomes “Four pop music moguls” which is a bit rich – Tulisa thinks moguls are the steamed dumplings that they serve in the Happy Rickshaw. The judges enter to John Williams’ Superman theme, and Tulisa gives the audience a cheeky wink (I said ‘wink’, with an ‘i’). Nicole, on the other hand, appears to be wearing half a dress, with only a piece of black masking tape between her and another irate Daily Mail campaign about ‘the Sex Factor’.
First up, it’s time to find out who won the wildcard – they’re all delighted to be back, apart from Christopher, who in customary style is gulping and shaking as if he’s trying to swallow a whole goose. No need to worry, as it turns out that he’s won that coveted thirteenth spot, and collapses in a melodramatic manner that makes Rylan’s performance last week look like the model of ambivalence. As he gives his jittery thanks, his voice gets higher and higher, as though they’re piping helium into the studio. Hope someone shuts it off before he floats away and bursts on the spotlights.
Dermot makes his way along the line-up, getting increasingly touchy feely as he goes. At this rate, Jahmene is going to be lucky if he makes it offstage without being penetrated
This year they’re making a much bigger deal about social media, so we’re instructed to “get involved in the live debate on Twitter.” To illustrate the point for the hard-of-thinking, a giant screen aggregates the comments so far. Missing the point of Twitter, the producers have deleted all the commenters’ names, because this show has never really been about the fans. As the numbers for the contestants are revealed, Dermot makes his way along the line-up, getting increasingly touchy feely as he goes. At this rate, Jahmene is going to be lucky if he makes it offstage without being penetrated. Thankfully, Dermot reigns it in just in time, sending the jittery lad away with a chaste kiss. No tongue.
District 3 are kicking off tonight’s show, but don’t worry if that’s got you puzzled. They’re the artists formerly ignored as GMD3. That old name didn’t really do it for anyone, so they turn to the internet for advice – which is always a good idea. The boys appear to be snuggled up in bed together, to review the shortlist. This curious mise-en-scène is inspiring a few suggestions of my own, but I doubt they’d be suitable for a pre-watershed boyband. The newly monickered District 3 take to the stage to do an unusual arrangement of Simply The Best, but restyled to sound more like Sia’s Titanium. Their vocals are fine, but it’s got all the energy of a pensioner’s EKG reading. Tulisa is right in there with the first of many “You made that song your own” comments. Nicole confesses that the boys have a soft spot in her heart, and in that dress we can actually see it. The best feedback so far comes from Louis who tells the lads “You’re like a young Boyz II Men.” which serves only to remind me of my favourite line in The Jerk – “I met a girl Momma, and she’s just like you. But thin and white.”
After a pointless walk-on by One Direction, presumably in a desperate bid to remind viewers that X-Factor can still generate record sales, it’s time to say ‘hello’ to the newly made-over James. It’s amazing what a good wash and a haircut can do, but Nicole is over-egging things slightly when she unconvincingly claims that she barely recognized him when he walked in. Maybe she could borrow his Deirdre Barlow specs. Tonight he’s doing an irritating gloomwobble rap-augmented version of (What Doesn’t Kill You) Stronger, complete with a badly mangled key change. For the last part of the performance, he stomps around the stage like he’s trying to pick a fight with himself in a shopping precinct. Louis feedback amounts to little more than “Well done Middlesborough” and Gary tells him not to lose his integrity. Louis has completely lost it now, drowning out Barlow by repeatedly shouting “He made it his own.” Someone change his batteries before he does himself an injury. Nicole helpfully explains that this song is about ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ for the benefit of anyone who didn’t get that from the title. Suddenly, even James is telling us that he made the song his own. It’s like that scene in Outbreak, where you see the airborne virus spreading through a cinema.
MILF-alert now, as it’s time for Melanie. She’s looking particularly lovely in her VT, but she really needs to stop wearing those scarves in a vain attempt to hide her turkey wattle. Her song choice is pretty predictable – Joe Cocker’s redo of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. The stylist clearly couldn’t be bothered, so they’ve just given her the wardrobe from a regional production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and told her to figure something out. As in previous appearances, she sings the first half, and screams the second. Louis says that he loves it, because he remembers Woodstock. Not the festival, the movie.
Brian Friedman is clearly struggling as he attempts to create a dynamic performance out of a mild-mannered lesbian with an acoustic guitar
Lucy is the first person to sing her own composition on the X-Factor, and it’s all about moving mountains. Speaking of which, Brian Friedman is clearly struggling as he attempts to create a dynamic performance out of a mild-mannered lesbian with an acoustic guitar. He looks as frustrated as a neutered dog in a surgical collar trying to lick its wounds. The song is pretty dull, and she delivers it in an irritatingly exaggerated accent. Nonetheless, the judges are all falling over themselves to call her unique, as though she’s the first woman to ever pick up a guitar.
After a quick meet and greet with Christopher’s Nan, it’s time to check in with MK1. They’re giving it 100% tonight, and they’re delighted to have Louis as a mentor. He might not know much about urban music, but he can certainly teach them to ignore the laws of maths and start cranking up those percentages. The lyrics talk about pushing themselves to the limit, but a combination of excitement and nerves mean they’re way beyond that. Louis has nothing of value to add, so instead settles for that old favourite: “I need people to vote for this band.”
Christopher is here, still quivering like Michael J Fox on a washing machine. In an ill-advised move, he’s having a go at Mariah Carey (not like Nicki Minaj did) by taking tonight’s ‘hero’ theme a little too literally. It’s just as pub-singer average as you’d expect - in tune, in time, and about as exciting as a pack of reduced fat digestives. Nicole patronises him with a ‘way to go, Sport’ air punch, and Tulisa calls his voice “undeniably amazing”. Tonight’s homework will be looking up the definition of ‘undeniably’.
Time for more unthreateningly photogenic young lads now, as Union J take their turn. They’ve been working hard on boyband VT 101 – which basically consists of shouting out random sentences in unison. They’re boasting that they’ve all had facials, but I’m not here to speculate on Louis’ hands-on management technique. The boys are delighted that George joined them, adding “I don’t even remember Triple J.” But I don’t think they’re alone in that. With voices that are weaker than a happy hour cocktail, their version of Don’t Stop Me know would have Freddie’s corpse spinning like the Large Hadron Collider. The key word is pain, and it’s etched on all the judges’ faces. Louis offers up a Mea Culpa for the song choice, giving it some serious Tony Blair double palming, but it’s too little, too late.
Oh shit, Nicole’s gone off script and is actually giving notes on key and tone. Backstage, the producers are hovering over the kill switch
There’s something earthy and calm-headed about Jade that makes her one of the most appealing performers in this year’s roster. It’s just a shame that they’ve over-styled her so much, since she looks her best without all the make-up and cascading blonde curls. Her version of Enrique’s Hero is all very low tempo, but it manages to stay the right side of cheesy, thanks to her distinctive voice. Oh shit, Nicole’s gone off script and is actually giving notes on key and tone. Backstage, the producers are hovering over the kill switch – the last thing anyone needs is for the audience to start thinking about the music.
“The fierce and fabulous Rylan Clark” is on next, briefing the team on his desired look for the live show: “I’m thinking sparkle, but subtle. Like, ‘Oh’, but ‘Oh’. Do you know what I mean?” The poor stylist is mentally updating his CV. After a week of Twitter abuse, Nicole consoles Rylan and tells him “You’re here for a reason,” but neglects to mention that it’s because the producers didn’t give her a choice in the matter. He’s come on dressed as a giant Wispa Gold, and it’s as awful as you’re probably imagining. Only the long close-up on one dancer’s remarkable camel toe can distract me from the tuneless mess that’s falling out of his pouting face. Louis tells him he’s a good singer, and Tulisa users her trademarked “on point” feedback. Gary points the finger of judgment at everyone, reserving particular scorn for Nicole. She responds by reminding him of the Do What You Like video, then carrying on like a drunken drag queen throwing shade and snaps in equal measure.
“Normal service resumes” now, as Gary introduces Kye. That means lots more promotional footage of the hotel the contestants are staying in, because there’s bills to be paid. Particularly exciting for Kye is the moment when ‘Gary’s Overs’ get to jam with Mark Owen, which in the grand scheme of things must be almost as exciting as going to a strip club with Theresa May. Kye’s version of Man In The Mirror is really strong, sounding like a fresh reinterpretation with a strong vocal. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m watching a musical dream sequence from The Big Bang Theory.
If Ella doesn’t make it to the last two, I’ll eat MK1’s extensive collection of caps
Ella is up next, with her mouth like the entrance of a bus depot. She’s still rocking that throwback hairdo, but something’s gone a bit wrong – like she spent ages backcombing it, then wore a really heavy hat. Tonight she’s doing a lovely pared down version of Take That’s Rule The World, and she sounds fantastic, apart from a couple of wobbles on the high notes. Even so, if she doesn’t make it to the last two, I’ll eat MK1’s extensive collection of caps. Nicole’s channeling some Paula Abdul madness in her feedback, and Louis invokes the holy name of Leona Lewis. High praise indeed.
Carolynne is gorgeous, but as dull as a shoebox full of damp wool. Gary’s determined to remold her as a country singer, presumably because she looks a bit like Shania Twain. The song choice might seem like an odd one – Nicki Minaj’s Starships doesn’t scream steel-guitar – but there’s a long history of songs that work in R&B and Nashville. It’s not bad, but the sluggish tempo and ambivalent vocal won’t see her troubling the final.
Finally, we get to see whether Jahmene can hold it together long enough to make it through yet another badly arranged interpretation of Imagine. They’ve put a weird echo filter on his voice, that makes it sound as if he’s performing in Wookey Hole. Towards the end there’s a massive key change, and then a lot of uncontrollable ad-libbing, prompting Tulisa to use an awful lot of words to explain that how speechless she is. As for Nicole, she’s delighted he’s found his balls and just wants to squeeze him, but that manicure could bring tears to his eyes.
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