I don’t know about you, but this year the X-Factor feels decidedly anticlimactic. Maybe it’s the desperation of bringing back Sharon Osborne, like the tired monster in a slasher franchise, resurrected for one more lumbering, rotting instalment. Or maybe it’s the format itself; so tired that it’s practically narcoleptic. The only major innovation we’ve seen so far is the addition of some cheap white seating – I can practically smell the BAFTA from here. But above all, it’s the talent. If you haven’t seen the US version of the show, which airs on Thursdays and Fridays, you may be unaware of how much better the X-Factor can actually be. But that’s like my Grandma thinking that pasta comes in a tin, because she never tried the real thing.
Nonetheless, this is what we’re stuck with. And we’re finally at the Live Show stages, where the stakes are high, every moment counts and the contestants have to give the performance of their lives. “Everybody’s got something to give. And some more than others,” adds Louis, cryptically.
Tonight’s theme is The Eighties. Gary’s bringing it on, Nicole’s appears to be taking it off, and Louis is particularly excited because he loves big songs, big hair and… No, you know what? I’m not doing that. Dermot bounds out, looking just a little more ashamed of himself than he did last year. If this show survives another year, he’s just going to lock himself in his changing room, cutting his arm with a butter knife from craft services. The judges make their big entrance – Nicole looks gorgeous, Louis appears to be an elderly sommelier, and Sharon’s had everything tightened and polished. It hasn’t just taken years off, it’s eradicated any last vestige of humanity – she’s like a gargoyle carved in Imperial Leather. Dermot gamely tries to explain another new twist; the Flash-ah-ah Vote, but Nicole and Sharon seem more interested in the contents of his alarmingly snug dress trousers. I know I’d certainly get more enjoyment from rummaging around in there for the next two and a quarter hours.
Hannah Barrett is up first, and she’s determined to showcase a more carefree side than we’ve seen to date: “All I’ve been doing is crying. It’s so cringe.” So is using the phrase ‘so cringe’ but we’ll overlook that for now. She’s certainly laughing a lot more, and Louis is wondering whether it’s too soon to try and get away with a “little Rustie Lee” comparison. The stylist must have had the weekend off, since Hannah’s blustering through What’s Fashion Got To Do With It, looking like she’s halfway through fighting her way out of a binbag. The vocal’s strong and she safely negotiates the key change, but it’s more Barrymore’s My Kind Of People than the Grammy Awards. Louis is on a roll, running through all his greatest hits: age references, love the voice, vote for Hannah, lot of potential. Sharon has to offer her feedback in mime, since her face is about as expressive as Mount Rushmore.
Nervously tugging his jacket over his pronounced bulge, Dermot introduces wee Nicholas McDonald. Less a fledgling pop star, more a supporting character on Supergran, Nicholas is doing a song by Spandex Barry. Seriously, he’s never heard of the band, and most of his VT consists of him asking his Mum about Tony Hadley. Louis is trying to coach Nicholas through his performance and ignore the fact that his housekeeper is clearly on strike – she’s downed tools and refused to iron his shirts. The dancers have staged a full-on production, full of nervous teens asking each other out, but at least it’s a distraction from the kid with the lousy falsetto. The feedback amounts to little more than an interminable discussion of Nicholas’ age, with Sharon so drunk that it sounds like she’s channeling the spirit of Kenneth Williams. Louis offers another handful of generic platitudes, name-checking the Scottish voters and offering a “You’re what this show is all about.”
Miss Dynamix can’t seem to agree on how to pronounce their derivative name, but Gary’s too busy congratulating himself on creating something special - like he just cooked up a batch of 95% pure blue sky. We like a bit of human drama with our music, so here’s SeSe to admit that she’s five months pregnant. Everyone does their best to look delighted for her, but the other two girls in the group are clearly thinking that the only thing Miss Dynamix will be releasing in the next six months is going to have an umbilical cord. They’re doing a lazy and outdated version of Jump, and their vocals are so disconnected they could be performing in different time zones. For some reason, Nicole thinks that when she speaks to black girls she has to slip into some awful ghetto fabulous slang, and Sharon talks about how they’ve been together less time than most pre-packaged sandwiches. She also wants to see more joy on their faces, so perhaps she can spare some of that Smylex she’s been injecting into her rubber mush. Speaking of which, Dermot compliments Sharon on her appearance: “How does she do it?” he asks disingenuously. “I have a very good surgeon,” she vamps, as ten million viewers at home peer from behind the couch. I wouldn’t go that far.
Prison Sam is singing Power of Love, because ballads. She gets points for saying it’s by Jennifer Rush, even though she does the Celine Dion version of it. She’s doing her best to add some production value, courtesy of clichéd choreographer Sisco (not that one). She starts off in her high register, which is thin and reedy, but it gets much better once she hits the main chorus. Of course, everyone’s going to rave about the power in her voice, and ignore the fact that a great singer needs to be able to sell the quiet moments as well as the big notes. She even throws in a totally unnecessary key change, by which point I’m over it and wondering whether she might want to try some sleeves next week. Gary says it was “off the clock,” because Tulisa has successfully copyrighted the ‘hook’. Nicole’s even more confused, saying “I don’t even know what I just watched.” Someone get her a Radio Times. And then there’s poor, clueless Louis, who thinks the best compliment he can offer a singer is “You hit every single note.” Sharon got goosebumps all over, even on the bits that weren’t originally hers, and Dermot suggests that “You just wanted to get out here and show us your pipes,” as if he’s in the VIP section of Spearmint Rhino.
The ad break gives us Katie Price, promoting the latest volume of her autobiography. Remember the good old days, when memoirs were published by raconteurs like Peter Ustinov, and they were filled with pithy epithets and charming anecdotes? Now we get Katie, regaling us with how she had to fuck Alex Reid with a strap-on.
Caroline Flack is moving a little closer to inheriting Dermot’s job – she’s now been bumped up to the ITV1 show, although she’s still backstage, conducting hopeless interviews with the contestants. Sam’s decked out in an ice-wash denim shirt, so 80s night should be a breeze. Louis is very excited about Sam’s full package (he’s a two-hander), and he’s picked Summer of ’69 for his protégé to mangle. Sam performs the entire song through his sinuses, and has a red baseball cap stuffed in his back pocket. Unfortunately, most of Twitter mistakes this for the hanky code (ask your confirmed bachelor uncle) – and it doesn’t take long for someone to point out that red means fisting. We won’t dwell. This is supposed to be a rock song, but it makes Glee look like Radiohead. Louis clearly hasn’t a clue, telling Sam “You’re like a little Bryan Adams” despite the fact that Sam looks nothing like a pineapple with a side-parting.
All ridiculous hair and half-mast trousers, Kingsland Road are far too excitable to tolerate without chemical stimulants. They spend most of their VT plugging various Samsung gadgets and marveling at how they’re five guys from East London, who are now in the X-factor (North London). They’ve picked I’m Your Man by Wham and it’s exactly what you’d expect. In fact, the only point of interest in the entire performance is a curious Usual Suspects motif running on the screen behind them. I’m dying for the one who looks like Alex Zane to say “Gimme the fucking keys you fucking cocksucker” but he just goes three octaves too high instead. Apparently, the lads have all worked their bums off, but it would be unseemly for me to pass comment on that.
Shelley Smith is another one of Sharon’s Overs, and appears to be paying tribute to the Muppets, since she looks like Sam the Eagle in Miss Piggy’s hairpiece. Much like Sam, she’s a little too fond of playing the “Ermagerd, I’m dead normal, me” card, which kills any star potential stone dead. As she blunders her way through Alone by Heart, the poor wind machine struggles to make any kind of an impression. She’s also joined on stage by two pianists from Tron, but they’re soon forgotten about when she hops onto a scissor-lift and launches skywards for the key change. The brief was clearly ‘add some production value’ but it’s like watching someone do a pick-and-pack in the Amazon warehouse. Louis says “Shelley, you gave it welly.” Seriously, does he get paid for this?
Dermot tries to high-five Louis, but it’s about as awkward as me fist-bumping a vicar. Time to introduce Abi, who is tired of the green tabard she wears on the Morrisons check-out. She’s rightly chuffed with the results of her makeover, but manages to spoil it by acting like she’s in a Victoria Wood sketch. Performing at a white baby grand, she gives us a pared-down, acoustic version of Livin’ On A Prayer. It doesn’t really work, but she’ll get points for trying a different arrangement, which is only fair. Gary offers to get behind her, but I doubt there’s room on that piano stool.
Spare a thought for poor old Lorna. She’s won the ‘diva’ makeover booby prize – there’s one every year. They’ve styled her to look like Rihanna’s mum, given her a weird arrangement of an upbeat Whitney Houston song, and thrown in a bunch of shirtless dancers for good measure. Hers is actually one of the best vocals of the night, but that’s hardly a compliment, all things considered. When Nicole claims the ‘diva’ comparison, Louis looks genuinely aggrieved – he has nothing else to add.
There’s another embarrassing bit of filler as Dermot introduces the live Twitter feed. This segment really needs some work, as their social media manager has only managed to find three remotely positive tweets – we see the same one about Dermot’s package twice, before it finally gets read out. Well done everyone.
Tamera Foster has been briefed to play the girl next door, so her entire VT is about how messy her bedroom is. She’s picked Ain’t Nobody by Rufus and Chaka Khan, and the producers have decided not to update it – they’ve just given her Liberty X’s arrangement instead. She rolls around a security fence like she’s trying to break into a music festival, and does a passable job with the song. Louis and Sharon have both taken to referring to all women as ‘Mrs’ which makes them sound like they’re attending the W.I. AGM.
Luke Friend moans that everyone is obsessed with his hair, not least the Centre for Disease Control. I’m more concerned with his name, which sounds like a duff joke off The Inbetweeners. He’s singing Every Breath You Take; the arrangement sounds more like Dexys than The Police, which does him no favours at all, and he’s dressed like he came straight from the Playboy Mansion. Nicole comments, “Every time you perform, I can feel it.” I can fucking smell it. Dermot puts his hand into Luke’s hairdo, and all I can think of is that scene in Flash Gordon when Peter Duncan reaches into the log.
Tonight’s final performance comes from Rough Copy, who are now a three-piece again. They tell us that growing up and being a young boy in this generation is hard. Yeah, fuck you Cameron. They say everything in unison; it’s just a shame that their vocals are nowhere near as well synchronised. They’re singing ‘In The Air Tonight,’ and it takes a special kind of talent to make me wish I was watching Phil Collins. Nicole is obviously on a contact high from Sharon’s fumes, because she thinks they’re the best band that’s ever been on the show, and Louis says “There has to be a gap in the market for a band like this.” Yes, it’s called JLS.
Time for that new twist we were promised. The Flash Vote is a quick tally of the votes so far, to reveal one of the acts that’ll be in the sing-off tomorrow night. This does, of course, beg the question – why can’t they just evict whoever scores lowest, and do away with Sunday’s show altogether? In the end, this segment is just an impressive display of Dermot’s ability to conduct 12 mini-interviews with Swiss-watch precision. As the dozen acts stand with their mentors, Sharon is hanging off her Overs like a drowsy orang-utan on a tyre swing. Gary says he usually hates Sunday night, now he can hate Saturday nights too. I know the feeling. In the end, Shelley scores the lowest vote, so tune in tomorrow to find out who she’ll be up against.
Welcome to four whole minutes of entertainment, carefully squeezed into an hour of TV. There’s really not much to report from the results show – the judges do their shtick, Sharon tries to pretend she’s not the wicked queen from Snow White, and the finalists give and execrable performance of Get Lucky. It’s as lifeless as Sharon’s facial expressions, and features the worst dancing you’ll see outside of a Young Farmers disco.
The first of tonight’s special guests is Ellie Goulding, who boasts a Brit award, 15 million single sales, 4 million albums, and all the presence of pre-mixed wallpaper paste. She’s wearing a weird outfit – a flesh-coloured body stocking coupled with a vertical strip of golden sequins, that makes her look like Smaug The Magnificent’s skidmark. Dermot pushes her to name her favourite act, and she roots for Canestan Road.
After a brief ad break, where I discover that Iceland just hasn’t met me yet (one more reason to stay ex-directory), it’s time to welcome Cher to the X-Factor stage. She’s had an incredible six decades in music, and she’s been fully dressed for almost half of them. Aged 67, she’s like pop’s Benjamin Button; gradually getting younger with each new reinvention. She sings a rousing ballad, and as a flurry of golden ticker tape rains down on her, I’m tempted to imagine that Ellie Goulding has been tragically sucked into an air vent.
Time to count up the votes, and it’s no surprise that Sharon acts take up the bottom two places. Shelley belts out One Night Only, and Lorna tackles Faith Hill’s There You’ll Be. Both decent performances, delivered with passion and control, but let’s be honest – both acts could go tonight and the public would struggle to bat an eyelid. Sharon takes a sip of her ‘tea’ and abstains from voting, so in the end it’s down to Nicole to send Lorna home.