X Factor USA Final: Braggadocio And Budget Cuts

With the UK version of the X Factor over for another year, it was time to turn to the American finale for four more hours of the shocking presenting that's left Steve Jones wondering where his next pay cheque is coming from...
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With the UK version of the X Factor over for another year, it was time to turn to the American finale for four more hours of the shocking presenting that's left Steve Jones wondering where his next pay cheque is coming from...

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Oh God. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Two weeks after saying goodbye to Little Mix and their Cannonball (although I think she prefers answering to ‘Jesy’) here I am again, staring down the barrel of another four-hour finale. Only Simon’s in this one, in body if not in mind.

As usual with the X-Factor, there’s always one breakout star that everyone’s talking about. Unfortunately, this series it’s Steve Jones, and no-one’s being especially complementary. In fact, looking back at my notes from this show, it’s really a tragi-comic single-hander. Like something Alan Bennett would write if he liked talent shows. The first show opens with Steve, floundering around in his bow-tie, PUTTING the emphasis on all THE wrong WORDS. Making this particularly uncomfortable is the fact that we all know he’s been dropped quicker than Christina Aguilera’s salad fork.

We’re provided a momentary relief from his awfulness, as he introduces the judges. Over the course of this series, they’ve each been working on their own distinctive hand gesture to give to the audience when their name is called. Now we’re at the final, it’s become like a carefully coordinated routine – LA Reid does kissy finger and a royal wave, Nicole does prayer hands and a dramatic bow, Paula offers her blow-kissy double hands, followed by ‘rock-on’ fingers, and Simon goes from military salute to exaggerated wink. Watched in rapid succession, it’s like American Sign Language for ‘Why aren’t you watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta instead?’

In an attempt to salvage what’s left of his once-promising career, Steve has obviously been on a presentation skills training course. Three days in a Trusthouse Forte outside of Guildford, practicing open palms and finger-thumb gesturing. When he’s not gripping his microphone tightly with both hands, he uses this training to ask for Paula’s famed insight. She comments how proud she is that the acts are so separate and distinct. I would love to see conjoined twins in next year’s final, just to watch her flounder.

It’s fair to say that the music performances in tonight’s show are going to be nowhere near as interesting as big Steve’s attempts to hold onto his job. So let’s make cursory mention of Josh’s gruff duet with Alanis Morrissette. Flat, tuneless and ineffective, it perks up a little when Alanis takes to the stage. She’s trying her best to look interested, but I’m sure she’s thinking “I used to chew on Ryan Reynolds, and now I’m singing in a fake wood with Fozzie Bear.”

I mean, how much would it have cost to dump Kelly Osborne in Ohio for a couple of hours? Instead, they’ve just stuck a microphone in the hands of Josh’s grandmother.

Despite all the bluster and braggadocio before the show started, the debut season of X-Factor USA has been less than epic. It’s almost as though the disappointing ratings have forced a few budgetary cutbacks. Need an example? Well, those god-awful bits where we cut to a sports centre full of screaming supporters in the contestants’ home towns don’t even have a host. I mean, how much would it have cost to dump Kelly Osborne in Ohio for a couple of hours? Instead, they’ve just stuck a microphone in the hands of Josh’s grandmother. I’m sure she’s a game old bird, but the world of broadcasting didn’t exactly miss out on a bright shining talent.

Chris is on next, once again using his drug abuse as a bargaining chip. If we don’t vote for him to win, he’ll be firing up the crystal meth before the last glitter cannon has blown. He’s mangling an Avril Lavigne song, so it’s only a matter of time before she joins him onstage to show him how to fuck it up like a pro. Neither of them is in tune, and they’re rattling through more keys than a Victorian jailer. I’m also getting the vibe that this week’s theme is ‘Canadian guest stars’. Wouldn’t it be great if Melanie got lumbered with Rita MacNeil, the woman with a hair-lip who sings about Nova Scotian miners?

Before we get to that, the judges try their best to avoid mentioning how bad Chris’ vocals were, and Steve’s on hand to point out “You just did a duet with Avril Lavigne." Big help, fella. Meanwhile, Paula’s trying to make a point about relevance, but then goes on to say “That song Complicated is the antithesis of the foundation that you're built upon." Simon’s as confused as I am, so he offers up his own nugget of wisdom – “That could be a record.” And this from the man who gave Mr Blobby a recording career. Forget about Josh’s Grandma, now it’s time to hear from Chris’ next-door neighbour in Santa Cruz, California. Somewhere in Florida, Melanie Amaro’s dry-cleaner is getting very excited.

And here’s the young lady herself – Melanie gets to sing I Believe I Can Fly with R Kelly. Ordinarily you’d expect there to be some chemistry, but at 19 she’s probably a few years too old for him. She sounds shaky and nervous, rushing through the song in too low a key. Weirdly, R tells Steve "This girl is on her way to the mall," which must be a subtle way of saying that, if she doesn’t win, they’re hiring in the food court. The judges declare that I Believe I Can Fly is “One of the most important songs written in the last 50 years.” You know, that song from Space Jam. Fucking muppets. Meanwhile, in Florida, we get to hear from Melanie’s bishop and “her friend Edison”, who shrills “You just killed it girrrrrl.” Bishop Fernandez tells Melanie that he’ll be praying for her, but Edison shouldn’t be surprised if a few unwanted prayers come his way too.

Halfway through and it’s time for an intermission act from Cirque Du Soleil’s ironically titled show - ‘Michael Jackson Immortal’. It’s all rather pointless, but offers a brief moment of commentary when the dancing robots suddenly start flashing dollar signs.

The song’s meant to be dreamy and languid, but Josh growls and bark his way through it, like he just got a parking ticket and found a cat shit in his favourite hipster loafers.

For his second performance, Josh does an acoustic version of At Last. The song’s meant to be dreamy and languid, but Josh growls and bark his way through it, like he just got a parking ticket and found a cat shit in his favourite hipster loafers. Simon tells him "This is what we call the five million dollar song." Who calls it that Simon? This is a new show, so that’s not a thing yet.

Chris is still leveraging his drug addiction, even mentioning the fact that he’s eight months-clean in his second song. When they feel the pressure, most addicts speak to a sponsor, Chris performs a piss-poor, mid-90s sounding rap. Simon's on his feet, so I can only imagine there's a spring piercing the leather squab. He opens with his now trademarked "I'm going to say something to you..." and follows it with "That was your five million dollar song." Christ, he’s really trying to push that – he’d have better look making ‘fetch’ happen.

Closing the show is Melanie, who’s singing "The song that made such a difference on our lives, and her life." Maybe over-egging that one just a touch, Simon. Anyway, he’s chuffed that an enormous weight has gone off her shoulders, and I’m fighting the urge to make a cheap joke. Thankfully, Melanie nails ‘Listen’, smartly choosing a song with lyrics that reflect some of her experiences on the show. Nicole blubs "You made me feel I wasn’t alone. You empowered me." But Melanie looks like she just passed a kidney stone the size of an armchair. Time for one final visit to the screaming people of Sunrise, Florida, where an older gentleman is yelling for his life into a microphone. I can’t hear a word of what he’s saying, but someone’s going to need a throat lozenge tomorrow morning.

So now we move onto the grand finale – two more hours and we’re home free. Paula starts by saying "I can't think of a better way to open up this competition." Because she's obviously never watched the ‘paintball with live ammo’ scene in Child's Play 3.

Steve's coming to terms with impending unemployment, if his little happy dance is anything to go by. He’s been telling the press that if he wasn’t working with Nicole anymore, he’d be calling her constantly. I guess given the choice between listless interviews with petulant 14 year-olds or tapping the chief Pussycat Doll, Steve knows which side his bread is lubed.

Nicole blubs "You made me feel I wasn’t alone. You empowered me." But Melanie looks like she just passed a kidney stone the size of an armchair.

Time for a quick reminder of all the stellar talent that missed out on the final, as they return to the stage for a performance of Edge of Glory. You know how when someone gives a bad performance and Simon calls it karaoke? Well, this is what happens when everyone in the karaoke bar gets up and sings at once. It's utterly abominable, and only improves marginally when our finalists join them. Melanie is struggling to walk in her heels, but we can forgive her given that she's the only one who bothered to remember the melody.

LA comments "Watching them all come back it brings back so many memories." Actually, they're called flashbacks. Nicole screams "Let's have some fun!" and means every none of it. And Paula, dear sweet deluded Paula, tells them "This stage is our gift to you, and what you do with it is your gift to us." I'll take a voucher thanks.

Since the votes have already been counted, the contestants don’t have to try anymore, so we wander through three fairly uninspired Christmas songs. Melanie does a good job of All I Want For Christmas, but Steve wanders on sighing “Fabulous stuff”, like he’s reading the heating instructions on a packet of soup mix. After a dull VT of family members crying, Steve pushes Melanieto tell him “What's going through your head right now?" She just shakes her head at him and looks devastated. See Steve, this is what your technique does to people.

Chris croons a horribly jazzy version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, interspersed with those mid-90s "ohs" and "yeahs" that seem a little more excusable when he's doing the R&B stuff. Simon admires Chris for being an inspiration to people out there. He has a point - that last performance almost drove me to meth.

But remember, it’s not really about the contestants – it’s all about our imploding host. So the highlight of the night has to be when Steve asks Nicole what she's doing for Christmas, and then pushes her for an invitation. In proper nightclub style, she pretends not to hear him the first couple of times, until he makes it more explicit. She's not impressed, and contemplates tipping away the Pepsi she left unattended during the break.

Steve pushes Melanieto tell him “What's going through your head right now?" She just shakes her head at him and looks devastated. See Steve, this is what your technique does to people.

Josh sings Bells Will Be Ringing, and it's just as good as anything a half-decent Joe Cocker tribute act could muster. LA Reid complements him for making him realise it's Christmas, because the18-foot tree wasn't enough of a clue. Nicole is very grateful to be his mentor, since he makes her want to be better. But that's OK, I think most of the audience at home want her be better too. Josh gets teary watching his supporters’ messages, and says that his life is finally beginning to make sense - if only we could say the same for his mentor.

With all the performances out of the way, it’s time for half an hour of filler. So we get Justin Bieber dressed as a Power Ranger shouting through a Christmas song. Halfway through, he's joined on stage by Stevie Wonder, who appears on his patented roll-out keyboard platform. It’s exactly like the thing in Jabba’s palace which hides the secret trapdoor, so I’m keeping everything crossed that Justin’s about to be fed to a Rancor. In a move that sums up everything that’s wrong with Simon Cowell's world view, Stevie gets dragged back into the darkness, as Bieber stays on stage for a medley of songs from his new Christmas album. He's Master Know-it-all.

In one nice touch, Justin invites Drew onstage, to fulfil her dream of meeting her idol. Stevie also gets ushered out to take a bow. And then Steve joins them and fucks it up with another excruciating four-way - there's literally no buzz he can't kill. He's the guy that turns up at a car-key party in a milk-float.

Time to drop one and move on. YWithout wanting to give the game away, this shouldn't be tough. Let's just say that I don’t suppose the producers broke a sweat working on Chris' winner's song. And there you go, I was right. He seemed to know it, even though Steve claims he can "Hardly believe it." Chris is gracious, saying God has blessed him. But we've known for a few weeks that Melanie has God in her camp. The Creator spent most of last night with his omnipotent digit poised over the speed dial for her number.

Steve introduces the five most shocking moments of the series, and weirdly it's not just his show-reel. Instead, we get a poignant reminder of what happens when you reduce the age limit to allow pre-teens to compete. Rachel joins Steve onstage in full-on pageant queen mode and tells him to his face that she's gunning for his job. Well, might as well get it out in the open. Funnily enough, she takes to the autocue like a pro and nails her segment. Steve skulks off into the darkness to contemplate his shortcomings, having been bested by a thirteen year-old.

Stevie also gets ushered out to take a bow. And then Steve joins them and fucks it up with another excruciating four-way - there's literally no buzz he can't kill. He's the guy that turns up at a car-key party in a milk-float.

Leona Lewis is here to provide the soundtrack for another four-minute highlights video, and remind people what professionalism looks like. Simon still looks as proud as punch, even though he's spent the last 12 months switching her to voicemail whenever she calls.

Paula's asked to summarise the evening - she says it's one of the best job experiences she's ever had. My sister once had a job experience where she had to nurse a chinchilla as it was put down. I think I’d choose the dead rodent over this.

As we lumber gracelessly towards the finish, we get another guest slot from Fifty Cent. The set designers have tried to create a penthouse environment for him, with a chaise longue, a baby grand and a roll-top bath. And they’re all dripping with whores. It doesn’t exactly fit with his introduction as a world-changing philanthropist, but hey-ho. Pitbull and NeYo also show up, to do one of those weird fusion tracks that seems to have replaced R&B. There's a euro-disco beat, then a guest rap appearance, and a main vocal that's been auto-tuned to hell. It's like whizzing through Now 87 on fast forward.

In another cost-cutting exercise, there’s no winner’s song. So Josh and Melanie nod and wink their way through a turgid duet, before Melanie is finally crowned the winner. Simon tries to summarise what a great series it’s been, but his eyes are as lifeless as Steve’s career. The contestants all rush onto the stage to congratulate Melanie, leaving our hopeless host to try and find her in the throng: "Can we push through, sorry. Melanie's the winner of the X-Factor, there she is."  How much did he get paid for this, and where can I send my CV?

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