X Factor USA Michael Jackson Special: Backflips And Bad Vocals

Wacko Jacko's kids were in the audience, but that didn't stop a few of the contestants murdering a few of his classics...
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Wacko Jacko's kids were in the audience, but that didn't stop a few of the contestants murdering a few of his classics...

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First things first, let's get a caveat out of the way. Michael Jackson was a superstar, legend and pop culture icon. He left behind an incredible legacy of songs, dance moves and music videos, as well as a walk-in wardrobe full of gaudy, ill-fitting casual-wear. Just wanted to put that out there, in case I involuntarily criticise the self-crowned King of Pop in the next few paragraphs.

In case you didn't know, this week saw the world's second worst doctor (after the one who filled that woman's arse with concrete and super-glue) sentenced to four years' imprisonment for Michael's "involuntary manslaughter". In attempting to downgrade his sentence, Conrad Murray's lawyers argued that it's punishment enough that their client would be forever known as "the man who killed Michael Jackson". And yet, I have a funny feeling that, by the time tonight's X-Factor USA is over, there may well be a few other suspects in the frame. So sit back, get Jessica Fletcher on speed dial, and let's marvel at the rest of the Jacksons' ability to put their legal nightmares aside long enough to turn out and promote their dearly departed brother's back-catalogue.

The show opens with the contestants praising Michael's phenomenal talent, with Marcus commenting "no-one know how to do the moonwalk like him", except maybe for the guy he stole the moves from. We also get lots of footage of screaming, crying fans, packing out stadium after stadium. Just think, one of these lucky contestants might one day get to watch those scenes on a DVD.

The world's most unironic voiceover introduces Steve Jones, who walks out onto the stage accompanied by 'Bad'. Commentary from beyond the grave, you've got to love that. Unlike Dermot, Steve isn't comfortable moving with the "sexy dancing people", so he walks awkwardly, like a toddler carrying a full load. Despite wearing the facial expression of someone entering a car wash and realising he's left the aerial up, he's trying to convince us he's excited about tonight's show. Apparently, tonight features some of the greatest music ever created. And P.Y.T.

Say 'hello' to Prince, Paris and Blanket, who really ought to be pushing for a proper name by now

Great news everybody, the three members of the Jackson 5 that aren't Michael or Jermaine are here to lend their support to the cash-raking tribute. In more "incredible news", Michael's kids are also in the audience. Say 'hello' to Prince, Paris and Blanket, who really ought to be pushing for a proper name by now. Mustering about as much sincerity as Jeremy Clarkson at a Unison fund-raiser, Steve tells them "We're honoured to have you here. Your presence is going to make an amazing evening even more incredible." After a build up like that, there's absolutely no chance that we're going to be disappointed, is there?

Twenty minutes in, and no-one's performed yet. Although we did get an ad for Il Divo, which promised to make us "fall in love with music again". No mention of their role in making us fall out of love with it in the first place.

Josh Krajcik is trying to tell us he wore out Michael Jackson's records as a child, but skeet shooting will do that to vinyl. It's clear he doesn't give a shit about Jackson's music, so he's doing a self-indulgently grungy version of Dirty Diana. He's so out of time with the music, it's like those old satellite interviews that they used to do on The Word. Josh's dad tells us about seeing the joy on Josh's face - cut to scenes of Josh scowling like he was being tested for STDs by an Inland Revenue inspector. The vocal coach tells us it's like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Which is a little unkind - it could just be his glands.

Conspiracy theorists should have just listened to Prince's voice - he makes Brian Blessed sound like Joe Pasquale.

I love it when Astro's family reminisce about when he was little. They're talking about four years ago, so it's not like it warrants the whole sepia treatment. In theory he's doing 'Black or White', but that means he's just performing his own rap as the backing singers tackle the actual melody. The dancers have got big red hankies over the face, which I assume is a nod to Jacko's germ-phobia and his ever-diminishing septum. Paula thinks Astro's words are important, but she's the sort of person who gets teary-eyed reading the message in a fortune cookie. She adds that she finds him "Influential and inspirational." He's also celebrational and Muppetational, but I could be getting off-track. The only lyric I picked up on, was when he said that "we're all made of earth and water." Poor kid, growing up in the projects, he probably never got to make a mud pie.

Michael's kids get put on the spot by Steve, who asks them what they think of the show. They have trouble hearing him, but it probably doesn't help that Prince is listening to his iPod. Given the choice, I'd reckon I'd opt for MP3s over the mess on stage too. The kids have always been dogged with speculation about their parentage, given their suspiciously light skin tone. Conspiracy theorists should have just listened to Prince's voice - he makes Brian Blessed sound like Joe Pasquale.

Drew's up next, doing a "stripped back" version of Billie Jean. The song sounds pretty good, but since every one of her performances is stripped back, it sounds less surprising than it should. LA Reid is gutted to admit that he likes it, and Nicole doesn't realise that it's her turn to speak. Maybe she was listening to Prince's iPod. Paula has taken on Simon's annoying habit of announcing portentously that she's about to say something, before actually saying anything.

Rachel Crowe is the first contestant to come across like an actual Jackson fan, and she wisely recognises that by the time he was her age, he was already a superstar. Weirdly, Simon has chosen Can You Feel It by the Jacksons, instead of I Want You Back or I'll Be There which might have suited her voice better. There's so much going on, with the choirs, lasers and glittery high-tops, it's easy for her to get lost in the performance. None of the judges liked it apart from Simon, who retaliates by referring to Paula and Nicole as 'Squiddly and Diddly', showcasing his coruscating wit.

If J-Lo had a proper voice, rather than a cat fart in a wet napkin, this is what she might sound like.

Marcus doesn't want to be in the bottom two this week, so he's mashing up Usher's moves and Chris Brown's style in an attempt to tick all the modern R&B boxes. Unfortunately, P.Y.T. isn't a great vocal showcase, and the RedOne-style production makes it sound like the sort of track that Pitbull would turn up on. Just to be clear, that is not a good thing. Now Paula's talking about "perspiration and exhilaration". Seriously, if the Muppets don't show up by the end of the show, I'm going to be fucked off - anything Olly Murs can do... The judges are very complimentary about Marcus' back-flip, because nothing says 'great vocal' like desperate acrobatics. Just ask Aston from JLS.

Chris Rene is excited because his Grandad wrote Rockin' Robin, which was most famously recorded by Michael Jackson on his solo debut. Chris is singing I'll Be There, and it's mostly out of his range, so thank goodness for the rap section where he gets to do what he does best. He's wearing a letterman jacket which, like most of tonight's outfits, is slathered in cheap sparkles. I know it's supposed to be a tribute to 'The King', but it just conjures up images of Amy Childs running wild backstage with her vajazzling glue-gun. Paula points out that Chris "manifests in the heart department", as if she's trying to describe a haunted John Lewis.

Closing the show is Melanie Amaro, who's tackling one of Michael's most divisive tracks - Earth Song. The audience has already been checked for Jarvis Cocker-likes, and Melanie's exuding a new confidence after last week's barnstorming performance, so this could be good. Simon manages to turn "we've saved the best for last" into a non-sequitur, before introducing his newly-accented final act. The vocals are spot on, and the stage manager has given her the 'vertical light beams of victory' which are usually saved for the best performer of the night. Apart from the key change, which is a bit of a mess, this is great for anyone who likes Latino singers. If J-Lo had a proper voice, rather than a cat fart in a wet napkin, this is what she might sound like. LA Reid says "For one second, I felt like we were at a Melanie concert", which would be fine if he wasn't critiquing a two-minute performance.

Steve takes to the stage for a final summary, once again proving that his contribution to the show could be surpassed by a stage-hand shaking a magic-8 ball and reading out what appears in the little blue window.

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