The X Factor Week 4: The Gogglebox Effect

Last week, we spent over two hours watching a handful of acts valiantly repeating their introductions to camera, hugging their overly encouraging families, and attempting to win over 5,000 people crammed into uncomfortable plastic seats. That’s right, we’re right in the middle of the arena round; the most pointless addition to the X-Factor since Louis Walsh had his veneers done.
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Last week, we spent over two hours watching a handful of acts valiantly repeating their introductions to camera, hugging their overly encouraging families, and attempting to win over 5,000 people crammed into uncomfortable plastic seats. That’s right, we’re right in the middle of the arena round; the most pointless addition to the X-Factor since Louis Walsh had his veneers done.

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Aside from the rather obvious bias of these shows towards the acts likely to make it to the judges’ houses, the most notable feature of these filler episodes is the addition of a weird Gogglebox element. Now we get to hear the opinions of random audience members as they pass comment on the acts, like Waldorf and Statler, but less life-like.

Adding an extra layer of Goggleboxiness to this weekend’s action is Chloe Jasmine. Despite the fact that this footage was filmed well before any of the episodes actually aired, we get to see her parents pretending to watch her audition on a flat screen TV that seems as out of place in their home as a library in Cheryl’s. “Mummy, this is the television show I’m on,” Chloe announces. “Oh Chloe, you’re so clever,” her mother replies; clearly one of those parents that gives a round of applause whenever their toddler has a shit. The ‘getting to know you’ chat consists of Chloe telling is that her hobbies include “going to the ballet, the opera and experimenting with gluten free cooking,” but it seems that her real talent is pouting in slow motion. Her song is appropriately bluesy, but her performance is more two-dimensional than Jessica Rabbitt’s. Nonetheless, Louis loves her vibe, Cheryl’s mesmerised by her “old school Hollywood glamma…” and Simon lies that “we’ve never had anyone on the show like you before.”

Fleur East has great hair and a massive smile, and previously made it through to the live shows nine years ago as part of an underwhelming group. She didn’t get a glowing response in her first audition, and when she starts performing it’s clear that she’s spent more time on her abs than her vocals. There’s zero melody to her voice, and to be honest, she’d probably go further as a backing dancer. Simon says she’s like a different artist, and I’m silently wishing that someone had switched her microphone for a paintbrush. As the judges all weigh in with their comments, it suddenly becomes apparent that no-one’s paying any attention, since Simon’s moobs have fallen out of his shirt onto the table, making him look like a furry Judy Finnigan.

After a fairly soft opening, it’s time to bring out the big guns. Back by unpopular demand, here’s Raign, everyone’s favourite self-absorbed whippet. The producers clearly hate her, but know that she’s PR gold, so we get loads of contradictory statements as she tells us that there’s no room for egos, then barks orders at her friends as if they’re iPhone factory workers. As soon as she comes out of stage, she launches into another aggravating monologue that even has her friends backstage wishing she’d shut the fuck up. Ever the rampant egotist, she chooses to sing one of her own songs, and sounds like the Sia wannabe that she so clearly is. Still, the audience leap to their feet on the big note, despite all the other ones being way off. Weirdly, Louis critiques her for being “a real diva,” which must be the first time he’s ever used that as the pejorative it’s supposed to be.

Emily Middlemass is 15 years old, and has the kind of good natured grace that Raign couldn’t learn with electroshock therapy. She’s a perky blend of Cher Lloyd and Kelly Clarkson, who manages to make everything sound like a folksy ditty. Although there’s not a lot of weight to her, she’d easily sail to midway in the contest. Since the producers have selected Yes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack to accompany her verdict, I guess they’ve given up on trying to surprise us.

Stephanie Nala is a bubbly girl with a pleasant voice, who lives in Cheshunt. “It’s quiet, not much goes on there,” she admits. Well, not unless there’s a fire drill at the Tesco offices. I wouldn’t have put her through, but since Yes is still playing, I expect that she’s going home happy.

Another familiar face is KerriAnne, who’s come out in her best denim dungaree shorts to tell us that her first audition was “absolutely mint.” Sigh. She’s going to sing a Carrie Underwood song, and seems a little surprised when Simon adds “You know I discovered her?” The song is as dull as a bus replacement service, but it comes to life on the big notes. She’s quite adorable when the audience leap to their feet, and she seems so lacking in confidence that she’s genuinely in danger of collapsing in on herself. “You should be selling music not shoes,” advises Cheryl, but I think HMV’s had a recruitment freeze since the restructure.

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Major are a noisy twosome, who are barely onstage long enough to register. Simon dislikes their performance, for which Louis takes him to task; accusing him of being harsh. And yet no-one seems to pick up the fact that Louis’ opening line to them was “You are two girls?” With Simon’s critiquing style now firmly established, we race through a tedious montage of his most witless similes. The other judges replay them with a baffled expression, and the audience laugh like there’s a mild electric current coursing through the arena.

Michelle Lawson is one of those late thirties ‘last chance’ singers. Despite being warned by Cheryl to steer clear of “all those rifts…” she knows this is the moment she’s been waiting for her whole life and nothing will get her down, not even a problematic T-zone. Given her tendency to oversing, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going probably isn’t the best choice. There’s no enjoyment in her performance, it’s more like enduring a French listening exam. Mel advises her that less is more, and let’s face it, if anyone knows about making do with less, it’s Mel B. A dejected Michelle strops off the stage for a big sulk, and possibly even calls Dermot a “bag of crap.”

Back for more, this time without her aged husband, is Scarlett Quinn. She’s already ditched the stage name ‘Kitten,’ and her unfortunate habit of speaking about her husband in the past tense, suggests that he won’t be far behind it. As she growls through Ain’t No Other Man, her voice is passable and she’s has a sultry Pussycat Doll presence. The problem is, she’s only about 30% of the singer Christina Aguilera is, so the performance can only suffer from the comparison.

Closing Saturday’s show is Ben Haenow (Haenow). “Oy, oy,” he shouts as he runs out on stage, like the warm up act for the Family Fortunes studio audience. He likes music he can bellow out of his van window at people. I wonder how often his transit gets keyed. Ben tells us how gorgeous Cheryl is, while his girlfriend in tastefully blurred in the background. He’s doing a gravelly, funereal Wild Horses that makes me want to repeatedly clear my throat, and it’s almost as exhausting as Michelle’s vocal runs. “Well that was intense, I don’t think I need to say any more,” says Mel B, and I’m hoping she’ll stick to her word. No-one’s surprised when Ben gets four yeses, since he’s the last act of the night, and it’s an unwritten rule that we have to end on a positive.

Sunday’s show kicks off with Charlie Martinez, the handsome young American who got Mel B wetter than a Glastonbury groundsheet. There’s no doubting his twinkly smile and impressive arms, but he’s incredibly bland; like Taylor Lautner in a pair of chinos. He belongs in a Gap shop window, not on the stage at Wembley. He only sings a couple of lines, before we get to hear the judges gush about how the girls are going to love him. Thankfully, Mel B’s seen sense (or at least a restraining order) and tell him she was bored to tears.

Ten Senah was drunk for her last audition, and on reflection, she probably should have necked a bottle of MadDog while she was waiting in the wings. Michael Marouli doesn’t fare much better, coming onto the stage looking like a chandelier dipped in gravy browning.

Janet Grogan is from Dublin and she’s 26. And just in case you missed that the first time, let me recap: Janet Grogan is from Dublin and she’s 26. If that seemed entirely unnecessary, remember that next time the producers do the exact same thing. So much of this weekend’s coverage is taking us back to the original auditions, it’s like watching the show in reverse. Any minute now, Guy Pearce is going to show up and start taking Polaroids. Anyway, back to Janet. She’s singing I Still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, oblivious to the fact that the whole world is now in a ‘post U2 kind of mood,’ having woken up to find an album sitting in their iTunes, like a drunken tattoo. The song’s fine, but it’s not a star-making performance, more a spirited karaoke. Still, at least Mel B’s finally happy.

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Charlie Jones is 14, and has the kind of mum who thinks nothing of making him go to the toilet and checking him for clean pants on national TV. He sounds dull when he speaks, but manages to raise a few eyebrows with a weird acoustic version of Wannabe, complete with an inane rap that’s been updated to name check the judges. “You made yourself different from everybody else,” says Cowell, but that’s only because he didn’t really sing.

Helen Fulthorpe is a timid mum from Cardiff, who looks like the OCD teacher on Glee. There’s an interesting gravelly howl to her voice, but the “Try a little te-he-he-he-he-he-he-he-he-henderness,” soon grows wearying. Simon commends her, saying “You put your family in front of your career…” Of course, the inference here is that all that’s about to change. They can make their own fucking teas from now on. As she runs in slow motion to embrace her kids, there’s a spectacular amount of jiggle, despite the fact that she’s dressed like a particularly dowdy pilgrim.

Tom Mann is a cute 20 year old from Southampton, who announces “You broke my heart Louis Walsh.” As the lawyers scrabble into action, he tells us he’ll be singing a song he wrote the day after Louis sent him home last year. I think it’s called “Fuck off, you pointless grinning cockpipe.” It’s pretty terrible, but since he looks the part, they give him a second chance and let him Chipmunk his way through the Backstreet Boys.

Jake Sims serves no purpose, other than to remind me of the enduring and inexplicable popularity of the Arctic Monkeys. As the wind whistles through the many holes in his face, Simon tells him “You’ve got lead guy charisma,” which I’d interpret as “Bugger off and join a band.” Jordan Morris is equally ineffectual, in a pair of bewildering pedal pushers. He’s another blandly attractive face, like one of those sentient mannequins on Doctor Who.

Another familiar face is Jake Quickenden, who reminds us that he’s from Scunthorpe and he “just sings.” So no mention of the modeling or TV presenting work then. “I don’t like people knowing that I’m vulnerable,” he sobs photogenically. He’s emoting his way through a Jessie J dirge, but I’m more interested in why he thought it was a good idea to have a moustache tattooed on his finger. Simon lies about not liking it when rejected contestants return, despite this contradicting everything he’s ever said to anyone, ever.

Leah Kennedy is like a Happy Shopper Jessie J, but her song is awful and there’s about as much energy in the room as if Ed Miliband had just popped in. Louis and Cheryl offer her a half-hearted yes, and Simon tells her he’ll have forgotten her before she’s even exited stage right.

Our final contestant is Lola Saunders, the fishmonger. “I don’t want it to be a full time job,” she moans. Surely, if it’s a big supermarket, they can offer her flexi-time? Her granddad keeps bursting into tears with pride whenever he talks about her. They could make a whole show about him, trying to get a sentence out without dissolving into sobs. As the music starts, she has a bit of a panic attack, so Mel B lunges at her to offer an encouraging hug. She fudges the lyrics to You Make Me Feel (Natural Woman) but the clueless crowds are loving the loud noises, so cheer along obliviously. As her granddad resorts to communicating entirely in wolf-whistles, Lola leaves the stage with four yeses. Let’s hope the stylists are standing by – she may have a great voice, but the next X-Factor winner shouldn’t be dressing like a Victorian tennis player.