My TV life seems to be divided between two very different kinds of show. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of variety; but sometimes abruptly switching from high-end American drama to trashy British reality can be jarring. Tonight, I finally caught up with the superlative Breaking Bad, ahead of its penultimate episode, only to switch straight over to a double-bill of X-Factor. All the screaming, recriminations and betrayal – let me tell you, these audition rounds have been no picnic.
There’s a lot to get through, so fire up some crystal meth, and let’s get cracking. As if Walt White’s suburban brand of villainy isn’t chilling enough, here’s Louis Walsh calmly warning us “There’s nowhere to hide.” Some people manage to chill the blood without even trying. Meanwhile, Nicole finds herself accosted by a Pearly King and Queen outside the ExCel – they bark something about Rosy Lee and apples and pears at her, then try to dislocate her shoulder.
This weekend’s first hopefuls are Cathy and Catrina. Together they are Duplex - something of a misnomer, since ‘duplex’ usually indicates more than one level. Instead, they’re two babbling idiots in heavy eyeliner; the worst person you’ve ever been stuck on the top deck of a bus with. Twice. Showing a lack of empathy for conjoined twins, as well as a healthy disregard for the meaning of ‘literally’ they ramble “We’re literally one person cut in half.” Pass me a machete and I’ll do it myself. Unsurprisingly, their audition fails to impress. Adding insult to injury, the producers play Trouble by Shampoo, as Gary tells the girls they can’t sing – as if that was any barrier to chart success. The girls choose to take the feedback as a compliment, which is a little worrying, but when Sharon adds “You’re like two Vicky Pollards,” they realise “Oh, that’s an insult.” OK, so they do get it.
Since this is the final weekend of auditions, the producers decide to roll out a compilation of their favourite terrible auditions. Shozod has a cute face, but sings like an asthmatic guinea pig enrolling in a school for the deaf. Krystof attempts to hypnotize the judges into four yeses with a spinning belt-buckle, and Peter seems to be auditioning despite suffering some kind of emergency tracheotomy. “It only takes one person…” comments Louis helpfully, just as Justin Peng enters the room and confuses them all with his nervous rambling. In a clever piece of misdirection, Justin has been set up as another William Hung (Google is your friend), but having given Nicole a flower, he surprises everyone by not being a comedy buffoon. His voice is powerful and he stays in tune – which is about as enthusiastic as I can get. Of course, the judges rave about it, because they’d assumed he’d be terrible, with Nicole even throwing in a “Jamazing” for good measure. Bless her, that was last year.
The next segment focuses on the boys. First up is Sam Callahan, one of those nice looking but unbearably cocky types that you see hanging around in Gants Hill waiting for Faces to open. Paul is a pub singer and performs like he means it, but since he looks like a hangover in human form, he’s going to struggle to make much of an impression.
Time for a familiar face now, as Joseph Whelan hauls his giant tattooed arms back into the audition room. Just in case we didn’t remember his ‘Diet Coke break’ good looks, he’s also brought his young son again as an aide memoir. Everyone seems very pleased to see him, and congratulates him on coming back, being very careful not to mention that they picked Rylan over him. He’s still doing the light rock thing, and his singing face still looks like Colin Farrell finding blood in his stool. Louis tells him “You’re what this show is all about.” I presume he means “people who perform auditions to reach the next round of the contest.”
Sincerity is not this show’s strong point, so let’s go and mock some loved-up nerds instead. They call themselves Green Boots, and they spend half the time kissing in slow motion, as an uncomfortably close Dermot looks on. There’s no attempt to even pretend that they might be any good, as Tricia tells us “We don’t sing love songs, we sing songs in love.” “What’s your name?” Sharon enquires as the pair trip into the room, hand-in-hand. “We’re a couple,” Trisha answers unhelpfully. Mrs O makes an “awwwwwwww” noise that could either be empathy, or her breakfast panini about to make a reappearance. Trisha still cooing over her first love, comparing him to microwaved chocolate. The couple’s best friend is outside, laughing his arse off with Dermot and ensuring that he won’t be asked to make a speech at their wedding. Ever the diplomat, Nicole offers “I don’t know if this show is right for you.” Haven’t they heard of Channel 4’s The Undateables?
None of the other groups fare much better. There’s Joanna and Alexandra, two piles of shrieking vibrato in hot pink t-shirts, followed by pastel twins The Rives Brothers, who sing like a snide cartoon fox whispering insults into a phone. Exaggerate are a mother and daughter duo, prompting Louis to ask Sharon, “Do you and your family sing together?” “Shut the fuck up Louis,” she retorts, effectively speaking for the entire country.
Tonight’s big drama comes courtesy of The Daisy Chain, a reasonably pretty trio of girls in a cacophony of clashing floral prints. It’s like Cath Kidston threw up all over them. They’re not family, they tell us, but they might as well be. We can already see where this is going, because we’re wise to the editors’ tricks. Build them up as a tight group of friends so we can revel in the fallout when only one of them gets through. Individually they’re OK, but their attempts to harmonise are about as organic as Voltron assembling. Gary has his eye on Hannah, but can do without the other two. “This is your career, this could last the rest of your life.” Try telling Leon Jackson that. Hannah’s mates give her the most passive aggressive “Fine, whatever, you should go for it!” and pretty much guarantee that they’ll never speak to her again.
Back to the ‘Overs’ category now, as we meet Jayson Newland. He uses the word ‘literally’ too much, and talks about his destiny. Call me judgmental, but I’m picturing it involving a pair of size 11 heels and a shitload of glitter. He can hold notes long enough to time a hard-boiled egg, which leaves Louis looking stupefied. Then again, he’d be transfixed at the sight of a mixer tap. Jayson’s version of Never Too Much takes about 11 minutes, because this is a show that confuses long notes with musical ability. Louis says “You’ve got soul” because it’s safer than mentioning Lenny Henry. Singer songwriter Andrea has a shock of white hair and a passable voice, but is about as memorable as an amnesiac’s PIN number, and Lorna Simpson offers a version of I Have Nothing that’s louder than it is listenable
Closing the first half of this weekend’s action, in shuffle The Nostalgics to be patted on the head by our judges. It’s hard to tell whether they’re supposed to be a musical group, or just a bus outing to Dignitas that broke down on the Beckton roundabout. As they launch into a horrendous rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, it’s clear that Louis is on the wrong side of the table. Then Gary steals my joke, the big-jawed fuck. There’s a flurry of condescending yesses all round to get their hopes up, so they can be crushed later once they start to believe they might actually be in with a shot.
Sunday night’s arena show opens with more hyperbole, as Gary announces “We’re looking for a star.” You know, someone like James Arthur, who’ll gripe through the entire series and then slate other successful acts who graduated from the format. “It’s the last day of auditions” exclaims Nicole excitedly, to the utter apathy of the other three judges.
Ryan Mathie from Hull is the first of tonight’s performers. He cleans rubbish trucks for a living and is doing an annoying acoustic version of Get Lucky. Happily ignoring all the elements that made it a great song in the first place, he’s flat and breathless, but the audience’s idiotic whooping drown out most of it. This means that the judges can complain “I don’t know what happened to you, when your auditions were so great” at bootcamp. “No more bin juice for you” declares Nicole, like a Fairy Godmother in a strapless pleather cocktail dress.
Tenors of Rock are a six-piece of burly shouters who probably met at the A1 services in Peterborough over a full English. One of them is wearing a black kilt which, I’m sorry to say, is just a big skirt. They’re really awful, but once again the audience are loving it, disguising the fact that they keep changing the key down in order to try and hit the notes. Louis says they look like rock stars, but I have a feeling it’s a while since he last flicked through a Kerrang.
Here’s Hannah, who last night ditched her friends to go through. Gary’s unmoved, because he knows the pain of being in a band with people you don’t really like. The first half of Skyscraper suggests she’ll be back in New Look with her mates before too long, but she pulls it together in time to get the audience on side.
The groups are particularly awful this year. Code 4 might be able to dance like Diversity, but unfortunately they also sing like them. Xyra are part Little Mix, part All Saints, and all shit. And Brick City are like a chunky Emeli Sande combined with a Wayans Brothers tribute act. Dynamix aren’t entirely without merit, but as CeCe gives it her all, the audience are distracted by the big pair of tits she’s showing off. And we’re not talking about her full-to-bursting studded bra. The boys in the band make it through with CeCe, but their cards are clearly marked.
There’s a brief moment of confusion as Chad Nelson, a sixty year old Derek Griffiths (ask your dad) lookalike, takes to the stage dressed as Woody from Toy Story. No-one’s sure why he’s there, so we quickly move onto cocky Sam from Saturday’s show. He’s predictably ropey, but the girls love his swagger. Zoe Devlin is another easy win, with her try-hard forties styling and affected jazz vocals. The audience lap it up because it sounds like the stuff they’re supposed to listen to. Handsome Joseph does another dull rock song; this time it’s Guns N Roses, with a guitar hung pointlessly over his shoulder.
After two hours of pitiful performances, we finally see someone who can sing and has genuine stage presence. Crissie Wedding-Singer (that’s not her actual name, but it’s late and I’m getting sloppy) points out that “When I’m singing at a wedding the focus is on the bride and groom.” If she’s tired of being in someone else’s shadow, just wait until she’s assigned to one of the judges. I don’t care for what she’s done with Young Hearts Run Free, but it’s still a great showcase for a lovely voice.
Sixteen year-old Giles from Worcester has turned up in a purple tie-dye t-shirt, that looks like one of Grimace’s soiled bedsheets. He makes a complete hash of Reet Petite, forgetting both the tune and the lyrics, but makes it through anyway. It’s almost as if the producers have already decided who they want to make it through to the live shows.
The final performance of the night goes to Big Paul. Remember him? The one who struggles with his confidence. “I’ve always been the guy in the background.” Or, in some instances, he was the background. He says he’s been working on his stage presence in preparation for today, but I don’t think Liberace’s ghost will be taking any notes. He does, however, walk up and down some steps, and gets a standing ovation for his effort. Tonight’s final comment comes from Louis: “Paul, you’ve got so much old school soul inside you.” I think he means suet.