I know that the X-Factor production team likes to make it sound like a battle-to-the-death, but for once, this isn’t hyperbole. This week, both Jahmene and James have been talking about having suicidal thoughts. And if Christopher wins, it’s likely that Simon will be chewing on a cyanide pill. There’s four hours to get through, which is longer than some animals take to gestate their young, so chances are, this will be a long write-up. Bear with me; we’ll get through it together.
By the time the X-Factor final rolls around, it’s customary for those involved to wax lyrical about their ‘journey’. The last three months have been a gruelling experience; there’s been laughter, tears and extensive alcohol abuse, and that’s just to get these reviews done on time. As for the contestants, they’ve all been on their own journey, which is probably why the show opens with an extended plug for Virgin Trains. They take their metaphors very seriously here.
Mr Voice-over tells us “They came in their thousands to win a life-changing recording contract.” Or, in Christopher’s case, a potentially show-ending one. The Manchester Arena is packed with 10,000 fans and the stage has been built on a huge X, which must have taken the design team all of five minutes to come up with. Out comes Dermot after a extended opening routine that takes him from the train station to the backstage dressing area, via the Rovers Return and Louis’ dressing room. My guess is that it was a lot more fun to film than it was to watch. Nicole is making a final bid to win this season’s fashion prize, and in her floor-length gown she looks a million dollars. In her pleather dress, Tulisa is more of a bum-bag full of travellers’ cheques.
It’s become something of a tradition to open the show by revisiting all the finalists from the live shows, which gets off to a grating start with Rylan’s reprise of Gangnam Style. Then out come the boy-bands and Kye, trundling down the aisle on motorised scooters. Kye looks like he came out in the wrong category, but given this show’s habit of chopping and changing the line-ups, maybe he’s hoping to be assimilated into one of the groups. Mark my words: they could be the next big Borg-band.
Nicole introduces Jahmene, saying “Kicking things off, the first of the two boys,” which makes it sound as though Christopher is of indeterminate gender. They’re off to Swindon in a helicopter, which Jahmene thinks is insane. The people of Wiltshire seem equally bemused, but I think that’s just because they’ve never seen one before. The first stop is ASDA, because Nicole needs to pick up some Scotch eggs. Jahmene also takes the opportunity to go back to church, and even ropes Nicole into dressing in purple robes and joining the choir. Although that could be at the Pastor’s insistence, since her sexy black get-up isn’t fit for a house of the Lord. Jahmene says the word ‘church’ far too many times, and Nicole implores the congregation: “Please continue to pray for him and, I hate to say it, vote for him.” Between you and me, I think the phone votes have a better chance of registering.
The streets are packed with thousands of people - Swindon hasn’t seen this much excitement since the new Greggs opened. Back in Manchester, and Jahmene is performing Move On Up inside a Big Ben-shaped Wendy House. It’s a little squealy and he gets lost amongst all the choreography and pyrotechnics. Louis gets in his “You remind me of a little…” and tonight it’s Luther Vandross who wins the obligatory name check. Tulisa says she remembers his first audition – we all do love, they showed a clip of it ten minutes ago. Gary didn’t care for the song, but Nicole was all over that shit. Words no longer have any meaning for her, so now she’s just making up some ridiculous noises.
One improvement to the format is that they’ve done away with the live links to village halls in the contestants’ home towns. Instead, they’ve just released Caroline Flack into the audience to grill family and friends. One of Jahmene’s colleagues is in the crowd, and she must have come straight from work because she’s still wearing her bakers’ overalls. I’m not sure that’s hygienic, so I’ll be giving the crusty cobs a miss for the next couple of weeks.
Apparently, Christopher has ditched his first name and he’s now “The Maloney.” Standing on the front of the Mersey ferry, he yells “I’m on top of the world.” See, the useless fucker can’t even deliver a line of film dialogue without screwing it up. As he does his tour of Liverpool, all his mates eat cupcakes with his face on them. If the buttercream doesn’t turn their stomach, his gurning mug certainly will. Then it’s off to his Nan’s house, and the streets outside look like someone phoned in a bomb threat to the local retirement home. Nan’s put on a lovely spread for her visitors, and Gary starts dropping his consonants faster than he’ll be dropping his trembling protégé once this is all over. We also get an illuminating insight into the people who’ve been voting for Christopher - “We don’t all want to listen to this ‘ip-‘op stuff, bangin’ us ‘eads.” For his big song he’s doing (Flashdance) What A Feeling, which is even more ill-advised than anything else he’s done to date. He emerges from a giant boom box, as the camera hones in on a giant knob marked ‘tuner’. Which is ironic, since the next biggest knob on stage could really do with one. Louis says “You’ve changed your life and you’re not going back to Liverpool.” Someone had better tell his Nan, just in case she’s got another batch of sausage rolls in the Baby Belling. Dermot leads into the ad break saying “Two words: James Arthur. Three words: See you shortly.” Four words: This shit’s getting old.
After helicoptering into Swindon, Nicole then gets to visit Middlesborough with James; this time she’s arriving pillion style. First up is a quick pint at the pub he used to play in, followed by a touching reunion with his Nan. Forget about the contestants - it’s like a battle of the supportive grannies on X-Factor tonight. I call it VietNan. James invites Nicole into his bedsit, and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that she’s far and away the hottest girl he’s ever perched on that threadbare sofa-bed with. I’m sorry to say, his performance to the hometown crowd sounded awful, and that’s the worry here. He could pip Maloney to the title, and then swiftly disappear up his own Cardle. For his opening song tonight, we get a very weird tracking shot of him making his way to the stage that takes so long, I’m suprised he didn’t stop off for a piss en-route. The audience might love his earnest ranting but the song is frustratingly tuneless. The last few notes are pretty good but he’s missed the point of the song. It’s called ‘Feeling Good’, so why does it sound like something that might be shouted through a balaclava at a team of hostage negotiators? Tulisa does an embarrassing American accent, and then gets all excited about how raw and home-grown he is, as if she’s describing the crudités on the craft services table.
Just to remind us how unremarkable this year’s contestants have been, here’s the original American Idol. With five albums in ten years, Grammy awards up the wazoo, and a Greatest Hits compilation, Kelly Clarkson's classy performance is a breath of fresh air after the over-the-top productions in tonight’s first half. However, she loses a couple of points for wearing practically the same outfit as Tulisa, albeit the Evans version of it.
Jahmene says that the first thing he saw at his audition was Nicole’s (please say tits, please say tits) smile. He and Nicole have a nice little bonding session, that goes right back to when she coaxed him back on stage at boot-camp. Tonight, the two of them get to seal their union with a rendition of The Greatest Love Of All. Unfortunately, it all goes wrong when Nicole has a microphone malfunction and has to grab Jahmene’s. She handles it like a pro, and they manage to sound great whilst sharing the one mic, even though Nicole was clearly fuming for most of the performance.
Once again we’ve been spared the possibility of Louis singing with one of his acts, so it’s over to Gary who’ll be dueting on Rule The World. Christopher has a gift for his mentor – a picture frame with nothing in it. He explains that it’s for Gary’s OBE, but it could just as easily be an apt commentary on own Christopher’s X-Factor persona; cheap, fake and empty. Gary proves he knows his way around the piano keyboard, but has noticeably less control over his erratic eyebrows. Meanwhile, Christopher is really straining his voice, which has the unfortunate effect of turning his face purple and giving him tan alarming resemblance to a six-foot cock in a velvet suit. Which wouldn’t be far off.
Nicole tells James that when he’s onstage, he needs to pretend he’s back in the pub. Give it six months and he might not have to make believe. Apart from a slightly disingenuous moment where she declares (dry-eyed) “I’m gonna cry,” it’s safe to call Nicole the true winner of this series. She’s been funny, empathetic, and has apparently spent more than half an hour each week supporting her acts. She and James sing an impassioned rendition of To Make You Feel My Love, and aside from her slightly incongruous leather-fembot get-up, it’s another great effort. Dermot asks her how far her boy has come, and I guess even she’s bored of saying it now, so she simply refers Dermot to the VT they just ran a couple of minutes ago.
They need a bit of time to tally the phone votes, so it’s time to dredge up some guest slots. Rita Ora is standing on a burnt out car in the audience, but no-one around her seems to bat an eyelid. Maybe this is par for the course in Manchester. The first song is staggeringly dull, so she turns up the tempo for the second one. To say she’s the “breakthrough artist of 2012”, her voice really isn’t up to much. In fact, the only time she seems to make any effort is her repeated exhortations for Manchester to “make some noise.” As Rita slopes off the stage in her black and spangly clown’s jump-suit, Dermot notes that his backstage chats with the contestants are always stilted and awkward. In a way, I’m relieved that he’s noticed it, but I’m also secretly preparing for Judgement Day. If O’Leary can become self-aware, Skynet can’t be too far behind.
Adding a touch of class to proceedings is Kylie, who’s doing an orchestral arrangement of Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, dressed like a partially unwrapped Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Her dancers are wearing clever lighting rigs, that would be a lot more impressive if someone had bothered to charge the batteries before they came on stage. Manchester’s technical crew won’t be winning any BAFTAs for tonight’s debacle. Dermot attempts to chat with La Minogue about her Abbey Road Sessions album, while she vamps all over the dancers who don’t look too impressed about being used as human book-ends.
At last, it’s time to find out who’s made it to the proper final, since tonight’s two-hour slog was really just a warm-up. The first act through is (imagine a three-minute pause while you’re reading this) Jahmene, who drops to his knees like a penitent evangelist caught in a by-the-hour motel room. He’s joined on Sunday’s show by James, which means that Nicole has scored the show’s first ever double. Christopher does his best to look sanguine about the whole thing, but if the backstage diva stories have any truth in them, the production crew are in for a long night. Behind him, Jahmene is carrying James on his shoulders, and Nicole has stolen Dermot’s microphone. This is starting to become a habit.
The Actual Final
Sunday’s show opens with the finalists running through a whistle-stop medley of Christmas songs. Melanie manages to throw in one of her rib rattling notes, despite only getting half a line to herself. None of the songs get a chance to outstay their welcome, but this year of revelations about sexual predators has made me see some of their lyrics in a different light. When the gang starts singing “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake,” I wonder whether it’s Santa Claus or Julian Assange who’s coming to town. Interestingly, Lucy hasn’t come back for tonight’s show, but even more notable is the absence of Christopher, who seems determined to prove that those tabloid stories had it right all along. There’s a bit more more awkward backstage chatter with the two finalists, the highlight of which involves James saying “Life doesn’t get any better than this.” That’s hardly a surprise though, given that his previous highlight was probably thawing out a chicken thigh under the hot tap in his bedsit.
Tonight, Nicole’s boys will both be performing their favourite song from the series. Jahmene tells her he’s decided that Angels was his best performance, and manages to keep a straight face, despite the fact that she’s wearing her midweek cornrows again. That really does seem like a lot of effort for 48 hours, but this is a woman who relaxes in a leather bondage dress. Over the last ten weeks she must have killed off more cows than Ronald McDonald. Jahmene betters his previous performance of the song, and once again reduces Nicole to tears. Louis tells him that “every time you sing, you move me.” But so could a couple of Pickfords lads. Thanks to some careful dabbing, Nicole has managed to keep her tears going through all the other judges’ comments, and she talks about him like he’s the second coming.
James, on the other hand, is having another crack at Let’s get It On, which he brings to life by lightly molesting the judges in a saunter-by groping. Even Louis gets in on the action with a teasing hair-ruffle from the lumpy crooner. It must have worked, since he feels inspired enough to say something sincere and genuine for once, as he complements Nicole for being a great mentor. Gary says he’s ready to download James’ album, but we could just be talking about another Ed Sheeran situation.
As Dermot checks in with the judges, we get to see Nicole buffing her golden breastplate with a tear-soaked tissue, before launching into a recap of the judges’ journey. It’s really just a chance to run through all the ridiculous words she’s invented over the last three months. She’s like Stanley Unwin, with better tits.
There’s even more filler, as we revisit previous X-Factor contestants, including Olly Murs, Alexandra Burke, JLS, Leona Lewis and Cher Lloyd. Maybe Leon Jackson was just too busy? Even Dermot admits that not all the winners have gone on to be global superstars. Something of an understatement, given that Matt Cardle would struggle to get a table in Nandos. One act that has been successful is One Direction, who are here to demonstrate the importance of post-production in creating a best-seller. The song is fun, but the vocals wouldn’t get them past a first audition. Dermot attempts to join them on their giant ramp, but keeps sliding out of shot, like my dog when he sits on a tiled floor.
You may not realise this, but a new enactment was added to the statute books this year, determining that no gathering of 5,000+ people was allowed to take place without a performance from Emeli Sande. She’s here to try and raise her profile one last time, before sacking it all in and retraining as a dental nurse. Of course, I’m being facetious. The intro announces her as The Voice of 2012, when ‘The ONLY voice of 2012’ would be just as truthful. Sniping aside, her song Clown may have an awkward chorus, but its beautiful verses sound like something that Randy Crawford wouldn’t be ashamed of. Even so, I don’t understand the lyric “I’ll be your clown, on your favourite channel.” Sky must really be running out of ideas.
Before we hear the ‘winners’ songs,’ Dermot checks in with the Man City and United players for yet another awkward chat; this time with Rio Ferdinand, who’s borrowed one of Louis’ black polo-necks and looks like a furious magician. Rather than waste a new composition on a charity single, the producers have been rummaging through the classics bin and given Jahmene Let It Be. He gives it his all, but it just too overproduced and gospelly to go anywhere. After the judges do their bit, we revisit Caroline who’s chatting with one of Jahmene’s friends. Here’s someone who will have to go back to ASDA on Monday morning. And although they’re still supporting their boy, I’m sure they’re getting sick of him describing their job as if they’re sweeping out the Stygian Stables.
James has been given Impossible by Shontelle as his single, which feels like a bargain bin choice after something from the Lennon McCartney songbook. He’s doing a fine job with the vocals, but it’s a bit aimless, as he paces back and forth on what looks like an electrified fish-tank. Nicole gets a little carried away in her dancing, and comes perilously close to punching Gary in the head. But that’s been brewing all season. Poor Louis must have lost his notes, because he’s giving exactly the same feedback as he did last night. Tulisa tries to give James a cunningly encoded message, but no-one needs to break out the Enigma machine. Nicole does her well-established trick of incorporating the song’s lyrics into her feedback.
Time for one more guest slot, and it’s the irritatingly ubiquitous Rihanna. The woman is so omnipresent I half expect to wake up one morning and find her delivering my milk, just so she can yell S&M through my letterbox. She looks beautiful in a white bandage dress, but the tuneless ballad she’s singing is remarkably tedious. I can’t see this giving her that 7th UK number one. Just when it looks like she’s about to mope off stage, she goes into We Found Love. The screams of the audience suggests they were as bored with the first song as I was. When she catches up with Dermot, she starts answering questions before he’s even asked them. That’s how often she’s on this show.
And finally, we discover who’s the winner of the X-Factor, 2012 – James. Jahmene tells him “You’re an amazing talent, use this platform, use it wisely.” But Dermot moves the microphone away before we get to hear him warn “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”