This weekend the theme is Guilty Pleasures, as if the people who make X-Factor are qualified to be arbiters of taste in music. The very concept of guilty pleasures is anathema anyway, since taste is subjective. And since when did a pop song need acoustic guitars or a dubstep breakdown to be considered worthy? Nonetheless, Dermot comes out to ‘I Need A Hero’ then does a little Hammertime dance, before ripping off his tinfoil trousers. Five minutes in and the weirdness dial has already been cranked up to eleven. As we’re reintroduced to the judges, I notice that voice-over man has decided that Tulisa doesn’t need a last name. That, or he just can’t pronounce Contostavlos. Nicole has come dressed like a gift-wrapped sex doll, whereas Gary looks more like the cardboard box it came in.
The first of tonight’s acts is Union J, who’ve had a dramatic week after lead singer Jaymi came out to the tabloids. Apparently Louis encouraged him to be honest, in a staggering example of physician out thyself. Jaymi told The Sun that Louis said “put it this way, both of my big boybands had a gay member in them.” Repeatedly, by all accounts. There’s a lot of talk about the ‘battle of the boybands’, in which case I’d like to identify as a conscientious objector. The boys are excited about their trip to Disneyland Paris, where they tried out the rides and performed to 2,000 people. Jaymi complains that he had to sit next to JJ on Space Mountain, who ‘screamed like a girl’ the whole time, which is hardly surprising, since he looks like one. For their performance of Call Me Maybe, they’re decked out in natty grey suits. Their voices are pretty flat, and they’ve chosen to ad-lib notes, rather than stick to the melody, which is a canny way of throwing the audience off the scent if you can’t sing particularly well. Tulisa doesn’t like the song, but it’s not as if she’s got an impeccable back catalogue of songs to her name. Nicole tells them off for their dull staging, and says she doesn’t want to see them on another box. The lads concur and promise that, if they’re back next week, it’ll be a box-free zone. Based on this performance, it’s likely to be a tune-free zone as well.
Time for a close-up of the Eurostar. My mistake, it’s just Ella’s epic maw, as she bellows Firework at the Disney crowd in a pair of Minnie Mouse ears. For tonight’s theme she’s picked You’re The One That I Want, as though anyone could ever feel bad about enjoying Grease. Anyway, she’s chosen to do a stripped down acoustic arrangement of the song, and it works really well. Even so, I’d love to see whether she could pull off the same trick with all the shoo-wop-showaddywaddy-ippidy-boom-di-booms of We Go Together. Gary and Louis loved it; tell me about it, studs. Louis is still doing his feeble tea-leaf predictions, and makes the mistake of calling Tulisa a WAG. She indignantly barks back “Actually, I’m a WAF – was already famous.” Way to stay likeable, Contostavlos.
James has spent the week rekindling his bromance with Rylan, who’s taught him to see the ‘lighter side of life.’ I don’t like this chipper new side of James, I like him when he looks as though he’s fretting about the rising damp in his bedsit; I certainly don’t want to hear him using words like ‘magical’ and ‘glamorous.’ He’s doing a strummy acoustic version of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. It’s all predictably low-key, but at least he’s not screaming as though he’s trying to shit a park bench. The melody gets lost towards the end, but it’s probably the straightest performance he’s done all series. Tulisa bleats on about a ‘real cool credible artist down Camden’ and Gary tells James he wants him to win. Meanwhile, Nicole screams that he is ‘mooey inspirato’ but I’m not sure whether she’s speaking Spanish or Polari.
We’re already at the midway point, so Dermot stops by for a little filler chat with the judges. Ed Balls has been tweeting that Tulisa has it all wrong about Carly Rae Jepsen. Nice to know our politicians are weighing in on the issues that matter. Nicole gets excited about a man called balls, then starts quoting Push It. Louis tells us that his guilty pleasure is Take That, then laughs like Phyllis Pearce until he collapses on the judges’ table.
Rylan’s up next, and Nicole is trying to coach him for the week ahead, despite the fact that he’s wearing a giant blue romper suit. It takes a special kind of steely determination to keep a straight face when faced with a lanky gay smurf. After a few scenes of him taking people’s babies at Disneyland, he hits the stage to sing Girls On Film, in a pair of trousers with a set of flickering fluorescent strip-lights down the front of them. Louis can’t be arsed to say anything new, so he just recycles last week’s comments. Tulisa tells Rylan that Guilty Pleasures week was made for him, but in all honesty, he’d make Hallelujah sound like a Cheeky Girls b-side. Nicole describes him as ‘shamazeballs,’ which makes about as much sense as Rylan’s continued presence in the show.
Prepping for Saturday’s show, Gary and Christopher are laughing about the fact that “we’ve been guilty pleasuring every week.” There’s a sodden Fleshlight in Gary’s dressing room that can probably attest to that fact. After singing A Whole New World at Disneyland Paris, Christopher burbles about wanting to call Gary and tell him how well it went. Hope he won’t be too disheartened if it goes straight to voicemail. In keeping with his mid-eighties power ballad agenda, he’s decided to sing Total Eclipse of the Heart. And it sounds exactly how you’d imagine it would. The staging is very odd, as he’s trapped in a cage made of light, as if he’s going to be banished from Krypton into the Phantom Zone for crimes against light entertainment. The judges give their comments with a sense of weary resignation, as if they’ve seen the audience polls, and short of stabbing a panda to death on stage, they know there’s no way he won’t be here next week.
Tonight’s final performance comes from Nicole’s “fighting little lambchop”. I literally have no idea what to do with that remark, except wonder whether Shari Lewis missed a trick with her bleating sock-puppet. Jahmene is singing a soulful version of Don’t Leave Me This Way that picks up halfway through, while standing on what looks like a giant Tetris. Tulisa says that she’s running out of ways to kiss his butt – let’s hope she’s not got another video coming out.
Remember in last night’s show, when Tulisa slated Call Me Maybe? Well, here to remind us what a true powerhouse pop song sounds like, our top six are singing her solo debut, We Are Young. The song might be about youthful exuberance, but Jahmene looks positively middle-aged in a shapeless polo shirt more suited to washing a Passat than performing on the UK’s favourite talent show. Backstage, he says “Hearing people shouting my name has reminded me why I’m doing this.” If that’s all he’s looking for, he could just spend a few nights in prison, as long as he doesn’t mind answering to “New Fish.”
The first of tonight’s special guests is Olly Murs, who’s usually hanging about backstage anyway. It looks as though he didn’t have time to get dressed properly, since he’s paired some smart trousers with thermal underwear. Oddly, even though the song was written for his voice, he can’t seem to settle on a key, so tries out a few different ones. In the end, it’s nice to know that his multi-platinum success hasn’t changed him – he’s still as insufferably smug as he was back when he was just another contestant.
Our other special guest is Alicia Keys, who’s responsible for one of the most frequently massacred songs in talent show history. So I suppose we should be thankful that she’s performing her new single instead. The staging is weird, with a giant gong, a Chinese dragon and a troupe of ninja dancers. Alicia is settling comfortably into diva-dom, relying on the dancers to help her negotiate five steps. It’s fine for a septuagenarian like Shirley Bassey, but seems like overkill for a woman in her thirties. No matter – she’s looking gorgeous and the song’s pretty strong.
There’s a whole hour to kill, so time for more VT footage of the contestant telling us how badly they want this. That just means lots of talk about ‘finding myself’ and ‘life lessons’. Christopher wants to put the sparkle back in his Nan’s eyes, so I guess he’ll use his winnings to pay for the cataract removal. And Jahmene says that he’s been feeling quite lost recently, but I’m not sure whether he’s speaking metaphorically, or if ASDA just changed the store layout without telling him.
It’s crunch time, and the first act safe is Union J, who seem to explode in different directions. Rylan is also safe, and has another weepy meltdown in his gold lame housecoat, followed swiftly by Jahmene. Brace yourself – time for a real upset now as Christopher goes through, leaving Ella and James to head into the commercial break wondering where it all started going wrong.
The judges are all in a state of shock, but it’s not hard to realise that, when you focus on controversial contestants, you end up making them the stars of the show. So they win votes. For the sing-off, Ella has picked Daniel Bedingfield’s If You’re Not The One. It’s a lovely song, and she sings it well, but unfortunately it shows up the same flaws in her voice that the Evanescence song did a few weeks ago – it’s in too high a key, and involves far too much warbly vibrato. Following that, Nicole is out of breath with emotion as she introduces “James Effing Arthur.” It’s no wonder he has a volatile relationship with his parents if that’s their idea of a middle name. Only minutes ago, I was writing about Alicia Keys’ Fallin’, and right on cue, here’s another painful version of it.
Tulisa gets angry and saves Ella, and Nicole’s nostrils flare so widely I half expect her nose to split in two before saving James. Louis says he’s in shock and waves his hands around while stating the obvious and saving Ella. Gary knew it would come to this, and seemingly forgets that his own cruise-ship act is sitting safely in the green room, as he picks James to stay. It’s yet another deadlock, and that means that Ella’s out. Unlike her fuming mentor, she’s pretty gracious in defeat, telling us that everyone deserves to be here.