Four weeks in, and I’m starting to lose my edge. By the time we get to December I’m going to be wrapped up in a blanket and sunglasses, like Barbara Hershey at the end of Beaches. So in the interest of maintaining my sanity, let’s rattle through two editions of The X-Factor in one go. This weekend is the ‘annual Halloween special’ and promises more horrors than a Saw marathon, not to mention a similar runtime.
As the live performances show opens, there’s lots of talk about Louis hoping to survive this week. But as long as he avoids sunlight or anything too garlicky, he should be fine. The acts are told to embrace their dark side, which I’d have thought was a prerequisite for anyone signing a contract with Simon Cowell’s name on it. A special shout-out also goes to Nicole, who’s turned up in one of Cher’s lacy catsuits and an old Diana Ross wig, to remind us that Americans see Halloween as an opportunity to dress up like a slut. Rounding out the contrived spooky references, is Dermot’s stark warning that there’s going to be a week four casualty - perhaps Steve Brookstein was seen lurking in the rigging with a screwdriver and a blank, white mask. But before we crack on, we need to mention the fact that Lucy won’t be performing tonight. There are a couple of oblique references to a mystery illness, but it could be that she’s spent all week struggling to find anything to rhyme with Halloween.
Our first performer tonight is Kye, who was shocked to find himself in the bottom two last week and wants to have more fun this time around. To help him get his mojo back, Kye gets a master class with Robbie Williams, whose song he’ll be singing. Remember when Dermot promised a Halloween spectacular? Turns out that this amounts to little more than some CGI bats on the background screens. That splashing sound you can hear is the boat being pushed out. Meanwhile, Kye is begging to ‘Let Me Entertain You’, and I’d be happy for him to try. Instead, he runs into the audience and ends up in the cloakroom, in a move that feels more Michael Barrymore than Gene Simmons. Nicole tells him he came out swinging, so I’m just glad none of the slashes on his trousers were too high. As for poor old Tulisa, she might want to rethink her wardrobe when hovering over a reflective desk, since it looks as though she’s just sitting there in her bra. Well, I wouldn’t put it past her.
Once again, Union J are all in bed together. That may have worked in the more innocent days of Morecambe and Wise...
Once again, Union J are all in bed together. That may have worked in the more innocent days of Morecambe and Wise, but it takes on a whole other meaning when it’s an androgynous four-piece who are sharing the duvet. They had a big week, getting their hair did for the Skyfall premiere. It was a fantastic night for them, mingling with “Some of the biggest celebrities in the world” – as the camera cuts to Kelly Brook. Tonight they’re singing Beyonce’s Sweet Dream, but like the lyric says, it’s more of a beautiful nightmare. It’s also clear that the production crew are missing Brian Friedman’s inspired insanity – why else would the boys appear standing on an abandoned Kia saloon? Tulisa tries to give them some positive feedback, but there’s so much dry ice it looks as though someone’s pants are on fire. By the time we get to Louis, he’s chanting “You could be the next big boyband” which is the failsafe to let his programmers know that the system needs rebooting.
Nicole promises a ‘deadly performance from Rylan Clark’ and, if the previous weeks are anything to go by, she’s not kidding. After a five-minute advert for Mahiki, where he celebrated his birthday, our newly bleached star is showing off some weird black and white bedazzlements on his face, which makes it look like he’s been bobbing for apples in a bucket of bird-shit. He opens with Toxic, then rattles through Horny and Nicole’s Poison. Sometimes, these reviews just write themselves. Louis tells him “You remind me of a young Jean Paul Gaultier.” Presumably, because he can’t sing either. After another savaging, Gary does the noble thing and tells the audience at home that Rylan is very popular backstage. Keep it clean Barlow, we’re still pre-watershed.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’m convinced that Tulisa is trying hard to score a sponsorship deal with Greggs. Last year it was all about her little muffins, now Ella is ‘My little cupcake.’ I guess we’ll know she’s getting somewhere when she describes Lucy Spraggan as her favourite Steak Bake. Ella’s dressed as a Little Red Riding Hood strip-a-gram to sing Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life. As you’d expect, the gravel and power in her voice works well, but it’s all in too low a key for a song that demands to be screeched at the top of her lungs. As it happens, Nicole completely agrees with me and gets booed for her efforts. Louis loved it, and Tulisa tells her she made it her own. At this stage I’m thankful that I’m not playing a drinking game, otherwise I’d be typing like one of those monkeys in the Shakespeare room.
Gary and Christopher are doing an extended plug for the Samsung tablet; improvising a chat about nerves that allows for lots of lovely close-ups of the shiny touch screen. Apparently, everyone in Liverpool is wearing a Christopher mask with terrifying cut-out eyes, like something from the end of Jeepers Creepers. Another week and another MOR power ballad – this time it’s Died In Your Arms by Cutting Crew. The dancers are crouched at the edge of the stage shining torches on the audience. The ushers in my local cinema used to do that when I was a kid, to make sure no-one was getting a surreptitious hand-job during the local ads. Nicole’s critique is a spectacular display of false complements, that begins with “Well, that was fun…” and goes downhill from there. Tulisa criticises Gary’s repetitive song choices, so he goes in for the kill by having a pop at her ‘fag-ash breath.’ The audience are clearly unsettled by the animosity, and it doesn’t get any better when Tulisa responds by calling Gary out on his wine stank.
Louis is giving District 3 a pep talk and trying not to mention the world’s most ridiculous hat, which makes them look as if they were illustrated by Dr Seuss. The boys are concerned that they might have looked a bit dead behind the eyes and, to be fair, we’ve already established that that’s Christopher’s domain. As far as inappropriate costume choices go, the boys are clearly onto a winner - dressing as Droogs in order to violate the memory of Every Breath You Take. This is not what Stanley Kubrick intended as his artistic legacy, so don’t be too surprised if he’s gently rotating in his grave, like that donut space station from 2001. At this stage, I wouldn’t even be shocked if their performance culminated in them rushing at Tulisa with a giant stylised porcelain cock. Nicole and Gary are sick of the mash-ups, and even Louis admits that they were utter shit. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but only because I tend to switch off if he’s not saying something laughably racist.
Nicole promises a ‘deadly performance from Rylan Clark’ and, if the previous weeks are anything to go by, she’s not kidding.
Jahmene has been getting loads of messages about how he helps people put things in perspective. Especially draughtsmen, who can use his fringe as a set square. He’s had a cracking week though, even getting to sing for Samuel Motherfucking Jackson. Tonight, Jahmene is singing Killing Me Softly, and it just goes to show how little the producers and mentors actually know about music. This is not a love song, it was actually written about Don McLean (take that to your next pub quiz) and is about the power of a performer to connect with an audience. But in order to avoid making Jahmene sound gay, they’ve changed all the pronouns to she, which shits all over the song’s reputation and meaning. Even so, Tulisa can’t find a negative thing to say, so perhaps she missed the key change, which was handled with all the grace of someone trying to parallel park a cement truck.
Jade is bigging up her earthy, track-suit bottoms former life, so she’s thrilled to revisit her daughter in the rundown tower block where they live. Setting aside the concerns about home-alone kids that pop up when her four year-old answers the door, let’s focus on the excellent work by the production department on distressing the wallpaper. We’ve been promised South Central, so it’s good to see that everything’s as shabby as Jade promised. Tonight she’s wearing a robo-dominatrix rubber catsuit and a fetching Frankenstein neck-scar to sing Freak Like Me. The vocal is only so-so, but the arrangement is truly appalling – continually switching tempo like it was cobbled together by a technician with ADD. The judges hated it, and even Tulisa struggles to articulate something positive. But that’s nothing new.
James is closing tonight’s show with a newfound confidence, thanks to his week supporting Labrinth. In fact, he’s so in his element that he may well have decided he doesn’t need this X-Factor shit. No matter - he’s smeared on some guyliner to accentuate those sunken-features, and he’s moaning and mumbling his way through Sweet Dreams. The dancers have thrown on some capes and are flanking the judges on both sides like the illuminati with flaming torches. Louis complements him on always bringing something new to the show, not that he’s ever been troubled by such requirements. As James lumbers stiffly off the stage, I’m wondering whether Jade’s Frankenstein neck-wound might have suited him better.
Onto the results show, and Dermot promises Fun. Don’t worry, he’s not overselling the next hour of TV, he just means the American group. There’s also Robbie Williams on hand, to teach the contestants that a complete absence of humility should be no barrier to a successful career in music. Tulisa makes a big deal of showing off her Nicorette patch, and that’s not a euphemism. Tonight’s group song is David Guetta’s Without You, and only Kye and Jahmene managed to find the key in time for their solo spots - Ella simply stands at the front and yells.
Here’s some Fun now. That was a Little Shop of Horrors reference, for the three of you who’ll appreciate it. They’re performing their enormous global hit We Are Young, and I’d enjoy it a lot more if I wasn’t so distracted by how tiny they all look. The guitarists in particular are wielding such enormous guitars, they’re more like the Muppet Babies.
Dermot tries to gloss over last night’s ‘fag ash’ scandal, suggesting that Tulisa and Gary kissed and made up. But the obvious distance between them suggests that she’s yet to break the seal on the Listerine. When she tries to give her feedback on who’s in danger, there’s a weird clicking sound, like she’s fumbling with a packet of SMINTs under the desk.
When she tries to give her feedback on who’s in danger, there’s a weird clicking sound, like she’s fumbling with a packet of SMINTs under the desk.
Robbie’s new song has all the contemporary sophistication of Copacabana. He struts and thrusts his way around the stage like Foghorn Leghorn in a purple polo-neck then straddles Louis Walsh. So that’s my Halloween nightmares sorted. His voice is just south of piss-poor; barely speaking the lyrics and still managing to sound out of breath. By the time the ticker tape parade starts, all I can do is empathise with the poor stage manager who’s going to have three minutes to sweep that fucker.
Time for the results, so the mentors and their acts return to the stage. Rylan seems to be wearing a tabard that he could have nicked from one of the girls who work at Underworld in Weatherfield. It doesn’t matter, he’s safe along with everyone else, with the exception of Jade and Union J. The boys are up first and take on P!nk’s Fuckin’ Perfect. Unfortunately, they do the cleaned up version, when now would have been the ideal time to throw out a few F-bombs. To her credit, Jade has listened to the judges about what they loved about her in the first place. She’s doing a lovely version of White Flag, and I’d like to think that somewhere in West London, Dido is sitting at home thinking “Oh, THAT’s what it’s supposed to sound like.”
Louis gets a voice wobble when he votes to save Union J, and Tulisa votes for her girl. No surprises so far. Nicole throws in the first spanner by saving Union J – I wonder if she’s read her memo from Cowell about signing the next One Direction. Clearly Barlow did, because he kicks Jade out with a passive-aggressive “I worry that I want this more than you do.” Dermot tries to cheer her up by reminding her that she can get back to doing her daughter’s school run. Dermot O’Leary – great in a crisis.
Follow Gareth on Twitter @gdimelow
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