Last week, Nicole had a mouth full of butter, Louis settled his sexual harassment suit, and Rylan finally hopped on the night-bus back to Essex. Which can only mean one thing - we’re now at the semi-final stage. But there’s an odd mood in the air; at this point, we should all be speculating about who’s going to win, but instead we’re more interested in whether or not the producers can finally get shot of Christopher Maloney. He’s the quivering albatross around this show’s neck, topping the votes every week despite having a giant wormhole where his star-power ought to be.
As the judges come out to nod and wink at the baying crowd, it’s nice to see that Tulisa’s made an effort with a pretty LBD. Nicole, on the other hand, has knocked up an outfit using some festive napkins. Dermot promises us an epic fourway, so maybe Union J have taken their bedroom brainstorms to the next level.
Gary’s up first tonight, introducing his act by saying: “Those two words that send shockwaves of fear around the world – Christopher Maloney.” He’s got a point; they’re shitting themselves in the Syco offices. The big orange muppet has picked You Raise Me Up, and he’s dedicating it to his Nan who’s had more screen-time on this show than many of the contestants. Gary warns that, if Louis gives him negative feedback, they’re going to lock Nan in his dressing room for ten minutes to “do her business.” That might work on Wayne Rooney, but I imagine Louis would remain defiantly unmoved. The song’s a good choice for Maloney’s voice, and, for once, he remains in key. It might lack the rafter-shaking power of Josh Groban’s baritone, but it’s a perfectly passable rendition. Extra points for including the lyric “I am strong when I am on your shoulders,” which has me picturing a frail septuagenarian struggling up the hill to Aldi, lugging a sizeable 34 year-old in a fireman’s lift. On the whole, the judges are all complimentary about him, which makes me think they’re going for the reverse psychology approach – perhaps if they get on board with him, the audience will lose interest?
Jahmene is taking a big risk by singing a song that he once tried to perform at his brother’s funeral. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between connecting with the emotion in a song, and having a nervous breakdown on the key change. It all starts to get a bit depressing, so thank goodness Nicole’s here with her hair in cornrows, like she just got off a flight from Tenerife. Jahmene’s song is I Look To You which, despite coming from Whitney Houston’s car crash of a final album, seems to have been posthumously assigned modern classic status. He’s a bit pitchy on the first chorus, but as the song gets louder, he finds his place and it’s a great performance, even if Nicole cries through the whole thing. The judges are all very moved, but Jahmene keeps his emotions in check by chewing the inside of his face. Tulisa says “I know your brother’s watching over you and he’s very proud of you,” which suggests that, if this solo career doesn’t take off, she could always join Dionne Warwick’s psychic hotline. Nicole invokes the name of Baby Jesus and everyone gets a little uncomfortable – that shit might fly in the US, but here we like our talent shows to remain resolutely secular.
The Union J boys are disheartened about the fact that the audience don’t seem to be voting, so there’s lots of footage of them moping about backstage. This week, they’re going to be dedicating their song to all their fans, to say thank you for all that they’ve done. Like not picking up the fucking phone every week. Their song choice is Beneath Your Beautiful, which is just crying out for some corrective punctuation. The problem is, Labrynth and Emile Sande have turned beautiful into a noun, when beauty would have sufficed. As a result, the line “let me see beneath your beautiful” just sounds like a euphemistic way of saying “can I look up your skirt.” Especially when followed up with “Take it off now girl, I want to see inside.” It might leave me cold, but I bet it gives obstetricians the horn. Tulisa likes the fact that she can see them growing before her eyes, and Nicole commends Josh for coming out swinging. All this thinly veiled penis chat is probably a good idea, since Union J still look as if they belong on Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians.
James is talking about his tough upbringing again, and so he wants to dedicate U2’s One to his brother and sisters. He gets in touch with them thanks to his Samsung tablet, even though he seems to think that Skype is operated by licking the touch-screen. The song suits his vocal style, but visually he’s still a big mess – pleading for a place in the final by dressing like a middle-aged darts pro. His voice sounds pretty great on the performance, but there’s a real danger that, if he wins, he could go down the tedious authenticity route that stopped Matt Cardle’s career in its tracks. Gary says he loves watching James knock down the opponents every week. And yet Christopher gets all that stick just for complaining about the wetness of his latte.
Nicole decides to motivate Jahmene by showing him her original audition for Popstars US, when she was 22. Which was either 12 or 15 years ago, depending on which biography you choose to believe. Jahmene has decided to go back to the beginning and do what he did at the start of his journey. At first, I think this means he’s going to throw on a green tabard and unpack a pallet of Fruit Corners. Instead, he’s decided to reprise his performance of At Last, complete with a few extra vocal runs. He gets three ‘Jahmazings’ for his efforts, and Nicole is so overwhelmed that she’s forgotten how to speak, opting instead to punctuate her own declarations, dot, dot, dot.
Christopher wants to prove the judges wrong, and demonstrate that he’s not outdated and old-fashioned. To show that he’s current and up-to-date, he’s picked a song by everyone’s favourite retro-throwback, Michael Buble. He struggles to locate the right key like a drunk night watchman, and ends up talking his way through the song. It takes a special kind of artiste to drain a catchy song of all melody, but he manages it like a true professional. Gary defends his protégé, saying “The audience were clapping along.” But only because they were trying to drown out the noise that was falling out of his giant shouty face. Barlow explains that they picked the song to demonstrate how versatile Christopher is. Job done – we now know that he can go all the way from A to somewhere just adjacent to A.
Union J are doing a Westlife song, in order to represent how connected they are to Louis. Walsh gamely plays along by agreeing to dress in a bright green onesie. He’s trying to show that he’s down with the kids, but he just looks like Kermit’s stunt double. I’m Already There is actually a Lonestar song, that was covered by Westlife. Not that Louis understands this important distinction, since earlier on he was trying to convince us that You Raise Me Up was also a Westlife classic. The boys make the mistake of letting JJ open the song, and he takes the entire verse to figure out the melody. By the time the rest of them join in, things are back on track, although the judges carp that it was a little bit safe for a semi-final. Louis says “I’ll do whatever you want me to do if you put them in the final.” Somewhere on Twitter, people will be hashtagging #WhatWouldLouisDo. And I bet it’s fucking filthy.
James wants to be making triple platinum albums, which might be a smidge ambitious based on previous X-Factor alumni sales. He comes out onstage between what looks like two giant neon ears and sings The Power Of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. It’s powerful stuff, if a little erratic towards the end. There’s also a massively overused echo effect on his voice, that makes it seem as if he’s miming, since he continues making sounds long after he’s stopped singing. Gary loves that James can make people emote, whilst they’re ironing or washing up. I guess they’ve given up pretending that the nation is glued to the screen on a Saturday night. Nicole rather disingenuously announces that James is why she came to the UK. So it has nothing to do with being closer to her fiancé’s tax shelter, or the fact that she was sacked from the US show.
The results show opens with the boys all stood in a circle in their best funeral suits, with Dermot the iced digestive in the middle of this rather formal twist on Soggy Biscuit. The booming voiceover tells us that tonight, the judges lose their power. But if they head to the North Pole they may be able to negotiate with Jor-El to have them reinstated. Dermot introduces the judges, saying “They’ve been stripped of all their powers, and tonight all they can do is shout and bang the desk with their clitorises.” Now, he may have actually said “clenched fists” – if so, he really needs to enunciate.
The finalists are singing Merry Christmas Baby, which clearly favours James and Jahmene, then Rod Stewart comes out to reveal the final stages of his gradual transformation into Barry Manilow. Rod’s spent the last decade churning out raspy cover versions from the ‘Great American Songbook’ so he’s definitely in his comfort zone here. Tulisa, on the other hand, is wearing a confused smile, probably because she just spent the last five minutes trying to Google Rod Stewart on her Android.
Time for a quick recap of all last night’s action, which seems to take longer than the actual show they’re summarising. The highlight of this is Nicole saying “He slayed it, he owned it, he James Arthured all over it.” Someone once James Arthured in my eye, and it stung like a bastard.
Dermot tries to chat with the contestants backstage, but apart from Christopher, they’re not really in a chatting mood. Jahmene is happy to sit there with his thumbs aloft, as if he’s co-hosting Pat Sharp’s Funhouse.
Tonight’s first special guest is “our very own” Tulisa, which means the statistics researcher has their work cut out, trying to present her as a global musical powerhouse. Five different hair-colours, one regrettable video and a couple of dubious exes is hardly in the same category as 100 million album sales. The song is awful, full of lazy lyrical couplets like “I used to love the sight of you, now I can’t stand the sight of you.” She sings it well enough, but she’s straining her voice so hard that her epiglottis must be red raw. P!nk also shows up to make her X-Factor debut. I like P!nk and her raw, anarchic energy, so it’s disappointing to see her in a black ball-gown, accompanied by a string orchestra.
The contestants take their turns with the random cliché generator (“I’m doing it for the public,” “I’ve come a long way…” and “Leaving tonight is not an option.”) and then it’s time to find out the results. Dermot boasts that they’ve had over a million votes, but Phil and Holly must get more than that with their daily phone-in competitions. James is first through, and stamps around the stage looking for someone to hit. Christopher is next, although his excited screams are drowned out by a cacophony of boos coming from the audience. At this point, it’s no surprise that Jahmene takes the third place, since he’s never been in the bottom two.
Union J are going home, and their greatest moments recap is an opportunity to revisit some of Nicole’s most ridiculous outfits. Then the boys get to sing one last time, and they’ve chosen Taylor Swift’s Love Story. Curiously, someone forgot to change the gender references, which makes for an unusual performance as four lads sing “You be the prince and I can be the princess.” If Nicole doesn’t have a tiara to lend them, I’m sure Louis has one knocking about.
The diva accusations, the negative feedback – none of it has put a dint in Christopher’s unassailable lead. But Cowell won’t take this lying down. Even as I write this, a Treadstone operative is setting himself up on the roof of the Manchester GMEX ahead of next Saturday’s final. It’s gonna be explosive.