Perhaps acknowledging the feedback that, after a decade of “I want this more than anything…” and “You’re what this competition is all about”, it’s all starting to feel a little stale. So the bootcamp section has been given something of a shake-up – racing from 100 acts to just 24 in less time it would take you to watch Pirates of the Caribbean. As our hundred hopefuls get dropped off to face the judges, Dermot’s waiting for them at the base of the steps: “This is Wembley, and this is bootcamp.” And this is already getting tedious. Over the course of the next 180 minutes, Nicole will threaten to spill out of a silver bustier, Louis will become tired and emotional, and there’ll be enough talk of “nailing it” to qualify for an NVQ in carpentry.
First order of the day is for Richard, the show’s executive producer, to get dolled up in his best impresario outfit (paisley cravat and dalmation-framed glasses, I thank you) and allocate categories to each of the judges. “The boys, oh, good, good. I’m happy with that.” Yeah, I bet you are, Louis. Nicole’s obviously too excited about getting the girls to eat her Eggs Hemingway, and Gary appears to be training at Leiths Cooking School, so receives the news about the groups in his chef whites. In the interest of brevity the categories line up outside Wembley as four limos pull up alongside them to reveal their judges. One of Sharon’s ‘Overs’ burbles excitedly, “I just saw her leg, I thought, it’s not Louis, it’s not Gary.” That’ll be the first of tonight’s slow eye-rolls.
The judges take their seats as Louis comments “We’re looking for a star.” He seems to offer up this insightful nugget every week, like Rain Man talking about plane crashes. This is when the editors really come into their own, as they smash footage of nearly all the contestants into a single montage, giving each one a single shrieked note, like the world’s most terrifying car alarm. In what must be some kind of a record for the X-Factor, 100 acts are whittled down to 50 in a matter of five minutes. In fact, the only person who even qualifies for airtime in all of this is Stephanie, who got rejected at Sharon’s house back in 2006. Sharon begs Nicole to give the girl a chance, but the Pussycat Doll is no Dannii Minogue, and won’t be bullied by the monstrous matriarch. Stephanie leaves the stage dejectedly, as Sharon quietly puts a hit on her new blow-dried nemesis.
The rest of the two shows is given over to the ‘six seat challenge’ which all sounds a bit It’s A Knockout. “It’s well nerve-wracking innit?” observes one of the girls knowledgeably. There are six cheap white chairs to the side of the stage. Each contestant will come out and sing for their place, until all six chairs have been filled. But before any of them get too comfortable, there may still be contestants left to perform, in which case they could lose their place to a better singer.
Karen starts the segment reasonably well, to which Louis comments, “I like you, you’ve got a good voice. Is Nicole gonna pick you? I don’t know.” Brilliant.
Lydia does an awful version of Michael Jackson and moans that she can’t go home, as if her picture’s up on the Post Office wall. She’s got loads of quirky little vocal tricks up her sleeve, but there’s no melody within a five-mile radius. Gary adds that she has a tendency to oversing, which is like pointing out that Sharon may have had a bit of work done.
Hannah is the pretty girl who discovered that her best friends were a pair of graceless bitches, and is going it alone. She sings well but has a distracting habit of screwing up her nose on the big notes, like someone’s left a smoked haddock to rot in her pelmet. Nicole sends her home, so good for Dermot, being there to ask how she feels before she’s even had a chance to gather her thoughts.
Siana and Crissy get their marching orders for lackluster vocals, and Jade just confuses everyone when Nicole asks her why she should make the top six: “I don’t know why. If it’s a no, it’s a no. If it’s a yes, then fantastic.” It’s a no.
Nicole’s had enough. Like Louis Gossett Jr in a shimmering corset, she struts backstage and tells the girls to get their shit together. Because she cares TOO DAMN MUCH.
Tamera is looking more and more like Whitney Houston, but cleverly avoids repeating her earlier audition and goes for Rihanna instead. It’s a wise choice, since anyone with a half-decent voice can blow the Barbadian bombshell out of the water. More interestingly, Tamera is the only contestant so far to appear as if she’s thought about the lyrics and what they mean. Meanwhile, Hannah is backstage cheering her on, and doing that double fist-bump that Ross and Monica used to do when TV regulations meant they weren’t allowed to flip the bird. “Finally, another seat” moans Dermot, as if he had to lug them onstage himself.
Relley screams her way through Respect, and gets a seat despite looking like she spends her weekend fending off amorous advances from Pepe Le Pew. Jade also gets a place, having been through all this before – she’s the one that people will make lazy Adele comparisons about, just because she’s got a gravelly voice and probably doesn’t ask for her dressing on the side.
Sheena is a barmaid with an acoustic guitar, and has a lovely tone to her voice. But she’s one of those singers who believes that every pop song should be slowed down to an acoustic ballad, irrespective of what the song is about. Gary thinks she’s a real artist, which is the kiss of death for anyone. Nicole squeezes a tear and tells her that she’s not right for the show. Then changes her mind.
Dermot leans into the camera and whispers “All six seats are taken. Now it gets interesting.” Bastard could have told us that at the beginning.
Hannah Barrett gave this series its first sob story of the series, but is redeemed by the fact that she’s a bloody great vocalist. She makes a great job of ‘I’d rather go blind,’ and by the end of it, she’s just crouched on the stage growling at the audience. The judges take turns passing a microphone down the line to give their feedback – I guess all this year’s budget went on Nicole’s enormous weave. She does some unpretty crying, that make her look as if she’s been drinking from a firehose, and ends up taking Sheena’s recently occupied seat.
Abby announces that she’s “absolutely bricking it” which kind of kills the floaty flower-girl vibe she usually gives off. Overcome with emotion, she goes outside to have a cry about taking someone else’s place, which is a little like complaining about the tax you’d have to pay if you ever won the lottery. She’s another one who choses to make an upbeat song a weepy ballad, without changing any of the words. The audience gives her a standing ovation, and she looks as if she got off the bus at the wrong stop. This time, it’s Lydia who loses her spot, which suits me fine.
Melanie is the last of the girls, and she’s auditioned three times before. She’s singing Katy Perry and actually looks like her. She has a very pop voice – nothing too special but extremely commercial. Louis is getting a bit emotional, and Nicole’s already training her rifle sight on the chairs as she says “Melanie, I’d like you to be in my top six.” Jade gives a massive side-eye, but in the end it’s Karen who gets her bus fare home.
After all the tears and traumas of Nicole’s slot, it looks like Sharon’s section could be relatively drama free. There are so few Overs left, that if they all budged up they could probably fit on the six seats.
Prison Sam sings Clown and does a great job, but it doesn’t sound much different from the original. When Sharon starts encouraging the audience to go mad, it’s pretty clear she’ll soon be taking the weight off. Souli Roots is a crazy woman in a tiny hat who does the splits in black and white striped leggings. She’s the sort of woman who Louis would put through, but thankfully Sharon’s been taking her meds and makes the right choice.
Jason is the call centre boy with the McAlmont vibe – he sings Higher Love by Steve Winwood; one of my favourite songs. There’s a little too much falsetto, but he’s different enough to make the contest interesting. Nicole calls him simple and beautiful, (*pot, kettle klaxon*), but for no particular reason Sharon sends him home. Hearing the boos that accompany her decision, she erroneously reveals “I didn’t think the audience liked him that much.”
Sabrina gives a big but tuneless performance, followed by Joseph Whelan and his lovely big arms. He does lots of ‘sad thinking’ poses backstage, before screaming his way through Iris and bursting into tears when Sharon mentions his son. After telling him to grow a pair, Sharon then tells him to take his seat.
The warning on my DVR ahead of the second installment cautions: “The following programme contains acts of violence and scenes of a sexual nature.” They weren’t kidding when they said this would be the toughest bootcamp ever.
Van driver Shelley appears to be modeling herself on a middle-aged Carol Ann from Poltergeist; a thought that I find sufficiently distracting to drown out all the self-indulgent and tuneless bellowing she’s doing.
Taking up the last two available chairs are Katie, who does an angry version of Clown, and Andrea, who offers up a weird River Deep Mountain High on a bodhrán drum. Everyone looks happy and contented on their seats, so here’s Lorna to shake things up, in a pleather skirt that does her no favours. Her vocal is so good that Sharon’s six give her a standing O, perhaps not realising that one of them won’t sitting back down. There’s also a little flurry of drama as Joseph throws a diva strop, when Gary suggests that Sharon send him home to make room for Zoe. In the end, one of the girls loses her spot, so Zoe makes it through and Joseph lives to sulk another day.
Gary must have done something to annoy Simon Cowell, based on the woeful showing in the groups category. Lots of vertiginous baseball caps and JLS wannabes, and barely enough star wattage to power a clockwork radio. Brick City seem to have chosen their outfits as a dare, and sing a community choir rendition of Like A Prayer, that’s only missing Whoopi Goldberg in a wimple. Rough Copy have gone from a three-piece to a two piece, due to a visa issue that’s even more complicated than all this chairs business. The two guys that are left give a rousing, emotive version of Stop Crying Your Heart Out, as their fallen comrade does precisely that. NVS are some kind of am-dram improvisation exercise, and Kingsland seem to think that key changes can be applied to every line of a song. Xyra can’t get to the stylists fast enough, and The Tenors of Rock are making me thankful that John Waters’ Odorama never took off. Attempting to spice things up a little, Nicole offers one boyband a seat, only for one of the lads to respond by grabbing his cock, as if he was willing to reciprocate the offer.
The big surprise in Gary’s category is a new three-piece girlband, comprising
various offcuts and leftovers from other acts that didn’t make the grade. They don’t appear to have a name yet, or any sense of harmony, but they’re better than any of the other groups and far more commercial than anything else we’ve seen. Gary clearly wants them, so even though we’ve already sat through nearly three hours of this, up pops Dermot to explain what happens next. In the end, the Tenors of Rock have to give up their seats to the girls – hopefully there’s a stagehand nearby with a can of Febreze. The less said about the final group, Next of Kin, the better. They describe themselves as the UK’s answer to Hanson; in essence, a question no-one was asking.
Sam kicks off the boys’ segment, with a tuneless version of Iris. He’s neither as musical or as good looking as he thinks he is, but Louis is swaying along like a Fanilow during an encore of I Write The Songs. He pretends for a moment that he might not put same through, but it’s the laziest fake-out since the moon landing. Big Paul is tired of singing to empty pubs, so maybe he should start doing it when they’re open. Gary gives it some ‘Oh, wow, great song choice’ when he says he’s doing I’d Rather Go Blind, as if it was an original selection and not one of the preselected production shortlist. Louis is concerned that Paul might not sell any records, carefully overlooking the fact that even the winners have struggled in that regard.
Barclay is a yodeler, which makes about as much sense as anything else on this ridiculous show. He thinks that to earn a place at Louis’ house he has to take some risks, but something tells me they won’t stop there. He does the annoying 90s boyband gesturing, before slipping awkwardly into a yodel halfway through Respect. Alejandro is feeling confident, and he wants to “win over the ladies” but the way Dermot fawns over his broad shoulders suggests that some of the boys might be equally engaged. He sings One Direction, which suggests he’s at least smart enough to understand his target audience. Ryan is trying to do Avicii’s Wake Me Up, but it sounds like he’s got a mouthful of midget gems. He should probably clean his fingernails too – that bin juice gets everywhere.
Luke sounds almost as terrible as he looks, but gets through anyways because, well, this is Louis that we’re talking about. Giles has tried to up his game after screwing up his arena audition – he’s combed his hair and had a go at learning the words. Weirdly, he’s wearing a pinafore dress and some ill-fitting purple leggings, but manages to get through a passable version of I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz. Tom is the nice-looking young football coach with choppy hair and funny little boots. He does an annoying breath after every syllable; making Girls Just Wanna Have Fun sound like some he’s having some kind of seizure. Thankfully, Louis sees sense and sends him home – 11 years on and he finally gets how this is supposed to work.
The final contestant to make it through is Nicholas, who looks more like an extra from This Is England than a neophyte popstar. He’s got some grit and power in his voice, and Louis knows that someone’s about to lose their seat. In the end, it’s Alejandro who loses out – another shock given Louis’ track record.
Next week, it’s off to whatever vacant properties the producers can source at short notice. There will be tears.