Saturday, 25 August 2012

The less-than-magnificent seven

Apparently, the X-Factor lost two million viewers last week when the new series debuted. Maybe we're just getting a little tired of the over-familiar format, or perhaps we can't quite fathom how it can take an hour and a quarter to get through seven auditions. Either way, it's doubtful that tonight's show is going to do much to reverse the exodus, since all the old cliches are present and correct.

After Mel B's epic bitchery last week, it's disappointing that tonight's guest judge is Rita Ora - a woman who is currently less famous than half the people she's here to pass comment on. Shockingly, Rita's debut album is out on Monday; a fortuitous coincidence, I'm sure you'll agree. She may not have the extensive back catalogue of Tulisa, but at least she looks the part behind the judges' table. Or would if wasn't for the fact that her face and body seem to be completely mismatched - like she borrowed Worzel Gummidge's judging head for the day.

The show opens with a cacophony of noise, with back-to-back screaming high notes, shouty judges, that roaring voice-over and Carmina Burana. Two minutes in and I've already got a blinding headache - so the fact that Mel B is going to be making a repeat appearance means we could be looking at a full-blown aneurysm.

As many viewers noticed last week, including this one, it's all gone a bit TOWIE, with contestants taking part in pointless staged chatter. We go one further this week, prowling through people's gardens like some kind of night stalker, peering through their windows as they straighten their hair. We even get a bit of found footage, that seems to have been spliced in from a lost Blair Witch sequel.

It's morning now, and once again there are tens of thousands of hopefuls queuing up for their big moment. A member of the production crew tells them, "There's a lot of people here today, but please bear with us - you all will be seen." Just not by the judges.

The first part of the show is dedicated to Rylan. You may remember him from Signed by Katie Price, or would if anybody had actually watched it. Looking like a page three girl, but with a sculpted beard, it's a little like watching a 21st century version of Cupid Stunt. Rylan's worried he may have overdone the make-up, eyebrows and fake tan, telling us "I'm a borderline drag queen now." Trust me, we're so far over the borderline we need a passport to get back. Finally on stage, Rylan tells the judges that he's all about "eye-bee-fah", because he used to perform in a Take That/Westlife tribute act on the party island. I'm guessing he did the Lulu bits. Unfortunately, he chooses Des'ree's Kissing You, and it's a horrible mess. But that doesn't stop Dermot nodding along backstage saying "I'm loving it." The disingenuous fucker. The judges aren't overly enamoured with the performance, but Rylan promises "If I make it through to bootcamp, I'll bring something to the table." Best get your order for a deep pan with extra pepperoni in now.

Kye works as a chimney sweep, but I'm crossing my fingers that he won't be doing a selection from Mary Poppins. He moans that he's "played every single toilet club in the country - it's a hard pill to swallow." But this is a family show, so we won't dwell on what happens when you swallow pills in a club toilet. His chosen song is an acoustic mash-up that includes Rita Ora's RIP, which is a complete coincidence, since he had no idea she'd be here today. I just hope his singing is better than his lying. The voice is good, but his face is a bit too expressive, Anthony Hopkins' ventriloquist's dummy in Magic. He's also dull enough to be the next Matt Cardle, so he could go all the way - better start clearing out those bargain bins. The judges are blown away, with Louis remarking "You've been cleaning chimneys, with a voice like that?" No, he uses a brush for that. He continues, "We're looking for X-factor, and we've found the X-Factor." Great, job done - can we all go home then? Rita pipes up to say "You have actually touched me." But if he offers to clean out her flue, she might not press charges.

After the break we see Shannelle and Lucy attempting some partially scripted bonding. Shannelle says "I want to please all the judges, but they all want different things." Something tells me she may have trouble pleasing Louis. After a swift no from all four judges, it's Lucy's turn. She's singing her own composition about hangover remorse, called 'Last Night'. Not bad, but it's really just Amy MacDonald doing a Victoria Wood song. This could be the soundtrack for binge drink Britain, but throw in some slick Swedish production and it's not so far removed from Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night'. Gary says it's just like a regular night out for Tulisa, but I must have missed the lyric about giving someone a lazy nosh. Backstage, Lucy gushes "I'm not sad, I'm happy, I just look sad." So we're running the gamut of complex emotions here on the X-Factor.

We're now in Newcastle, which means it's time for another regional montage, full of people who apply their make-up like they're drawing a face on a paper plate. Nicole's back now, and struggling with the accent. So it's the perfect time to introduce Billy, who'd have Jimmy Nail mashing the subtitle button on his remote. Even the audience seems to be struggling, and they're locals. Poor old Billy is trying to sing Don't Stop Believing, but he keeps looking down as if he's trying to find the karaoke monitor. Not that it would help, since most of his performance consists of him standing on stage, letting out short, pained moans, like a restless spirit with IBS. "Sorry about that, I'm absolutely murdering it," he apologises, but you don't get any points in this game for self-awareness.

Newcastle really isn't faring too well, typified by the sight of a man dressed as a tiger in high heels. We get lots of shots of our exasperated judges sighing, and saying things like "I just want one good person." But just when we're thinking that the show is more telegraphed than the fate of someone who goes for a shit in a Friday 13th movie, we get a genuine surprise. The next girl, Sophie, is awful too. While she's busy murdering a Jennifer Hudson song on stage, her Mum proudly tells Dermot "She can  do it even better," to which he replies "What, better than this?" with an impressively straight face.

There's only ten minutes to go, and we always end on an upbeat note, so we probably shouldn't be too surprised that James gets the full blown sob story slot. Coping mechanisms, off the rails, foster care - all the bases are covered in this one. His parents have come together for the first time in twenty years to support him, and they cry themselves dry behind the scenes as he nails Tulisa on stage. No, not like that. He's doing a deconstructed acoustic version of 'We Are Young' and it's pretty good, given the raw materials he's working with. Gary gets a little emotional, telling James that he mustn't let anyone change anything about him. But we'll see if he's still singing the same tune when someone comes at him with the teeth bleaching kit.

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