Sunday, 30 September 2012

Simon says...

Syco Productions
Re: X-Factor Series Nine
Staff Memo

Hello Team. Sorry I couldn’t be over there with you, but really I’ve got my own problems over here. Seriously, you try getting a coherent thought out of Britney Spears at ten in the morning. Now, I’ll be honest - we’re not off to a great start. We’ve tried to shake things up with the addition of a new judge, and our scripted reality segments, but we still seem to be losing those all-important column inches to a septuagenarian who knows her way round an apple strudel. Having reviewed the tapes from the Judges’ Homes, I wanted to share some notes with you about how you all performed.

Tulisa – congrats on your new makeover. Since we’ve been hemorrhaging viewers to Strictly these last few weeks, we need to pull in that middle aged audience. A bit more Vaseline on the lens and some of the dopey old fuckers might think they’ve tuned into Vanessa Feltz. So good effort there. But please have a word with Ella. She may be the best contestant in your group (so no surprise that you put her through first) but she really needs to go easy on the eye make-up. At one point I thought a couple of her bulldog clips had slipped down her face and pinched her eyes shut. Oh, and if you’re going to build the drama about why you might not put someone through, come up with something better than ‘nerves’.

Now, I know you’ve all been briefed on bringing out those sob stories. They get the red tops interested, and give us loads of close-ups of running mascara – that product placement deal with Maybelline can’t be too far away. But have a word will you? Amy tried to convince us that her sob story is the fact that she lives in a house with her parents and siblings. I can’t stress this enough – we can’t do anything with relatives who aren’t dead. Take a leaf out of Jade’s book instead. That confessional about wanting a little garden so she and her daughter can sleep in a tent – genius. She’s making homelessness sound aspirational. That’s what we need more of. Finally, I’d just like to ask what the hell you were thinking by putting Lucy through. She writes her own songs and plays a guitar. How the hell are we supposed to squeeze her into a catsuit and get two minutes of Katy Perry out of that?

Louis, great job mate. No-one tunes into your bit for any nasty surprises, so thanks for keeping it nice and predictable. Having said that, you do realise that you actually put a girl through, right? The little short-haired blonde in MK1? Just wanted to clear that up. Oh, and we’ve had a few complaints from some of the contestants – apparently squinting into the midday Nevada sun for half an hour isn’t good for the eyes. I’ll be honest, Lou Lou, we got a bit worried for a minute when you complemented Duke by telling them they’re “so different to anything we’ve ever seen on the show.” Just to remind you – that is not a good thing. We’re already scratching our heads trying to figure out what to do with that Spraggan lass, the last thing we need is a trio of beat-boxing day labourers. But we knew we could trust you to fill the line up with pretty boy-bands. Don’t let this slip to anyone, but next year we’re planning to just stand outside Hollister with a giant butterfly net. Let us know if you want to be in charge of the pheromone spritzer that we’ll be using to bait the trap. One final note – maybe you want to keep the age references to a minimum. It’s bad enough that you’re turning into Grandpa Munster, but those comments about nobody being interested in an older boy-band? They’re just gonna piss Barlow right off, and he’s touch-and-go as it is.

Nicole, one word for you – bravo! You look fantastic, you speak sense and, most importantly, you followed your script to the letter. I know there were a few raised eyebrows (not Sharon’s, hers are stuck up there) when we decided to put Rylan through. He can’t sing, he dresses like he came straight from the Mos Eisley cantina, and a two-minute VT of him is worse than being stuck in a festival Portaloo with Jedward. But trust me, he’s ratings gold. We’ve already got Samsung on board, and they’re going to make a killing replacing all the TVs that kicked in between now and Christmas. That meltdown he had, when you told him he was in your top three, was priceless. More overacting than that Turkish film we watched in the office last week. Good choice on James – he’s a fucking mess, but once we’ve styled his hair and broken those glasses, we should be OK. Book him in with the turd polishers first thing Monday will you?

Speaking of which, was that you having a sly dig at Jahmene? I mean, he’s a nice kid and everything, but did you have to give him a shout out for his sense of style? I’ve got news for you love, it’s not his style, it’s fucking Cromwell’s Madhouse. Styling issues aside, we’ve got big hopes for the nervy little bugger, so good on you for giving him the pep talk he needed: “Go have a good cry and grow a pair of balls while you’re at it” is going up on the office wall tomorrow.

Gary – thanks for sticking with us. We’re all really pleased you showed up, in spite of what you’ve been through. If for no other reason than the fact that Geri Halliwell’s been driving us nuts with offers to step in if it all gets a bit much. On the subject of mentals, we’re not sure Nicola took her rejection too well, the way she stomped off across that wet lawn in her high heels. Might want to pop the kids’ rabbits in the attic until the dust’s settled, eh?

You might have noticed we’ve had to cut back on the budget a bit – the flights and hotels have put us in the red, which is why you were bumped out of the main house and stuck in the stable block. We also had to send the big sofa back, so they could wash Cole’s grubby footprints off the loose covers, if you’re wondering why you were stuck with a couple of poxy armchairs. We promise all the furniture will be wipe clean for the live finals.

I know we said you’d got a dynamite category this year but, let’s be honest, I think we’ve short-changed you a bit. Even the editors nodded off on your segment, so sorry if we haven’t got many notes for you. Cheers for sacrificing one of your slots to Carolynne. We were all ready to give up when she started going on about her annus horribilis again, so it’s probably for the best that we just let her get this out of her system. Bit of a shame that you’d only got one place left after putting Kye through, but you made the right call. Christopher’s blood pressure looked like it was about to go through the roof; his legs were a completely different colour to his face. Any more pressure and we could have had a full blown Scanners on our hands. Of course, that did mean that we missed out on an emotional reaction from Melanie when you gave her the good news. She tried to squeeze a tear, then ended up just poking herself in the eye when none came. Look, you made the best of a bad job. But on the upside, at least you won’t be too busy in the run up to Christmas. Every cloud and all that.

One final note for all of you. I know it’s that time when we start thinking about make-overs for all our acts, but after watching the rough cut of the top twelve singing Read All About It, I’d advise you to exercise some caution. Ella’s gob looked like the fucking Ring – I was only surprised that some dead Japanese girl didn’t crawl out of it on the high note. And this might be the age of metrosexuality, but it’d be great if I could tell the girls and boys apart when they’re all singing together.

That’s it folks. Great work, and I’ll see you in Soho House for the Christmas bash.


A House Is Not A Home

After weeks of rather dull audition footage, it’s time to inject a little glamour into the proceedings. Let's usher in some A-list guest stars, visit some exotic locations and roll out the teary confessional interviews as we head off to the Judges’ Houses. Over two nights we’re going to whittle down our hopefuls from 25 to the final twelve. That’s right – 25. Because of some ridiculous visa issue, Louis had to drop one of his groups, and replace them with two others. It’s inordinately complicated, so let’s concentrate instead on the preposterous nature of this round of the competition. When the show first started, it seemed as though we were genuinely getting an insight into the judges’ private worlds, right down to Louis’ bedsit overlooking the Liffey. It was a joke that never got old; seeing everyone else jetting off to exotic locations, as Louis’ group queued up at the Ryanair check-in desk.

But as the show got bigger, so too did its penchant for exaggeration. So now we’re expected to believe that Gary owns a country pile that would make Downtown Abbey look like the Dingle’s lean-to. As we zoom in on Boughton House in Northamptonshire, we hear the familiar theme tune to All Creatures Great And Small. Hopefully this means that instead of singing for their place in the live finals, the ‘Overs’ will be asked to deliver a foal with their bare hands.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, here’s Tulisa in her cliff-top mansion in St Lucia. If they wanted us to swallow this unfeasible plot twist, they could have shown her running round the house and whipping her tights off the radiator before the guests arrive. Instead, she races towards the beach on a speedboat to welcome the girls to the Caribbean island.

Meanwhile, Louis is living it up in Las Vegas – otherwise known as Sin City – despite the fact that the closest he’s ever come to bacchanalian excess is making his Ovaltine with full-fat milk. Louis welcomes them, saying “You can feel the energy of this city,” but only if you stick a twenty down its bra. The lads are particularly happy, reminding us: “Louis is great, he’s done boybands before.” Sorry, there’s no time for innuendo, as Sharon Osbourne has just rolled out of a limo wearing her latest face, and looking as though she could have been carved on the front of a tea clipper.

Last, and quite possibly least, is Nicole, who’s shipping the boys out to Dubai. Rylan laments that he hasn’t got a clue where he’s going, and I suspect that the producers are asking themselves a similar question. Of course, we all know that he’s off to the Emirates, so I just hope he’s remembered to pack a burqa. As for Nicole, she’s happy sailing into the harbour on a yacht, waving her legs in the air like Ariel trying out her new pins for the first time.

With introductions out of the way, the rest of the show will be divided into four parts, as each judge takes it in turns to review their category and then pretend they’re using a Samsung tablet to make their decisions. There’s a lot of product placement in this episode, so I should probably point out that I’m writing this on an Apple MacBook Pro and enjoying a refreshing Smirnoff vodka and Pepsi as I write this.

First up is Louis, who’s sitting on a rooftop in his pajamas being served mojitos by a shirtless Chippendale. As he and Sharon giggle conspiratorially about how they’re “Off to a good start,” it’s clear that Louis has decided to stop pretending. About his heterosexuality anyway, he’s still faking a full head of hair.

As we whip through the seven groups, their ridiculous names all seem to merge into a stream of disconnected letters and numbers, until they sound more like a wireless password than a pop group. Without wanting to get too negative at this early stage, there’s a depressing lack of ‘wow’ in the performances. Times Red look pretty, but they’re not as good as they think they are. Mitsotu have spent their lives dancing for other artists, and are excited about the fact that they’re here “…to experience it from the front.” With Louis, anything’s possible. MK1 are here without Will the accountant, who’s given them his blessing (and a contract demanding a 33% share of profits). They complement each other pretty well, but I can’t look at them without picturing the spunky blonde tying bed sheets together in a lost episode of Bad Girls.

Union J have a new member, and so “It’s all been a bit of a rollercoaster”. That’s talent-show speak for “we hate each other’s guts.” After a disjointed start, they manage to mesh pretty well, so they’re a dead cert for the live finals. Poisonous Twin bounce onto the balcony, as Sharon greets them with “Hello, Double Mint.” Even over the sound of Las Vegas nightlife, you can hear the crashing silence that meets that remark. As for the girls; they’re so dull that I’ve forgotten what they’re singing even as they’re performing it. Duke are the man-band who always look naked without a hod of bricks resting on their necks, and they do some beat-boxing which freaks out Sharon and Louis. The Osbourne matriarch explains “He threw a didgeridoo into Michael Jackson.” Now that’s something I’d pay to watch. With one act to go, Louis is trying out a new catchphrase, pointing his finger at GMD3 and saying “OK guys – sing!” Might need a bit of work, that one. The boys are doing Broken Road by Rascal Flatts, which is as dull as anything, but will no doubt appeal to Louis’ penchant for soft country rock. In the end, it’s clear that he’s got a struggle on his hands, with three boybands to choose from. Forgive my cynicism, but I won’t be entirely surprised if he mashes them into one giant supergroup of cheekbones and hair mousse.

Over in Dubai, Nicole is joined by Ne-Yo and boasts that she’s got a strong category, despite all evidence to the contrary. Now, remember I joked earlier about Rylan wearing a burka? Well, turns out I wasn’t far off, since he’s draped in some kind of giant fabric sheath that makes him look like Grace Jones as May Day. Nicole asks him what he’s wearing, and he’s as lost for words as the rest of us. His slowed down version of We Found Love is described by Nicole as the best he’s ever sounded, but we all know what faint praise that is. Ne-Yo seems unconvinced, prompting Nicole to add that Rylan has got a “little sparkle” – something of an understatement for a man who pisses Swarovski crystals.

Speaking of understatements, James moans that he worries he’s not the full package, and might not have the look to be a proper pop star. You don’t say. Surprisingly, his unconventional looks disguise an entirely conventional song-choice, as he takes us through yet another turgid rendition of I Can’t Make You Love Me. He shouts most of it, and loses grip of the melody as the emotion takes hold. It’s kind of like listening to someone dry heave their way through a drunken karaoke. Nathan hasn’t had much camera-time, and based on his performance, I don’t expect that to change next week. Adam is similarly inconsequential, sneering his way through a grouch version of ABBA’s SOS. At this rate, Nicole’s going to need a shit load of aspirin.

The final two in Nicole’s group are Jake and Jahmene. The former is upset about his brother, who’s terminally ill. It’s all very upsetting and clearly affects his vocals. Jahmene is typically timid and nervous, but at least he’s ditched the cheap suits for once. He has a decent stab at Titanium, even if his nerves cause him to struggle with some of the high notes. Wobbles aside, he’s Nicole’s only hope for a mouthful of silver tickertape the weekend before Christmas.

Joined by Tinie Tempah, who demonstrates all the personality of a bathing cap, Tulisa is still boasting about what a great year her muffins had. But I’m trying not to mention THAT video again, so we’ll move on. Lucy is trying to be enthusiastic about Tinie, but I’m willing to bet that the hip-hop folder on her iPod is as empty as Tulisa’s bookshelf.

Jade thinks she lives in a terrifying shithole (I’m paraphrasing here), so she shouldn’t be surprised if her neighbours decide to kick in her front door while she’s living it up in the Caribbean. Her voice is pleasant, but it’s clear that she doesn’t have the strength or the range for the high notes. Amy blunders her way through an “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this” speech, but redeems herself with another blinding vocal. Leanne is another singer with a decent voice, but almost no screen presence at all, and the other Jade does a passable Roxette, but she’ll mostly be remembered for her Scouse brows and blue nail varnish. Lucy does an odd version of I Will Always Love You. It starts out like Dolly Parton’s original – all acoustic and pared down – before her natural glibness kicks in to make it sound more like an ironic kiss-off song. Finally, here’s Ella with her skidmark mascara and ugly poncho ensemble. She’s clearly the best singer in the contest, only let down by the ridiculous faces she pulls when she’s lost in the music.

Back in the UK, the over-28s are wondering who their mentor will be, so it’s clear that none of them read the papers. Poor old goggle-eyed Nicola is gutted that she’ll be singing for the Take That front-man, saying “I felt sick when I saw Gary.” I believe Robbie Williams has the copyright on that reaction. Gary’s joined by Cheryl Cole, who makes her triumphant return to wish the contestants the best of luck “From the bottom of me ‘art.” It’s clear that Gary’s got bigger things going on in his life, so we’ll forgive him if he doesn’t seem fully invested in this. Even so, given the paucity of X-Factor on display in his character, it’s hardly surprising that he looks as if he’d rather be anywhere but here.

Carolynne is still harping on about what a shit year she’s had – she couldn’t even make it to H&M to buy some new jeans. She’s doing When You Say Nothing At All, and it’s an unfortunate choice, since it’s making me wish she’d just stay quiet and look pretty, as she mangles the lyrics and screws up the timing. Nicola gets a pep talk from Gary, and it seems to work because she sings a lot better than she has in previous installments. Brad is another one who seems to have come from nowhere, and sings an appalling version of The Final Countdown, that is only recognisable when he gets to the very last line of the song. Melanie is sweet enough, but without the encouraging audience, we realise that she has an annoying tendency to yell instead of sing, throwing melody and phrasing to the wind. Kye is still being described as a ‘chimney-sweep’ rather than ‘pop singer’, which was his actual job until the end of last year. His version of Payphone instantly flags up all the weaknesses in his falsetto. Closing down the show is Christopher, who constantly looks on the verge of bursting into flames. Gary calms him down by saying “You need to celebrate this being one of the best days in your life.” After all, it’s not everyone who gets to stand on a lawn and look at Cheryl Cole perched on the edge of a rattan sofa. His dated choice of All Out Of Love shows him up as the perfectly competent pub singer that he is.

Tomorrow, the judges decisions are revealed and, based on tonight’s performances, they’ll each struggle to find three they can live with.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Miami calling

This is it folks. By the end of tonight’s show, we’ll have our final 24 acts who’ll be jetting off to the judges’ houses. After the high drama of yesterday’s show, the cliché machine has been turned up to eleven and everyone’s playing along: “Everything rides on this one song,” “It’s totally make or break,” and “This literally is the performance of my life.”  So far, so predictable.

Thankfully, the second half of boot-camp is more focused on music than yesterday’s edition, giving us a chance to see how well the contestants sing, rather than faking conviviality over a glass of latte.  Here’s a round up of what went down…

Lucy Spraggan is kicking off tonight, doing another one of her own compositions. It’s hard to see how well this will translate to the themed weeks, but for now we can at least appreciate the fact that her writing is interesting, if not particularly sophisticated. It’s a sad song about dead mothers, and has the audience wiping their eyes like someone tipped a bag of grit into a wind machine. The melody is pleasant, and it’s a better showcase for her voice than the one about hangovers. The audience give her a standing ovation and she bursts into tears. 

After all that unpleasant sincerity, it’s time for everyone’s favourite laughing stock – Rylan Clark. He can’t sing (in fact he can barely speak), he’s as camp as Dale Winton’s washbag, and he looks like someone painted Greg Evigan on an orange candle. But Louis seems to like him, so I have a horrible feeling that we’ve not seen the back of him just yet.

Now it’s Gathan’s turn to go before the judges. He’s got a cleavage like Vanessa Feltz and an annoying tendency to talk about himself in the third person. Worst of all, he believes that he’s a triple threat, which sounds about as appealing as ripping open a Jiffy bag full of anthrax.

Jahmene nearly flushed away all the judges’ goodwill yesterday, so the pressure’s on for him to prove what he’s capable of, other than wearing badly fitted cast-offs from Mr Byrite. Problem is, he’s so shaken up by his pitiful performance, that he’s dizzy and weak today. This could go one of two ways. He’ll either be completely amazing, or those shiny blue trousers are going to need a boil wash. By the time he’s called onstage, his wobbles have got the better of him and he’s shipped off to see Matron. MK1 are called in to cover for him, but the cameras are more interested in watching Jahmene stagger down a service corridor with the nice people from St John’s Ambulance Brigade. In the end, Louis and Nicole give him a pep talk, and he takes to the stage to give an impressive rendition of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Although I’d give him two thumbs up, I’d caution him against running through so many different voices in a single performance. At one point, I don’t know whether to give him a standing ovation or get an exorcist on speed dial.

Triple J have definitely got the boyband look down – all pouty lips and cheekbones you could hang a beach towel off. They even sing well, but they have an unfortunate range of poses that they strike when performing, like Spiderman feeling his way through a steamy changing room in a pair of fogged glasses.

Melanie is the forty-something Janis Joplin fairy, and she’s giving her next performance like it’s “the last thing” she’ll ever sing. And having listened to her screech her way through A Change Is Gonna Come, I’m kind of hoping that it will be.

Christopher Maloney has had a few weeks to get over his nerves, having given us all motion sickness with his original audition. But although he’s a little steadier on his feet, his blood vessels are still on overdrive, pumping his face full of blood as he belts his way through A Million Love Songs.  It’s so bad that I worry he’ll either have a heart attack, or get rolled off to the juicing room by a band of Oompa Loompas.

Carolynne really is gorgeous, and she’s a great singer. Her version of Rascal Flatts’ Open Road is really good, but there’s something relentlessly old-fashioned about her. Thirty years ago, she’d have made a killing on shows like 3-2-1, turning up every week to sing a song and read out an incomprehensible clue. But there’s a reason why we don’t hear much from the Brian Rogers Connection anymore. And it’s the same reason why Carolynne will never win this. 

Kye says he wants to be like Emeli Sandé and Adele, because there are no male singers who sing those big songs. Then again, there aren’t currently any popstars who look like Howard Wolowitz, but that doesn’t mean he should win the X-Factor. He’s chosen I Can’t Make You Love Me, which is as apt a choice as any. The performance is pretty lackluster, but he redeems himself in the eyes of the crowd by name-checking Liverpool in the last line of the song.

From Above are psyching themselves up backstage, breathing in confidence and breathing out nerves. But when they take to the stage and mangle Payphone, I wonder whether their prep time might have been better spent by learning how to sing. Nicole’s pained grimace speaks for the entire audience.

Jade is clearly missing her daughter, but I’m guessing that the kid is relieved she doesn’t have to wear her safety-goggle glasses for the weekend. The metal spikes on Mum’s shoulder pads could have her eye out with one careless hug. She’s singing Jason Mraz and has a great voice, but nerves get the better of her and she forgets the lyrics. The audience cheer her along and she holds it together, sounding like Gabrielle with strep throat.  

Handsome tool salesman Joseph has got a taste for this now, and believes that the UK is crying out for a good rock singer. His voice sounds great on U2’s With or Without You, and sets Nicole smouldering like a Weber barbecue. Tulisa comments that he’s a hotty, which has Louis nodding like the Churchill dog.

Bedsit James has decided that he doesn’t look unfortunate enough, so he’s decided to complete his look with a pair of NHS specs and an ill-fitting jacket. It seems to work, as half of the audience dissolve into tears.

After a couple of dull acoustic makeovers of Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody, Ella Henderson takes to the stage and shows us how it’s done. Of all the songs in the world to pare down, Cher’s Believe is up there with Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. And yet, Ella makes it work with just a piano accompaniment. It’s a fantastic showcase, both for her voice and her ability to interpret a song. It also proves that a good pop song can work in any format, even reducing Nicole to a blubbering wreck.

Now that everyone’s performed, it’s time to make the final cut. Louis helpfully points out “Tomorrow, we have to get 70 acts down to 24.” If Michael York isn’t available for the next Austin Powers, Louis could always step in to play the part of Basil Exposition.

The results of the final vote are staggeringly predictable, with all the high profile acts sailing through to the Judges’ House round. In fact, there are only two real surprises. The first is that Rylan makes it, instead of Joseph the tools salesman. I think we can thank Louis for that one. The second shocker is that the two boybands who battle it out for the final place in the groups category don’t get merged into one supergroup.

The final segment sees a special guest appearance from Simon Cowell, who pretends to speak to Gary, Nicole, Tulisa and “Lou-Lou” from Miami. Gary’s got the over 28s, Tulisa has the girls, Louis has the groups (again) and Nicole’s got the boys. Best of all, we’re promised the second coming of Cheryl Cole to help Gary out. Meet you back here in six days’ time? 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

What doesn't kill you makes you move like Jagger

I don’t know about you, but I always feel disappointed whenever ‘boot camp’ pops up in the X-Factor schedule. Year after year, I keep hoping that the producers’ promise to shake up the format will see our 200 hopefuls put through their paces by Louis Gossett Jr, then shipped off for six months in the Helmland Province. Instead, we get a three hour double bill of screaming, crying and preposterous eyebrow sculpting, as our would-be popstars are forced to choose from a woeful shortlist of songs, and subdue any passive aggressive tendencies long enough to get through a two-minute performance.

Before we get into the forty five renditions of ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you move like Jagger’ that comprise tonight’ show, we need to see the contestants getting ready for the next round. That means tons of blusher, a celebratory round of biscuits and orangeade, and one girl optimistically trying to zip two enormous pairs of shoes into an overnight bag.  

As everyone descends on the Echo Arena in Liverpool for three days of torture, they’re given a soft start with a welcome party. Anyone expecting a no-expenses-spared lavish media affair is in for a big disappointment. A few strategically placed mojitos aside, it’s clearly a Yates’ Wine Lodge that’s been rented for the afternoon. Meanwhile, the judges are reviewing the tapes upstairs, where Gary explains “Anyone we don’t think can cut it, we’ve got to send ‘em home” just in case anyone thought they’d tuned into University Challenge by mistake. Most of this is for Nicole’s benefit, since it’s apparent that she was only present for about four of the initial auditions. As for Tulisa, she’s busy watching the playback and wondering aloud “What was I thinking?” To be fair, some of her outfits were pretty egregious.

Louis will be disappointed to be stuck up there, since he’s missing a PA by his favourite lads “The amazing JLS.” The crowd are so thrilled, that they’ve become incapable of speaking without a random cliché generator – lots of talk about “grabbing it with both hands.” They could at least let the boys finish singing first. The most entertaining moment is watching great swathes of Damian Rice enthusiasts trying to muster some telegenic enthusiasm for a boyband that’s wetter than Tom Daley’s gusset.

Onto the show proper, and it’s time for some “potentially devastating news”. Having reviewed the tapes (and seen the hotel bill for three days’ accommodation) the decision has been made to send a third of the contestants home. Although Louis tries to milk the reveal of every name, we’ve only ninety minutes, so it soon dissolves into a montage of teary goodbyes. But none of the people being culled are in any way recognisable, because they weren’t featured during the audition stages. For those left standing on the stage, the pressure’s now on. Best activate the giant digital countdown clock – which conjures up the image of Jack Bauer attaching electrodes to someone’s genitals to get them to perform a Kelly Clarkson song.

The following day, and Gary’s in a great mood. He walks through the backstage holding area with a cup of Typhoo, and comments “It’s great to hear ‘em all singing.” Forgive my cynicism, but something tells me he’s going to be dunking those words in his tea and eating them before the day’s out.  Unusually, things get off to a pretty good start, as we see a number of different girls putting their own spin on Respect. They all sound pretty good, even when mashed together in a variety of keys and tempos. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it for the rest of the show, if you tuned in to hear people sing well. The remainder of tonight’s edition sees all our previous favourites taking it in turns to fuck up royally, only to be saved by the merciful judges who want to give them another chance. Fair play, but it does negate the point of these ‘sudden death’ auditions.

Most of the boybands are paired up to battle it out, but for all their butch posturing, it’s like an even more homoerotic version of the gang rumble in West Side Story. Nicole does her best to encourage them by wobbling her giant earrings and giving some serious duckface. Although she redeems herself slightly by shooting down one stroppy band of rejects who ask how they came to the decision to send them home: “We based it on that audition right there.” You tell ‘em sister.

Here to answer the eternal question “How will they handle ABBA week?” that dogged most of the acoustic singer-songwriter auditions, Lucy Spraggan and Jahmene both manage to wipe their arses on Maroon 5. I’ll leave you with that mental image for a moment. Still here? Great. Gary’s busy advocating yoga and boasting that he’s totally stiff. Meanwhile, Tulisa reaches under the desk for her lipbalm.

Now, it wouldn’t be bootcamp without one group of girls bitching at each other.
Star of the show is the improbably named Collagen Westwood, who’s decided to style herself on Pete Burns, and spends most of her lackluster performance threatening to burst out of her plastic bustier, like the Incredible Hulk at a Rocky Horror night.

Gary’s stiffness must have worn off, since he’s getting really pissy about the woeful performances on display. Word of his bad mood has made its way backstage, where contestants are warning each other that “Apparently they’re cutting loads of people.” Nothing to do with the fact that this is supposed to be boot-camp.

Curtis and the two Jameses are here representing the owl-faced methodone crowd, which makes their performance feel more like a musical therapy session in a remand centre than a talent show audition. It’s hard to shake the feeling that, if they weren’t singing together, they’d be in a junkyard somewhere, locking a dog in a fridge.

Another unfortunate threesome comes in the form of Rylan, Ottavio and Gathan, who are gayer than a Glee boxset. Rylan has wisely discarded the T-shirt with his own face on it, but he’s replaced it with a weird jacket boasting horse-hair epaulettes, that looks as though he’s fighting off two pint-sized Cher impersonators. On labeling their performance a ‘Diva Hoedown’, Nicole tries to high-five Louis, but he mistakes it for an awkward handshake. Ottavio and Rylan also attempt a double high-five, but their wrists are so limp, they just end up slapping each other.

The last couple of threesomes have their own issues to contend with. Hayley and mad-eyed Nicola have been deserted by Tammy, and decide to perform without her, leaving a bunch of weirdly silent gaps in their song. Nicole implores them to improvise in an inexplicable southern accent. Between them, they do enough to survive another day, which should at least give the sound technicians enough time to adjust the volume on Nicola’s microphone.

But there’s tension for the last three guys - Jake, Adam and Robbie - because Homeless Robbie has been drinking lager in the park and sleeping on a sofa instead of rehearsing. After fucking up his lyrics, Robbie puts his microphone down and walks off the stage. Speaking backstage, he tells us “I had nothing to lose, and yet I feel like I’ve lost more than anyone else.” We see him loping off into the distance, but this is too much of a downer to end part one on. Unless this is the X-Factor’s answer to The Empire Strikes Back. In which case, I won’t be too surprised if tomorrow’s installment sees Tulisa dressing up as a bounty hunter and tracking him down for a triumphant comeback.