Monday, 16 December 2013

Anything Can Happen - It's the X Factor final

Remember when Jade Goody entered a marathon, but forgot to prepare for it and just ate a massive curry before she set off running? Well, I’d like you to hold onto that mental image as we jog through the next FOUR hours of the X Factor final. A show so massive it can’t be contained by a regular TV studio. Or a standard-length broadcast, for that matter.

Although the outcome is by no means guaranteed, we can at least be sure that throughout the final, people will repeatedly admit to being lost for words, only to bumble through regardless. Our three finalists can’t believe they’ve made it to the final, but then again I’m feeling the same. If it wasn’t for these reviews I’d have given up at boot-camp. But then I’d have missed these charming recreations of Sam singing in a half-empty social club or Nicholas daydreaming in a classroom.

Wembley Arena is filled with ten thousand fans, who do their best to look excited as Dermot flies in on a giant bedazzled toilet brush. All this shouting is starting to have an effect on his vocal chords, making him sound like Liam Neeson making death threats. He’s excited tonight because they’ve got a great line-up of huge celebrities, for the sole purpose of outshining the lacklustre selection of contestants. Speaking of underwhelming, let’s say ‘Hello’ one last time to our judges. Sharon’s girdle is so tight that her ears have swollen, and Nicole looks like something you’d ordinarily see painted onto the side of a World War II bomber.

It was written into law last year that no talent show can be aired without at least one reference to Emeli Sandé, so here are the three finalists performing Lifted. It begins with pre-recorded footage of them making their way to the stage, cutting to the live vocal as they arrive on stage. Suddenly, all those references to ‘great recording voices’ make a lot more sense. There’s a glimmer of excitement as Beyonce makes her second over-hyped surprise announcement this week, telling the finalists (via pre-recorded message) that the winner will be joining her in March. “One of you guys is going to be supporting me on my Mrs Carter tour,” she says, although it’s clear from her gravity-defying frontage that she’s in no immediate need of additional support. Dermot’s getting into it now, bounding back onto the stage and boasting that the X-Factor App has helped to make this the most talked about show in the UK. I’m not sure “For fuck’s sake, is that still on?” counts.

Time to introduce the first of tonight’s finalists, so of course Louis makes it all about the fact that he has two contestants in the final, “…and Gary and Nicole have none. And I have two Dermot.” Someone give the sneery little cunt an apple. This week, the contestants all went home, with Nicholas flying to Motherwell. “It was so cool flying in by helicopter. I felt like James Bond.” Except that he’s usually hanging off the landing gear. The only incidents of note from his homecoming were the size of his parents’ enormous scarlet sofa, and the alarming sight of Nicholas singing Someone Like You to his eight year-old sister. His first song of the night is Candy by Robbie Williams. It’s in too low a key, which leaves the audience to focus on the song’s utterly inane nursery-rhyme melody instead. Sharon says “It’s no time to critique,” but Gary clearly disagrees and Nicole’s pupils aren’t dilating. Dermot and Louis point out that Gary wrote the song he’s just criticised – no wonder he tried to keep that quiet. Meanwhile, Caroline Flack’s pestering a couple of Nicholas’ friends in the audience, figuring it’s perfectly appropriate to ask a couple of 17 year-olds what’s under their kilt. They obligingly bend over to reveal their cotton clad taints, as well as message saying ‘Vote for Nicholas.’ I’m not entirely sure who they thought that was for; Louis’ already on the kid’s side.

To introduce Sam, Sharon says “OK, no silly gimmicks, it’s all about The Voice.” No, that’s the other show. Sam’s off to Leicester, where she hugs her cute kids and watches a video message from her Nan, who says she’s sorry she couldn’t be there. No explanation is given, so let’s imagine she’s on a roll at the Gala. At her big performance that evening, Sam reduces a teenage girl to tears: “She just touched my hand.” Wait till she gives you a full body cavity search. Anyway, Sharon introduces her act, saying “Sam Bailey’s going to put Leicester on the map,” and everyone’s too polite to point out that it’s already there.

Sharon promised no gimmicks tonight, so maybe she had no idea that The Edge of Glory would be staged like the missing act from Nomi Malone’s Goddess. Gary raves over her chest voice and Nicole thinks she sang the pants off it. Louis, on the other hand, is imagining “Two strong women together, that’s hard to beat,” but I think he’s just been watching his old Xena videos. There’s a Leicester City player in the audience who seems confused about why he’s there, and he’s joined by Sam’s Nan, who just apologises for looking so old. Although this leaves me wondering why she made such a big deal about not being able to make it to her Granddaughter’s house. A semi in Leicester is too much effort, but she can make it to Wembley?

Prepare for some major eye-rolling folks, as Louis introduces his second act with “He’s my friend, he’s your friend, he’s Luke Friend.” The grotty haired rocker has gone back to Devon, still tagged with assorted scarves and handkerchiefs, like a prison slut. “The support what I get from you and Mum, it’s amazing,” he tells his Dad, who’s too overcome with emotion to correct his grammar. Loads of businesses seem to have made a big deal about Luke’s homecoming, although hairdressers are notable by their absence. His fans have tried to create a hashtag for their idol, and come up with #friendies. Well done everyone.

Luke has decided to open with We Are Young, and until the chorus arrives, it’s almost unlistenable. It gets marginally better once the big notes kick in, by which point Luke is singing on top of a Tube train set. As it spins around and the dancers lunge out from the stage, Sharon looks to be bracing for impact. All the judges offer the kind of comments that suggest they’re not expecting him to be here tomorrow night. Nicole applauds his authenticity and Louis randomly emphasises words like ‘POTENTIAL’ but none of it really makes any difference. Dermot returns to the stage, commenting “You’re probably the least commercial in the final three,” because he’s clearly the arbiter of what’s likely to sell. Oh, and someone in the audience brought along a lobster because she really wanted to be on the telly.

As we stumble bleary-eyed into the second hour, it’s clear we’re in guest slot territory. First up is Tom Odell, who’s here to do a dull song at a piano, accompanied by lots of black and white footage of people bursting into tears. Luke’s probably wanking himself silly at all this authenticity, but it’s painfully gloomy.

Speaking of Luke, he gets to sing with Ellie Goulding tonight. “I remember seeing her on the stage at X-Factor,” he enthuses. Yeah, we all do. It was three weeks ago; hardly a Vietnam flashback. “Have you got any ideas for the performance or anything?” he half-heartedly asks his long-faced guest. “I think it’d be cool if we both play guitars,” she offers.  I swear, this must be like listening in on a Lennon and McCartney brainstorm. Onstage, it’s as unimaginative as you’d expect. After about twenty repeats of the line “Anything could happen” I’m beginning to wonder if anything ever will. It doesn’t.

Nicholas is still going on about having the time of my life, so I’m half expecting his duet partner to be Jennifer Grey. Instead, he gets Shane Filan, who’s here to show us all just how well the solo career is going. Since Nicholas is singing Mark Feelihy’s bits of Flying Without Wings, he has to introduce Shane less than two lines into the song. Their voices mesh pretty well together, but this isn’t the ideal way for Shane to put some distance between himself and the Westlife catalogue. It ends with the guys staring into each other’s eyes on the line “For me it’s waking up beside you.” Gary’s duet with Elton tomorrow night is going to struggle to top this for awkward gayness.

Poor old Sam doesn’t get a special guest – she’s singing with Nicole who must’ve had this written into her contract. Sharon tells Sam “I’ve picked a very special person,” but the disappointment in Sam’s eyes betrays the fact that she’s already met Nicole. “I can’t believe I’m singing with THE Nicole Scherzinger,” she burbles, as if there’s more than one. Their duet is And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going To Let You Do The Big Note At The End, and their vocals are both very impressive. It’s let down slightly by the sound of Jedward’s microphone test backstage which is coming through on the same channel. The last minute is just two women angrily bellowing at each other, and to be quite honest, I could get that in my local ASDA.

Don’t worry, you weren’t hallucinating. Jedward really are here, as part of a novelty slot dedicated to the strangest finalists the show has ever seen. It’s like a twisted tribute to Louis’ continued attempt to ruin the format, as Jedward, Johnny and Wagner all have their moment to shine. We’re also given a painful reminder of the fact that Kitty, Rylan and Diva Fever all existed, accompanied by a surreal video of a Bichon Frise being blow-dried. Unfortunately, even this cacophonous misstep wasn’t enough to fill out the show’s running time, so we also get a performance from The Killers, who sing a two-song medley inside a giant inflatable television. Dermot tries to engage Brandon in some lighthearted chat, but questions like “How does it feel to have the greatest hits out? ” are hard to answer with any kind of enthusiasm.

It’s time to tot up the votes so far. Sam’s first through to Sunday night’s final, followed by Nicholas, who looks like he’s going to vomit up a hipbone. Luke deosn’t seem too disappointed - he just can’t wait to get out there gigging. Meanwhile, Louis is trying to plug the X-Factor tour, yelling “Everyone’s on it.” That’s why it’s called the X Factor tour.

Sunday night’s final begins with all the finalists from this series returning to murder a Katy Perry song. Hopefully they’ll stick around long enough to see Katy herself show them how it’s done. There’s so much tacky animal print on display, it’s like rummaging through Julie Goodyear’s knicker drawer. The skinny one in Rough Copy appears to be contemplating joining a gay branch of the French Resistance.
Remember the controversy over One Direction’s last appearance on X Factor? There was an outcry over the fact that they might have been miming. Tonight’s performance, complete with a genuine live vocal, confirms that they definitely were faking it last time. The title track of their new album isn’t so much a song, as an extended jingle for Addison Lee, albeit one that calls into question the company’s disregard for passenger safety and vehicle capacity. It also sounds far too much like a late 80s ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic album track, only not as good.

Nicholas dedicates his reprise of ‘Angel’ to his mum, presumptuously noting that this will be the proudest moment in her life. He’s also wearing the cheapest outfit that’s ever appeared on TV – a too-tight white school shirt with a black star sticker ironed onto the collar. Sharon says “Good luck, little boy” with an element of threat, like it’s something she might say to a pool boy who later goes missing on the Osbourne estate. Nicole says his tone is weightless like butter, which explains how much she knows about foods that are high in saturated fat. Nicholas explains that this was a tough choice, because there are four songs he’s enjoyed singing. That’s still more than I enjoyed hearing. 

Louis claims he’s wearing the McDonald clan’s tartan. “That’s what they told me in the shop,” he argues, as countless people up and down the country eye their own Chinese tattoos and wonder if it really says their name in Mandarin. Sam is having another go at The Power Of Love, which she still manages to nail, despite the lyrics being nonsensically chopped up to fit into 1:40 minutes. Nicole is still sticking ‘Sh’ in front of words that didn’t ask for it, making her sound like Asterix and Obelix whenever they found a wine cellar. And Louis tells Sam that “You’re living proof it’s never too late,” as if she’s entitled to free bus travel. At this point, we also get yet another highlights reel of the judges that focuses on Nicole, and plays like a public health announcement about spotting the signs of manic depression. “I sh-love those guys,” she yelps, as the entire nation wishes she’d just sh-ove it up her arse.

Time now for Katy Perry’s guest appearance. Live Nation are already tweeting to promote her imminent tour, but I doubt the phonelines will be jammed with enquiries on the strength of the vocal. Weirdly, she’s come dressed as Prince Vultan, and Gordon’s alive; this is wretched. Aside from the basic tuning issues, it’s very hard to make a song work that’s based around a six-syllable word. Finally, as she clambers back into her gilded birdcage, I’m praying she’s about to see a giant puddy tat. After that, there’s a staggeringly inept backstage interview with Sam and Nicholas, who manage to make me long for the effortless professionalism of Caroline Flack.

And now, three and half hours in, we get to the winner’s songs. Nicholas has got Superman by Five For Fighting. This has already appeared as an album track on Joe McElderry’s ill-fated debut album, so not the most auspicious of song choices. The judges all try to pay him a compliment, without ever actually inferring that he might actually win this.

Sam is reflecting back on a life of just doing “ordinary mum things.” Unfortunately, this is paired with footage of her kids wearing matching X Factor gear, and her hubby in a t-shirt that says “Sam Bailey’s Husband” across his back. That’s not regular mum stuff, even if you are eating cereal in a conservatory. Her winner’s song is Demi Lovato’s Skyscraper, which has already been covered a million times on these shows. Strangely, she seems to struggle with the first verse, but the second half of the song is appropriately epic. By the time Louis calls it for Sam, you know it’s all over bar the glitter cannon. “You’ve got the whole of Leicester behind you,” adds Sharon, neglecting to mention that the rear-view mirror is the best way to see it.

Dame Elton John has decided to shut up about how much he hates this show in order to help Gary flog his new album. With their pianos turned to face each other, they seem to be staging an involuntary tribute to Daffy and Donald’s duel in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The song is jolly enough, but I notice that Elton needs a comfort monitor to remind him of the lyrics, which makes a nonsense of the fuss the judges all made about Tamera needing to remember her words. Elton expresses surprise at how humble the acts are, once one of his underlings has explained the concept to him.

And finally, it’s time for the least surprising victory since Kim Jong-un took part in the primary school egg and spoon race. Dermot whips out Sam’s CD single, as Andi Peters sits at home screaming “It should have been me,” and a generation of kids ask their parents “What’s that?” Sam’s reaction to her debut single is “I look thin,” but hopefully she won’t always have to pull her own skin back whenever she has her picture taken. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Nicole puts the 'shit' in shitake

It started with twelve, apparently. A glittering dozen of finalists, most of whom are already so anonymous that even when their names flash on the screen I have trouble placing them. This has not been a banner year for ITV’s former flagship title, which is limping towards next week’s final like a trap-wounded coyote that chose to chew off its own leg. But we’re in it for the long haul, so let’s hunker down and get through it together.

According to the clips, which are desperately trying to convince us that any of this is exciting, Tamera “blossomed before our eyes,” then fucked off home. And Nicole became the first judge to lose all her acts, as well as her entire collection of support garments, on tonight’s evidence. Gary’s still trying to play soothsayer, predicting that, for one of the acts, it could all end tomorrow, but neglects to tell us tonight’s Lotto numbers. Sharon’s also trying to sound insightful, claiming “You’re only as good as your last performance.” Well, apart from the second one.

Don’t worry if you’re confused by the weird mash-up of Beyonce and Elton John playing, as Dermot performs his lackluster twirl – that’s tonight’s theme. “We’re so close to the final, I can almost smell it,” gushes Dermot, but I think that might just be Luke standing too close to the studio lights.  Nicole’s come dressed as Maleficent, if the Disney villainess charged by the hour. For all her weepiness over Tamera last Sunday, she looks thrilled that she didn’t have to spend half her week in a draughty studio listening to rehearsals.

Louis kicks proceedings off by reminding the people of Devon to vote for Luke, who’s spent most of the week moping about being in the bottom two. The choreographer is coaching Luke on how to connect with his inner diva, but it’s hard to take advice from someone who thinks nothing of leaving the house with a dog blanket wrapped round his neck. The theme is Beyonce, so Luke’s doing ‘The Best Thing I Never Had,’ and for the first time in the entire series, his bouncy Mumford bullshit actually improves the song. Of course, that doesn’t help with the shouty, tuneless vocals, but miracles are more of an Easter thing so let’s just move on. Gary says Luke has outgrown the studio (well, the hair certainly has) and Nicole is bang on the money when she describes it as “a bit One Direction and Mumford and Sons.” Louis tells the people of Devon to lift their phones, but doesn’t follow through with instructions on what to do next.

Luke’s second performance gets the exact same introduction from Auntie LouLou as the first one, but he’s been doing this shit for a decade – why change it now? Luke sounds a little drowsy in his VT, but that’s probably because Louis is making him watch back all his previous performances. All the judges seem to agree that Luke has “come a long way” but he’s from Teignmouth, not Yemen. He’s been rifling through Louis’ wardrobe, and has settled on a velvet jacket for his pitchy, oversung version of Something About The Way You Look Tonight; everyone’s favourite funereal b-side. The background graphics are doing weird things, making it look as if the two cellists on stage are in danger of being sucked into a giant meat grinder. Sharon wins this year’s ‘passive aggressive compliment award’ for telling Luke “that was totally outside of your comfort zone.” Gary’s not so great at thinking on his feet, so reverts to the notes he’d written during the song. Thankfully, he stops short before he gets to “two pints of semi skimmed and a 40 watt bayonet.” Luke reckons this performance was a great way to show his versatility, even though that amounts to little more than being able to walk around without a guitar. Move over Madonna, we have a new master of reinvention.

Nicholas is “learning new things every day” – next week, Louis is going to teach him how to shave along the grain. He’s picked Halo, which is apparently “a big challenge for a little guy from Glasgow,” especially since he’s never experienced lost love. Surely, he must have at least flushed a goldfish. Weirdly, he leaves his jacket on throughout his performance, as if he’s not planning on staying for the evening. The softer parts show up the weakness in his voice, but the louder bits are better. For a song that’s supposed to celebrate the qualities of a lover, it’s all a bit downbeat; singing “I can see your halo,” like what he means to say is “I can see your pile of CCJs.” The high notes are really stretching him – not that the judges are paying much attention either way. He looks utterly defeated by the end of it, and squeezes out a tear as Sharon continues to mangle the concept of Pig Latin. Gary says it was a little pitchy, and that he can’t wait for the next performance, which is a little foolhardy, under the circumstances. Louis has nothing of value to add, simply burbling on about the ‘little guy from Glasgow’ as if he’s repping Jimmy Krankie.

By the time Nicholas is ready for his next song, he’s apparently “lost the little shy Scottish thing.” That’s a risky strategy, given Louis’ propensity for encouraging regional voting. He’s singing Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, but the joke potential of that one was used up years ago. Why don’t you take a moment to think of your favourite, and I’ll wait here. All done? Great, let’s continue. Nicholas is wobbling around on some illuminated steps like he’s dangling on the branch of a Christmas tree. At least this song is in the right key for his voice, so the performance is warm and tuneful, particularly on the unexpectedly nuanced chorus. Sharon complains about the “people throwing themselves all over the floor” which is a surefire way to guarantee a gift-wrapped turd from the choreographers. Gary’s far more interested in Nicholas’ legato and vibrato, but the poor lad looks like someone’s telling him about the specials in Carluccio’s. Final word goes to Louis, who disingenuously speaks for us all when he says, “We forget you’re only 17.” Not strictly true, since it comes up even more than the fact that he’s Scottish.

After another quick plug for the X-Factor app, which seems about as popular as tickets for The Voice live tour, it’s time for Sam, Queen of the Humblebrags. Apparently she was extra nervous last week, so Sharon decides to help out by inviting her protégé out to the Osbourne country pile. Maybe her regular cleaner’s off with a bad back. The two of them play awkwardly on a swing as if they’re posing for a Hello photoshoot, and the whole thing feels like something that was thrown together while Keith Lemon’s Keyhole crew were having a mooch around. If I Was A Boy is Sam’s pick for Beyonce night, and since Sam has a far warmer voice that the pop polymath, the song loses much of its painful shrillness. The arrangement sounds rockier than the original and it all works rather well; even the utterly over-the-top key change. Gary heaps praise on Beyonce, and focuses on the fact that “as a writer, she showcases her range.” Let’s not tell him that she didn’t write that song; he seems to be on a bit of a roll. Louis thinks Sam ticks all the boxes, but it’s not clear what checklist he’s working on - she could just be highly contagious.

On into the second performance of the night, and Sam’s emboldened by the fact that she’s “had Gary Lineker and all the Leicester players right behind me.” Sounds like Syco might have another ‘AnalBumParty’ on its hands. Regrettably, Sam has picked the most cripplingly obvious Elton John song. Heaven forbid someone actually sing a bona fide classic, like Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, instead let’s have Candle In The Fucking Wind. She’s singing in too high a key, which makes the whole song sound a little off. Vocally, she sounds like Grace Slick - it’s good but sharp enough to score a baked potato. With no acts left to mentor, Nicole is trying to give the producers a heart attack, so keeps mentioning “shit-ake mushrooms,” placing all the emphasis on the first syllable. Louis, on the other hand, decides to curse Sam with “you’re the people’s choice”. Cheers Louis, that’s how we ended up with Christopher Maloney last year.

As the only group left standing, Rough Copy can’t believe their luck. “Who would have thought Rough Copy would make the semi final.” To be honest, I was ready to stage a protest when they made it to bootcamp. They think their harmonies have improved tenfold, but I’m not great with maths. What is ten times zero? They’ve picked Survivor from the Destiny’s Child back catalogue; a song that’s notable for only having five notes. Even so, that still leaves two or three beyond their grasp. The stylists have thrown everything at the lads in the hope of stumbling on a look, but it’s all plastic vests, camouflage and backpacks. It’s hard to tell whether they want to make it to the final or the Helmland Province. Nicole congratulates the boys and says “the semi-finals have begun,” so I’m not entirely sure what I’ve been watching for the last 45 minutes. Louis and Sharon found the performance a little much and would have liked it a little more toned down. “Sharon and I are on the same page, guys” bleats Louis. And he has a point - that’s not a performance that’d see them invited back to the Shady Pines retirement village.

Gary’s waxing lyrical about “My hero, Elton John” but the boys are more interested in laughing at his “big glasses and shiny suits.” Hopefully, the irony won’t be entirely lost on them. For Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, they’re going old-school boyband- we’re talking full barstool. The vocals are mediocre at best. Put it this way, when the audience is longing for the subtle delivery of Lee Ryan, you know you’re in trouble. The high notes, in particular, are doing no-one any favours, and things only get back on track for the very last line. Louis is still obsessing about his “gap in the market” and Sharon seems to have spent the entire performance picturing them naked. Dermot tries to get some banter going with the lads, but it turns out it’s not ‘sorry’, but all of the words that are hardest.

Onto the results show, where Nicole has come straight from an Ann Summers closing down sale, and Louis has cleverly knocked up a suit from Peter Stringfellow’s bed linen. The show opens with another risible group performance – this time it’s Stevie Wonder’s back catalogue that gets violated. It’s less Signed, Sealed, Delivered, and more ‘We Tried To Deliver It, But No-One Was Home So We Stuck It Behind The Wheelie Bin’. Luke’s wearing the same scrappy pair of ripped jeans as last night, and when he spreads his legs in front of Nicole, I’m just glad the only slashes are across his knees. Nicholas schools Rough Copy on singing with a little soul, and everyone retreats backstage to question what they’re doing with their lives.

Tonight’s first big special guest is, in many ways, the reason this show is so terrible. Leona Lewis was such a remarkable contestant that every year has suffered by comparison. It barely matters that Cowell’s crew have mismanaged her so terribly, she still casts a long shadow (stop it) over the entire format. Her new single One More Sleep can realistically lay claim to being the best new Christmas song since Mariah Carey strapped herself into that crimson playsuit, but you’d be hard pressed to notice it, given the monstrous choreography on offer. Dancers dressed as Christmas trees, with mirrorball helmets, bend over to show us their undergrowth, latex-clad strippers burst out of gift boxes, and a mad old woman gurns becomingly at Louis. I feel like I just watched a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang marathon, then tried to sleep on a stomach full of cheese. Of course, the vocal was flawless, but it all got a bit lost in the mix. “Merry Sha-Christmas” shouts Nicole, making it clear that she’s lost all interest. 

The other guest star is Michael Buble, with his lumpily handsome face and cold, dead eyes. It’s hard to describe the sensation of watching him do his thing – except to say that he looks like he’s made of pate, rather than flesh and blood. The song is You Make Me Feel So Young, but it’s having the opposite effect on me. Louis is eyeing up Buble’s jacket, when he’s not imagining taking Mrs O for a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. Finally, Dermot asks Buble when he’s coming back on tour, but the singer is way too baked to give a coherent answer. Thankfully, the producers spring into action and pipe the information into Dermot’s ear. That went well.

Don’t worry folks, we’re on the home stretch. But before we find out who’s in the final, we’ve got to sit through a vaguely distasteful video about a little girl with a whole host of medical issues. Great Ormond Street does amazing work, but this whole segment feels curiously inappropriate in show that features people constantly talking about ‘life or death’ referring to Coldplay cover versions. Curiously, Sam has to wear gloves and a bib to go near one of the kids, but Luke doesn’t even have to wear a hairnet. Great news everyone - the Chancellor has decided to waive the VAT on the winner’s single. He’s in a good mood, you see, because he’s getting that 11% pay rise.

Results time, and Sam and Nicholas are straight through to the final. Luke does his ‘save me’ song first, and it’s a shriekingly oversung version of Keane’s Something Only Dogs Hear – think the Wilhelm Scream set to an acoustic guitar. Rough Copy are doing Boys II Men, because that’s the only act anyone’s bothered comparing them to for the entire series. Without the choreography and backpacks to distract, the weakness of the vocals is thrown into sharp relief. Maybe The End of the Road was an appropriate choice, all things considered.

Gary says he’s heard both acts sing better, when mating foxes would be an improvement. Louis and Gary vote to save their own acts, whereas Nicole picks Rough Copy and Sharon takes it to Deadlock. The audience have voted, and Luke makes it through to the final. As Rough Copy take their final bow, one of them shouts “If you believe in God, make some noise.” They may believe, but I’m not sure the big guy is feeling overly reciprocal.

There’s four hours of this next week. Bring drinks.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Alphas and Epsilons

If there’s one thing guaranteed to chill my blood, it’s hearing an otherwise level-headed person confessing their love for Boris Johnson. A shapeless suet dumpling, dressed in a suit he found on a pile outside Oxfam, he’s successfully convinced a majority of voters that he’s the best person to run one of the most diverse and dynamic cities on Earth. It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s barely fit to lead a team on Call My Bluff.

No-one seems to mind that he has trouble sitting down, because of the silver spoon wedged into his firmament. They're too busy chuckling about his funny hair, that looks like he blow dries it with the Large Hadron Collider. Toronto may have its own problems with Rob Ford, but even they must be laughing at us. Every time they see that footage of BoJo hanging off a zipline like the world’s most disappointing piñata – smash him with sticks and the only thing that’ll fall out of him is a collection of Latin bon-mots.

Of course, all this chatter about Boris’ bumbling, oafish persona is just misdirection; distracting you with a comedy sock puppet on one hand, while the other one rifles through the wallet in your back pocket. Worryingly, no one seems to care what actually comes out of his mouth. That’s because they seem to think that they’re voting on Open Mic Night at their local comedy club, rather than handing the keys of the capital to a man inclined towards the kind of eugenics that Aldous Huxley warned of in Brave New World.

In fact, Boris is a chilling representation of the direction the Conservative Party is heading. He’s already more popular than David Cameron (then again, so is a sleeping bag full of Ebola virus), and it’s not inconceivable that he could end up as Prime Minister of the whole country. This week’s fresh outrage came as a response to the Mayor’s offensive comments about IQ and the natural order of society. There is something deeply disturbing about someone whose greatness was mostly thrust upon him, describing how the world ought to work. Peel away the rhetoric, and the accompanying accusations of wilful misinterpretation by the press, and you’re still left with the argument that society should be geared towards further empowering those with every advantage. And the 15% with a lower than average IQ? Well, someone has to pour the tea and dry clean the suits.

Now, before I’m accused of class warfare, let me clarify that this not an attack on the well-to-do. I’m surrounded by people from wealthy families who attended the best schools; some of them even wear red trousers through choice, rather than because they’re Virgin Cabin Crew. And it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that the closest I came to a horse growing up, was the occasional Findus Crispy Pancake. My issue with the Old Etonians and Bullingdon Club alumni, that seem to comprise most of the modern Conservative Party, is the sense of predestined entitlement, and desire to maintain their rarefied status quo. 

Yesterday, much was made of the LBC radio host who attempted to punish Boris for his remarks about intellect, by subjecting him to an impromptu IQ test of his own. Once again, the quest for ratings and social media impressions managed to distract us all from the bigger issue at hand. Whether or not you agree with the fact that they were all trickily worded questions, the fact is, we shouldn’t be talking about IQ at all. It still focuses our attention on the notion of intellectual segregation, rather than working towards a more level playing field. One that rewards things like hard work and tenacity, rather than hyphens.

To be quite honest, I'd be much more interested in the results of an EQ test, used to determine someone’s emotional intelligence. For politicians especially, the ability to show empathy and understanding for people in diverse situations and circumstances is far more pertinent than their aptitude for turning semantics to their own advantage.

So Boris can continue stroking his flyaway fringe and pretending to stumble over his words, but I see him for what he is - a wolf dressed as an Aardman Animations sheep. As for those comments about ‘our species,’ and people’s rightful place in the world? Coming from someone who has only ever known a life of privilege and entitlement, they only serve to divide us further as a society. And there’s nothing remotely funny about that. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

No News Is Good News. But Is It News?

You could hardly budge on Twitter yesterday without seeing references to Tom Daley’s announcement. Posting a video to his YouTube channel, he told his fans that he’s happy and content in a relationship with a man. As an aside, he also noted that he still fancies girls, but it’s too early to tell whether that was an open declaration of bisexuality, or a half-hearted attempt to prevent his 2104 calendar ending up in the 99p Stores by mid-January. Either way, a nineteen year-old sportsman feels comfortable telling his millions of fans that he’s in a gay relationship. Welcome to the future.

Depressingly, there was a handful of negative reactions, from the kind of people who are constantly obsessing about having things shoved down their throats. They express a calculated indifference to homosexuality, wishing everyone would just carry on behind closed doors (and maybe wear a pink triangle when they go out) but are quite happy to go public with their oral fixation; imagining countless objectionable topics pounding away at their epiglottis, like it’s an East End Boys’ Club punching bag.

There were also loud voices of encouragement, from poorly-worded support "The whole world is behind you, Tom" to the more aggressive "I want your dick inside me." However, by far the most common reaction was a swivelling eye-roll of ironic shock. Tom has been an Olympic hopeful and TV fixture since he was taking off short trousers, and speculation has been rife since before he even developed a sexual identity. Maybe we’re all just getting a little better at identifying proto-gays before they’re fully formed - like seeing a golden-haired child and being able to tell whether they’re going to be mousy by their mid-teens.

These days, there’s really no glory in claiming you’ve got a well-trained gaydar. You might as well boast of your supernaturally accurate sheepdar –  “I suspect there are some woolly ruminants in that field over there.” Some kids are gay long before they realise it, or even have the vocabulary to define it. No-one should be in any rush to attach a label to themselves, and I hold out hope that one day, there’ll be no need.

Whether or not anyone can convincingly claim shock or surprise at Tom’s declaration is beside the point. What’s interesting is the general reaction. Daley’s short but heartfelt video message about his new relationship was covered by every major news source yesterday, even though most of the commentary seemed to focus on the fact that the story itself can no longer be considered a revelation.

Nonetheless, Tom Daley is perhaps the highest profile sporting star to make such a statement, so it still warrants a mention. Consider the column issues spent on debating the lack of homosexual visibility in football, or the courage of rugby player Gareth Thomas when he made his own announcement. It’s also worth remembering that, not only is Gareth twice Tom’s age, he’s also twice his size, and more than capable of taking down anyone who dares to voice their disapproval.

So is it news? Well, yes and no. Of course, the notion that anybody’s sexuality might be anyone else’s business should be anathema in a civilized society. And yet, with the eyes of the world trained on Russia, and how Putin plans to manage the reaction to gay athletes at Sochi next year, homosexuality and sport still enjoy a curious friction. Not like that.

So maybe, 'no news' is the new 'news'. The story isn’t that Tom is in a relationship with a man, it’s that this no longer constitutes a story in itself. The media is running a far more meta commentary on how it, and society as a whole, are reacting. After the whole messy feedback loop that the BBC ran around its own Jimmy Savile investigation, we’ve become far more used to news stories about the news. And anyone who argues that it’s none of this is news, but is happy to wade through the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame to find three different picture stories about Kim Kardashian passing a loose stool, doesn’t have an ideological leg to stand on.

No doubt the next wave of coverage will involve controversy-baiting harridans like Jan Moir and Katie Hopkins, deliberately finding as provocative an angle as possible, in the hopes of securing another 15 minute slot on Philip’s couch. While they’re busy mapping out their indignant soundbites, the rest of us can content ourselves in the fact that we’ve evolved sufficiently to raise our opposable thumbs aloft.