Monday, 28 October 2013

Big screen flops - Movie Week on X-Factor

There are few certainties in life. Toast will always land butter side down. A dog will lick its nuts, simply because it can. And X-Factor movie night means Bryan Adams and Celine Dion. So here we are, listening to an aggravating mix of movie soundtracks as Dermot overdoes his spin and almost falls on his arse. As the judges take their bows, Nicole looks like she’s on her way to a red carpet, and Gary looks like he lays them. And Louis, bless him, could be in rehearsals for The Bucket List 2. Sharon’s doing some tough talking on the VT, telling us “I’m not going down without a fight.” Or a muscle relaxant.

Getting the show off to an ignominious start is Rough Copy; still trying to make those man skirts happen. Gary’s trying to hit on one of the boys’ mums, telling them “I’d love to meet her. Bring her to my dressing room – I’ll clear it with security.” Save it for the tour bus, Barlow. The boys are doing Everything I Do, I Do It For You, and Gary thinks it’s an amazing choice because no-one’s going to expect it. Apart from all the people watching this footage right now. Individually, their vocals are stronger than usual, but the harmonies are predictably shocking. Thankfully, there’s a choir, LED wall and dramatic lighting rigs to drown all that out. Nicole slurs “That’s the way you kick off a show,” – looks like someone’s been helping themselves to Sharon’s sippy cup. Louis reprises his weekly assertion that there’s a gap in the market, as if he’s managing the stalls in Walford.

Sam is still on a high from last week, because he wants to get comments on his voice rather than how he looks. So I’m not entirely sure why his entire VT focuses on a shirtless photo shoot, followed by his appearance as Heat’s Torso Of The Week. Louis has more good news for him, telling the long-faced teen that he’s off to the premiere of “Tortoo”. The publicist for Thor: the Dark World is going to be getting a kicking on Monday morning – “You had one job, and that was to get them to say the proper name of the movie.” Sam’s a nice enough looking lad, but his skin-tight jeans only accentuate how short and stocky he is. Pair that with all the fake tan, and I’m surprised his song doesn’t start with “Oompa Loompa, do-ba-dee-doo”. He’s actually croaking his way through All I Want Is You, but apart from a nice falsetto at the end, it’s strictly amateur hour. Sharon wanted more edge, Louis blinks in disbelief that anyone would criticise it, and Gary thinks Sam’s voice was a little exposed. At least it makes a change from his cum gutters. Sam tries to be diplomatic about the negative feedback, but gives up when even Dermot weighs in to say that the song was too big for him.

Hannah and Nicole have an awkwardly staged chat about life before X-Factor. Still buzzing from her trip to ASDA with Jahmene last year, Nicole can smell another opportunity to play dress-up in a tabard and hairnet. So it’s off to Greggs they go. Who knew stuffing sausage rolls into a paper bag could be such a hoot – these minimum wage, zero-hour pastry monkeys don’t know how lucky they are. It’s up to Hannah to reinject a little glamour into proceedings with a bold rendition of Skyfall. She’s been styled like a Nina Simone tribute act, but on a song like this it’s only the voice that counts, and she does a great job. Unfortunately, she keeps patting her stomach through the song, as if her chicken tikka lattice is threatening to make a reappearance. The judges gush about her, but Hannah scowls through their feedback. Nicole, on the other hand, says Hannah’s singing makes her want to get up and act like an idiot. At least that’s one mystery solved. 

Louis seems surprised that his little ‘Tartan Titan’ Nicholas has heard of Angel by Sarah McLachlan. Given that Westlife covered it, and it seems to get performed at least once a series, it’s hardly on a par with a George Formby b-side. Nicholas’ thrilling VT shows how excited he is about learning to wash and iron his own T-shirts. For a moment, I thought I’d sat on the remote and switched over to Hotel of Mum and Dad on BBC Three. Angel is a downbeat song at the best of times, and it’s not helped by a bunch of dancers having seizures on school chairs. Still, he does a fine job with the vocal, but I’m not convinced the silver-flecked dinner jacket is doing him any favours. “How old are you again?” asks Sharon hilariously, after about 400 references to the fact that he’s only sixteen. Even Dermot’s getting sick of it, and he’ll put up with any old shit. Attention is drawn to a man dressed like Russ Abbott in the audience – I’m sorry, people in comedy wigs and kilts should only be allowed into TV studios if they’re holding one of those enormous checks on a piece of foamex board. Gary scores a point in X-Factor bingo, by imploring Nicholas to act his age a little more. It’s a good effort, but tonight belongs to Louis, who manages to cram four of his favourite clichés into a single sentence: “You’ve got a natural recording voice, and that’s what this show is all about - I think you could go far in this competition, and I hope everyone in Scotland votes for you.”

Hold onto your hats folks, it’s time to shake this mother up, with Abi and her spectacular… ldknjnkdklnvk;sdk.vmmmsld;;ls;lsv;lklxil. I’m sorry, what? I think I must have just nodded off there. Last thing I remember, Nicole and Abi were pretending to have a sleepover in the lobby of a Holiday Inn. Now she’s perched on a stool, accompanied by an acoustic guitar, and dozing her way through a low-key version of Moon River; which was hardly a Miley Cyrus banger to start with. It’s so dull, she could euthanize dogs with her performance. Even the judges have taken to stabbing themselves in the thigh with a biro just to stay awake. The negative feedback upsets her, so thank goodness the camera operator stayed awake long enough to zoom in dramatically on a tear as it plops down her cheek. Dermot attempts to console her, telling her how he hates to see her upset. He might, but the producers fucking love it. Quick, someone tell her that her Grandma just caught fire.

After last week’s drama, it’s nice to see Miss Dynamix back on form. SeSe gets upset that they’re being prejudged, because they got a free pass to this week. Gary tells them to stop going on Twitter, so instead they do their best to show how united they are; snuggling up on sofas and bunk-beds like the Brady Bunch. It’s about as convincing as Sharon’s rictus grin, which we see plenty of, during their En-Voguey take on Gabrielle’s Dreams. They’re all fine singers individually, but they’re just not gelling as a group – a point so obvious that even Louis notices. SeSe is already making excuses for their poor performance, so we shouldn’t be too surprised if they end up the bottom two tomorrow.  

Dermot appears to be introducing Sam Bailey from a Perspex viewing box, prompting audience members to make various inappropriate hand signals across the bottom of the screen – thankfully the camera pans away before someone goes all ‘Gareth Hunt Nescafe’. Sam is still humblebragging about how ordinary she is, and can’t believe she’s in the final ten of X-Factor. She’s singing My Heart Will Go On, and tells a hilarious story about singing it on a cruise ship during a storm. It’s actually not funny at all – I guess you had to be there, washing the sea-sick out of your hair. Tonight, she’s wearing a very tall dress, that looks as if she’s got Shelley’s old scissor lift stuck up her gusset. Gary gives it some serious sex face as she skilfully tackles the key change, although he overeggs it slightly by telling her she sang it better than Celine Dion. Sharon says, “I hope Simon Cowell is watching this show,” proving once and for all how disconnected the Dark Lord is from his flagship property. 

Just time for some quick bants with Little Mix, which ends with Dermot saying “See you next week” to Leigh-Anne tits, before we move onto Kingsland Road. They’re pretty sanguine about last week’s sing-off, telling us “The flash vote shows anyone can be in the bottom two.” Yes, if they happen to be shitter than everybody else. They decide to rewatch last week’s performance, so that they can give a nice plug to YouView. Although, I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to promote the digital catch-up service by adding a crappy horizontal lining effect, like those news reports on RoboCop. Their performance of Pretty Woman is a health and safety nightmare, as they come swinging in on a huge piece of rigging. They’re trying way too hard with the vocals – this is supposed to be a sugary chat-up line of a song, but it’s more like they’re shouting sexual epithets at a nun. Nicole tells them she wants them to rain their cheese over her, so I guess the aggressive approach works for some.

Luke still can’t believe that people at home are picking up the phone and voting for him; they’re usually contacting Rentokil, concerned about an infestation. He takes a trip to a fancy hair salon, where the chief hairdresser begs to wash his hair. I thought they’d just plunge him into a sheep dip, but they use a regular sink, albeit one that looks like a dirty protest when they’re done. Not to worry, Louis is on hand to offer some really focused advice to his dreadlocked protégé: “Be careful with the vocal. You must get the vocal right.” Strumming his guitar with a tourniquet wrapped around one arm, it seems as though Luke may be a modern-day Samson. Half a bottle of Pantene and suddenly he’s lost all his uniqueness. Louis point out that the X-Factor is all about standing out, but it’s worth remembering that there’s a fine line between individualism, and every body else just staying upwind.

The last of tonight’s performers is Tamera, who’s here to make us all feel ancient. She made a video when she was 12 of her singing Beyonce’s Listen. Great, that was four years ago. She looks every inch the popstar with her new blonde hair, and she gives a great performance. Unsurprisingly, she loses control of the vocal as she clambers up onto a piano, but she’s streets ahead of anyone else on the show. Sharon keeps mispronouncing her name (Tamaaaaaaahhhra), and Louis tells her to work hard – is this a clue that she’s being difficult behind the scenes?

After fourteen recaps of the last 90 minutes, Dermot lets the girls, boys and Sam Bailey off the hook. To no-one’s particular surprise, Miss Dynamix received the lowest votes tonight, and could do with a few lessons about remaining gracious under pressure.

The results show kicks off with another miserable group song – Bruno Mars’ Locked Out Of Heaven. It’s even worse than last week and, to be honest, I’d lock the lot of them out of anywhere with a working sound system. Miss Dynamix have come dressed as Nicholas’ novelty Scottish supporters, and Abi is smiling like a lunatic. I wonder if someone got a telling off for being a mardy arse last night.
The Wanted – possibly the most bitterly ironic band name of all time. For all their fake rivalry with One Direction, they’ve contributed precisely nothing to the world, with the exception of that song about Rihanna’s walk. Nathan (thanks Google) is taking the lead vocal tonight, but that’s because he wrote the song himself. Personally, I’d be keeping that little detail quiet – does the music industry have an ‘Alan Smithee’ equivalent for people who want to disown something? The rest of them give good singing face, but are just there to be mildly attractive and ineffectual.

Thank God, then, for Lady Gaga: A busload of crazy, dressed in flesh coloured underwear and some stick-on sea shells that give up the ghost 30 seconds in. As most of Twitter wonders if she left her kit at home, she gurns and stomps around the stage, leaving no-one in any doubt that she’s performing the vocal live. It’s weird and strangely wonderful, stepping up a notch when she whips off her wig and launches into Do What U Want. At least this one sounds like a song, rather than something she might perform as a dare.

Results time and Rough Copy, Abi, Luke, Tamera, Nicholas, Sam Bailey, Kingsland Road and Sam are all safe. That leaves Hannah and Miss Dynamix to go head-to-head.  

Hannah’s ‘save me’ song is Read All About It, triggering a nationwide case of Emeli-apathy. It’s unusually flat and lifeless, unlike her hair which has been coiled into a giant fecal pretzel. Overcome with emotion, she just sobs her way through the last 30 seconds – always a vote winner, that.

Miss Dynamix take to the stage to show off their nail art – SeSe in particular looks as if she’s been rummaging through a toy box with sticky fingers. Their verson of Don’t You Worry Child is three solo performances that accidentally happen at the same time. So it’s no surprise that they’re the ones going home.

Next Saturday it’s Disco week, so Louis will be in his element, and I’ll be in Spain. God be with you all.

Monday, 21 October 2013

From Heartbreak to Earache - X Factor Live Finals Week 2

Last week, we had tears, traumas, and a running time that made Ben Hur look like an episode of Wacky Races. Our favourite old clichés were all present and correct, from “That’s how you open a live show” to “You nailed it, Mrs.” We were also treated to an all-new, and utterly redundant twist – the Flash Vote. All the excitement of the Sunday evening results show, without any of the resolution.

Tonight’s theme is the bafflingly broad Love and Heartbreak – the musical equivalent of Ralph Wiggum asking Lisa Simpson, “So, do you…like…stuff?” Dermot races out onto the stage like he’s worried he’s going to miss his bus, and asks “Britain, can you feel the love?” I’ve been on Twitter, so no, no I can’t. Sharon appears to have come dressed as a bottle of Sheridan’s, but at least she can’t make trouble for Dermot this week – the seamstress has clearly let out the crotch of his trousers.

The first to open up her heart tonight is Sam, who hasn’t experienced a lot of heartache in her life. At this point, that would normally be accompanied by the sound of a record needle scratching to a halt. Turns out, she’s been happily married to the love of her life for years. Not to worry, she still manages to squeeze out a few tears, but then she is just inches away from Mrs O under some unforgiving studio lights. That’d have me weeping too. She’s picked To Make You Feel My Love, and it’s really good. She’s worked hard on the tone, and is selling the softer notes a lot better than last week. The only problem is that the song is now irrevocably linked to Adele, so anyone else who attempts it is likely to suffer from the comparison. At one point, she does a loud note and the audience screams its approval, because they think that’s how music is rated. Nicole gurns her disapproval, but Gary tells Sam “I actually like you in this space.” I suppose it beats solitary confinement.  Louis, on the other hand, decides to take the credit for ‘Screwbo’, despite a whole Twitter timeline to the contrary. Irrespective of who came up with the sobriquet, it’s hardly a compliment.

Kingsland Road are still on a high from last week. “Could life get any better?” one of them asks, as we see Ellie Goulding telling them “I think you’re really exciting and different.” Unfortunately, that’s like being complimented on your professionalism by Sally Bercow. The boys are all kvetching about how to add some swagger to their performance. The problem is, “There’s not really a ladies’ man in the group.” Well, colour me surprised. Five female dancers join them in the rehearsal studio, and it’s all they can do to not ask them where they got their blouses. Ordinarily, I’d let all of this pass without comment, but the production team are going so far out of their way to portray extreme heterosexuality at every turn, it just feels a bit protest-too-much-y. Anyway, they’re doing Marry You by Bruno Mars, so this is going to achieve stratospheric levels of annoying. There’s a rather unimaginative nuptials theme to the performance; lots of jumping and leaping, but little-to-no harmony. In fact, it seems like melody wasn’t invited to this shotgun wedding.

Nicholas is so young that he thinks love is pulling someone’s pigtails and running away, so he’s struggling to connect with the emotion of his song. It doesn’t help that he’s got Louis coaching him through it, especially since his mentor looks like he spent last night in a skip. Louis has the ingenious idea that a teenage crush would help him emote, so he has Nicole sneak into the rehearsal room in a loose-fitting top to give him a chubby. His vocal on He’s The One sounds fine, but he gets lost in a funereal stream of dancers who drift depressingly across the stage, seemingly in preparation for the Riverdance Of The Dead. I guess the one who drew the short straw gets to sneak up on him in a white dress, like a pint-sized Jerry Hall. As she taps him on the shoulder, it’s less like a romantic gesture, and more like she just needs directions to the nearest Wetherspoons. “That’s peed-eeoh-phile” comments a barely coherent Sharon, as the audience chuckle along with her increasingly unconvincing ‘kindly matron’ act. Louis has decided that Nicholas is his Baby Bublé, and tells him that his secret weapon is his likeability, which a lot of people don’t have. He should know.

Abi is crippled with nerves, so Nicole figures that a quick trip to All Star Lanes bowling is all she needs to get over her anxiety. Abi lets slip that this is the first time they’ve had any kind of time together, unwittingly revealing just how ‘hands on’ the mentors really are. “She’s a huge, massive superstar” gushes the bespectacled songstress, perhaps overstating things a smidge. Someone clearly thought that a strummy, acoustic version of Kylie’s I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head was a good idea – possibly the same deaf and blind lunatic that advised sticking her in a red dress amidst a sea of pink umbrellas. Staggeringly uncomfortable for both eyes and ears, the lowest point (and believe me, there’s plenty of competition for that honour) comes every time she sings ‘cahn’t’ like Lady Edith in NHS specs. Louis says “I think I find you better behind a piano,” whereas I’d go one better and suggest a party wall. Sharon digs around in her grab bag of ineffective compliments and comes up with “You have sexy feet.” The rest of the judges focus on commending her for the ability walk back and forth on the stage, as if she was a newborn foal rather than someone bidding to be the next big British pop star.  

Hey look everybody – it’s last year’s bitter, graceless winner James Arthur. He’s here in the audience with an entourage of curiously dressed hangers-on. Dermot gamely engages him in some light-hearted chatter about the show, but from his pained expression, I’d guess that he’s waiting for a phone call about ransom demands.

Shelley is watching last week’s performance back on her Samsung tablet (available in all good electrical retailers, and Tesco) and she’s worried about how she’s coming across: “I’m a nice person, I hope people can see that.” Without a single clue about what it would take to win X-Factor, Shelley seems content to do her Vicky Pollard act, yeah-but-no-butting all over a troop of male dancers. This isn’t an X-Factor finalist, it’s a Jim’ll Fix It for a housewife who wanted to be Bonnie Tyler for the evening. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from her performance, and that’s precisely what I got. Seeing her vamp all over the stage to a surreal arrangement of Single Ladies was like being trapped in Hell’s waiting room, where the only things that play on the TV are ads for Sheila’s Wheels and Foxy Bingo. None of the judges know what to say, which is odd, because I’d have no trouble telling her there’s an opening on Loose Women. Nicole looks like she’s choking on a conker, and just puts ‘Sh’ in front of every other word. Louis offers up another one of his thinly disguised insults, telling Shelley she could be the lead in Hairspray or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. She thanks him, before she has a chance to realise that the leads in both of those shows are men.

There’s a brief interlude explaining why Miss Dynamix won’t be performing this evening – SeSe’s been rushed to hospital after feeling faint earlier. “SeSe’s health is so important to us all,” everyone claims through gritted teeth. After that dose of drama, during which half the country must have thought they’d accidentally sat on the remote and switched over to Casualty, it’s time for Sam to do his thing. That means pretending to play a guitar like Jason Donovan on a cliff-top. After all the feedback last week, Sam’s decided to get some vocal coaching, which is a little like closing the stable door after the horse has fucked up a key change. The expression on the teacher’s face suggest she’s not getting paid for the overtime. “It’s your best vocal yet!” exclaims Louis after the rehearsal, oblivious to what a non-compliment he’s just paid his young protégé. In the end, Sam’s picked a Jason Mraz song, but his vocal chords are straining as much as his painfully snug jeans. By the time he clambers down off his stool, all I can think of is that somewhere in Essex, there’s a Vauxhall dashboard missing its novelty head-knocker. Gary says “You did a song that’s a little exposing vocally,” but the same could be said for his Levis.

Tamera is talking about how her Grandma raised her, and made her sing in the little Pentecostal church where she ministers. She’s a beautiful girl with a great voice, but her interview technique needs some work. She comes across as cold and detached, and has adopted Katie Price’s sluggish way of speaking, as if she’s had a little too much facial filler. Thankfully, the moment she starts singing it’s all forgiven. She looks and sounds fantastic, giving us the first glimpse of star quality we’ve had all night. I’m not going to go on about how much I hate the lyrics of Beneath Your Beautiful – my hatred for that song and its punctuation is well documented. Her extended run after the key change gives me my first goosebumps of the series; but it might just be time for the heating to go on. Gary tells her the performance reminded him of a Sunday night performance. I hope he’s not thinking about Harry Secombe.

As we come back to the studio, James Arthur appears to be handing some contraband to someone across the aisle. Deftly avoiding the most obvious prime time smuggling since Bad Girls was still on the air, Dermot chats to a few people in the audience, as SeSe’s hopsitalisation has left him with some airtime to fill.

Back to tonight’s performances, and it’s time for some unconvincing footage of Luke pretending to be harassed by his Mum. He’s picked Let Her Go for his performance, and he’s singing it in a rowboat straight out of Life of Pi. Since the vocal is spottier than he is, I content myself to imagine Richard Parker bounding onto the stage and treating him like an unlucky meerkat. This extended analogy works a LOT better if you’ve seen the film. Sharon has a soft spot for Luke, which is something I just don’t want to picture, and Nicole makes some inappropriate remarks about his hairy balls creeping up. Maybe they started descending, but retracted because they didn’t like the smell.  

Rough Trade are up next, and they’re focusing far more on the choreography than the vocals. Another week, another array of ill-advised man-skirts. Still, at least they picked one of the greatest boyband songs of all time – I Want It That Way. Groups like Backstreet Boys get a lot of stick for their dated cheesiness, but Rough Copy’s mangling of their finest moment is a timely reminder of why they were so great. Nicole compliments them on a killer job, and Sharon says it was effortless. They certainly didn’t sound to be trying, and they did indeed murder it, so I guess I can’t disagree with either of those assessments. Gary tells us that, everywhere he goes, everyone’s asking about Rough Copy. Is the question, “How the fuck did they make the live finals?” Despite the fawning feedback, the boys seem a little more honest, fessing up to a piss-poor performance.

Resident weeper Hannah is closing tonight’s show, with one of the most over-performed songs in the X-Factor catalogue – Beautiful. Hannah confesses that she’s got body image issues, but then again, who doesn’t? She may lack confidence, but that doesn’t seem to affect her decision to wander round New Look dressed like she’s auditioning for Tron. The irony is, no-one would have given her image a second thought – now it’s all that anyone’s going to talk about. The performance is good, and prompts the mildly inappropriate “When you bend both knees and really go for it, I really love it” from Gary. Nicole apparently has facial goosebumps, and polls the other judges to see if they’re feeling the same. Sharon clearly does, but that’s because her cheeks used to be elbows.

Just time for the pointless flash vote, and Dermot’s whistle-stop interview technique – nothing to report, other than loads of “I gave it my best” platitudes from the ten acts. The girls, boys and overs are all safe, but in a shock result, it’s Kingsland Road who’ll be facing the sing-off tomorrow night.

Results Show

You’ve just read a fairly detailed breakdown of Saturday’s action, so you probably don’t need an additional summary of the three recaps that form the first twenty minutes of Sunday’s show. Apart from Sharon looking like Liberace’s hand-gel dispenser, the only other thing that happens in the first part of broadcast is another miserable group performance. This time, it’s Avicii’s Wake Me Up being mangled, which means that through the rest of the series we’ll be treated to the entire 2013 EDM songbook. The outfits clash as badly as the voices, so let’s all just calmly walk away.

Tonight’s first guest is Robin Thicke, who’s here to sing his date-rapey smash Blurred Lines. The producers have helpfully blanked out the offensive language, and his falsetto is unintelligible. This means that most of the song sounds like the incomprehensible rantings of the elderly Rastafarian who showers at my local pool. All told, the performance is a bigger monument to smug middle-aged pricks than the Foxtons Head Office.

The second guest is Katy Perry, who’s sold 12 million albums, and had almost as many things flying out of her tits. She’s performing Roar in a half-hearted tiger outfit, like Tony’s first tentative steps into transvestism. I’d give her credit for singing live, but she’s only doing it on the verses, which sound awful anyway. Her dancers start out dressed like faceless men in suits, but then whip off their clothes to reveal that they’re auditioning for a day-glo revival of Cats.

 “It’s crunch time” says Dermot needlessly; we’ve already seen Sharon’s back-fat squeezing out of her evening gown. Time to reveal who’s safe until next week - bizarrely Rough Copy are the first through, followed by Hannah, Sam, Luke, Tamera, Nicholas, Abi and Sam. That means “Shelley is taking on Kingsland Road.” With a knife and fork, presumably.

Kingsland Road make a half-decent stab at Pink’s Try, but someone needs to tell the ones who don’t really sing that they shouldn’t be dancing either. Shelley does Sam Brown’s Stop and it’s a smart choice because it shows off what her voice is capable of, even if her presentation of it is so cabaret it practically comes with table service. But let’s not kid ourselves, there’s no way the boys are going home tonight. The big question in, why didn’t she sing this for Love and Heartbreak? “Before you go and. Break. My. Heart.” It’s right there in the lyrics.

Gary and Sharon choose rather obviously. Nicole has the boys’ back this week, and back-handedly compliments Shelley on having a ‘great personality’. Sharon thrusts her boobs in Louis’ face, assuming that’ll be enough to bend his will and save Shelley. To no-one’s surprise, the boys are safe for another week. “Your weekend ends right here,” concludes Dermot. Fuck off O’Leary, it’s only nine o’clock.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Lorna Don't - The First Casualty of X-Factor Live Shows

I don’t know about you, but this year the X-Factor feels decidedly anticlimactic. Maybe it’s the desperation of bringing back Sharon Osborne, like the tired monster in a slasher franchise, resurrected for one more lumbering, rotting installment. Or maybe it’s the format itself; so tired that it’s practically narcoleptic. The only major innovation we’ve seen so far is the addition of some cheap white seating – I can practically smell the BAFTA from here. But above all, it’s the talent. If you haven’t seen the US version of the show, which airs on Thursdays and Fridays, you may be unaware of how much better the X-Factor can actually be. But that’s like my Grandma thinking that pasta comes in a tin, because she never tried the real thing.

Nonetheless, this is what we’re stuck with. And we’re finally at the Live Show stages, where the stakes are high, every moment counts and the contestants have to give the performance of their lives.  “Everybody’s got something to give. And some more than others,” adds Louis, cryptically.

Tonight’s theme is The Eighties. Gary’s bringing it on, Nicole’s appears to be taking it off, and Louis is particularly excited because he loves big songs, big hair and… No, you know what? I’m not doing that. Dermot bounds out, looking just a little more ashamed of himself than he did last year. If this show survives another year, he’s just going to lock himself in his changing room, cutting his arm with a butter knife from craft services. The judges make their big entrance – Nicole looks gorgeous, Louis appears to be an elderly sommelier, and Sharon’s had everything tightened and polished. It hasn’t just taken years off, it’s eradicated any last vestige of humanity – she’s like a gargoyle carved in Imperial Leather. Dermot gamely tries to explain another new twist; the Flash-ah-ah Vote, but Nicole and Sharon seem more interested in the contents of his alarmingly snug dress trousers. I know I’d certainly get more enjoyment from rummaging around in there for the next two and a quarter hours.

Hannah Barrett is up first, and she’s determined to showcase a more carefree side than we’ve seen to date: “All I’ve been doing is crying. It’s so cringe.” So is using the phrase ‘so cringe’ but we’ll overlook that for now. She’s certainly laughing a lot more, and Louis is wondering whether it’s too soon to try and get away with a “little Rustie Lee” comparison. The stylist must have had the weekend off, since Hannah’s blustering through What’s Fashion Got To Do With It, looking like she’s halfway through fighting her way out of a binbag. The vocal’s strong and she safely negotiates the key change, but it’s more Barrymore’s My Kind Of People than the Grammy Awards. Louis is on a roll, running through all his greatest hits: age references, love the voice, vote for Hannah, lot of potential. Sharon has to offer her feedback in mime, since her face is about as expressive as Mount Rushmore. 

Nervously tugging his jacket over his pronounced bulge, Dermot introduces wee Nicholas McDonald. Less a fledgling pop star, more a supporting character on Supergran, Nicholas is doing a song by Spandex Barry. Seriously, he’s never heard of the band, and most of his VT consists of him asking his Mum about Tony Hadley. Louis is trying to coach Nicholas through his performance and ignore the fact that his housekeeper is clearly on strike – she’s downed tools and refused to iron his shirts. The dancers have staged a full-on production, full of nervous teens asking each other out, but at least it’s a distraction from the kid with the lousy falsetto. The feedback amounts to little more than an interminable discussion of Nicholas’ age, with Sharon so drunk that it sounds like she’s channeling the spirit of Kenneth Williams. Louis offers another handful of generic platitudes, name-checking the Scottish voters and offering a “You’re what this show is all about.”

Miss Dynamix can’t seem to agree on how to pronounce their derivative name, but Gary’s too busy congratulating himself on creating something special - like he just cooked up a batch of 95% pure blue sky.  We like a bit of human drama with our music, so here’s SeSe to admit that she’s five months pregnant. Everyone does their best to look delighted for her, but the other two girls in the group are clearly thinking that the only thing Miss Dynamix will be releasing in the next six months is going to have an umbilical cord. They’re doing a lazy and outdated version of Jump, and their vocals are so disconnected they could be performing in different time zones. For some reason, Nicole thinks that when she speaks to black girls she has to slip into some awful ghetto fabulous slang, and Sharon talks about how they’ve been together less time than most pre-packaged sandwiches. She also wants to see more joy on their faces, so perhaps she can spare some of that Smylex she’s been injecting into her rubber mush. Speaking of which, Dermot compliments Sharon on her appearance: “How does she do it?” he asks disingenuously. “I have a very good surgeon,” she vamps, as ten million viewers at home peer from behind the couch. I wouldn’t go that far.  

Prison Sam is singing Power of Love, because ballads. She gets points for saying it’s by Jennifer Rush, even though she does the Celine Dion version of it. She’s doing her best to add some production value, courtesy of clichéd choreographer Sisco (not that one). She starts off in her high register, which is thin and reedy, but it gets much better once she hits the main chorus. Of course, everyone’s going to rave about the power in her voice, and ignore the fact that a great singer needs to be able to sell the quiet moments as well as the big notes. She even throws in a totally unnecessary key change, by which point I’m over it and wondering whether she might want to try some sleeves next week. Gary says it was “off the clock,” because Tulisa has successfully copyrighted the ‘hook’.  Nicole’s even more confused, saying “I don’t even know what I just watched.” Someone get her a Radio Times. And then there’s poor, clueless Louis, who thinks the best compliment he can offer a singer is “You hit every single note.” Sharon got goosebumps all over, even on the bits that weren’t originally hers, and Dermot suggests that “You just wanted to get out here and show us your pipes,” as if he’s in the VIP section of Spearmint Rhino.

The ad break gives us Katie Price, promoting the latest volume of her autobiography. Remember the good old days, when memoirs were published by raconteurs like Peter Ustinov, and they were filled with pithy epithets and charming anecdotes? Now we get Katie, regaling us with how she had to fuck Alex Reid with a strap-on.
Caroline Flack is moving a little closer to inheriting Dermot’s job – she’s now been bumped up to the ITV1 show, although she’s still backstage, conducting hopeless interviews with the contestants. Sam’s decked out in an ice-wash denim shirt, so 80s night should be a breeze. Louis is very excited about Sam’s full package (he’s a two-hander), and he’s picked Summer of ’69 for his protégé to mangle. Sam performs the entire song through his sinuses, and has a red baseball cap stuffed in his back pocket. Unfortunately, most of Twitter mistakes this for the hanky code (ask your confirmed bachelor uncle) – and it doesn’t take long for someone to point out that red means fisting. We won’t dwell.  This is supposed to be a rock song, but it makes Glee look like Radiohead. Louis clearly hasn’t a clue, telling Sam “You’re like a little Bryan Adams” despite the fact that Sam looks nothing like a pineapple with a side-parting.

All ridiculous hair and half-mast trousers, Kingsland Road are far too excitable to tolerate without chemical stimulants. They spend most of their VT plugging various Samsung gadgets and marveling at how they’re five guys from East London, who are now in the X-factor (North London). They’ve picked I’m Your Man by Wham and it’s exactly what you’d expect. In fact, the only point of interest in the entire performance is a curious Usual Suspects motif running on the screen behind them. I’m dying for the one who looks like Alex Zane to say “Gimme the fucking keys you fucking cocksucker” but he just goes three octaves too high instead. Apparently, the lads have all worked their bums off, but it would be unseemly for me to pass comment on that.

Shelley Smith is another one of Sharon’s Overs, and appears to be paying tribute to the Muppets, since she looks like Sam the Eagle in Miss Piggy’s hairpiece. Much like Sam, she’s a little too fond of playing the “Ermagerd, I’m dead normal, me” card, which kills any star potential stone dead. As she blunders her way through Alone by Heart, the poor wind machine struggles to make any kind of an impression. She’s also joined on stage by two pianists from Tron, but they’re soon forgotten about when she hops onto a scissor-lift and launches skywards for the key change. The brief was clearly ‘add some production value’ but it’s like watching someone do a pick-and-pack in the Amazon warehouse. Louis says “Shelley, you gave it welly.” Seriously, does he get paid for this?

Dermot tries to high-five Louis, but it’s about as awkward as me fist-bumping a vicar. Time to introduce Abi, who is tired of the green tabard she wears on the Morrisons check-out. She’s rightly chuffed with the results of her makeover, but manages to spoil it by acting like she’s in a Victoria Wood sketch. Performing at a white baby grand, she gives us a pared-down, acoustic version of Livin’ On A Prayer. It doesn’t really work, but she’ll get points for trying a different arrangement, which is only fair. Gary offers to get behind her, but I doubt there’s room on that piano stool.

Spare a thought for poor old Lorna. She’s won the ‘diva’ makeover booby prize – there’s one every year. They’ve styled her to look like Rihanna’s mum, given her a weird arrangement of an upbeat Whitney Houston song, and thrown in a bunch of shirtless dancers for good measure.  Hers is actually one of the best vocals of the night, but that’s hardly a compliment, all things considered. When Nicole claims the ‘diva’ comparison, Louis looks genuinely aggrieved – he has nothing else to add.

There’s another embarrassing bit of filler as Dermot introduces the live Twitter feed. This segment really needs some work, as their social media manager has only managed to find three remotely positive tweets – we see the same one about Dermot’s package twice, before it finally gets read out. Well done everyone.

Tamera Foster has been briefed to play the girl next door, so her entire VT is about how messy her bedroom is. She’s picked Ain’t Nobody by Rufus and Chaka Khan, and the producers have decided not to update it – they’ve just given her Liberty X’s arrangement instead. She rolls around a security fence like she’s trying to break into a music festival, and does a passable job with the song. Louis and Sharon have both taken to referring to all women as ‘Mrs’ which makes them sound like they’re attending the W.I. AGM.

Luke Friend moans that everyone is obsessed with his hair, not least the Centre for Disease Control.  I’m more concerned with his name, which sounds like a duff joke off The Inbetweeners. He’s singing Every Breath You Take; the arrangement sounds more like Dexys than The Police, which does him no favours at all, and he’s dressed like he came straight from the Playboy Mansion. Nicole comments, “Every time you perform, I can feel it.” I can fucking smell it. Dermot puts his hand into Luke’s hairdo, and all I can think of is that scene in Flash Gordon when Peter Duncan reaches into the log.  

Tonight’s final performance comes from Rough Copy, who are now a three-piece again. They tell us that growing up and being a young boy in this generation is hard. Yeah, fuck you Cameron.  They say everything in unison; it’s just a shame that their vocals are nowhere near as well synchronised. They’re singing ‘In The Air Tonight,’ and it takes a special kind of talent to make me wish I was watching Phil Collins. Nicole is obviously on a contact high from Sharon’s fumes, because she thinks they’re the best band that’s ever been on the show, and Louis says “There has to be a gap in the market for a band like this.” Yes, it’s called JLS.

Time for that new twist we were promised. The Flash Vote is a quick tally of the votes so far, to reveal one of the acts that’ll be in the sing-off tomorrow night. This does, of course, beg the question – why can’t they just evict whoever scores lowest, and do away with Sunday’s show altogether? In the end, this segment is just an impressive display of Dermot’s ability to conduct 12 mini-interviews with Swiss-watch precision. As the dozen acts stand with their mentors, Sharon is hanging off her Overs like a drowsy orang-utan on a tyre swing. Gary says he usually hates Sunday night, now he can hate Saturday nights too. I know the feeling.  In the end, Shelley scores the lowest vote, so tune in tomorrow to find out who she’ll be up against.

Results Show

Welcome to four whole minutes of entertainment, carefully squeezed into an hour of TV.  There’s really not much to report from the results show – the judges do their shtick, Sharon tries to pretend she’s not the wicked queen from Snow White, and the finalists give and execrable performance of Get Lucky.  It’s as lifeless as Sharon’s facial expressions, and features the worst dancing you’ll see outside of a Young Farmers disco.

The first of tonight’s special guests is Ellie Goulding, who boasts a Brit award, 15 million single sales, 4 million albums, and all the presence of pre-mixed wallpaper paste. She’s wearing a weird outfit – a flesh-coloured body stocking coupled with a vertical strip of golden sequins, that makes her look like Smaug The Magnificent’s skidmark. Dermot pushes her to name her favourite act, and she roots for Canestan Road.

After a brief ad break, where I discover that Iceland just hasn’t met me yet (one more reason to stay ex-directory), it’s time to welcome Cher to the X-Factor stage. She’s had an incredible six decades in music, and she’s been fully dressed for almost half of them. Aged 67, she’s like pop’s Benjamin Button; gradually getting younger with each new reinvention. She sings a rousing ballad, and as a flurry of golden ticker tape rains down on her, I’m tempted to imagine that Ellie Goulding has been tragically sucked into an air vent.

Time to count up the votes, and it’s no surprise that Sharon acts take up the bottom two places. Shelley belts out One Night Only, and Lorna tackles Faith Hill’s There You’ll Be. Both decent performances, delivered with passion and control, but let’s be honest – both acts could go tonight and the public would struggle to bat an eyelid. Sharon takes a sip of her ‘tea’ and abstains from voting, so in the end it’s down to Nicole to send Lorna home.