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.

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