Monday, 22 September 2014

The Gogglebox Effect - X-Factor Week 4

Last week, we spent over two hours watching a handful of acts valiantly repeating their introductions to camera, hugging their overly encouraging families, and attempting to win over 5,000 people crammed into uncomfortable plastic seats. That’s right, we’re right in the middle of the arena round; the most pointless addition to the X-Factor since Louis Walsh had his veneers done.

Aside from the rather obvious bias of these shows towards the acts likely to make it to the judges’ houses, the most notable feature of these filler episodes is the addition of a weird Gogglebox element. Now we get to hear the opinions of random audience members as they pass comment on the acts, like Waldorf and Statler, but less life-like.

Adding an extra layer of Goggleboxiness to this weekend’s action is Chloe Jasmine. Despite the fact that this footage was filmed well before any of the episodes actually aired, we get to see her parents pretending to watch her audition on a flat screen TV that seems as out of place in their home as a library in Cheryl’s. “Mummy, this is the television show I’m on,” Chloe announces. “Oh Chloe, you’re so clever,” her mother replies; clearly one of those parents that gives a round of applause whenever their toddler has a shit. The ‘getting to know you’ chat consists of Chloe telling is that her hobbies include “going to the ballet, the opera and experimenting with gluten free cooking,” but it seems that her real talent is pouting in slow motion. Her song is appropriately bluesy, but her performance is more two-dimensional than Jessica Rabbitt’s. Nonetheless, Louis loves her vibe, Cheryl’s mesmerised by her “old school Hollywood glamma…” and Simon lies that “we’ve never had anyone on the show like you before.”

Fleur East has great hair and a massive smile, and previously made it through to the live shows nine years ago as part of an underwhelming group. She didn’t get a glowing response in her first audition, and when she starts performing it’s clear that she’s spent more time on her abs than her vocals. There’s zero melody to her voice, and to be honest, she’d probably go further as a backing dancer. Simon says she’s like a different artist, and I’m silently wishing that someone had switched her microphone for a paintbrush. As the judges all weigh in with their comments, it suddenly becomes apparent that no-one’s paying any attention, since Simon’s moobs have fallen out of his shirt onto the table, making him look like a furry Judy Finnigan.

After a fairly soft opening, it’s time to bring out the big guns. Back by unpopular demand, here’s Raign, everyone’s favourite self-absorbed whippet. The producers clearly hate her, but know that she’s PR gold, so we get loads of contradictory statements as she tells us that there’s no room for egos, then barks orders at her friends as if they’re iPhone factory workers. As soon as she comes out of stage, she launches into another aggravating monologue that even has her friends backstage wishing she’d shut the fuck up. Ever the rampant egotist, she chooses to sing one of her own songs, and sounds like the Sia wannabe that she so clearly is. Still, the audience leap to their feet on the big note, despite all the other ones being way off. Weirdly, Louis critiques her for being “a real diva,” which must be the first time he’s ever used that as the pejorative it’s supposed to be.

Emily Middlemass is 15 years old, and has the kind of good natured grace that Raign couldn’t learn with electroshock therapy. She’s a perky blend of Cher Lloyd and Kelly Clarkson, who manages to make everything sound like a folksy ditty. Although there’s not a lot of weight to her, she’d easily sail to midway in the contest. Since the producers have selected Yes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack to accompany her verdict, I guess they’ve given up on trying to surprise us.

Stephanie Nala is a bubbly girl with a pleasant voice, who lives in Cheshunt. “It’s quiet, not much goes on there,” she admits. Well, not unless there’s a fire drill at the Tesco offices. I wouldn’t have put her through, but since Yes is still playing, I expect that she’s going home happy.

Another familiar face is KerriAnne, who’s come out in her best denim dungaree shorts to tell us that her first audition was “absolutely mint.” Sigh. She’s going to sing a Carrie Underwood song, and seems a little surprised when Simon adds “You know I discovered her?” The song is as dull as a bus replacement service, but it comes to life on the big notes. She’s quite adorable when the audience leap to their feet, and she seems so lacking in confidence that she’s genuinely in danger of collapsing in on herself. “You should be selling music not shoes,” advises Cheryl, but I think HMV’s had a recruitment freeze since the restructure.

Major are a noisy twosome, who are barely onstage long enough to register. Simon dislikes their performance, for which Louis takes him to task; accusing him of being harsh. And yet no-one seems to pick up the fact that Louis’ opening line to them was “You are two girls?” With Simon’s critiquing style now firmly established, we race through a tedious montage of his most witless similes. The other judges replay them with a baffled expression, and the audience laugh like there’s a mild electric current coursing through the arena.

Michelle Lawson is one of those late thirties ‘last chance’ singers. Despite being warned by Cheryl to steer clear of “all those rifts…” she knows this is the moment she’s been waiting for her whole life and nothing will get her down, not even a problematic T-zone. Given her tendency to oversing, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going probably isn’t the best choice. There’s no enjoyment in her performance, it’s more like enduring a French listening exam. Mel advises her that less is more, and let’s face it, if anyone knows about making do with less, it’s Mel B. A dejected Michelle strops off the stage for a big sulk, and possibly even calls Dermot a “bag of crap.”

Back for more, this time without her aged husband, is Scarlett Quinn. She’s already ditched the stage name ‘Kitten,’ and her unfortunate habit of speaking about her husband in the past tense, suggests that he won’t be far behind it. As she growls through Ain’t No Other Man, her voice is passable and she’s has a sultry Pussycat Doll presence. The problem is, she’s only about 30% of the singer Christina Aguilera is, so the performance can only suffer from the comparison.

Closing Saturday’s show is Ben Haenow (Haenow). “Oy, oy,” he shouts as he runs out on stage, like the warm up act for the Family Fortunes studio audience. He likes music he can bellow out of his van window at people. I wonder how often his transit gets keyed. Ben tells us how gorgeous Cheryl is, while his girlfriend in tastefully blurred in the background. He’s doing a gravelly, funereal Wild Horses that makes me want to repeatedly clear my throat, and it’s almost as exhausting as Michelle’s vocal runs. “Well that was intense, I don’t think I need to say any more,” says Mel B, and I’m hoping she’ll stick to her word. No-one’s surprised when Ben gets four yeses, since he’s the last act of the night, and it’s an unwritten rule that we have to end on a positive.

Sunday’s show kicks off with Charlie Martinez, the handsome young American who got Mel B wetter than a Glastonbury groundsheet. There’s no doubting his twinkly smile and impressive arms, but he’s incredibly bland; like Taylor Lautner in a pair of chinos. He belongs in a Gap shop window, not on the stage at Wembley. He only sings a couple of lines, before we get to hear the judges gush about how the girls are going to love him. Thankfully, Mel B’s seen sense (or at least a restraining order) and tell him she was bored to tears.

Ten Senah was drunk for her last audition, and on reflection, she probably should have necked a bottle of MadDog while she was waiting in the wings. Michael Marouli doesn’t fare much better, coming onto the stage looking like a chandelier dipped in gravy browning.

Janet Grogan is from Dublin and she’s 26. And just in case you missed that the first time, let me recap: Janet Grogan is from Dublin and she’s 26. If that seemed entirely unnecessary, remember that next time the producers do the exact same thing. So much of this weekend’s coverage is taking us back to the original auditions, it’s like watching the show in reverse. Any minute now, Guy Pearce is going to show up and start taking Polaroids. Anyway, back to Janet. She’s singing I Still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, oblivious to the fact that the whole world is now in a ‘post U2 kind of mood,’ having woken up to find an album sitting in their iTunes, like a drunken tattoo. The song’s fine, but it’s not a star-making performance, more a spirited karaoke. Still, at least Mel B’s finally happy.

Charlie Jones is 14, and has the kind of mum who thinks nothing of making him go to the toilet and checking him for clean pants on national TV. He sounds dull when he speaks, but manages to raise a few eyebrows with a weird acoustic version of Wannabe, complete with an inane rap that’s been updated to name check the judges. “You made yourself different from everybody else,” says Cowell, but that’s only because he didn’t really sing.

Helen Fulthorpe is a timid mum from Cardiff, who looks like the OCD teacher on Glee. There’s an interesting gravelly howl to her voice, but the “Try a little te-he-he-he-he-he-he-he-he-henderness,” soon grows wearying. Simon commends her, saying “You put your family in front of your career…” Of course, the inference here is that all that’s about to change. They can make their own fucking teas from now on. As she runs in slow motion to embrace her kids, there’s a spectacular amount of jiggle, despite the fact that she’s dressed like a particularly dowdy pilgrim.

Tom Mann is a cute 20 year old from Southampton, who announces “You broke my heart Louis Walsh.” As the lawyers scrabble into action, he tells us he’ll be singing a song he wrote the day after Louis sent him home last year. I think it’s called “Fuck off, you pointless grinning cockpipe.” It’s pretty terrible, but since he looks the part, they give him a second chance and let him Chipmunk his way through the Backstreet Boys.

Jake Sims serves no purpose, other than to remind me of the enduring and inexplicable popularity of the Arctic Monkeys. As the wind whistles through the many holes in his face, Simon tells him “You’ve got lead guy charisma,” which I’d interpret as “Bugger off and join a band.” Jordan Morris is equally ineffectual, in a pair of bewildering pedal pushers. He’s another blandly attractive face, like one of those sentient mannequins on Doctor Who.

Another familiar face is Jake Quickenden, who reminds us that he’s from Scunthorpe and he “just sings.” So no mention of the modeling or TV presenting work then. “I don’t like people knowing that I’m vulnerable,” he sobs photogenically. He’s emoting his way through a Jessie J dirge, but I’m more interested in why he thought it was a good idea to have a moustache tattooed on his finger. Simon lies about not liking it when rejected contestants return, despite this contradicting everything he’s ever said to anyone, ever.

Leah Kennedy is like a Happy Shopper Jessie J, but her song is awful and there’s about as much energy in the room as if Ed Miliband had just popped in. Louis and Cheryl offer her a half-hearted yes, and Simon tells her he’ll have forgotten her before she’s even exited stage right.

Our final contestant is Lola Saunders, the fishmonger. “I don’t want it to be a full time job,” she moans. Surely, if it’s a big supermarket, they can offer her flexi-time? Her granddad keeps bursting into tears with pride whenever he talks about her. They could make a whole show about him, trying to get a sentence out without dissolving into sobs. As the music starts, she has a bit of a panic attack, so Mel B lunges at her to offer an encouraging hug. She fudges the lyrics to You Make Me Feel (Natural Woman) but the clueless crowds are loving the loud noises, so cheer along obliviously. As her granddad resorts to communicating entirely in wolf-whistles, Lola leaves the stage with four yeses. Let’s hope the stylists are standing by – she may have a great voice, but the next X-Factor winner shouldn’t be dressing like a Victorian tennis player.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The pain in Raign falls mainly on everyone - X-Factor Week 2

Just seven days in, and it already feels as though the X-Factor never went away. Once again, we’re plunged into a world of cacophonous voice-overs, giant CGI Xs crashing onto London like something out of Man of Steel, and so many queues of eager young hopefuls. One thing that does seem to be changing, is the confidence of the contestants, who’ve finally begun to come out of their shells. They used to rock on their heels in hoodies, eyes turned to the ground, almost apologetic about taking part in a competition. Now they’re up on strategically placed platforms, dancing to the music that exists only in their heads as camera cranes swoop dramatically overhead.

It must be a slow day in Manchester, as the local news appears to be covering the arrival of Cowell and company. And despite the best efforts of the excitable ushers who are welcoming hopefuls by turning themselves into directional signage, Manchester still seems as rough as Mel B in asbestos dungarees. Cheryl’s not intimidated by the grimy vibe – compared with her Newcastle upbringing, this must be like mooring a yacht in St Kitts – she knows that “Manchester always delivers a golden nugget.” She’s probably thinking of McDonalds.  

This week’s first wannabe is Ten Senah. When pushed for a job description, she responds “I party.” I can’t tell if this means she just celebrates all the time, or if her social engagements are of the transactional variety. Having stayed out all night before her audition, she swaggers into the room and announces “I’m gonna do an original, it’s called 15 minutes,” as if she’s already cottoned onto the likely extent of her fame. She sings like Beverly Knight, if she’d just eaten a pack of Marlboro Reds, but the whole performance is a bit of a mess. Cheryl blinks some kind of Morse Code warning to Ten, then adds that she’s not taking it seriously. “You wanna be a backing vocalist – carry on, party forever.” I’m sure the stars of ‘Fifty Feet From Stardom’ might disagree. Simon sums things up, saying “You got four yesses, why don’t you go an celebrate with a hot, black..” I don’t like where this is going. It’s OK, he went with ‘coffee.’

Less than ten minutes into the show, and we’re already prizing open the cage door marked ‘crazy.’ Here’s ‘Queen Christina,’ Britain’s answer to Lady Gaga. But only if the question was, “What would happen if Gaga replaced Barbara Windsor on those Bingo ads?” Looking like a decorative toilet-roll cover, she runs through a surreal opera performance that sounds like a mouse tuning his viola. She tells us “A few years ago my voice went into the stratosphere.” And that’s probably where it should stay; like the posters say, ‘In space, no-one can hear you scream.’ Mel decides that it was all a bit nuts, which is pretty harsh coming from someone with Geri Halliwell on speed-dial.

Maria Ellinas is a receptionist who looks to have had some cosmetic dentistry done, courtesy of Groupon. Her veneers make it impossible for her to sing Street Life, without making every ‘s’ into a ‘sh.’ As the judges dissolve into giggles, I’m distinctly unimpressed. Speech impediment or no, that was a load of sit.

Hot Charlie Martinez is with the US airforce, and needed White House clearance in order to appear on the X-Factor. He performs an anodyne bilingual rendition of Enrique Iglesias that has Mel B out of her seat like there was an electric current running through it. Equally popular with our judges is Charlie Brown, who croaks his way through Trouble and is complimented for having a great throwback sound. You know, just like Ray Lamontagne, whose song he was performing. Good grief. 

Ben Haenow refuses to dream it’s over. He’s a twenty nine year-old van driver who’s seventy percent stubble. His Ain’t No Sunshine is fair enough, but I’m kind of wishing they’d fade him out and just play the rest of the Minder theme instead. “What’s the most unusual thing you’ve had in the back of your van?” the judges ask him, and I’m concerned it’s a little too early for #gaycode. The judges are happy to put him through, but there’s an awkward moment as he goes in for a congratulatory cuddle and Mel B warns him off with “I don’t kiss.” To be honest, I doubt she sits down to pee either.

Jake Sims has to look after his sister and mum, and is hoping to provide for them by appearing on X-Factor. I guess the odds of finding gainful employment in Bristol are just too slim. Kyle and Josh are identical twins, and they’re wearing matching bandanas that make them look like they take their fashion tips from the ninja turtles.
Finally, after an interminable parade of tedium, we meet Monica Michael. She might be wearing earrings large enough for Beth Ditto to hula-hoop in, but she seems grounded and genuine. She’s written a song for her sister, about the dangers of falling in with the wrong crowd, and it’s surprisingly good. She’s less polished than Adele, largely because she hasn’t had the benefits of a Brits School education, but the sincerity and talent are inarguable. Cheryl weeps one of her photogenic mono-tears, and Mel complements her “torn and versatality.”

Jack Walton is from Castleford, which Mel B knows all about, since she too is from Leeds. I hope you’re paying attention, since Mel’s Leeds roots hardly ever get mentioned. Unless she happens to open her mouth. Jack might be the dullest 17 year old ever to violate a sports sock, but the grit in his voice has Cheryl wanting to rub herself on a gravel driveway.

James Graham doesn’t like animals, but “could learn to love them” if it would win him Simon’s favour, and Bre Musiq does a good job with No Diggity, despite having to perform it whilst picturing Louis in a bikini. Returning from last year is a newly slimmed down Paul Akister, who was dropped by Louis at the judges’ houses round. Louis chews on his dentures and avoids eye contact for the duration of his song, then refuses to apologise, bleating “I did the right thing.”

Chloe Hedley tells us that “Music doesn’t just mean a lot, it means (dramatic pause) everything.” It may have prevented her from falling into a bad crowd, but it won’t be helping her get to Wembley any time soon. Mel tries to look encouraging, but her expression quickly devolves into an eye-roll.

Thankfully, Lola Saunders is here to save the day. She’s not very glamorous, and she’s desperate for a job that doesn’t leave her smelling of fish. Insert your own joke here. “I want to sing,” she admits, “I can’t do anything else good.” Well, public speaking is certainly out of the question. She sings To Make You Make You Feel My Love, and manages to make it something more than a karaoke cover of Adele’s version. In fact, the only thing to spoil the whole audition is the judges’ protracted reaction, which drags on like the second act of The Green Mile. At least tomorrow’s show is fifteen minutes shorter.

Sunday Night

Perhaps sensing the audience’s growing weariness with the format, the producers are in a rush to get us to Wembley, where the successful auditionees will be re-evaluated by a bunch of mooing, jeering idiots. And an arena-sized audience. It’s an entirely unnecessary extra wrinkle in the format, but it seemed to work for the ratings last time. So this will be our last hour of closed-room auditions, and it promises to be a triple-paracetemol head-banger, if the teaser is anything to go by. Think Wilhelm Scream in triplicate, and you’d be halfway there. On top of that, there’s a weird new special effect, where our young hopefuls’ texts to family and friends are visualised on screen. Coming so soon after a bunch of hacking scandals, I’m not sure this sends the best message about Syco’s concern for the wellbeing of its talent. We’re also reintroduced to our judges with some weird Terminator-cam – I’m just waiting for it to evaluate Louis Walsh as a waste of ammo (one for the Guns N Roses fans there), but then we’re all distracted by the sight of Simon nuzzling a puppy.

Kerriann Covell works in a shoe shop, and complains that most of her customers’ feet stink. It’s gone eight o’clock; you’ve finished dinner, right? Anyway, she’s playing hooky from work and there’s every chance she could get sacked for her unprofessionalism. Her mum’s on-hand to misrepresent the situation with a double negative; inexplicably telling her “You’ve jeopardised losing your job.” She’s got a touch of the Spraggans about her, but the performance is surprisingly authentic, despite the double thumbs up she gave as the accompaniment started. Sensing that she’s done enough to win over the judges, she smiles to reveal an alarming amount of gum. Cheryl credits her with inventing the goosebump, and complements her ‘gorgeous face,’ just as Kerriann gurns like Muriel Heslop. Simon takes her phone to call her boss (he’s obviously run out of minutes on his own) and leaves a message to say that, although Kerriann’s through to Wembley, she’d like to keep her job in the short term – no sense getting her hopes up.

As the auditionees make bold pronouncements like “Cheryl Cole’s back. We’re in Newcastle. It feels right,” we’re introduced to Lauren Lovejoy, who seems to be dressed for an ITV2 take on Mad Men. Her voice is just as overstyled as her outfit, and she completely oversings Jessica Rabbit’s signature tune. Stevie Tennet is still studying for his GCSEs, so Cheryl voices her opposition to the inclusion of 15 year olds in the content. Based on his performance, so am I. Maybe he’ll be better in a couple of years’ time, but for now he sounds like he’s out of breath from all the wanking. Not to worry, his audition seems to have done the trick. “I have to say, I’ve got to eat a bit of cake right now,” adds Cheryl, cryptically. Either she means humble pie, or she’s hypoglycaemic – someone get that woman a Krispy Kreme.

Starlite’s star doesn’t shine very bright. It doesn’t help that she’s wearing an unflattering black catsuit and an orange visor, and parades around the audition room being rude to the judges. Her rendition of I Will Survive is just as unintelligible as her own composition, but the audience outside laugh along with their favourite kind of idiot-baiting.

Doctor King, comes from Leeds, lives in Bristol and has decided to audition in Newcastle. He’s got lovely blue eyes, but there’s clearly nothing behind them. He attempts a terrible rap, then cops an attitude when the judges prove resolutely unmoved. Cheryl schools him on the difference between ‘entrance’ and ‘exit,’ by which point it’s quite clear that he needs to rethink his life.

Now it’s time for the star of tonight’s show – the curiously spelled Raign. Looking like a cross between Stacey Solomon and a whippet trapped in a lift door, the 31 year-old launches into an incomprehensible monologue, talking over all the judges and winding up Mel and Cheryl before she’s sung a note: “I am an artist, singer-songwriter, writer, really cool, alternative, gets all chart stuff, I think a big part of what I’ve got to sell to the world is my personality, what I need to say to my fans, it’s not enough for me over twitter, they love it up on twitter, but I’m a personality and I wanna be in the world.”

She boasts that she once took a duvet in a suitcase to L.A., but her story would be a lot more interesting if it went somewhere. Actually, so would she. She drones on and on in her monotonous voice, and it’s like listening to a call centre worker read through the Ts and Cs on a new insurance policy. Raign rejects the suggestion that her career isn’t going to plan, telling us “I’m number 17 in Russia. I have a whole team of people, my friend works at Marc Jacobs.” I know someone who works at Waitrose. What’s her point? Her audition is terrible, and things aren’t made any better when she dismisses the other judges; telling them that Simon’s is the only vote that matters. Eagle-eared viewers should, by now, have noticed that the producers are accompanying this footage with the music from 28 Days Later. Cheryl’s getting more and more wound up, so let’s hope Raign tries to offer her a lollipop and a hand towel. Having been rejected, Raign storms back in and forces Simon to put her through. Cheryl comments on the ugliness of her desperation, thereby sealing her fate as the mentor for the ‘Overs’ this year.

Other contestants in the saggy midsection include Janet Grogan, who tells us “My parents mean the absolute universe to me,” because sometimes, the world is not enough. Emily Middlemas is like a squeaky an inoffensive Cher Lloyd, and Lizzy Pattinson is like Michaela Strachan singing Smelly Cat. “Have we met before,” smarms Simon. “Maybe in your dreams,” she shoots back. She’ll go a long way, this one.

Michael Rise works in a chip shop and bores us with his tale of “washing’t tayties.” “What’s popular?” asks a clearly bored Simon, and Michael disappoints everyone by not replying. “Chips.” They’re all shocked that he’s singing Whitney Houston, whereas I’m more surprised he picked something off her embarrassing final album. His performance is solid, if a little theatrical, but he’s quite endearing as he chews his fist, awaiting the verdict. Simon and Cheryl decide that he’s a “little diva” and Louis looks affronted that he didn’t get to use his favourite word. “If you get a yes from Mel, then you must be alright,” adds Louis. Yeah, that’s what Jimmy Gulzar thought too.

Kayleigh Manners is a gorgeous young girl with an L-Word vibe and too many facial piercings. She complains that “The place where I come from, gets a bit of a bad reputation. But Mel B came from here.” The two facts may be connected.
The final slot in the auditions goes to Jake Quickenden, a pretty boy from two years ago. Since appearing on the show, he’s signed with agents and been working as a model and TV presenter. He even had his airbrushed arse on display in Gay Times. But none of this is mentioned, since there’s TRAGEDY to cover. He starts with a John Legend song that isn’t working, so Mel and Cheryl ask him to sing something else, but resist the urge to tell him to try it without the shirt. His second performance is better, and to no-one’s surprise, the judges all agree to put him through. Mel “I don’t do kisses” B gets up and gropes him. “He didn’t even mention that sob story till I asked him,” she adds, neglecting to mention that they’ve got extensive notes in front of them.

Still, that’s the shortlist sorted – next week, we’re off to Wembley. See you there.  

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Happy 1000th Post!

I realised last week that this post would be my 1000th. Given that most blogs rarely make it into double figures, I think 1,000 is a pretty impressive landmark. When I reflect on my writing, I'm usually overly critical, worrying that its in-the-moment nature tends to limit its shelf-life. So I thought that I'd take a look back at my favourite posts and select some quotes that still stand up. These are the things I've enjoyed writing the most, over the last five years. I hope you enjoy reading them.

On Casey Bachelor - Casey calls herself a model, but if you only appear in things like Nuts and Zoo, you’re not actually a model; you’re a stripper who can’t dance.

On Fashion Icons - To say that they spend their time designing outfits that beautify and celebrate the female form, the most successful fashion designers are a breathtakingly unattractive bunch. Karl Lagerfeld looks like Billy Idol's blind granddad, and Donatella Versace resembles a hard-up porn star carved out of a giant pork scratching.

On The Jump – Steve Redgrave’s slalom is very impressive, and he’s tighter on the poles than UKIP, but I’m distracted by the deafening clang of cowbells on his descent – like someone’s jammed a goat in a tumble dryer.

On The Taste - When the dialogue isn’t pure smut, it’s loaded with overblown self-importance: “You lost me at the puree” growls Bourdain disdainfully, like he’s serving divorce papers in a tempura batter.

On The Chicken Shop - With aspiration and opportunity at an all-time low, the chicken shop represents a nation in stagnation. Food selected purely for its low price, rather than taste or provenance. Social interactions that depend on name badges to create the illusion of intimacy. And a zesty lemon-scented wet wipe to clear away a lifetime of broken dreams. The sad reality of the chicken shop is that, despite Little Mix‘s empowering assertions, some wings were only made to fry.

On Movie Femme Fatales - “Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick? It’s intense.” Catherine Tramell isn’t the most subtle pick-up artist, but you have to admire her front. Then again, it’s hard to miss when she keeps uncrossing her legs like that.

On Blonde Electric - They’re the most irritating twosome since an Irish obstetrician said “Congratulations Mrs Grimes, it’s a pair of cunts.”

On The Voice - Ash Morgan makes a big deal about being from The Valleys, but I guess everywhere looks like a valley when you’re built like a hillock.

On The Apprentice - Doctor Leah is decidedly unimpressed with Zee’s hubris, and makes her counter-pitch: “I’m a good leader, great with finance. I don’t have a lot of local knowledge but I can convert the currency really easily.” After all, isn’t that what they really need: a pouty-lipped Foreign Exchange? The other team is being led by silver fox Myles Morduant, who sounds like one of Harry Potter’s unforgivable curses.

On Louis Spence - His special skill appears to be constantly turning around and splaying his fingers. He’s developed an annoying habit of answering his own questions, and uses far to many s-sounds for someone with such a freakishly short tongue. Most of the time he sounds like someone trying to throttle a rattlesnake.

On Lauren Harries - Clearly, enough time has passed for her to convince herself that she was a child prodigy, in spite of the archive video evidence that shows the young ‘expert’ declaring “Antiques should always look old.” Lauren has been living as a woman for 15 years, and dressing like a Rovers barmaid for ten of them.

On ITV shit-com Duty Free - The would-be couple’s illicit liaisons became increasingly improbable, not least because Van Gyseghem constantly wore an expression that suggested she’d located the source of an unpleasant smell in her Marbella hotel room. My money’s on Brut aftershave and a pair of sweat-damaged espadrilles.

On Joey Essex - The fact is, this show is all about one man – Joey Essex. Thicker than a bucket of hippo cum, Joey is all set to be the star of this series. With those ridiculous Daffy Duck teeth that are bright enough to attract moths, he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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.

On Sam Bailey’s X-Factor Win - And finally, it’s time for the least surprising victory since Kim Jong-un took part in the primary school egg and spoon race.

On Question Time - The one stand-out moment of John Lydon’s appearance, was him referring to the Barclays rate-fixing as “shenanigans” – as though cheating the country was akin to a pair of hapless removalists trying to get a piano up a flight of stairs.

On Steve Jobs’ Passing - Critics scoff, and tell us to get a life. But only because they haven’t drunk the Appletini flavoured Kool-Aid. And that’s the thing about Steve Jobs. He doesn’t just leave behind a legacy of intuitive, beautifully designed gadgetry. He leaves behind a movement of loyal followers who will mourn his passing as if he was a member of their extended family. Steve, you made a cult out of all of us. Damn you autocorrect…

On Iceland’s Sponsorship of I’m A Celebrity - I’m not entirely sure that a show about people cramming foul things into their mouths is the best advertising platform for a supermarket chain. Especially since Iceland’s exclusive £1 deep-pan doner kebab pizza would have me hungrily eyeing up a wallaby’s ball-sack.

On Tom Daley’s Splash - Tonight, Omid Djalili, Jade Ewen, Jake Canuso, Helen Lederer and Jenni Falconer “will be facing the most terrifying experience of their lives”. Fuck the ten metre board, it’s going to be more frightening trying to get an agent to take their calls tomorrow morning. In standard reality show fashion, we’ve even got a panel of judges, comprised of Team GB coach Andy Banks, Olympic diver Leon Taylor, and Jo Brand, who is to diving what Ann Widdecombe is to nipple clamps.

On Desperate Scousewives – Jodie is now interviewing for a salon job with Mark and Chris. Mark tells Jodie “We’re really looking at anal bleaching”, to which she responds with “That’s a bit Hollywood isn’t it. We’re only in Anfield.” She’s got a point, I can see plenty of orange twats, but not a single pasty arsehole.

On TV Schedules - Wednesday evenings don’t exactly constitute an embarrassment of riches, so I’m forced to choose between Two Jews On A Cruise, Claire Richards Slave To Food, or Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. Somewhere in West London, a cabal of commissioning editors are flicking through a dog-eared copy of Charlie Brooker’s TV Go Home and laughing their arses off.

On Donald Trump Jr’s Elephant Hunting - Whereas most people might view these gentle giants as one of nature’s most awe-inspiring marvels, these cunts only see a matching set of umbrella stands.

On The Link Between Dolly and Gaga – Lady Gaga managed to steal all the limelight by turning up in a giant yellow plastic egg, like the world’s most self-involved Kinder Surprise.

On Extreme Couponing - All the superlatives in the world can’t disguise the fact that this is a show about people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic-buying enough laundry detergent to last them well into the Rapture. You’ll hear them proudly stating that they spend up to “30 hours a week couponing”. Just picture how much richer they’d be if they’d actually spent that time working, rather than buying a metric tonne of handwash. It’s called a false economy.

On Ron Jeremy - The last three decades have seen him doing more ploughing than all the potato farmers in Norfolk. Some people’s beauty lies below the surface, Ron’s lies below the belt. He may have been at the back of the queue when God handed out beauty, but he pushed to the front like a German at Disneyland when it came to cock-size.

On Jodie Marsh - But the ultimate case of ‘pot calling kettle an orange whore’ came this week, when Jodie Marsh accused the carotene crew of The Only Way Is Essex of giving her fair county a bad name.

On Keeping Up With The Kardashians - Here we are at the start of Season Six, and this is my first real brush with the Kardashian Klan, even though I’ve already used the ‘K’ key so much that my laptop thinks I’m a white supremacist.

On Sugar Daddies - The air-quotes around ‘financial assistance’ are particularly telling since, by all accounts, any transactions taking place will be predominantly nightstand-based. Maybe I’m counting my tricks before they’ve matched, but it certainly seems as though the producers are looking to cast their newest stars from the world’s oldest profession.

On Michael O’Leary’s Cost Cutting - If you’ve ever watched one of the Airport movies, you’ll know that pilots have the second most dangerous job in the world, after Naomi Campbell’s PA. When they’re not having heart attacks or getting food poisoning mid-flight, they’re being hit in the face with a microlite. With no George Kennedy or Charlton Heston in the control tower, the stewardesses will need to swot up beforehand, so they’re ready in case of a crisis. Just don’t be surprised if the training for an emergency landing is covered in less time than it takes to microwave an all-day breakfast panini.

On Hilary Devey - This week’s would-be entrepreneurs are a fairly agreeable lot. We have Nick, Richard and Sebastian, who’ve invented an automated pint-pouring device to help bar staff multitask. Hilary helpfully points out that “I’ve been in and out of pubs all my life.” My parents had a name for women like her.

On TOWIE - In preparation for tonight’s episode, I checked out the official TOWIE Twitter feed, which asked “Who’s looking forward to this evening’s episode of TOWIE? It’s going to be explosive!” Perhaps Nanny Pat’s sausage plait needed a bit longer in the oven.

On Katie Price’s Search for a Supermodel - The narrator tells us that “from small beginnings, Katie Price has made it big,” thanks largely to a parade of surgeons who knew where to hide the air valves. She’s now one of the UK’s most talked about women, mostly amongst people who say: “What the fuck does she look like?”

On The Devil’s Dinner Party – Host Pip Torrens looks and acts like Lurch from the Addams Family, with a smidge of Evan Davies’ creepy ‘leather daddy’ vibe. As his guests make their awkward introductions, he looms into view to announce, “I make the Devil’s mischief. It’s time to play.” Strap on your ball-gags, tonight’s safety word is “crabcake”.

Monday, 1 September 2014

X Marks The Rot

It might still be August, but my mind’s already on Christmas. Not that I’m in any rush to wish my life away, but the moment those unmistakable opening titles begin, I’m reminded of the fact that this show is going to dominate the TV schedule until it’s thrown up the next Xmas Number One. Depressing stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In its 11th year, the writing is clearly on the wall, and I don’t mean that derogatory graffiti about Louis in the gents’ cubicles. With three failed attempts at selling the format to an indifferent American audience under his belt (or chinstrap; whichever’s closer), Simon’s returned with his tail between his legs. In typically disingenuous style, Cowell announces that this is “A job so important that I simply had to come back.” He could equally be referring to the less than stellar line up of winners we’ve had since he went stateside. James Arthur’s career had the same shelf-life as an undercooked soufflĂ©, and Sam Bailey is surely just months away from her first big Butlins booking.

Hoping to relive the glory years of the show’s popularity, Simon’s brought back Cheryl (Don’t say Cole, don’t say Cole) Fernandez-Versini, who poses seductively on a motorbike outside Somerset House. In addition, Mrs O has been replaced by Mel B, whose speaking voice still sounds like the klaxon from Hans Zimmer’s Inception score, but with a Leeds accent that could pickle an egg. She’s been asked to pose with a glass of champagne on a private jet, despite having all the sophistication of an Artex ceiling. “I was in the biggest girl group of all time,” she barks, every time a camera is on her.

And then there’s Louis, speeding through London’s streets like he’s in an outtake from Fast & Furious 6, and boasting about twenty years in the business. Surely there’s a footnote in the Highway Code about filming VTs whilst in control of a moving vehicle. Louis casually threatens that he’ll never leave the show; effectively invoking squatter’s rights on the judges’ table.

As is customary at this time of year, the publicity machine has been ramping up, filling the tabloids with pointless non-stories about fall-outs, rumoured resackings and staged auditions. And a complicit press has covered it all so thoroughly, that we’re even afforded a montage of the coverage – serving no other purpose than to give the PR agency a handy show-reel they can run at their Christmas party.

The only real change to the format is a large LED screen in the holding area, so the nervous auditionees can see a live feed of how their competition is faring in front of the judges. So now, there’s kind of a live audience feel to the performances, but on a camera relay – kind of like an abuse victim testifying without having to appear in court.

It’s almost time for the first commercial break and we haven’t seen a single audition yet, so here’s Debbie Gibson circa 1987, and Audrey off Little Shop of Horrors. They call themselves Blonde Electric, and they’re the most irritating twosome since an Irish obstetrician said “Congratulations Mrs Grimes, it’s a pair of cunts.” As they babble and giggle in their American accent, Mel B rolls her eyes at the annoying personae they seem to have adopted, and my irony meter goes off the scale. Simon compares their version of Do It Like A Dude to people dragging their nails down a blackboard, and Louis declares “I think people are going to like you.” Because seriously, when has he ever been wrong before? Cheryl, on the other hand, simply can’t find the words. Which is odd, since she’s usually quite the articulate raconteur. In the end, it’s left to Simon, who laments that this could be the worst mistake he’s ever made. But in a career that includes Pudsey the Movie, I Can’t Sing and Robson & Jerome, I’m amazed he’s even able to draw up a shortlist.

Outside in the holding area, the nervous hopefuls are commenting that there are lots of guitars because, well, there’s a lot of guitars. Simon’s already sick of it, moaning “I could merge fifty of these people and they’d all sound the same.” Of course they would – that’s what merging is.

Our next young hopeful is a scrawny proto-Bieber called Reece Bibby. He strums away on his guitar and offers a tedious acoustic presentation, prompting Louis to salivate: “The word for you is potential.” I’m legally prevented from suggesting a word for Louis, but I’m sure you can imagine.

Chloe O’Gorman is a pair of sentient eyebrows that sings 24 hours a day. She’s only about 30% as good as she thinks she is, but Louis is more impressed by the fact that “She made eye contact with all of us.” Lauren Platt tackles a big song from the end of Hairspray – presumably as practice for the second rate theatre gigs she’ll be taking when this all falls apart, and we’re treated to a visualisation of some of the uninspired tweets sent out by the hopefuls while they were waiting. Most of them are variations on "I don't even wanna win it. I just wanna meet Cheryl," suggesting that the next generation is suffering from a shortage of worthwhile life goals. One weird little Irish lad tells us that he loves life, animals and Cheryl Cole, presumably not in that order. He’s picked That’s My Goal which Simon reacts to as if he’s never heard it before. Poor Shayne Ward. One girl stumbles slightly as she enters the room. Despite the best efforts of our judges to laugh in surprise, it’s no Sharon Osbourne walking into a door. Still, I’m sure we’ll be seeing it replayed twice a week until December.  

Mel’s starting to get a bit upset about all the attention that Cheryl’s receiving: “What am I, chopped liver?” To be honest, chopped liver was five years ago; now she’s had so much filler she’s more of a liver parfait. So far, Cheryl’s had nothing to do, other than smile ingratiatingly at people fawning over how beautiful she is. Here to shake things up is Amy Connelly, who last auditioned six years ago, and made it all the way to the random beach house that Cheryl rented for the week. “Ooh, wow. Hello…” she says tentatively, as she looks down at her production notes. The caption tells us that Amy’s now working as a Betting Shop Assistant. As job titles go, it’s good, but it’s no Amusement Park Squirrel. The song’s a tuneless dirge, but it’s enough to reduce Cheryl to Demi Moore-style tears.

As Simon declares that he’s feeling optimistic about the auditions, it’s the perfect time for Shayden to squeakily wheel in his Yamaha keyboard and run through a range of terrible own-compositions. He introduces his performance with a sob story about his ex. Simon empathises: “You’ve taken that pain and you’ve now put it into songwriting?” Clearly, where pain is concerned, Shayden believes in a problem shared. Although Simon sticks around long enough to take in a double album of material, Cheryl decides she needs a piss and heads off to the bathroom, striking fear into the hearts of toilet attendants everywhere. Of course, Simon had to say “at least it can’t get any worse,” prompting the editors to cue a selection of the worst auditions from this year’s bunch. There’s a toothless old woman in a cheap wig, who strips down to a leotard, and Angelina Robinson, whose song verges on performance art, as her mother cuts huge slices of cake and brings in a Chinese takeaway for the judges.

Chloe Jasmine is from Sussex, and seems to be playing the kind of posh English girl you might find pouring Diana Rigg’s tea in the Great Muppet Caper. She fills her spare time with everyday things, like polo, croquet and swan-grooming, and it all feels like it’s been created to fuel a class war in the waiting room. Before she’s even sung a note, Twitter is awash with comments that she’d already starred on Sky’s modelling show The Face. To be honest, I’m more distracted by her red teeth – this is either her first time applying lipstick, or she was feeding on a production assistant just before her audition. Asked how long she’s been singing, she makes a surreal comment about “dignifying a baby’s cry as an aria.” I’ve no idea what she’s talking about, but I know that the only natural thing about her are the fibres in her tweedy outfit. The judges love her ‘authentic bluesy voice’ – because no-one understands the true struggle of a blues singer like some plummy tart who went to boarding school. Outside, the tension is brewing, as onlookers theorise about a life of privilege: “Champagne, caviar…asparagus.”

And finally, there’s Jay James. Thanks to the investigative journalists at Sunday People, we know that he’s already supported Rebecca Ferguson, and slated the X-Factor as the wrong way to make it in the music industry. To be honest, none of this matters, since I’m more concerned by his tendency to claw his face while he sings. It doesn’t help that he’s had some alarming dentistry, giving him the appearance of Daffy Duck whenever he showed his teeth. As the judges fawn over him, they ask why he’s so emotional. Unfortunately, we cut away before he answers "Because I sold out my principles and agreed to come on a show I've already slagged off in the press."

As the judges say goodbye, Mel B is off to pin her earrings back on Orville’s nappy. Meanwhile, Cowell and Cheryl embrace, with her shirt riding up to reveal that epic tattoo. It looks like she’s got a John Lewis scatter cushion stuck down her blouse.

Sunday Night

If Saturday’s show didn’t make you question your life choices, tonight is bound to have you Googling DIY wills before the hour is up. The editors are clearly in a more playful mood tonight, juxtaposing Dermot’s announcement “We’re looking for the next big thing” with a crash cut to a plus-size version of Little Mix. Let’s call them Maxi Mix. We also see Cheryl wandering forlornly down a corridor, moaning “That was one of the worst auditions I’ve ever been in.” Surely it would be churlish of me to type ‘Cheryl Tweedy Popstars The Rivals’ into YouTube? Tonight, Louis has been stealing some styling tips from Simon, unbuttoning his shirt so low that we can practically see his frenulum. And Mel, well, she’s still here.

Stevi Ritchie is tonight’s first hopeful, and has a most distracting countenance. Half Star Trek alien, and half Eugene Tooms off X-Files, midway through squeezing himself face-first into a drainpipe. He works in a Call Centre, where his colleagues attempt to ignore him like that half-flushed stool in the staff toilets. There’s no faulting his enthusiasm, as he makes his way down the judging table, dishing out compliments like a paedophile giving away sweets at the school gate. He’s picked an Olly Murs track for his audition, but it has a longer intro than the average Pink Floyd album track, so he dances awkwardly on the spot for about twenty minutes, before eventually launching into a terrible vocal. His self-deprecating approach wins the judges over, despite his performance sounding like the cruelest part of foie gras manufacture. Mel congratulates him on “having a little ‘me’ party,” which is something she often does. I imagine they’re the only ones she gets invited to now.

Time for some contractually obligated ego-pandering now, as we swoop round the holding area, listening to the contestants opining about the influential judges. “Mel and Cheryl know what they’re talking about,” argue two young hopefuls, before we cut to a painfully engineered chat between the two girl band alumni that disproves their theory in under twenty seconds.

The shadow of Glee hangs heavy over our next hopefuls. All in their late teens, Only The Young are a mixed sex four-piece who all live together. But not like that – they’re all as sexless as Barbie and Ken’s underpants area. None of them have particularly good voices, but they blend well enough, with a performance that’s part SClub 7, part Wilson Philips, and part diabetes risk. 

This is clearly the ‘groups’ slot of the show, as we’re introduced to a steady stream of eager young hopefuls standing in a row, wearing jeans tight enough to dislocate their kneecaps. Concept are so utterly generic, they’re less a group, more like a selection of fabric swatches from a boyband factory. Overload are no better – their sole distinction being a floppy-haired “studmuffin” who’s caught Cheryl’s recently married eye. Arize are slightly more interesting – an R&B three piece who know all about tight harmonies, but less about lipstick application.

Finally, we’ve got Kitten and The Hip, who I keep wanting to call Pinky and The Brain. A curiously mismatched May-to-December couple, she’s giving off a Jodie Marsh vibe, and he looks like he should be selling groceries by the punnet. The whole audition is awkward, but it scales new heights when Scarlet drops her hubby at the first sign of progressing as a soloist. 

The next segment is dedicated to contestants from overseas. We see a pair of over-styled Canadian gays, and someone from Orlando, before we’re introduced to OcĂ©ane from Paris. Her Mariah Carey impression is bordering on lunacy, but there’s no denying she can hit all the ear-splitting notes. Just not in the right order.  Other comedy foreigners include the appalling Jimmy Cheung from Hong Kong, who goes straight to the final show’s gag reel, and Jan Cichorz who performs what can only be the sound of a sinkhole opening.

Of course, just when we’re thinking that Nigel Farage might have a point, and we should be tightening our border controls, here’s Andrea Faustina from Rome. His interview isn’t up to much (although “I like pugs” could well be the new “I am Groot”) but his vocal is pretty impressive. With a voice that’s rich, soulful and strong, I can almost forgive his abominable outfit. Simon tells him “I think you could be really special,” but neglects to add, “now burn that fucking sweater.”

OK, we’ve done the young ones, and the groups, so all that’s left is the ‘overs’ category. Cue a parade of women over thirty, with great voices, but an unmistakable glimmer of desperation, rather than star quality, in their eyes. But when it comes to the Last Chance Saloon, it’s clear that Lindsey from Girl Thing is hoping for a lock-in. We’ve recently seen her fairly tragic story on The Big Reunion, and it’s no less uncomfortable second time around. Having been (mis)managed by Simon once before, and spent most of the last fifteen years living the kind of existence that Ken Loach would consider ‘too depressing,’ it’s odd that she’s willing to put herself through all that again. The vocal is poor and emotions run high on the judging table. As a Greek chorus of onlookers in the waiting room comment on how we’re supposed to be feeling, Mel and Cheryl try to empathise. Thankfully, Simon sees sense and tells Lindsey that it wouldn’t be fair to get her hopes up. His dress sense may not have improved during those three years Stateside, but it could be that our Tinman has finally found his heart.