The X Factor – Series 11 Top 16: Number Ones Week

I’d like to pretend that I’m above a “more like NUMBER TWOS, right?” joke, but we all know I’m not.

Yes, there’s a sizeable gap between my last update and this one, but I decided that there’s even less point in blogging about the live shows three weeks after they’ve happened than there is blogging about the auditions three weeks after they’ve happened, so my strategy at this point is to actually do the updates for the live shows in something vaguely resembling a timely fashion, and go back and fill in the gaps for the earlier episodes as and when I have time. Those of you who followed my “Top 10 Friends Episodes” post will know that I rock at scheduling these things, so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

So we hit the live shows and the theme was “Number Ones”, which of course means there’s going to be at least one point during the show when one of the other mentors complains that the track in question wasn’t a number one in the UK, even though the theme is not “number one singles in the United Kingdom”, and then Simon will sneer about how having a number one single in Finland or New Zealand is somehow entirely meaningless. Oh, X Factor. Never change.

Before the performances themselves, it was time to reveal the wildcards. This year in a SHOCK! TWIST!, each category’s wildcard was chosen by a rival judge. First of all, Louis picked Fishy Lola for Cheryl in an apparently sincere desire to give a departed contestant a second (/third/fourth) chance. Cheryl, on the other hand, picked Stevi Ritchie for Simon, presumably because she suddenly remembered giving all of those “REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD, AH NEVER FORGET WHEN SOMEONE’S WRONGED US, SLEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN SIMON” interviews she gave before the show and figured she ought to do something to get him back for X Factor USA and being ditched for Nicole Shirtlifter and being coerced into turning up at the press-launch as Candy-Sue Cole. And while I’m so entirely over the X Factor USA drama (seriously Cheryl, it was three years ago, you got paid anyway and the whole series was a high-profile flop, so some might even say you had a lucky escape), I am all in favour of Cheryl embracing the dark side and deliberately picking a contestant Simon clearly didn’t want to work with. If she were more openly duplicitious instead of tediously trying to regain the “nation’s sweetheart” mantle, I think I’d like her a lot more. Oh, and Simon picked Jack Walton for Mel, which would be great if I could remember which one he was, and Mel picked Overload for Louis, which seems a bit sketchy since they didn’t even make Judges’ Houses. I mean, if they’re literally allowed to bring back anyone, I’m surprised we didn’t suddenly get Gamu walking on and grinning.

To the performances!

Mel B and the Boys (I was so tempted to title this Ms Brown’s Boys, I really was.)

If you wanted a clear indicator of the unmitigated blandness of the boys this year, the fact that they were all safe in week one is as good as any. This category is always a bit more interesting when you have a polarising figure like a Rylan or a Frankie Cocozza who might conceivably trouble the bottom two in the first week, but everyone in the category this year is either competent enough or shaggable enough to ensure their safety for a week or two. Paul Akister opened the show, still riding the tidal wave of Louis’s alleged stupidity in not choosing him last year (where he would’ve definitely lost to Sam Bailey, and probably also to Wee Nick, so I remain firmly Team Louis on this matter) and singing Ella Henderson’s ‘Ghost’, which was probably supposed to persuade us that he’s a potential contemporary recording artist, but merely left me more and more convinced that he’s destined to go out in sixth place. This feeling was only strengthened by Paul’s opening VT, which pointed out his chronic lack of personality, leading Paul to sulk that it wasn’t his fault that everyone else on the show is far more interesting than he is. The arrangement of the song was far too low for him and as a result the performance was acutely terrible in more than one place, but all the judges pretended it wasn’t so they could continue to hurl ableist insults at Louis by suggesting that he must be MAD or DEAF to have turned him down before. Second up was Jack Walton, performing Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ on his guitar. Can I request an amnesty here? I’d really like it if we could all agree that changing all the gendered pronouns doesn’t in and of itself guarantee that a song written for a woman to sing can now be coherently sung like a man. Case in point: “I wanna love you like I’m a hot guy” (what?), “like you’re the only one who knows your heart” (WHAT?) and (forgive me if I have transcribed this incorrectly, but Jack is something of a mumbler) “cos I’m the only one who understands how to make her feel like a man” (seriously, WHAT?). I know the original lyrics are hardly a benchmark of clarity, but this find-and-replace transposition was a mess. Still, apparently Louis from One Direction really likes him, so that’s bound to buy him a few votes, and also to inspire a metric shitton of sexy fanfic. I imagine. Jake Quickenden turned up for long enough to give us an indifferent rendition of Robbie Williams’ ‘She’s The One’, and was unfortunate enough to be given the awkward “start the song lying on your back even though that’s a terrible position to sing in” staging. His vocal was sufficiently mediocre that he was given the caution of “you’re not actually that great a singer, but people will vote for you because they hope it might eventually lead to you sticking it in them” (in week one!) and Simon decided to hilariously “accidentally” say that “The Louis” would like him. You know, instead of “the girls”. Look, Cowell, it’s 2014. Stop pretending there’s something innately hilarious about men finding other men attractive. One of the few things that actually improved about the show in your absence was that there wasn’t nearly as much panic and cover-up surrounding the sexuality of the gay contestants, so it would be a real shame to regress to sniggering “BACKS AGAINST THE WALLS, FELLAS! HERE COMES WALSH!” again. And wrapping the whole show up was Andrea Faustini, with ‘Earth Song’, which was an unfortunate choice of song this year because it did leave me thinking “yeah, what about Raign?” He seems to be the one to beat at the moment, but I worry for him being an Italian immigrant on this show the same week that UKIP got their first MP.

Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and the Girls

Cheryl’s wildcard was guaranteed to be either Fishy Lola or Kerrianne Covell, because I knew I’d got off far too lightly by getting rid of them both at Judges’ Houses. It ended up being the lesser of two evils, but I still got little joy from seeing her back in the show, wailing her way through ‘Stay With Me’ in heels she couldn’t walk in and a massive red skirt that seemed to have been made from Ursula The Sea Witch’s curtains. The terrible costume ended up being almost the only thing that anyone talked about, although Simon did make the preposterous statement that she had a “really good authentic soul voice”, so I suppose if nothing else she can look forward to being relentlessly championed by Neil McCormick if she ever gets to record an album. Then Cheryl decided to introduce Stephanie Nala by saying she had “the most distinctive voice in the competition”, which would’ve been a daft claim even if she hadn’t spent the last couple of weeks using those exact words to describe Chloe Jasmine. In her VT she cried a lot about having been on Britain’s Got Talent (understandable) as part of a group and not necessarily having the confidence to make it on her own as a solo artist. Gosh, if only this competition had some sort of category where you could enter with some like-minded friends! Anyway, it seems the British public shared Stephanie’s lack of confidence in herself because her thin performance of ‘Everything I Own’ (bizarre, bizarre song choice) landed her in the bottom three, where she tried to save herself with Brandy’s ‘Have You Ever?’ spectacularly botching an attempt at a high note and somehow miraculously sounding even reedier than the original. She looked as surprised as I did when it turned out she’d actually received more votes than Overload Generation. And speaking of Chloe Jasmine, as we were just a minute ago, her VT was all about how THE PRESS HAVE BEEN SO MEEN and it was really hurtful. She attempted to carry her woes to Cheryl, whose response was (and I may be paraphrasing slightly here) “child, you think you know bad press, you wait until you drunkenly wallop a toilet attendant and everyone decides you’re a racist and you actually have to marry a black man to convince them otherwise”. Also she sang ‘Toxic’ in a jazz style and I’m fairly certain I’ve heard that arrangement before, probably on So You Think You Can Dance or something. Last but not least we had Lauren Platt, who turned 17 this week, causing Cheryl to gush that she could never have done something like this at her age, having seemingly forgotten that she was only two years older when she was on Popstars Colon The Rivals. Dressed in a weird Strawberry Shortcake outfit, Lauren sang an arrangement of ‘Happy’ that caused Foxes to cry “theft!” on the internet, all the way from Doctor Who-land, but it seemed to establish Lauren as a frontrunner nonetheless. Personally I found it a bit of a disappointment that she’d made a song called ‘Happy’ sound so joyless, but perhaps I’m just being overly picky.

Louis Walsh and the Groups

So it was a rough start for Louis, losing two of his groups in the first elimination, but let’s not forget that one of them wasn’t even his choice in the first place; indeed, it was an act that he’d ditched way back in Boot Camp. So, while everyone else likes to laugh and point and shout about what a terrible decision-maker Louis is, it turns out that his instinct to drop Overload Generation several weeks ago was right on the money since the public outright rejected them. (Interesting name-change, by the way. Presumably Mutya still had the rights to the stationery so they had to come up with a variation?) They joined Jack Walton this week in the ill-advised gender-switching of song lyrics with their interpretation of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’. Am I right in thinking that we’ve had two male acts sing this song in the live shows (Lloyd Daniels having performed it back in series six), but no women? Stupid heteronormativity. Anyway, this switch-up was similarly problematic, in that it made them sound like a bunch of terrified virgins who’d never previously considered the idea of finding a woman attractive, although the singing itself was far more troublesome, and Simon Cowell made it clear from the outset that he had no use for them because he already has a One Direction, thanks. Stereo Kicks turned out to be the name of the hastily-assembled eight-piece boyband (personally I rather liked the name UnnamedBoybandProject332, but that’s just me) and because they were singing ‘Roar’, the show actually tried to make this a battle-of-the-boybands-singing-Katy-Perry-songs. Good grief. Mel told them that they could come out and literally sing anything and people would cheer for them like loons, and the show acted as though this was a compliment, but I’m not so sure it was. Poor, doomed Blonde Electra got the full Brian Friedman “unicorns vomiting glitter” treatment (I’m not even joking, he genuinely did promise them that), as well as the song that wasn’t a UK number one – ‘Kids In America’. Personally I thought they were fun, and I probably enjoyed this performance the most of all the ones we were subjected to this evening, but clearly the wider public did not care for it, so I’m just going to file them under “too amazing to be appreciated by the mainstream” somewhere in between Nicolò Festa and 2Shoes. And then we have Only The Young, who are still a curiosity to me. They work well together as a group, they’ve got solid harmonies, they all seem likeable enough, and yet there’s something about them that seems a bit…mid-table finish at Eurovision. That’s not intended as a slur, it honestly isn’t, but I’m just struggling to translate their whole aesthetic and approach to music into anything at all that The X Factor would know how to work with. But hey, they outpolled a boyband, so they must be doing something right.

Simon Cowell and the Overs

It was quite fun watching Simon try to big-up all of these acts after having told almost all of them that they were shit at Judges’ Houses. Jay James was introduced as “one of my favourites from the beginning”, which I can’t help feeling reflects badly on Simon, because Jay’s first audition was fucking painful. His VT pulled out all the stops to remind us that he’s one of OUR BRAVE BOYS and he is also a STATE-APPROVED PRACTISING HETEROSEXUAL, LOOK HERE ARE HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTER. None of this distracted from the fact that his performance of ‘Changing’ by Sigma had about as much life as an autopsy. The Unsinkable Stevi Ritchie returned, of course, and prompted Simon to pissily tell wildcard-chooser Cheryl that he’s “going to remember this one, darling.” Christ, this feud won’t stop until it devours us all, will it? Friedman threw all the scantily-clad women he could muster at Stevi’s performance of ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’, but it couldn’t cover up the fact that Stevi was completely out of breath by the last round of choruses, or the fact that Stevi is simply not Wagner. It all ended with his shirt popping open, and on a night where Thom Evans had remained resolutely fully-clothed over on Strictly Come Dancing, I was left feeling that something in the universe had gone deeply askew. Ben O Hae Now won me over instantly by describing the contestant house as “a mixture of prison and Glee” (so…prison, then?), and also by saying that it wasn’t necessarily that there was anything wrong with his council flat in Croydon, it was just that the X Factor lifestyle is a lot nicer. He seems like a decent sort. He sang ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and I wasn’t crazy about the high parts (which, unfortunately, accounted for most of the second half of the song), but there’s something quite sexy about his lower register, so I recommend he stays there as often as possible. And Fleur East faced the issue of having left it a bit late to have her “moment”, because apparently actually being good at Judges’ Houses is no match for being shit all the way through like Jay James and Fishy Lola were. She perhaps got the trump card in getting to sing the current UK number one song, ‘All About That Bass’, though there were a few sniffs in the audience that someone with a washboard stomach like Fleur has shouldn’t be singing a song about positive body image. (I think possibly the message of the song was lost on those people.) Anyway, I really like Fleur and she is very good, so she’s out in…week three? Week four? Let’s just enjoy her while she lasts and not worry about tomorrow.

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