Every bit as pleasurable as actually living through the Thatcher years.
I don’t know whether I was just missing Blonde Electra more than I realised I would, or whether this year’s contestants are generally a little bit on the dull side, but I found this week’s performances a little bit flat. It all felt a bit Barlow-approved, as if somebody – horror of horrors – had decided that they’d found a bunch of competent singers and didn’t want to distract from The Artistry by scaling a mini West End production behind it. Obviously we still had the random skateboaders behind Only The Young, Fleur‘s giant turntable, and whatever the heck was going on behind Stevi Ritchie, but even so it still just felt rather lifeless. Like watching an entire show full of Rebecca Ferguson performances: just about tolerable in isolation, but running back to back they start to make you wonder if it wouldn’t be such a terrible idea to shove a kitchen knife right through your thigh, just to be able to feel something. Anything.
Still, at least there was LOLZ ACTION on the judging panel as Cheryl turned up wearing a green dress with a comically massive ruffle on the shoulder and Simon decided to spend the evening calling her “Kermit”. CLASSIC BANTS!
Mel B and the Boys
Mel’s boys opened the show again this week, though this time it was Jack Walton who got the “sorry, everyone’s still watching Strictly” slot at the top of the show. This may have turned out to be a good thing for him, because the older viewers (and as much as I love Strictly, let’s not pretend it doesn’t cater more to the older end of the audience) probably wouldn’t take particularly kindly to statements such as (paraphrased, but not much) “I don’t know nothing about the 80s, I weren’t born”, “I don’t really remember the Spice Girls first time round” “I’ve never heard ‘Straight Up’ before”. For that last one in particular, he should’ve been fired out of a cannon with no protection other than a helmet made of his own earwax. Louis from One Direction briefly stopped by rehearsals to say fanboy him indifferently, mostly focusing on the fact that they’re both DEAD NORMAL YORKSHIREMEN. Unspoken: the fact that neither of them are particularly good singers. Jack decided to turn the song into some sub-Paolo Nutini nasal whinefest, but that wasn’t even the biggest sin of his arrangement. No, that was him leaving out the “you are so hard to read / you play hide and seek / with your true intentions” bit in the middle eight. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT’S THE BEST BIT. Meanwhile, Mel did her best to derail Andrea Faustini‘s chances by referring to him as her “Latin Love Bear”, and also making him sing ‘One Moment In Time’. It wasn’t that the song didn’t suit him, or that he didn’t sing it well, but it also didn’t show us anything we haven’t already seen from him. I know he can do overblown power ballads by this point, and I’d say he’s only got a grace period of one or two more weeks before people are going to get a bit tired of them. Also, his “LOOK HOW BREEEEETEEEESH I CAN BE!” intro VT was upsettingly UKIPpy. Elsewhere, there was tough love for Jake Quickenden as Mel told him to stop getting his chest out all over the place because he’s a SRS ARTIST now, and honestly I think putting his tits away and focusing on his singing will probably work out as well for Jake as it did for Sam Callahan last year, but you know what Scary Spice is like once she gets an idea in her head. Jake’s song for this week was ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’, and Jake’s Usher-lite take on it was unwelcome but not wantonly destructive, so…it was sort of all right, I suppose? It still wasn’t a great vocal, but it could have been a lot worse. Let’s not pretend Drunk Bonnie’s capable of much more than this these days, after all. (Cheryl didn’t like the song choice, because Cheryl is awful.) And let’s just quickly skirt past Paul Akister singing ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, since apparently nobody ever warned him that you NEVER go full Brent. Of note: Cheryl decided that she liked it because it took her right back to her childhood, and Simon wanted to know if Paul plays the piano because he thinks he should have a go at playing the piano while he sings in future. Pre-emptively: NO. The only type of piano-playing I would tolerate on this show would have to look something like this:
Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and the Girls
Firing the opening salvo this week was Stephanie Nala, following her bottom three placement last week where she somehow managed to outpoll a boyband despite being a young black woman. Apparently the voting public do surprise us sometimes. Her VT, obviously, was all about how being in the bottom three last week had knocked her confidence but only made her stronger – but it was hard to appreciate that from her performance of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ where she still looked rather small and lost on the stage. It was a much better performance than last week, and I kind of liked the reggae arrangement that she had going on, but it was hard to see it winning over any of the voters who’d already placed their allegiances elsewhere last week. Sure enough, she fell flat bottom of the vote this week and got instaliminated. (That’s a terrible portmanteau. I must never do that again.) Equally in trouble was Chloe Jasmine, who was increasingly acting like she was in an entirely separate show from everyone else, swanning around giving people elocution lessons and chattering about how she was pleased not to have gagged on glitter at any point during her performance. Oh, and in possibly the most misguided attempt at crafting a sympathy narrative I’ve seen since Kat on Survivor: Blood vs Water cried that nobody would want to date somebody who didn’t even make the merge, during rehearsals for her performance of ‘Fame’, Chloe told Brian Friedman that she’d been in the musical as a kid – but she hadn’t had a featured part because she was too fat. Too little, too late, CJ. Her performance was odd, and not even in the way that you expect Chloe Jasmine to be odd – it sounded like a hybrid of Kurt Cobain and Sheryl Crow, and alienated the voters enough to land her in the bottom three, where all of the non-mentor judges declined to save her. I did think they might keep her around for a few more weeks just to generate some tabloid headlines, but perhaps they thought they’d already got as much mileage out of her as they could realistically expect? Elsewhere, Lauren Platt Has Charted On iTunes seems to be where most of the attention is going on Cheryl’s team, and apparently she’s been so buoyed by her one successful performance thus far that she’s now declaring that “there is not an option for me not to be a singer”. Tell that to Shayne Ward, pet. Her performance of ‘Flashdance (What A Feeling)’ was heartfelt enough, but it was so characterless. I don’t understand how they can let someone so young become so boring so soon. (Also her voice cracked quite a lot, but everyone else seems to be ignoring that.) Finally Fishy Lola sang ‘Imagine’, and as if that song wasn’t tedious enough already, she decided to give it the full Rebecca Ferguson treatment by standing on a plinth and barely moving for the whole performance. She did give it serious Evitaface throughout though, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to me. Oh, and then Cheryl told us all that an actual butterfly flew past Lola in rehearsals and butterflies are symbolic of angels and then I was violently sick in my carbonara.
Simon Cowell and the Overs
There were a few instances of contestants switching their songs midweek in this batch, and in most cases it seems to have been the right choice. Ben Haenow, for example, was meant to be singing ‘Every Time You Go Away’ by Paul Young, but if the rehearsal footage is anything to by, he was having a lot of trouble with it and it seemed to push him right up into that uncomfortable area of his upper register. So he switched to the Donny Hathaway version of ‘Jealous Guy’ (released in 1972, rule fans!) instead, but then developed a throat infection that meant he couldn’t sing for most of the rest of the week. Having given it the full woobie in his VT, he then turned up onstage looking great (although he could have done without the backlighting making his hair look like wire wool) and delivering an enjoyably bluesy, lazy take on the song. Also, not wanting to be super-shallow here, but this guy can seriously rock a denim shirt. And then Mel told him to stop whinging about being ill and “be a man and don’t complain”, which is a criticism that I think essentially amounts to “take tighter editorial control of your VTs”. Thanks Mel! Fleur! then gave us, in possibly my favourite X Factor song choice for years and years and years, Monie Love’s ‘It’s A Shame (My Sister)’ (released in 1990, so Simon could clearly not give one solitary fuck about the theme). And it was awesome. Mel gave her a bit of trouble by claiming that she couldn’t hear Fleur singing on the choruses and that it was “cheating”, so Fleur spontaneously sang the chorus for Mel, entirely acapella. She sounded great, but it’s the sort of thing that can make you look awfully cocky to the voting audience, so I was a bit worried that Fleur might be in trouble this week. Ultimately she survived the public vote, but I will probably remain hella nervous for her every Sunday until her eventual elimination in seventh place, or somewhere similar. (Also she justified her presence in the competition for me all over again by likening the entire process to The Hunger Games, entirely seriously.) Stevi Ritchie also opted to change his song choice, because Simon had given him Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted To Love’ but Stevi had been hoping for Rick Astley. Simon gave him his blessing to make the change, which Stevi took to be a sign of Simon’s continued support, but honestly I saw it more as a sign that Simon really couldn’t care less what Stevi does. And Simon was probably wise to distance himself from this performance anyway, because it was bad. And that’s kind of my problem with Stevi: he’s the closest thing we have to a comedy contestant at this point, but he’s not even amusingly shit, he’s just hopelessly out of his depth. He couldn’t sing the song that he’d chosen for himself, and he isn’t eccentric enough to be entertaining in his own right like a Jedward or a Wagner or even a Kitty Brucknell. Even his dancers looked faintly embarrassed to be there. And finally Jay James gave what he alleged would be an “uptempo” performance, but turned out to be ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ pre-packaged and ready to be used on the John Lewis Christmas advert. Oh well, at least we all had a legitimate reason to shout “what a wanker!” at him this week. Well, nearly.
Louis Walsh and What’s Left Of The Groups
After last week’s annihilation, it was another poor showing for Louis as another of his acts ended up in the final showdown. Octocock got off to a slow start as they struggled with ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’, so Louis changed their song to ‘The Boys Of Summer’, only for them to grouse that they’d never even heard of it. Not even the DJ Sammy version? How young are these kids, exactly? The arrangement of the song was acceptable, but I think we need to accept that there are fundamentally too many of them at this point. They don’t seem to know how to assemble themselves on stage without looking like a poorly-managed bus queue, and Mel’s spotted that we haven’t really had a chance to see if their harmonies work. They were pretty terrible in the final showdown too, but they “wanted it more”, so Simon decided to keep them around. Only The Young weren’t keen on ‘Come On Eileen’ either, but after scouring the entire internet for an 80s song that they considered acceptable and coming up empty-handed (miserable hipsters <3), they decided to just stop complaining and do the best that they could with it. It’s odd, because on paper I should hate this group, and yet…I sort of really like them? Sure, they’re a bit grumpy and they have their moments of being really obnoxious musos, but at the same time I appreciate that these do at least appear to be their actual personalities, rather than the personas they’ve adopted for the cameras. They feel like real, tangible people, and sometimes that’s good enough for me. They ended up doing a sort of Radio 1 Live Lounge version of the track, but better than that sounds. It was a mess, but it was a fun mess. And on a week like this, that was more than enough to rank among my favourites.