It’s return of the format twist that literally nobody was crying out for: the flash vote!
That’s right: after Simon took offence at the quality of last week’s performances in the sing-off (and who could blame him, they were both appalling), he decided to take a typically Cowellesque approach to such behaviour and called all the contestants in for a meeting, where they were told that whoever received the fewest votes on Saturday night would automatically be going home. He didn’t say it in as many words, but it was essentially a revival of series 10’s least-loved mechanic, the flash vote. Clearly the intention here was to make everyone buckle down since they couldn’t rely on the judges saving them, but I would imagine that the likes of Andrea, Lauren, and probably to a slightly lesser extent Ben and Fleur had little to fear here, since it seemed extremely unlikely that any turn of events could put them on the absolute bottom of the public vote. For those who’ve been on shaky ground these last few weeks, however, it was a wake-up call. But did it make any actual difference?
Simon Cowell and the Overs
That’s right, for the first time since the live shows began, it wasn’t down to Mel to open the show this week. Then again, she’s got fewer acts now, and Simon’s got more than any other mentor at this point, so it makes sense to make his acts spread out the widest. And speaking of innocently-intended segues that take on unintentionally loaded connotations when you realise who they’re actually referring to, up first was Ben OHAENOW, who can spread it wide any time he likes etc etc etc. (Sorry. I don’t feel good about writing that, despite all appearances to the contrary.) So last week Ben changed his song choice, and Simon changed from approving of it pre-performance to disapproving of it after the fact, and that’s left Ben feeling a bit worried about whether he was right to follow his gut instinct. Ben’s VT this week was all about his desire to get a better quality of life for his mother, who works several jobs to support Ben and his brother. Ben wants to be able to pay for her to live somewhere nicer and not to have to work so hard. (Suggestion: Ben could probably make that sort of money doing porn.) In rehearsals, Simon thought that Ben should perform more this week. (Do porn!) After watching his rehearsal, Brian Friedman said he didn’t think Ben had it in him. (Do por–okay, this is just getting creepy now.) Ben sang ‘Highway To Hell’ in a leather shirt and very black snug jeans. Simon’s main brief for him this week was to not just stand there and sing, so Ben was…walking around a bit and singing. I mean, it’s hardly DV8 Physical Theatre but I guess it is technically clearing the low bar that was set for him, and he sounded right enough while doing this, so well done Ben. Then he finished and Mel made some comment about Ben’s performance making her want to run home and fuck her husband senseless. You can say that was crass if you like, but I’d take Mel getting randy over her actual husband any day over Sharon telling all the male contestants how moist they’re making her. FLEUR! also went home for a visit this week, since she apparently only lives down the road. She pointed out where she and her friends used to go and get £1 pizzas after school. Can’t you get them in Iceland? FLEUR! told us excitedly that as soon as she knew the theme was Hallowe’en, she knew she wanted to do ‘Thriller’, so Brian decided that he was going to give her the original choreography to make a full-on setpiece out of it. There was lots of murmuring about whether they’d actually given FLEUR! too much work to do this week and whether it’d end up burying her, and the answer is…yes and no. It was far from her best vocal, possibly because she spent part of the song lying on her back being borne aloft by her dancers, and nobody sounds great in that position. But she danced it well, and she looked great, and generally proved herself to be a viable contender on all the necessary fronts here. What ruined it for me slightly was Cheryl taking this opportunity to say that FLEUR! is “an entertainer”, as though she’s bloody Chico all of a sudden. Simon responded that this performance showed how much FLEUR! has grown as a performer since she was in “that terrible group” back in series two (that terrible group was in your category Simon, just FYI), and that he hopes the public keep her in. Well, maybe don’t randomly change the rules so that the public could vote her out this very evening and leave you powerless to stop them, eh?
Elsewhere, the Jay James cavalcade of awfulness continued as he likened living in the X Factor house to being in a youth club and saying that he couldn’t believe some of these boys didn’t even know how to shave. Dude, come back to me when you’ve learned how to put socks on. Jay of course has ALWAYS SHAVED EVERY DAY BECAUSE HE WAS IN THE NAVY AND THAT IS HOW WE DO IT IN THE ARMED FORCES SON. He Skyped some of his Navy mates (whether any of them said “I love you Daddy” for the first time during this Skype conversation went undocumented) and they were all very supportive. Jay then sang a curious arrangement of ‘Mad World’ that started out harmlessly enough only to morph into a legitimately terrible dance remix halfway through. Also, he was wearing a black turtleneck with a gold chain over the top of it, this man must be stopped. Speaking of which, Stevi Ritchie of all people had the pimp slot this week. I’ve accused Stevi of not really having a purpose in this competition before (he’s not good enough to compete on the same level as everyone else, he’s not shit in the right way to be an actual joke act) but he made a surprisingly compelling argument for his own survival this week. First of all, there was his intro VT, which was an actual work of art: he sat there discussing his own Scandalous Tabloid Headline (that Chloe Jasmine cheated on her boyfriend with him) in the make-up room, saying that it was fine because Chloe’s single, only to hear from one of the hair guys that Chloe was back with her boyfriend the other night, and then Stevi had a little cry. It was like an entire episode of TOWIE condensed into 90 seconds. The second half of his VT was less successful, in that it involved Stevi and Simon having dinner at a Harvester. I can assume they were trying to bottle some of that Scherzinger VT magic with this one, but the thing is: when James Arthur took Nicole down the pub, or Rylan took her to Essex for a spray tan, or even to a lesser extent when she shadowed Jahméne for a day at Asda, it worked because she was new to England and only knew English culture in a very broad sense, and so it functioned as a sort of “Nicole gets to know what Britain is really like” narrative, which is always going to be faintly condescending, but she was game enough that it played out fairly harmlessly and was actually quite entertaining. When Simon meets Stevi in a Harvester, it’s basically the two of them acting out ‘Common People’ entirely unironically. Apparently Stevi browbeat Simon into letting him perform ‘The Music Of The Night’ from The Phantom Of The Opera because it was some sort of personal ambition of his, and while it was the closest Stevie’s managed to get to a properly gimmicky performance, it was an absolutely horrendous vocal, so really its success or failure came down to how much you enjoyed Stevi giving it the full am-dram-ham, and honestly I could take or leave it.
Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and the Girls
I’m no great fan of Fishy Lola, mostly because I think she’s dull and she can’t sing for toffee, but even so, she probably deserved a better narrative on this show than “get confident, stupid!” every single week. Lola claimed that she was emotionally all over the place last week and that’s why her performance was substandard (as opposed to it being because Lola is…still really not very good), and Cheryl chalked this up to Lauren’s confidence issues once again. To be fair, Lola did get a brief tangent where her attractive boyfriend came to last week’s show and met Cheryl, and Cheryl nagged him to hurry up and propose (who knew Cheryl was such a den mother?). Lola’s song for this week was ‘Crazy’ by Cee-Lo Green. You might not think that’s particularly Hallowe’eny, but Cee-Lo Green is a massive rape apologist and that’s quite frightening enough for me. It wasn’t a particularly good song to give Lola because she ended up honking her way through it like Rebecca Ferguson. She didn’t fare too badly at the start when it was relatively slow-paced, but the minute it went uptempo she just seemed hopelessly lost, as usual. (Sidebar: several songs later, Simon asked Cheryl what ‘Crazy’ had to do with Hallowe’en and Cheryl’s answer was “the dancers were in straightjackets, we had a theme”, so Cheryl basically thinks that mental health issues are fair game for Hallowe’en. Fuck you, Cheryl.) There was also a brief snafu where her mic pack came unclipped from her dress, and everyone considers Lola to be such a basket case at this point that they stood up and applauded her for managing to make it all the way to the end of the song with her battery dangling around her feet without bursting into tears. Oh, and then Cheryl basically attributed all of Lola’s alleged improved confidence from this week to Lola’s boyfriend, because apparently men fix everything. (Seriously, Cheryl. I really am trying to like you but you are just giving me nothing to work with here. Nothing.) Lola managed to survive Flash Vote 2: Electric Boogaloo, but her luck ran out in Sunday’s show when she ended up in the bottom two with Octocock and got sent home after the judges went to Deadlock. Despite not being in any real danger from Flash Vote 2.0, Lauren Platt Is Featured On Your Tumblr Dashboard was having a bad week in rehearsals because there was – gasp! – movement in her performance. She was nervous about dancing because she’s not a dancer, and she was particularly worried about having to sing and dance. Cheryl gave her some pointers on the dancing front (not on the singing-and-dancing front, because LOL), but Lauren was still unhappy after her dress rehearsal went poorly on Saturday afternoon, to the point where Brian Friedman seemed ready to wash his hands of her entirely. She was singing ‘Dark Horse’ by Katy Perry, which is a) one of the very few legitimately good Katy Perry songs, and b) one of the very few Katy Perry songs that an actual human could be expected to sing. There was nothing Hallowe’eny about the song whatsoever, so Cheryl was naught for two on that score, but the singing was pretty good. The dancing? Was so utterly minimal that I’m actually embarrassed for her for making such a big deal of it in the first place. Good grief.
Mel B and the Boys
What a pack of ingrates poor Mel had to deal with this week. First there was Jack Walton, whining about the show expecting him to be able to fill a studio with his performance when he’s used to performing tiny venues. That’s pretty much the show, Jack. I know you’re only six years old or whatever and you haven’t been in this world long enough to fully understand things like that, but maybe read the small print when you sign up? Mel told him this week that he needs to relate to his song, because it’s painful. Man, she had no idea how accurate she was being there. Dressed like he was about to lecture the skull formerly known as Yorick, Jack sang ‘Bleeding Love’ straight down his nose. ‘Bleating Love’, you might have called it. Halfway through a girl came out and tried to eat his neck, and unsurprisingly it did not improve his singing. All the judges told him what a nice boy he is, because there was honestly nothing positive that could be said about that performance, and he was taken straight out in Saturday’s vote, leaving him plenty of time to whine to the press that Mel never understood him anyway. Andrea Faustini was easily the most appreciative of Mel’s three contestants this week, although his VT was no less annoying for it, because it was all about how all the stars love him, from Ed Sheeran in the X Factor studio to Kate Moss on Celebrity Gogglebox. Andrea giggled “thanks Kate!”, at which point I found my patience rapidly wearingly thin. Since Hallowe’en is not a big deal in Italy, Only The Young took Andrea trick or treating for the rest of his VT, which was nice of them. He was singing ‘Relight My Fire’, which is only really a scary song if you think about how Lulu was involved with it and Jason Orange put it in her at some point. Shudder. Andrea performed the song while painted gold and sporting a pair of horns because…nope. No, I haven’t got a fucking clue. He seemed pretty embarrassed about it, and it restrained his performance. Either that or he just enjoyed being Lulu a lot more than being Gary Barlow (worst game of shag/marry/kill ever, whoever the third person is) because he only really let go in the middle eight. Simon described him as being like “one of those candles I put on my table at Christmas time that sing.” Sounds like a right classy Yuletide round Simon’s gaff. Much to my delight, the editing fairies decided that Paul Akister would be asshole of the week this week, because he didn’t want to sing ‘Bat Out Of Hell’, which he considered to be cheesy and stupid. This from the man who had no apparent qualms about singing ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ two weeks ago. In turn, Mel complained that Paul was complaining, and her counter-argument essentially boiled down to “I know you don’t like the song and it’s not your style, but I DON’T FUCKING CARE.” Attagirl. So it came to pass that Paul sang ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ while wearing red contact lenses and a leather coat, surrounded by people in cages. I don’t know about you, but I’ve ever been more ready for Tim Curry to run in from the wings brandishing a blood-spattered axe. Best of all, the judges all told Paul that he should shut his cakehole and listen to Mel, because there are thousands of boys who would like to be in his position and he should consider himself grateful to be here at all. This is such a marked turnaround from “Paul Akister is amazing and Louis is a moron for not bringing him to the live shows last year” that I hope it means he’s not really pulling in that many votes and the show is ready to shove him right under the bus at any given moment. Then again, this may well have bolstered his support for a short while, because I saw plenty of people complaining that when Ben Haenow wants to change his song it’s because he’s a True Artist and when Paul Akister wants to do it the show calls him an ungrateful little shit. And sure, it’s a double standard, but that doesn’t stop it from being absolutely hilarious.
Louis Walsh and the Groups
Last week I began to fear that my faith in Only The Young was misplaced after their performance of ‘Boom Clap’ didn’t quite deliver and their sing-off performance was flat-out terrible (actually, it was mostly just flat). On the bright side, the group seemed genuinely humbled by how abysmally they’d performed, and promised us all that they’d do much better this week. Strangely, there was no bitching about the song choice, because it turns out they genuinely love ‘Monster Mash’ (they even made a video of it a while back). Buoyed by this, they went trick or treating with Louis (who was dressed as a witch, and bless him for being so game) and then turned up for choreography with Brian in high spirits, leading him to suggest that they should be in the bottom two more often if that’s the effect it has on them. The only dark spot in this VT was Cheryl predicting that they would be in trouble again this week, but that’s only because Cheryl has no imagination and also hates fun, because if she’d actually seen the performance properly, she would have acknowledged that it was AWESOME. In much the same way that they took such a peculiarly ill-fitting song in ‘Come On Eileen’ and utterly made it work for them, they delivered a marvellously camp and theatrical performance, and it was easily the most enjoyable three minutes of the entire night. Simon said that the competition would be poorer without them, and I’m inclined to agree. I live in hope that my dream Ben/FLEUR!/Only The Young final is not yet out of reach, however unlikely it may feel. Meanwhile, the show tried to brand Octocock as “the boyband that everyone’s talking about!”, but all this did was make everyone point out that people only talk about them to say what a terrible idea they are. Despite the show’s best efforts to create a comeback narrative from last week’s utter limpdick of a performance by prepping the audience accordingly, the wheels came right off again this week with their performance of ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’, not least because they decided to remove the reference to Backstreet being back and replace it with “guess who’s back?” Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with? Not to mention that it’s probably a bad idea to make people guess who’s back when there are very few people in the audience who could actually name any of you as individuals. I think efforts were made to distinguish them by putting their initials on their letterman jackets (because apparently their Hallowe’en theme was “what if someone slaughtered a John Hughes movie?”), but since I don’t really know any of their names, I couldn’t really tell. Sorry. Still, the judges’ comments provided some much-needed levity when Cheryl said it reminded her of the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party as though that was a compliment, and Simon attempted to applaud them once again for daring to have eight members, because “who wants to copy everyone else out there?”, when the entire point of this show has always been to package up less-good versions of existing pop stars and make a quick buck in the process. The quest to get us all to remember their names failed parlously and they ended up in the bottom two on Sunday with Lola, but since they were fractionally less terrible than she was, they got to stick around for at least one more week.
Next week: boybands vs girlbands! No wait, disco week! No wait, Michael Jackson vs Queen week! Ah, who cares, it’ll probably change six more times before 8pm on Saturday.