The X Factor – Series 11 Top 9: Michael Jackson vs Queen Week

Why must we always fight? Why can’t we just get along?

So what was originally “boybands vs girlbands”, then briefly “disco week”, ended up being “Michael Jackson vs Queen” week, which isn’t so much a theme as an imaginary fight between two fairly different artists that never actually gets resolved. Maybe I’m being too nitpicky here, but it’s the “vs” in that theme that annoys me. If you’re going to have that in there, at least follow through on the competition aspect. Divide the contestants into actual teams! Declare an actual victor! Maybe even have a stupid prize for the winning team! (I was going to say “immunity from the public vote”, but…no, let’s not start buggering around with the format that much.) Saying that it’s “Michael Jackson vs Queen” and then just have the contestants randomly singing either a Michael Jackson song or a Queen song feels like underdelivering on a promise. But then I guess that’s The X Factor all over, right?

And speaking of underdelivering: after weeks of desperately trying to get us to care that The Dermot Dance wasn’t a thing any more, this week Dermot got to dance again and a nation shrugged “is that it?” Other points of interest not related to the actual performances over the weekend: Redfoo from LMFAO was in the audience. He is a judge on The X Factor Australia. So just remember kids – however bad we think we’ve got it, our Antipodean cousins are suffering more than we will ever know. Also, the Remembrance Day group song was the spectacularly inappropriate ‘Never Forget’, Simon congratulated Cheryl on having “all five” of her singles début at number one (the funniest part of this being that nobody, including Cheryl herself, noticed that Simon neither knows nor cares how many singles Cheryl has actually released) and Sam Smith stopped by to crack on to Andrea (because dating apps are gross, but taking advantage of someone who might be dazzled by your fame and connections is super-peachy). Finally, the reveal of the results was such a huge mess this week: six acts were revealed safe in the first half of the show with the other three (Paul, Jay and Only The Young) left having to wait until later to find out whether they were in the sing-off or not, and all because Strictly Come Dancing‘s results show was on later this week and the producers didn’t want to run the risk of having One Direction perform their problematic new single (women are property!) while everyone was still watching BBC1.

Mel B and the Boys

Much as I suspected, the transparent turnaround on Paul Akister last week was basically positioning him for a good old-fashioned bussing this week. He attempted to defend his lifeless performance in Hallowe’en week by likening himself to the Man Afflicted With A Sarcastic Tone Of Voice from The Mary Whitehouse Experience (oh yeah, I’m all about the topical references this week) – he’s cheerful all the time, honest! He’s happy! You just can’t tell because he’s northern! This week he was singing ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (lol) and Mel arranged a Skype chat for him with current Queen frontman Adam Lambert. Adam suggested that Paul should be more experimental and flamboyant, and however it was intended it’s kind of impossible to not interpret that as a come-on. The song didn’t really suit Paul’s voice, being at any moment either too low or too high for him, so he ended up having to sing on the breaking point of his voice more or less the whole time. Perhaps an even bigger problem was that, northern or not, he never actually sounded like he was having such a good time, let alone having a ball. Ultimately he ended up in the bottom two and going home on deadlock, leading to the kind of outrage I’ve not seen since the days of Laura Shite. Who, incidentally, is the contestant I’ve always thought he mostly closely resembled, and whose X Factor trajectory he was most likely to imitate. Andrea Faustini, meanwhile, complained goodnaturedly about how long it took him to wash all the gold paint out of his beard last week, and then Mel sent him home to surprise his parents, prompting his mother to actually exclaim “mamma mia!” and complain that he’s getting too thin, much to the delight of anybody who enjoys it when people actually behave like comedy stereotypes. Apparently everyone in Andrea’s hometown is supporting him, although probably not voting for him under the circumstances. Andrea got the pimp slot this week and sang ‘Somebody To Love’, which is somehow a bit of a step outside his “torch song diva” box while also not really pushing him particularly far outside of his comfort zone. Afterwards Cheryl told him that Mel can be his somebody to love, and somehow Cheryl I don’t think Mel is his type. Call it a hunch.

Simon Cowell and ALL OF THE OVERS STILL SOMEHOW

What with it being Remembrance Weekend and all, Jay James wanted to remind us that he SERVED IN THE NAVY VOTE FOR ME LOOK I DUN A HELP THE HEROES. That was gross, and I was actually quite pleased that it did not translate into extra votes. For some reason the show went overboard this week on how Jay had a record deal in 2012 and how it didn’t work out, and how that meant Jay had let his wife down (what the actual fuck), and then apparently Jay had some throat problems during the dress rehearsal leaving everyone unsure whether he’d be able to sing. Personally I think most of us have been unsure of that since his audition. He sang ‘The Show Must Go On’ in a limp, lifeless way with absolutely no sense of urgency, and then everyone entirely unironically praised him for managing to endure the performance with a bit of a tickly cough when Freddie Mercury was actually dying when he recorded this. Fucking hell. (The judging was slightly redeemed by Louis, whose initial response to a rendition of ‘The Show Must Go On’ was “cheer up!” <3) He deservedly landed in the bottom two with Paul, and frankly this was a terrible week not to be having a double elimination, so Jay lives to bland another day. In more important news, Ben Haenow has a brother called Alex, and Alex is also hot. Hell of a gene pool in that family. Ben and Alex used to be in a band together (it is just as well I did not know this at the time, otherwise I might well have been the groupie from hell) until Alex had to quit because he got tinnitus, and now Ben is living out the dream for both of them. Simon claimed to be giving him “the best Michael Jackson song” this week, except it turned out to be ‘Man In The Mirror’ (lol no). Ben took a bit of a risk by doing the first few lines entirely acapella, and also by shaving more closely than usual (he looks better with stubble, I’m sorry). It was a decent performance, and if the woobie face he pulled at the end didn’t break you, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. Meanwhile Stevi Ritchie continues to pose the question “what if the joke act wasn’t funny in the slightest?” as he spends all of his VT time pretending that Simon is his best friend to diminishing returns. He went back to the call centre that he used to work in for this week’s VT, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was really hoping to see Christopher Maloney in the background with a headset on. Then Stevi performed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, starting out in darkness with three more Stevis on the video wall behind him, and even Mel looked terrified. Then the lights came on but there was still a torch shining on Stevi’s chin throughout the rest of the performance, which just looked silly. And while I never really expect that many X Factor contestants to have a vocal range to rival Freddie Mercury, Stevi made it particularly obvious that he is well out of his depth this week, lulz or no lulz. Finally FLEUR! felt the need to prove herself as a singer rather than an entertainer by stripping out all of the dancing and all of the performing and all of the stuff that we actually enjoy, so that she could just stand there and sing ‘Will You Be There’ into a mic like Rebecca bloody Ferguson. This all stemmed from Mel’s comments that FLEUR!’s dancing showed up the limitations of her vocals last week, when personally I think that giving us nothing else to focus on but the vocals ended up doing that a lot more damningly. Not that this was a bad performance, but it did show that FLEUR!’s strengths lie in being an all-rounder rather than in being a vocally dominating diva. And that’s fine. Just let her go back to doing what she does best, and let’s say no more about it.

Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and the Lauren Platt

Yep, there’s only one contestant left in Cheryl’s category now, and Lauren Platt feels like she hasn’t been performing at her best these past few weeks, so she went home to Billericay for a bit of moral support. The main thing I learnt from this segment is that damn, Lauren’s house is huge. Cheryl took Lauren and her parents out for afternoon tea for…no specific reason, but I’m sure they had a nice time. Lauren sang ‘I’ll Be There’ (I like to think that she and FLEUR! were doing question-and-answer songs this week), and it was scratchy and uncomfortable and went entirely off the rails during the key change and never recovered. I worry that Lauren’s becoming increasingly exposed now that the herd is thinning: I always tended to regard her as the strongest one in her category, but now that she’s the only one left, it kind of demonstrates that that really wasn’t much of a compliment. Also, she doesn’t really seem to have much personality, as demonstrated by the fact that when the judges came to critique her, they ended up falling back on the same “you’re so good, but you don’t believe in yourself” guff that they used to use on Fishy Lola when she was still around. Poor Lauren, not even meriting a journey of her own.

Louis Walsh and the Groups

After staging a comeback last week, Only The Young admitted that they were feeling the pressure to keep the standard up. They drew ‘Blame It On The Boogie’ out of the song choice bag this week, and decided to get into the theme by getting Louis to show them what the 70s were like. This involved Louis taking them to a rollerdisco while wearing a neon afro, and everyone being quite surprised that Louis is actually good at rollerskating. Who knew? Also, some of the other contestants complained about Only The Young rehearsing all the time in the house and driving them mad, but that didn’t bother me. What’s wrong with rehearsing? That said, I’m not sure if all the work paid off because this week’s performance wasn’t one of their best – as much as I love Only The Young, I found this one to be a little bit too affected even for my tastes. Also, can we please have a song soon where the boys actually get to do a bit more? And finally Octocock decided to hold a Skype session with their fans this week, presumably to convince us that there are actually people in the world who care about Octocock. Louis took them off to play football in their VT for…reasons, and it was all worth it just to see Louis running around like a penguin on the sidelines. They sang ‘You Are Not Alone’ and gave it the full Westlife, bringing absolutely nothing new to the song while at the same time making it enough of a reasonable facsimile of the original to keep themselves out of danger for one more week. Also, Lee Nelson did a stage invasion. And if you ask me “who’s Lee Nelson?”, I say to you: exactly. Remember the days when Calvin Harris would run on and troll Jedward with a pineapple? Have we truly fallen so far?

Next week: BIG BANG WEEK! Yeah, I know you all hate it, but I love it, so you’ll just have to brace yourselves.

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