The X Factor – Series 11 Top 8: Big Band Week

*orchestral sting*

Ahh, big band week. Bête noir of so many X Factor fans, and indeed contestants, on the grounds that everyone is instructed to sound as much like Frank Sinatra as possible and then criticised for not coming across like a credible, current pop star. I actually quite enjoy big band week when it’s done right, but my issue with it more often than not is that it’s probably one of the most repetitive theme weeks, where the same songs get done in the same way every single time it’s rolled out, and this year’s effort really doesn’t do much to disprove that. Still, at least they managed to get through the entire weekend without forcing us to endure a performance from Michael Bublé, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

Mel B and the Andrea

After the departure of BONA FIDE RECORDING SUPERSTAR AND SPOT-ON-THE-TOUR DESERVER Paul Akister last week (given that they’re now advertising the tour with just the top nine acts listed, I’m guessing Mel’s vow that she would not rest until Paul was included on the bill has ended quietly in the face of widespread public indifference), Mel’s down to just one act now. This week Andrea Faustini discussed how he finds Cheryl difficult to understand (because after all, to him she is the comedy foreigner) but that he’s smart enough to know when she likes what she’s heard all the same. After last week’s Italian extravaganza, this week was all about how well Andrea is settling into the UK – well, sort of. FLEUR! was teaching him some English words (“butters”, “amazeballs”, “obvs” and presumably all manner of other words that are unnecessarily pluralised) and then Mel B took him on a bus tour of London that came complete with afternoon tea. Andrea pretended to be the Queen of England (no comment), took a blurry selfie with Mel as requested by his family (to clarify, they didn’t specifically request for it to be blurry, but I think Andrea had had too many macarons at that point and was on too much of a sugar high to hold his phone steadily) and said that his favourite thing about Harrods is the toilets. Now he just needs to memorise the finer details of the repeal of the corn laws and learn the speed limit for a Ford Focus on a duel carriageway on a wet Thursday in February and he’s ready for his citizenship test. Quickly, Andrea, before UKIP gain any more parliamentary seats! Andrea’s contribution to big bang week was ‘Summertime’, continuing his current theme of taking a sidestep away from his “big diva hits” comfort zone while still being close enough to feel entirely comfortable. Far be it from me to get all Cowell about this, but ‘Summertime’ for me, in the context of this show, will always be the song where Leona Lewis had her Moment that proved she had stage presence as well as a killer voice, so anyone else performing it needs to do something pretty darned special with it to really stand out, and Andrea…didn’t, really. It was pleasant enough, but it just didn’t move me in any way. Simon didn’t like it, which kicked off a tedious Mel vs Simon feud that would last most of the evening. Joy.

Cheryl Cole and Lauren Platt Getting A Couple Of Likes On Instagram

Lauren Platt’s search for a purpose now that she can no longer rely on just being “the best one in her category” continued this week, with Cheryl falling back on her standard condescension (“she’s my little cutie pie and she’s here to make you smile”, barf) that makes me really, really wish for them to give her the Overs one year. Continuing the theme of FLEUR! appearing in everyone else’s VTs, Lauren talked about how Fleur’s become the big sister she always wanted, and that now they’re the only two solo females left, they’re closer than ever. Lauren’s little brother Lewis came for a visit, mostly to serve the purpose of looking cherubic and saying how proud he is of Lauren, but also so that Lauren could brag about him being a champion street dancer and how she hopes that one day they can be on stage together, with her singing and him dancing. Unless either of them develop tinnitus, of course. To emphasise the fact that nobody has any original ideas for Lauren, this week she sang ‘Smile’ on a giant swing. Sound familiar? (If they really have to recycle ideas from Diana Vickers for Lauren, I would much rather they made her sing Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ in a mock-up roller disco, but maybe I’m alone in that.) Lauren’s performance was pleasant, bland, forgettable, and once again she rather lost control of the vocal towards the tail end of the performance. Cheryl attempted to persuade us that “sitting while singing down” is a really difficult thing, and was about as convincing as when Len tries to convince us that every single dance on Strictly is HARD FOR THE MEN.

Simon Cowell and the Inexplicably Intact Overs

So last week Jay James was in the bottom two despite all of his Armed Forces emotional pornography and I laughed and laughed. In his VT, Jay wore an impressively diverse array of twattish hats while talking about his need for a Moment that would prove he deserves to be here. Having swung and missed for the “our brave boys” vote, Jay aimed for the “nice young man who loves his mum” vote instead, talking about how ‘New York, New York’ is his mum’s favourite song and he would be singing it for her. He didn’t stop there though, oh no. He talked about how last year his mum got married and he gave her away while wearing his grandfather’s suit, and how conveniently his mum turned up for a visit this week (along with Jay’s wife and Product Placement Child, no less) and brought along his grandfather’s suit for him to wear again during the performance. Jay then undercut all the promises of his VT with two notable mistakes – the first was doing a half-arsed mash-up with ‘Empire State Of Mind’ (I’m sure your mum will be thrilled that you did that to her favourite song) and by taking the first opportunity he got to whip off his grandfather’s jacket and fling it onto the floor. Also, unrelated to anything he said in his VT but no less of a sin for that, he wore an undone bow tie and you must know by now how I feel about that shit. For someone who was so aware that he needed a Moment, his performance was completely lacking in any sort of energy or dynamism, despite the burlesque dancing woman in a martini glass behind him – an unnecessary extravagance which was rightly noticed and mocked by the other judges. And despite all of Jay’s efforts to go for broke, the public remained unresponsive, leaving him in the bottom two once again, and going out on deadlock. To Stevi. That’s gotta hurt.

Arguably deploying the “loves his ma” vote far more successfully was Ben Haenow, who pointed out that his mum can’t always make it down to see the show because she has several jobs and can’t just take time off whenever she feels like it. So Ben decided that his mum would be his date to the Hunger Games premiere, and the show even sprung for her to get pampered and get her hair did in time for the big event. (I suspect it’s best that we don’t think too deeply about how much X Factor interference was needed to get enough time off for Ben’s mum to have a fancy salon appointment and go to the premiere in the first place.) I know that talking about the impossible hotness of Ben is kind of tired at this point, but he really did look nice in his suit for the premiere, and seeing how genuinely proud he is of his mum was very sweet. Regrettably, a lot of this good work was undone for me when he followed it up by singing the Michael Bublé version of ‘Cry Me A River’ (why not the Julie London version? THAT IS THE GOOD VERSION), which took his voice to The Bad Place a few times and, like so many of the other performances tonight, just felt rather flat and unengaging.

After spending such a long time not really committing to being the joke act, Stevi Ritchie decided to try for the full Wagner this week. After a potted history about his time playing the Essex social clubs as American Dream with his mate Malcolm, Stevi mashed up ‘Mambo No 5’ and ‘She Bangs’. I think if he really wanted to be the joke act, he’d have done the Bob The Builder version, but there we go. One of the things I really hate on these shows is when the contestants try to name-check the judges in a song, so this performance was pretty much dead to me when Stevi changed “Angela, Pamela, Sandra and Rita” to “Louis, Mel, Cheryl and Simon”, despite the fact that “Simon” doesn’t rhyme with “sweeter”, even a little bit. Neither song was performed well, he was dressed like a bingo caller, and no amount of attempted fire-eating (yep, that happened) was ever going to justify it happening. Apparently he wanted to dedicate the performance to Mel, so you can understand why he was upset. Even Simon called it “one of the worst performances we’ve ever had on this show”. Still, this all became forgivable when he ended up in the bottom two with Jay James, actually sang better than him, got saved by Cheryl and Mel and ended up staying. I loled.

Holding the pimp slot this week, and definitely not short of build-up, was FLEUR!, reprising her performance of ‘Bang Bang’ from Judges’ Houses. In her VT she got stuck with a touch of the Mark Wrights, talking about “little old me” and never thinking she could ever have achieved any of this, but I guess when your previous claim to fame is “lost a sing-off to Chico in series two”, it’s slightly more justifiable. FLEUR! accepted the inherent risk of repeating a song we’d already seen her do, because she was going to need to make it significantly different – and I suppose in some ways the 30-piece orchestra helped with that. If I’m honest, I don’t think she quite wowed as much with the performance the second time around, because she got a little bit drowned out by the band, but at least she gave us the Jessie J-less version of this song we’ve always wanted. It’s just a shame that after all the hype about it potentially being the greatest performance of the series, it wasn’t even the best performance of the night. Then again, Simon said that he thinks she can win now, which I assume means that he’s seen the voting figures and believes that it’s at least possible, so that’s nice.

Louis Walsh and the Overs

Who’d have thought that we’d ever be in a position where Louis would actually be the second most successful mentor in terms of number of acts left in the competition? (Admittedly both of his acts have been in the bottom two at least once, while neither of Cheryl’s or Mel’s remaining acts have been, so you could argue about the relative strength and appeal of the acts in question, but in terms of sheer numbers Louis is beating them both at the moment.) Obviously the “big band” jokes write themselves as far as Octocock are concerned, so I won’t dwell on those. They were chosen to spearhead the “ooh, we went to a premiere” narrative this week as they all line up on the red carpet at The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One (sidebar: I love the Hunger Games novels and even I sincerely doubt there’s enough meat in the final book to justify the exist of two full-length features) and gaze at Jennifer Lawrence from afar. They also went go-karting, where they were split into two teams mostly to help us learn all of their names (Team Stereo was Chris, James, Reece and Charlie, while Team Kicks was Barclay, Jake, Casey and Tom. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test later.) You may notice that this is quite a lot of non-rehearsal-based story for a pre-performance VT, and that is because their rehearsal was a clusterfuck once again: Louis decided at the last minute that their song wasn’t working and gave them ‘Mack The Knife’ instead. Because Stereo Kicks are famous for never having listened to any music that wasn’t produced in the last 18 months, only two of them knew the song, but I mean – it’s ‘Mack The Knife’, isn’t it? It’s not a challenging song, vocally, and if you can’t learn the words to it in a day then you probably have no business being in showbiz in the first place. With the odds against them, Octocock did what they do best: a safe, generic rendition of a song that isn’t bold enough to win plaudits but is also not dangerous enough to alienate anybody. Despite a minor cock-up on the sound front where the only one who can sing found his microphone swiched off when it came to his line, the approach worked for them last week worked once again, and they were safe. Mel complained that she still has no idea who any of them are, which prompted the inevitable challenge where Louis had to name them all (he did, but using a cheat-sheet), and to be honest, I couldn’t care less whether Louis knows their names or not – the point is whether the public do.

Meanwhile, Only The Young had their AGM this week in a pub in St John’s Wood. Assembling all of the parents together (nicknamed “Only The Old” by Betsy, which Mikey declared to be “the best thing you’ve ever said”. YES I KNOW THEIR NAMES NOW, WHAT OF IT), they said thank you for all of the support their families have offered over the years, continuing this week’s secondary theme of “we love our parents”. They also got featured at the Hunger Games premiere, where Sam Claflin posed for a picture with them and seemed to know who they were. Truly, they have arrived! They sang ‘I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)’ from The Jungle Book, which meant that Mikey and Charlie got to take lead vocals for a change, which I know is something I’ve been wanting to see, and I think they acquitted themselves pretty well. There was even some actual choreography in there, which was quite impressive. There was one bum note and one missed cue from Charlie (which he later confessed was because he had drymouth and thought he was going to be sick, bless) but the whole thing just felt like the kind of slightly affected but hugely fun performance that I come to expect from this lot. I still have my doubts as to whether they’d really work in the real world, but they’re the ones I most look forward to watching every week. Also, Cheryl referred to it as “the Baloo song”, so someone needs to brush up on her Disney sharpish. And the loud guy screaming “ONLY THERRRR YERRRRNNG!” was there again at the results show, which was amazing. I hope he’s there every week – I can only assume he’s a family member.

You don’t want me to talk about Geldof twatting on about Ebola and his awful charity song on the results show, do you? No? Good.

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2 thoughts on “The X Factor – Series 11 Top 8: Big Band Week

  1. I don’t hate big band week either. At least there’s a point to the theme in that there is actually a big band on stage, playing the songs, rather than just two random artists not fighting against each other despite what the title says. The issue is definitely the picking of (mostly) the same old songs every time round, rather than doing interesting big band arrangements of other songs.

    Only The Young’s dance break actually made me audibly squee. I’ve become a proper fanboy for them in a way I haven’t fanboyed anyone on the X Factor for years – they’re just delightful. Even Charlie’s ‘OMG, I screwed up my line, I think I’m going to vomit’ moment managed to be charming rather than take away from a really good performance. I do hope they manage to do something post-X Factor – there’s an absolutely killer pop act in there if the right people work with them.

    Fleur, again, was so close to a great performance, and yet not quite there. It seems to be a running theme. Still the most decent of the potential winners, but I’m slightly losing the faith with each week.

    Octocock continue to be utterly uninspiring, though clearly we’re going to be lumbered with them to the final. I suppose if nothing else, the inevitable fallouts, departures and break up ought to be reasonably entertaining, as Simon’s dream of 1D mk 2 crumbles.

    For all Stevi is a crap joke act, his legitimately outperforming Jay James in the sing off was a total moment of redemption. Hopefully Jay can now go back to searching for those socks he’s lost and stop inflicting his awfulness on us any more.

    No week in which Jay James goes home can be a terrible one, so all in all it was enjoyable enough.

    Pre-emptively for next week, though: Ugh. Sigh. Boo. 😦

    • Sorry, I appear to have entirely missed this comment when it was actually posted! But by the same token, I agree with pretty much everything you said and can only really echo it.

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