THE JUKEBOX IS BACK!
So we’ve reached the point in the competition where each act needs to perform two songs
to pad out the running time to demonstrate their versatility as an artist. Having placed immeasurable faith in the public in the past and trusting them to make the right decisions (lol), The X Factor resurrected the “jukebox”, where the contestants picked a shortlist of three songs they’d like to perform and the audience voted for their favourite. This is always an interesting exercise in understanding how conditioned the audience is to voting for the lowest common denominator, because there’s always somebody who picks at least one interesting, unconventional, new-to-the-show song (in this case, Fleur picked Brownstone’s ‘If You Love Me’) only for the public to go for the most obvious, derivative, performed-on-every-reality-show-since-time-immemorial option (‘If I Ain’t Got You’ by Alicia Keys). Still, at least we had some famous people on hand for the other round to pick a song for the contestants, carefully selected from the shortlist of one given to them by production.
Simon Cowell and the Overs
At this stage in the competition, Simon seems to be in the most stable position – he’s got two acts who have made it all the way to top five without ever hitting the bottom two, both of whom have been favourites to win at some point. Still, he did his best to convince us throughout the show that neither one was safe, and that we needed to keep hammering away on the app to support them. Ben Haenow opened the show with the observation that “there’s been so many amazing singers in this competition that have gone home, and you think ‘it could be me next’.” You can go off a person, can’t you? He almost certainly picked up a few easy votes this week by having his first song, ‘Come Together’, chosen for him by One Direction (well, three-fifths thereof – only Louis, Niall and Zayn appeared on Skype to announce their decision, and only Louis really said anything). The theme for Simon’s acts this week was “we haven’t forgotten where we came from”, as Ben headed back to his hometown where passing drivers honked at him and offered their support, and Ben went around to visit his “nonna Rita” while wearing jeans with massive holes in the knees, possibly because of fashion, or possibly to remind us that his family has no money – who knows? ‘Come Together’ was a solid song choice for him and took his voice back to that raspy place that works so well, but I’m getting a bit fed up with the lazy “rock” staging they keep giving him, with that fucking leather jacket and a load of pre-watershed dominatrices stomping around the stage and groping his legs. For the second performance, viewers chose Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’, and Ben made a big deal out of the fact that this was his chance to be current, because he has kind of had a tendency to do old-school rock songs. It was a quieter performance from him (as illustrated by the swapping of his black leather jacket for a burgundy one) and he sounded a bit Will Young-esque. It worked for me, but Cheryl and Mel whined that the original is just such a masterpiece that it sound all wrong if you don’t sing it exactly like Ed Sheeran does. This amused me immensely because I had never heard this song before prior to Ben’s performance, so clearly I don’t have my finger on the X Factor pulse these days. But then, if that means actually having to listen to and enjoy Ed Sheeran, I’m comfortable with my life choices.
Meanwhile FLEUR! picked up the themes of “home” and “family” that were established in Ben’s VTs and ran with them by spending both of her pre-performance intros wandering around Walthamstow with her sister. She too got some honking from passers-by, but rather than visit elderly relatives she decided to check in with The Youth Of Today by going back to her old school and taking a selfie with the kids. (Except Fleur’s sister was the one holding the camera, making it NOT A SELFIE. Jesus Christ, I’m as old as the hills and even I understand that.) The omnipresent Emeli Sandé picked Fleur’s first song, and made probably the most daring decision of the evening by picking a comparatively obscure Tina Turner song, ‘A Fool In Love’. It was a good number for Fleur because it was a big performance number that allowed her to sass her way around the stage, but it’s also a song that hasn’t aged well, at least in terms of The X Factor and its need to contemporise everything, so it felt a bit like “this is the sort of performance that would have won the series for Fleur had this show existed in the 1960s”. The judges disagreed with me entirely, saying that Fleur made it sound current. But considering that Mel and Cheryl both got booed simply for saying “it wasn’t my favourite”, I’m not even sure how useful the whole judging/audience reaction aspect of this show is any more. Also, they keep calling her “an entertainer”, which is played as though it’s a compliment but feels like such a backhander, because that’s the sort of thing they used to say about Chico, for crying out loud. As I established above, the public chose ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ by Alicia Keys for Fleur’s second song, despite the fact that a) it’s shit and b) it gets done far too often on these shows, and Fleur rewarded them with a fairly rote rendition of it. The only thing remarkable about the performance was Fleur dressing as an actual peacock, wearing a blue flurry outfit with peacock feathers projected on the screen behind her. Oh, Brian.
Oh, and neither Ben nor Fleur was in the bottom two this week either, so I would be very surprised if the competition is won by anyone else at this point.
Cheryl Cole and Lauren Platt
The bus came for Lauren Platt Is In Your Top Eight On MySpace this week. She had the worst performance positions of anyone (on second and sixth), got probably the most indifferent feedback of all the contestants, her “Skyping with her fans” segment of her VT became “Skyping with Cheryl’s fans” halfway through suggesting that Lauren didn’t actually have enough supporters to fill the runtime by herself, and she even had a half-hearted “you were ill this week!” defence where, despite being so sick with strep-throat during the week that she couldn’t actually speak let alone sing, it never featured in either of her VTs. Oh, and she was suddenly given a last minute sob story which was “my parents split up when I was 10”, which was actually pretty moving until it was followed up with “and then they got back together again last year”, which kind of undermined it. Despite all that, I actually felt like this was one of Lauren’s better weeks, vocally, although both songs required her to spend a little too long in her headvoice which can be a little thin and shaky. Little Mix chose ‘Clarity’ by Zedd ft. Foxes for her, and Brian decided to swamp the stage with other people again to try and divert attention away from the fact that Lauren still looks very uncomfortable as a performer. It’s not a terrible idea, but I feel like sticking her younger brother centre stage and constantly pointing the camera at him instead of Lauren, for the second week in a row, just seems a bit desperate. This week in backhanders: Simon told her that “this is the kind of record you would make in the real world”, which suggests that Lauren’s strength is as a guest vocalist on other people’s music. The public chose ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ by Swedish House Mafia for her second song (and if you think Cheryl wouldn’t miss an opportunity to be hugely patronising when introducing that, you are entirely correct) and it was very much a case of second verse, same as the first: it was a good vocal that suffered a bit on the high notes, but the epic lightshow carried it home for her. She landed in the bottom two with Octocock, and for a brief, joyful moment (no offence, Lauren) it looked like Cheryl was about to be the first mentor to lose all of her acts, but it went to deadlock and apparently the public still like Lauren just enough to place her fourth rather than fifth. Presumably this means they need a bigger bus next week.
Louis Walsh and Octocock
And so we come to the last group standing, Octocock. They were landed with an X Factor staple VT this week as their mums came to visit and cluck about how these silly boys don’t know how to do straightforward household chores. It did veer away from the standard approach very slightly, however, by featuring an awkward dinner sequence between all 16 of them where it turned out that Reece’s mum has got it goin’ on, and several of his bandmates were trying to land themselves a milf. Top bants! Their song was picked for them by Tulisa, who actually bothered to turn up in person because she probably didn’t have much else in her diary this week. She selected Bruno Mars’s ‘Just The Way You Are’ and gave them the same advice she gave Little Mix. No, not “the internet is full of MEEN”, but “believe in yourself and you can achieve anything”. Who knew that Tulisa was Lisa Lionheart all this time? The first performance was solid enough but not really much to write home about at this stage in the competition. They milled around aimlessly, and Simon told us it was because their routine was changed at the last minute, but somehow I doubt the originally intended one would have been any more impressive – mostly because they milled around for ‘Run’, their publicly selected song, as well. They were excited about doing it because it was the first song they performed together at boot camp (oh my god EVERYBODY STOP REPEATING SONGS THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY DONE), and this was a bad idea because seeing what they looked like they and what they look like now, it just made it even clearer that they’ve learned no stagecraft since then, and they’re probably never going to. So they hit the bottom two, we went to deadlock, and they went home. Expect to see them stripping off for gay magazines any second now, especially since Jake Quickenden is currently in the Australian outback and unavailable for photoshoots.
Mel B and Andrea Faustini
After last week’s surprise appearance in the bottom two, Mel got rolling with the damage control for Andrea Faustini this week by trying to remind us what we loved about him in the first place – which basically amounted to infantilising as much as possible. Stage one was getting his family and hers (well, Phoenix, who is now an actual grown person and suddenly I feel really old) together to sit in their onesies and talk about how Andrea had a Scary Spice doll when he was younger. Stage two was for him to Skype with some pugs. I wish I was making that up. Tedious Comedy Central Sponsor Sam Smith picked Andrea’s first song (over Skype, which is odd because surely that just ruins the romance of sending notes via carrier pigeon?) and got him to do ‘Chandelier’ by Sia. In keeping with this show’s senseless need to ruin everything, they slowed it the fuck down to begin with, which is a NONSENSE because it is a song about hiding your inner turmoil by partying as hard as you can, so it really doesn’t work when played at a leaden tempo accompanied by a piano and contemporary dance. They did admittedly pick up the tempo for the second half but it was too late by then. The public picked ‘Hero’ for his second performance and Andrea worried that he was getting too dependent on big diva songs (literally the worst case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted this show has ever seen), so he decided upon the ingenious solution of singing half of it in Italian. Switching languages mid-song felt very Eurovision, and not in a good way, but I’m sure the sort of people who buy and enjoy Il Divo CDs lapped it up. More fool them.
Next week: Christmas songs! If anyone even thinks about attempting ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, I am done with this show forever.