The X Factor – Series 11: The Final Part 2

And so this series of blog entries ends much like the show it’s discussing: taking far too long to reveal the outcome that was already decided ages ago.

So Ben wins and Fleur finishes in second place, and we probably all knew that before the results show even began, including Ben and Fleur themselves. But everybody plays along because we have two hours to fill, and the whole thing can’t entirely consist of guest stars coming on to plug their latest singles and upcoming tours. That said, this is in a two-hour timeslot and we only have four competitive performances in that time, so there is of course a lot of padding to get through. So let’s look at every aspect of the finale and have a bit of a think about What This All Means and then we can wrap this party up until August.

Melly happy returns

After last night’s no-show due to her emergency hospital visit, Mel’s back for the final just in time to have no acts left. Tulisa is, of course, thanked for stepping in at short notice and Mel tells us that she was watching and texting and doing all sorts of mentory things to support Andrea as best she could from a distance. And, to be fair, “getting the occasional long-distance text” is excellent preparation for the sort of mentoring all the contestants can expect the second the series is over, so well done Mel for being so forward-thinking.

And speaking of returns, the show opened with this year’s finalists returning to the stage for the very last time (at least until they all rush on to mob the winner at the end), as they gathered to sing ‘Flashdance… What A Feeling’ together. Except by “sing” obviously I mean “mime”, and most of them weren’t even trying to keep their lip-syncs in time with the backing track. Stevi was probably the worst offender on that front – and who ever thought we’d be in a position where we’d be thinking that Stevi’s better off singing live? It was also pretty strange to see Stevi and Chloe back on stage for another group number having already performed in the previous evening’s Squawk Of Shame, but arguably not nearly as weird as seeing Blonde Electra kiss each other full on the lips for several seconds. I don’t really know what that was about, and I don’t intend to ask. For some reason, the three Finalists-with-a-capital-F were allowed to actually sing their parts live, which made the whole thing feel rather disjointed, and despite (or possibly because of) the sheer volume of people on stage, the whole thing felt quite lifeless because it was just a mass of people milling around. It’s like we learned nothing from the demise of Octocock, really.

A pressing question

Why did Cheryl paint her eye sockets bright pink? Answers on a postcard to the usual address please.

Best in show 

Nearly half an hour into the broadcast, we actually got to the point where they remembered that the competition side of things was still a going concern and that Ben and Fleur had to do something to justify one of them winning at the end of the night. Thus we began the first round of solo performances, where Ben and Fleur each picked what they considered to be their best performance from the series overall. Ben was up first and chose to reprise ‘Man In The Mirror’ from Michael Jackson vs Queen Week, a performance that at the time I described as “decent” while noting that he’d shaved a little too closely that week. As Ben sat in an empty cinema to watch his original performance, I came to the conclusion that I stood by both of those assessments (seeing babyface Ben and bearded Ben side-by-side like that convinced me that Ben needs at least *some* stubble in order to be attractive) while Ben and Simon mused on how this was the first time Ben really had A Moment and proved his worth as An Artist. Second time around, Ben wore (say it with me now, internet) a leather jacket and was gifted with a backing choir while a giant screen behind him displayed words like “healing”, “equality”, “faith”, “hope”, “peace”, “wealth” (lol), “freedom”, “justice” and so on. I didn’t actually see “no pollution”, “world health” or “fashion cares”, but I’m sure they were there somewhere. Also, whoever made the call to put “hope” in Comic Sans has a very cruel sense of humour. Singing-wise it was a little bit strained, but I’m pretty sure both Ben’s and Fleur’s voices are pretty fucked at this stage in the competition so it’s to be expected.

At one point, we were actually asked “what will Fleur pick?” for this round, as though that’s in any way a valid question: of course she went for ‘Uptown Funk’, because anything less would have been heresy. It did pose a slight problem, however, in that she only performed it for the first time a week ago, and revisiting a performance so soon can make you look a bit like a one-trick pony. This is the problem with peaking in the semi-final (cf. McPhee, Katharine). It had been an iconic moment, and everyone wanted Fleur to repeat it, but really she had a lot to lose here – the first performance had been so well-received that there was almost nowhere to go but down. To Fleur’s credit, she maintained almost all of the momentum that the previous week’s rendition had given her, and made herself seem like a very credible threat to the Ben juggernaut. She even prompted Simon to say that he’d really like to split the prize between the two of them, at which point Terms And Conditions Dermot leapt in to point out that they couldn’t do that. Bless him – he turned into a lawyerbot so gradually we barely even noticed.

A (winner’s) Single Man

The other other opportunity Ben and Fleur got to sing solo for us this evening was to sing the winner’s single. The show broke with several years’ worth of tradition this year by giving both finalists the same winner’s single – ‘Something I Need’ by OneRepublic – and it raised a few eyebrows by being clearly better suited to Ben’s voice than to Fleur’s. There were rumours that originally Fleur was planned to have a different song – ‘All For You’ by Janet Jackson, if memory serves – but the rights were denied fairly late in the day, meaning that she had to sing the song they already had cleared. Again, I credit Fleur for making the best of an unenviable situation here and doing a pretty good take on the song – but it didn’t really suit her, and it was never meant to suit her, and it’s a million miles away from what she’d be doing if she won, so the whole thing felt like a bit of a waste of time and I felt a bit disappointed for her that her last performance on the show had to be this one, because what a way to fizzle out. Ben, on the other hand, sounded fairly knackered, but did so on a song that was clearly intended to showcase him. So he won this round, but hardly from an even playing field.

Very special guest performances

And in the long, long, looooooong gaps between things that were actually necessary in the climactic episode of a singing/personality contest, we had a great many special guests. Opening the show were Olly Murs and Demi Lovato – truly the Nuts & Gum of the music industry – performing the single ‘Up’ from his new album Never Been Any Good At All. The obligatory pre-performance VT of all of Olly’s prior achievements included a shot of James Corden, presumably to try and make Olly look like less of a bellend in comparison. Nice try, show, but no sale. The performance was kind of a mess, not least in basic blocking terms because half the time the cameras couldn’t even find Lovato. Afterwards, Dermot asked Olly how it felt to be in the final seven years ago, at which Olly pointed out it had only been five years. Clearly the years are even longer for Dermot than they feel for the rest of us. Also, Dermot pointed to Demi and then said to Olly “that’s Demi Lovato, how did this happen?” Imagine: a world in which we talked to women instead of about them. I know, I know, with crazy talk like that I’ll have the GamerGate lot on me any second now.

The second guest performance came from One Direction featuring Ronnie Wood, which feels like the sort of thing that can only be the result of a particularly horrific game of Cards Against Humanity. 1D seem to be heading in an alarmingly muso direction, since Niall was playing his own guitar, and I’m sure nobody really wants that, do they? At least most of them had turned up dressed fairly unremarkably, with the notable exceptions of Zayn, who came dressed in the manner of Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Harry, whose slow transformation into Bruce Campbell appears to be around 93 per cent complete at this point. They were singing ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ (no, not that one), which appears to be entirely passable, but is clearly no ‘Kiss You’ so I see no point in wasting any further time on it – but I will concede that Louis’s “it’s Ronnie Wood!” face when he showed up was pretty great. Dermot’s response? “Ronnie, how did this happen?” Yes, that’s what we were wondering. Oh, and Niall would like us to know that he enjoyed this collaboration “as a guitarist fan a fan of guitarists”. There may be a reason why he’s usually not the one Dermot talks to.

The final guest performance of the night came from “newly crowned national treasure” Christopher Maloney Sam Smith. (Seriously though, has anyone ever seen them in the same room at the same time? I’m convinced this is all a giant cover-up, especially since “Sam Smith” is such a generic name. WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!!!!) “Sam” sang ‘Stay With Me’, one of the worst songs ever recorded (and one of the most disastrous wastes of an excellent opening line), and then hung around for ages reminding us that he’s really boring and utterly useless as a pop star.

Winner Stays On

After Dermot boasted that “we’ve had the most votes we’ve ever had of any series” (anything to do with them being free this year, d’you think?), the time came to reveal the result of the public vote. That winner being Ben, obviously. Ben had a little tiny cry, and Fleur was gracious in defeat. Also, Dermot held up Ben’s CD like this was 2004 or something, but ended up catching the light so that it reflected in the jewel case and made the whole thing look completely blank, which you could read as a devastating meta-comment on The X Factor/reality TV in general/television in general/the music industry in general/society as a whole (delete as applicable). We wound the whole thing up with Ben singing ‘Something I Need’ again, or at least singing most of it before the rest of the finalists rushed on stage and Octocock mauled him so thoroughly that he couldn’t sing any more. (I’m sure there’s a fanfic about that somewhere.) Sadly, no one appeared to discuss how much pussy he might get, which is always a disappointment.

The X Factor 2014: A Retrospective

While probably not a series that’s likely to go down in history as one of the greats, this at least felt like a stabilising year for The X Factor – perhaps it was just having Simon there on the floor again, but at least it seemed as though those involved actually cared about the show for once. There were some obvious missteps – the wildcards were unnecessary, the random double-eliminations were dumb, the six-chair challenge remains the absolute worst – but part of the joy of the show is learning to accept the bad with the good. At least we got two finalists I liked, so while I was rooting for Fleur, I didn’t feel particularly cheated by a Ben win. In terms of the judging panel, it’ll be interesting to see who sticks around for another year. I imagine Louis will stay as long as they’ll have him, Simon doesn’t seem to have anything important enough to drag him away right now, so it’s mostly Cheryl and Mel who are the question marks. Mel at least gave us some unpredictability, and was at least willing to criticise people (even if a lot of her criticism ultimately felt hollow), but I never really felt like she fitted in on the show. I’m having a harder time deciding what’s right for Cheryl at this point. On one level, she is this show – both the series and her career skyrocketed when she joined the panel – but on another, it feels like whatever light and freshness she provided when she first arrived has mostly been eradicated now. Most of this year felt like a chance for her to sit there looking glamorous, proving how well she could get on with her female co-judge, and drop a lot of phrases that she appears to have picked up from Los Angeles drag queens. You could have replaced her with a rudimentary automaton and had much the same effect, really. If she’s back next year, and I imagine she probably will be, it’d be lovely if she could just loosen up a touch and tap into some of that everywoman-made-good quality that worked so well for her at the start of all this.

Right, so that’s The X Factor 2014 finally put to bed. What next? Here’s a taster of all the #content I’m planning for the coming weeks if all goes to plan:

  • The 50 Greatest America’s Next Top Model Contestants EVER (according to me)
  • The Ultimate Strictly Come Dancing Musical Setlist EVER (again, according to me)
  • Season previews of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Survivor: Worlds Apart
  • Maybe even week-by-week recaps, in a bid to actually see one of those projects through to completion in a timely fashion
  • The triumphant return of Gaywatch, in which I take a hopefully-not-too-humourless look at how various television shows are handling their gay characters. Featuring: Call The Midwife, Nashville, Cucumber/Banana, Looking and How To Get Away With Bumming Murder. And possibly also some others.

Hopefully at least some of that will appear to you, otherwise my Google Analytics results are going to make for really embarrassing reading.


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