Five still-very-late things about the last round of arena auditions for 2015. Thank goodness.
1. Joss Sticks: The first major showcase of the final audition episode of the series (unless you count singing accountant Megan Dallas from Basildon, who played an acoustic rendition of ‘Waterfalls’ and proved Rita wrong by INCLUDING LEFT-EYE’S RAP AS WELL, such scenes) was Lucy Duffield from Essex, who works in Boots. She had previous with Nick because back when he was a rising star of radio in Hull (stop laughing) she appeared on his show as part of a duo called War Of Words – they got signed by Polydor but then it all fell apart and she couldn’t even for a few years and then decided to sign up for The X Factor. She sang a rather breathy version of ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ by Alicia Keys, which seemed to go down well in the arena although I thought the bottom notes were a bit on the flat side. For some reason Simon decided to make her sing a second song as well, having spotted that she’d also prepared ‘I Have Nothing’ by Whitney Houston and asked her to sing it a cappella. At this point her true form revealed itself as the second coming of Joss Stone. Quite why we should need another one of those at this point is a mystery to me when the original has failed to even be valuable for comic purposes any more, but nonetheless she got the seal of approval from the judges and advanced to boot camp, where I hope she will spend her whole time prancing around barefoot and eating Flakes.
2. It Takes Two: There was love in the air in this episode as one of the lesser-spotted subdivisions of the Groups category (that is, real-life couples) got some time in the spotlight. We started off with Nige & Kay – yes, that is the name they entered under – who are a builder and a sales assistant respectively, and it’s not immediately obvious that he is quite a bit older than she is. They sang ‘Up’ by Olly Murs and Demi Lovato, and worked quite nicely together. Cheryl commented that it was endearing to watch a couple who you know are together (shame the show didn’t feel that way about Danyl and Lloyd) and, while all the judges agreed that they needed a much less cringeworthy name, they were waved through to boot camp. They were followed by Louel, who are at university together and are very much at the “it’s complicated” stage, although an alarmingly overinvested Cheryl did prize out of them that they’ve kissed. They sang ‘One Last Time’ by Ay-Ay-Ay Es La Ariana Grande, and while it needed a bit of work they were reasonably good, and advanced into the competition where presumably Cheryl will stand over them and supervise while they get to third base. Top of the bill, however, were Chris and Gabriel, aka The Shures, who met on a karaoke website and are now MARRIED GAYS. Nick, Rita and Cheryl clearly found them adorable from the get-go (Simon, perhaps unsurprisingly, was noticeably cooler toward them) and they sang Ellie Goulding’s ‘Love Me Like You Do’ to each other, which was a bit precious but nicely delivered, although Gabriel is clearly the stronger singer. This prompted Rita to call them “a prime example to our generation” and to speechify that she was so proud of our country for legalising gay marriage. I was rolling my eyes at this somewhat because the show (and Rita in particular) was so pleased with itself for its acceptance of sexual diversity while still basically treating two grown adults like kittens playing with yarn in the process, but at the same time it was also a married gay couple on primetime TV whose relationship wasn’t treated as something gross or used as a punchline and who were treated with the same level of politely patronising guff that the two heterosexual couples were shown. So…progress, I guess? (Oh, and they got through to boot camp.)
3. McCaul Of The Wild: 27-year-old Joseph McCaul from Athlone in Ireland described himself as a “ginger Stevie Wonder”, which will become even facepalmier (it’s a word if I say it is. And if it’s not a word it’s almost certainly a biscuit) when we get to his song choice. He’s auditioned for the show a few times and, if I understand correctly, made it through to boot camp in 2012, but was only shown on TV briefly that one time. He sang ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and oh my god white people on The X Factor stop singing this song. Seriously. I don’t care how much anti-ginger prejudice you may have encountered in your life, this song is not yours. It seems like Simon may have had the same reaction as me, albeit for slightly different reasons, as he complained that it all felt a bit rehearsed and he wanted to see Joseph take on something he hadn’t prepared in advance, which seems entirely contrary to the point of this show but okay. He was sent off to quickly rehearse something out of his normal wheelhouse, and came back to sing ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston. Simon approved of this version, but was less keen on Joseph’s club-singer tendency to shout “come on Wembley!” during every vocal break.
4. Seen And Not Herd: Padding out the rest of the episode were a few other contestants of note: ice cream seller Andy Taylor from Wakefield, who brought ice creams for the judges and then had his performance ignored while they threw it at each other; 21-year-old Anton Banaghan “from everywhere, basically” (or Tipperary, to be more specific) who did a karaoke rendition of George Ezra’s ‘Budapest’ while pulling some funny faces, and most of the judges seemed to like the song more than his performance of it, but it just goes to show what a good song choice for you because he advanced anyway. One of the stranger examples was 20-year-old Ollie Marland, who talked about having almost had a deal before it fell through at the last moment and then inexplicably sang a limpdick rendition of ‘I’m Your Man’ while dressed like a balloon seller from the 1950s, which everyone told him was a huge disappointment and then voted him through to boot camp based on some apparent potential that I did not spot at any point. Menn On Point, a duo of Ghanian extraction, were a lot of fun with their original song ‘Turn It Up’ but were subsequently outed as Britain’s Got Talent REJECTS BOO HISS by the tabloids so it’s a bit *scales gesture* for them at the moment. But at least they fared better than DTour, a six-piece band who were generally shambolic and then suffered the indignity of their West End Wendy of a manager coming on stage and singing a request for the judges to give them another chance: a request that was granted, but made no difference because their second chance was just as unimpressive as their first.
5. Sweet Charity: Our last auditionee of the year was 40-year-old Sherilyn from Wales, who checked off many squares on your X Factor bingo card: singing from a young age, gave it up to raise her family, discovered she had a serious illness (heart defect, in this case), sacrificed everything to look after her husband when he was left temporarily paralysed after an accident, now back for her last chance at achieving her dreams with the full support of her family. To truly complete the narrative she should ideally have brought the house down, rather than deliver the solid-but-unremarkable-and-actually-a-bit-iffy-in-places ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’ that we were given, but her moxie was enough to carry her through. And hey, the judges were even meta enough to joke that all she needed was some sort of sick dog and she’d basically have the perfect X Factor sobstory, although I don’t remember her mentioning any dead relatives. Perhaps that was an oversight.
Next: the delicious extravagance of boot camp at long last.