“Tell us about Boot Camp!”, said little Rita Ora to Grammy Cheryl, her eyes full of wonder. (Not a joke, this actually happened.)
1. Ryan For No Reason: It gives me no pleasure to devote an entire paragraph to the antics of flaming garbage pile person Ryan Ruckledge (especially in light of recent news concerning his charming and non-offensive Hallowe’en costume), but the show decided to devote a full eighth of its two-hour runtime to his excesses of fuckery, so it would feel a bit remiss to write about this episode without mentioning it. The first Boot Camp challenge was for the contestants to form groups of five (acts, rather than people), which must include members from at least three separate categories. Simon cautioned them all to select their bandmates carefully less they get stuck with someone useless, which was solid advice coming from someone who’d offered a full series contract to Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw. Inevitably this led to a handful of people struggling to find a group that fitted them, and one such person was Ryan Ruckledge – who, a flashback reminded us, screeched his way through ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ at the auditions and then begged to be put through to Boot Camp on the promise that if he didn’t improve immensely, the judges could send him home with his blessing. So the judges took him at his word and here he was, finding that nobody particularly wanted to work with him – and when one group turned out to need someone from the Boys category, he took umbrage at their (entirely reasonable) request to sing for them so they could figure out if he’d be the right fit. Eventually Ryan found himself a group with Katie Coleman (the auditionee who charmed with her story of heartbreak the other week) and gospel group Silver Tone, and took great exception to the song choice/arrangement/choreography of ‘Anything Could Happen’. Rather than suck it up and make the best of an unfavourable situation, Ryan pissed and whined and eventually buggered off to get drunk, claiming for the cameras that the whole situation was worse than his office job back home. The following morning he turned up for the group performance, under-rehearsed and clearly still pissed off his face, and proceeded to tell the judges how much he hated everything about the performance they were about to give. Needless to say, the rest of the group were not thrilled about this, and Cheryl asked if this meant he’d kick off during live shows if he didn’t like the song he’d been given. The group performed and did their best under the circumstances while Ryan came in at the wrong time, sang off-key and rounded off the performance with a slut-drop. Everyone advanced to the next stage apart from Ryan, who of course begged for another chance and insisted that he works much better on his own (there is no evidence for this, but it’s hard to imagine he could be much worse in that scenario than he was here), but instead he got a lecture from Simon about his disgusting personality, followed by the curt dismissal that he deserved everything that was happening to him right now. Including the exposure to a television audience of approximately eight million people? Because I think Ryan probably quite enjoys that, even if he does look like an absolute twit throughout. And then Ryan left in a taxi, complaining loudly about not being appreciated, possibly on his way to buy a boatload of boot polish for his next night out.
2. Rough Diamond: A similar story played out again in slightly more subdued fashion about an hour later with a later group, this time involving the hilaribadly-named girl group Bats In The Belfry, someone called Sophie Plumb, Papasidero (the one who looks like the Eurocreme version of Sebastian Stan), Monica Michael of “ESSMAYCHOICE!” fame from last year and somebody called Princess Diamond. Much like Ryan, Princess was the sole dissenter over her group’s song choice (‘Blank Space’ by Taylor Swift) and expected everyone else to ditch a song that they had rehearsed and were happy with because she didn’t personally like or get it, and seemed rather put-out when they weren’t willing to do so. Princess took against Monica in particular because Monica seemed to have the lowest tolerance threshold for her bullshit, and upon being summoned by the judges for their performance Princess told the judges that Monica was “all up in my face” for no reason, at which point Monica pointed out that Princess “wouldn’t turn up for rehearsals…didn’t know what she was doing”. Simon asked if Princess if she would change anything, and Princess pointed at Monica and said “maybe change that one”, super-classy like. As before, the scores were ultimately settled in the performance when Princess didn’t know any of the words and spent most of her sections honking anxiously in a manner that she hoped vaguely approximated the tune, while Monica looked on, vindicated, and seemed to take particular delight in getting to sing the line “don’t say I didn’t warn ya” directly at the judges while leaning on Papasidero’s shoulder. Princess was informed that this was the end of her journey, and after seeking confirmation from the judges that this definitely meant she had to go home, she had a full-on meltdown, sinking to the ground and banging her fists, going “NOOOOOO!” and “I really wanted this, Olly!” while Olly and Caroline looked on helplessly and Monica, of all people, tried to calm her down. I guess that was nominative determinism in action on some level.
3. I’ve Got A Blank Space Baby: I don’t have a problem with people forgetting their words; this is a high-stress situation and that sort of thing happens to the best of us. But what alarmed me in this episode was the number of people who were trying to convince us that they deserved a place on The X Factor and who weren’t familiar with ‘Blank Space’ at all. That song was inescapable when 1989 came out even if you only had a passing interest in popular music, so people who actually want to make a career out of this have no excuse for not knowing it. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, you lot. Do your bloody homework.
4. Shade: This isn’t related to the competition or the singing in any way but I just want to point out that for the majority of this episode (i.e. until it got dark) Cheryl was wearing a pair of aviators that were slightly too large for her face, and it was really, really distracting. Every time they cut back to her I kept wondering if her head was shrinking.
5. Number One Hit: The other important moral that Simon wished to impart in a Tyra Banks style this week is the importance of crushing your competition. No, seriously. This came up first of all when Alien performed ‘All About The Bass’, ostensibly with the rest of their group. I say “ostensibly” because we barely even got a look at anyone else, as Alien dominated the vocals and even made room for a showcase dance breakdown. At the end, Simon congratulated them on not treating it like a team effort and making themselves the centre of attention, because that’s what the industry is all about. That says quite a lot about this show, doesn’t it? The other side of the coin came with the group performance featuring Lauren Murray (“is she the girl we really like?” asked Simon before her performance, making sure to steer the audience’s opinions before she’d even sung a note), Nathanael Landskroner, Jade McGuire Wot Used To Be In Pop!, and some other people. At the end of their performance of ‘Man In The Mirror’, Simon said that he was disappointed that not everyone had a chance to shine in that performance, and then clarified that by “everyone” he basically meant “Lauren”. Lauren did her best to be diplomatic about it, saying that it was a group effort and they had to make room for everybody, there are only so many big moments etc etc., and Simon asked her if she was really happy with the bits she got. Lauren declined to reply. In the end Nathanael and Lauren advanced, while Jade went home, and Simon reminded Lauren of the importance of pushing yourself to the front and not worrying about who you trample underfoot on the way there. I predict a big future for Simon Cowell in a future Conservative government.