Because the last reinvention, in which Nick and Rita were hired, went so well.
In week two the show continued its experimentation with new, frustratingly vague theme weeks. This time it was “reinvention”, which was explained to us as “putting a new twist on an old song and making it your own”. Which, I’d assumed, had been pretty much the whole point of the series from the very beginning, but apparently I’ve just been getting it a bit wrong all these years. Who knew? On the bright side, this gave the contestants another free swing to really show us who they wanted to be as an artist; on the dark side, it featured so many absolute stinkers of performances that it undermined the credibility of this year’s finalists, with – unexpectedly – only Reggie ‘n’ Bollie coming out the other side looking better than they went in.
The other thing that didn’t help the contestants this week? Well, that would be the triumphant return of Fleur East, who came back to perform her debut single ‘Sax’ and had only grown in presence and confidence since last year. Not only did she expose this year’s Top 13 as utterly lacking in, well, x-factor, but she also made Ben Haenow’s returnee performance last week seem somewhat redundant. We’ll have to wait for the sales figures to come in to see who’s the real victor, of course, but one of them came back looking like a talent show winner and the other came back looking like a pop star.
CHERYL FERNANDEZ-VERSINI AND THE GROUPS
If you were waiting for a dramatic course-correction from 4th Impact over their slightly underwhelming performance last week…well, you’re probably still waiting because this week’s mash-up of ‘Sound Of The Underground’ and ‘The Clapping Song’ didn’t deliver the scarily over-polished goods either. I know it’s wrong to come to this show looking for nuance but their tendency to just belt every single line really didn’t work on a song like this, and some of the harmonies as they started riffing towards the end veered towards being actively unpleasant. Chuck in the fact that they were performing it on a makeshift underground carriage (come back Brian Friedman, you are missed more than you could ever know) and the fact that most of the choreography was just recycled from the original video, and you’re not really left with much to get excited about. I still have faith that they can improve from where they are now, but I’m starting to wonder if the reason their audition performances were so polished is because they’ve been carting this act around various talent franchises for years now so they’ve got the audition process down pat, but the unpredictability of weekly themes where they actually have to rehearse new songs is exposing their weaknesses. It’s early days, so we’ll see.
Reggie ‘n’ Bollie, on the other hand, were an absolute delight this week. After the horrors of Max Stone’s reggae Adele cover this week, you would absolutely be forgiven for the idea of responding to calypso One Direction by running head first into the nearest pane of glass, but this is The X Factor and sometimes unpromising ideas just work. It wasn’t the best vocal of the night by a long stretch, but the new arrangement of ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ worked wonderfully and the sheer amount of fun they were both having was absolutely infectious. At the end of a long, long, long, long evening of performances so disappointing that I was considering flipping over to whatever channel was showing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit reruns at that point, Reggie ‘n’ Bollie did the impossible and not only regained my attention but completely charmed me. The only negative thing I can say about the performance is that all the way through I was worried that it was going to prompt Rita to tell them what carnival is again.
NICK GRIMSHAW AND THE BOYS
Clearly nobody paid any attention last week when I outlined my plan for Mason Noise: Big Bad because his pre-performance VT this week was all about showing us what a nice, responsible person he is. He had a nice chat with Nick about his two potential songs for this week – ‘Wishing On A Star’ by Rose Royce and ‘Teardrops’ by Womack and Womack – patiently rehearsing them both before ultimately deciding on ‘Teardrops’, then going off to a photoshoot for Heat magazine (WHERE HIS SHIRT FELL OFF OH NO WHOOOPS) and the make-up people were shoved in front of the camera to talk about how humble and down-to-earth Mason is. Honestly, no wonder his vote tanked this week, because nobody came here for Mason Noise: Well-Mannered Gentleman. His interpretation of the song wasn’t even a reinvention so much as a moderate updating with vocals that once again sound like Justin Timberlake fed through a paper shredder. I’m inclined to think that Mason owes his survival this week to one thing and one thing alone: that when he fell into the bottom three, the judges knew he was above Seann and forced a deadlock so we could have a Surprise Scandalous Elimination, because he didn’t deserve to be saved based on his disastrous cover of ‘End Of The Road’. Or perhaps they wanted to save Heat magazine the embarrassment of running a photo spread with someone who’d already been eliminated. Still, I suppose it was sort of worth it for Rita vacillating between the two for ages before declaring out of nowhere that something (unspecified) was driving her to keep Mason, as though she’d just received a patch to her operating system there and then, followed by Nick gloomily announcing that he’d have to take it to deadlock, visibly struggling with the realisation that for all he was hired for his yoof appeal, he has now become Louis Walsh and there is nothing he can do about it.
Ché Chesterman was one of the small group of people who, while not particularly impressing this week, didn’t actively damage his reputation by being present for it. The worst that can be said for his dirgified rendition of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ was that it was entirely unnecessary, a forced makeover on a song that was pretty much perfect to begin with. Also, with each passing week his already-shifty claim to be a return to the days of classic soul looks less and less plausible, since each performance just comes across like Sam Smith in the body of Jeremy Spake. And this week we said goodbye to Seann Miley Moore much earlier than I was expecting to, when it became clear that the British public weren’t quite ready to embrace an androgynous cabaret performer as their next great pop superstar. There was nothing particularly wrong with his performance of ‘California Dreamin” but there was nothing particularly new or fresh about it either, and Simon correctly predicted that he’d be in trouble. Personally I think where he went wrong was performing the whole thing in a kimono and stripper boots but with a completely bare head, making the whole thing look like the last 15 seconds of a RuPaul’s Drag Race lip-sync where the queen has already pulled off her wig and everything else that wasn’t taped down because Michelle Visage said she wasn’t showing enough vulnerability. It was definitely sad for the competition as a whole to lose Seann this early, since I think he brought a confidence and a sense of professionalism that’s not yet present in most of the other contestants, but, well, you can’t really argue with finishing 10th out of 11 in a public vote. For whatever reason, this just wasn’t his time.
SIMON COWELL AND THE OVERS
So, shall we talk about Anton Stephans? I can only assume he’s performing quite well in the public vote, because what happened out there this week was a nuclear-level bussing. I already regret pulling out the Jenny-from-Over The Rainbow reference last week for Bupsi because that was a careful and considered use of her talents compared to this bizarre and somewhat frightening attempt to send Anton down in flames. Why else would you task a man whose biggest obstacle as a popstar-in-training is his tendency towards regional panto hamminess with singing a mash-up of ‘All About The Bass’ and ‘Bang Bang’, two tracks which aren’t so much songs as they are giant theatrical winks – and neither of which was anywhere close to being within his range. I don’t know whether Anton’s survival shows that the public’s love for him is hardier than assumed, or if simply that Simon’s attempt to tank him was so transparent that nobody took any notice, but I can only assume that Simon’s big plan for him for Movie Week is to perform the entire soundtrack to Ishtar.
Meanwhile Max Stone sang the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole mash-up of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’ and was praised for its originality, because this episode was seriously just that terrible. He also talked about getting his jam on quite a lot, and really I just hope the next time he gets his jam on he finds himself instantly surrounded by hungry bears.
RITA ORA AND THE GIRLS
Bouncing back (of a sort) from last week’s bottom three, Kiera Weathers was inexplicably thrilled to get given ‘Return Of The Mack’ for this week’s performance, only to mow her way through it when it became clear that this didn’t really suit her voice either. Still, at least we got the amazing visual gag of her singing ‘Return Of The Mack’ while wearing a mac, eh? Mostly I just found myself wondering if this is the fastest that the public has decided that they had absolutely zero use for someone who actually got a generous amount of screentime during the auditions process. I can think of a view who got a lot of pre-exposure and went out either first or second, but mostly in categories like the Groups or the Overs where they were always at least half a joke act to begin with – Kiera seems the first one in a while who went in seeming to be some sort of contender only to be met with general indifference. By all means hit me up in the comments if you can think of other examples I may have overlooked.
Elsewhere this week, Louisa Johnson treated ‘Billie Jean’ more like a tonsil gymnastics exercise than an actual song, and while I’d normally be averse to such approaches, on this occasion I think it was wise of her to do whatever she could to detract from the lyrics, because a woman singing a song about denying the parentage of a child presents certain biological problems to put it mildly. This might have been the one time in X Factor history when I would’ve considered gender-switching the lyrics acceptable, but I’m not even sure it would’ve been possible to wrestle any logical sense out of this girl singing this song. For reasons I can’t quite work out, Monica Michael opted to perform the Fifty Shades Of Grey version of ‘Crazy In Love’ as Cristal Connors. Did she get her memos mixed up and not realise that Movie Week is next week? Either way, I’m kind of here for it, especially if Louisa turns out to be her Nomi Malone. Finally, after getting probably the worst performance slot last week, this time Lauren Murray got the pimp slot with James Bay’s ‘Hold Back The River’, complete with gospel choir appearing for the last third of the song. I would say Lauren’s probably the most naturally likeable of this year’s bunch and she’s got a strong voice, but there’s still a bit of a question mark hanging over her as a performer for me – all she really did in this one was stand stock still and occasionally bob up and down a bit. Even last week when she had a bit more of an uptempo number to do, she didn’t seem terribly comfortable with choreography, so I don’t feel like I can entirely throw my support behind her until I’m convinced she’s not going to get all Rebecca Ferguson on me, stagecraft-wise.