The X Factor – Series 12 Top 4: “Songs To Get Me To The Final” Week

Or, if you’re Lauren, “Songs To Leave Me Languishing In Fourth Place And Going To The Papers Vowing To Never Go On A Reality Show Ever Again” week.

So here we are at the semi-final. Much has been made over The X Factor’s declining fortunes this year, particularly its lacklustre ratings, but what’s really taken me by surprise is the general lack of excitement it’s been generating. It’s bizarre to be in the semi-final and for there to be so little discussion in the media about the remaining finalists and who’s going to win; there are a few stories about the judges, sure, but I’m willing to bet that if you found a person who hasn’t been watching this year but has at least a passing familiarity with the gossip pages in the tabloids and asked them to name all – or indeed any – of this year’s remaining contestants, I doubt they’d have a clue. Perhaps I’m not in the best position to judge this because I’ve been watching since series two and will probably be here until the bitter end, but even with the generally indifferent reception to last year’s series, I felt that people in the wider world would probably at least recognise Ben Haenow and Fleur East; this year I’m not so certain. Good luck Louisa trying to channel your inevitable win into an actual career, is what I’m basically saying.

On another note, poor Caroline. To watch her dancing awkwardly down the steps at the top of the show, you really wouldn’t know that she’s the reigning Strictly Come Dancing champion. What a difference a year makes.

CHERYL FERNANDEZ-VERSINI AND REGGIE ’N’ BOLLIE

Just like Louisa last week, Reggie ’n’ Bollie had the honour of bookending the show tonight and opened the proceedings with ‘Locked Away’ by Rock City featuring Adam Levine (no, me neither). Cheryl promised us that it would show a completely different side to the boys, so I of course immediately assumed they would be whispering their way through it like Patsy Kensit singing ‘I’m Not Scared’. Needless to say, I was a little bit disappointed by the end result. This week everyone got to meet Lionel Richie, because he’s been literally everywhere over the last couple of weeks, and Reggie ’n’ Bollie’s response to this event was “it’s not a dream come true, it’s a dream we’ve never had”, which I think was meant to imply that they couldn’t even fathom ever singing for Lionel Richie, but mostly just made it sound like they didn’t care. Their performance of ‘Locked Away’ was more subdued than we’ve come to expect from them, but was also still quite call-and-responsey, so it wasn’t exactly the giant leap away from their comfort zone that Cheryl hinted it might be. The prison theming to their performance hurt them when Simon whinged that it just felt like a slap in the face since he’s been burgled recently (personally I was more concerned about the Unfortunate Implications of having the only two black men left in the competition acting out a prison scenario, but I guess Simon’s problems are more important) and then went on to say that it was their worst performance of the entire competition and they’d lost their entire sense of fun. Cheryl huffily tried to defend them, Simon shushed her, the audience booed, I feel like that is X Factor 2015 in macro form. Their second performance was a mash-up of ‘I Like To Move It’ and ‘I Gotta Feeling’, prefaced by a VT in which they talked about their families and their humble beginnings and workaday jobs. Given the songs involved, this was of course much more classic Reggie ’n’ Bollie but the moment that lingered in my memory was the shot of the studio audience waving their glowsticks, clearly intended to show the amazing funtimes that everyone has with Reggie ’n’ Bollie, and yet none of those people were smiling with their eyes. Maybe I was wrong, and *that* image was X Factor 2015 in macro form. This time Simon concluded that the final would not be the same without them, not that we had to worry about it because they glided right through without facing the sing-off.

RITA ORA AND THE GIRLS

Rita was sitting pretty (/smugly) this week as the only mentor with more than one act remaining in the competition, which meant she could afford to be fairly cavalier about the inevitable loss of Lauren Murray, The Only Good One. Lauren made things tricky for herself early on when she couldn’t quite come to terms with Rita’s song choice, the Ella Eyre version of ‘Best Of My Love’, and decided to change it fairly late in the week for Jess Glynne’s ‘Take Me Home’ instead, leading me to get briefly excited because I thought it might be the Cher/Sophie Ellis-Bextor track and then in turn driving me to crushing disappointment when I actually heard it. Lauren had already sung this at Judges’ Houses (which I will get around to blogging at some point, honest), which put her at risk on two separate fronts: 1) people claiming it wasn’t as good this time, and 2) people calling her a lazy mare for repeating a song she’s already performed on the show. She sang for Lionel and was very Lauren about it, squealing that she Couldn’t Even and taking him up on his suggestion that he not look at her when she was singing. This was brilliant, particularly for the delayed payoff from Caroline after Lauren’s performance on the live show: “I love that you made him turn around. Wrong show, but great idea.” (Poor Caroline. She’s good, she’s genuinely good, and she can be witty and quick in a way that Dermot almost never was, but because she’s spent the entire series babysitting Olly hardly anyone’s noticed.) As it turned out, her performance wasn’t that great because it felt rather panicked and squeaky, making her the second act of the night to get a “thank goodness you’ve got another performance to come” from the judges and prompting Simon to advise her to just, well, calm down a bit. She did calm down a bit for her second performance, after she gave us a refreshingly heartfelt VT about her life with her family in Cricklewood, living in a house that’s not big enough for all of them (Lauren sleeps in the living room) and how it’s not *bad*, but she’d like to be able to give them all something better like a garden where they could have BBQs. I’m not normally one to be moved by The X Factor, but the modesty of this ambition brought a little bit of a lump to my throat. Her second song was ‘Running’ by Naughty Boy featuring Beyoncé, and Lauren felt that it really spoke to her life and the need to face all of her problems, but the one problem she couldn’t quite overcome was being plonked on a massive podium that rendered her unable to move around for the entire performance. It was a decent performance, but not brilliant as a vocal showcase, and Rita tried to convince us that all her mates are Lauren fans, but my suspension of disbelief surrounded right at the point where she mentioned having friends in the first place. Sadly there was no bottom two bounce for Lauren, who faced Ché in the sing-off and this time she went for that rubbish ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten rather than vintage Mariah, so sadly we had to say goodbye to Lauren.

Louisa Johnson, meanwhile, who has so much X Factor that even at this point I still have to look up whether her last name is Johnson or Johnstone, decided to give it the full John Lewis this week with a cover of Gabrielle Aplin’s cover of ‘The Power Of Love’. This was introduced by Rita telling us that Louisa has “the power of the voice too”, which my brain couldn’t help hearing as “the power of The Voice 2″, which made me conflate Louisa with Andrea Begley in my head. (Kudos to Andrea Begley, by the way, for being the only winner of The Voice UK whose name I can still remember without having to look on Wikipedia.) Weirdly, this wasn’t the only connection to Andrea Begley, because Louisa’s performance was supplemented by a giant pair of angel wings projected on the screens behind her, just like Andrea got when she was singing Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel’ in the final. Clearly the British public like their young women angelic. Louisa, of course, remained duller than a butter knife throughout, despite attempts to make her have a personality by taking her dad to the West Ham training ground for a kickabout with the players. Her second song was a cover of Christina Aguilera’s version of ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ (if you’re trying to sell someone as an artist, maybe stop telling us they’re doing a direct cover of someone else’s interpretation, just a thought) which Louisa summed up thusly: “I’m really excited to do this. The way I’ve interpreted this is ‘girl power’.” I bet the strong female protagonist struck a chord with her. Louisa’s “interpretation” turned out to be a straightforward Xtina impression, right down to the lip twitches, and was so devoid of any sort of personal stamp that I actually felt a little bit embarrassed for her. Never mind, she’s winning, it doesn’t matter.

NICK GRIMSHAW AND THE CHÉ CHESTERMAN

While the forced banter between both the judges themselves and the judges and their acts has been one of the worst parts of the show this year by far, I have at least quite liked the relationship that Nick has with his category as demonstrated by his gently needling Ché Chesterman for forgetting his words last week by greeting him with “hello…what’s the next line?” I’d take that sort of thing over any more of that “the judges lip sync to a pop song backstage” nonsense. Obviously Ché had a lot of ground to make up after last week’s flub, but first things first: it turns out that Ché Chesterman Sr is a huge Lionel Richie fan, so Ché got Lionel to call his da up for a little chat, which Ché Sr was very excited about. After this promising start, however, Ché’s first song turned out to be ‘Would I Lie To You?’ by Charles & Eddie, which is absolutely an underrated classic but is also not really a song that lends itself well to X Factorification. Much more in his wheelhouse was his second song, Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’, and Nick lined up up a FaceTime chat with Mark Ronson to talk about the song. (Suddenly being in Nick’s category with access to his overstuffed little black book looks like it has its advantages.) It was a pretty straightforward, stripped-back rendition, which made Nick cry, and Ché actually left the stage to give him a hug, so awww, I guess? Subsequently Cheryl choked out that she thought “Amy would have loved that rendition”, and I don’t claim to have been a great friend of Amy Winehouse’s, but the impression that I gained from interviews with her is that she wouldn’t have been particularly thrilled about Cheryl Fernandez-Versini presuming to speak for her, let alone having her tragic memory invoked for the purposes of pimping out an X Factor contestant. Simon called the whole thing “karaoke” and said that Ché should have done his performances the other way around because this was an anti-climax, and Olly actually opened his post-performance chat with “ohhh, mate”. Ché was destined for the sing-off yet again, and forced us to endure ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ on a reality show for what must surely be the googolteenth time at this point and defeating Lauren via dead lock.

Next week: the final, and Louisa wins.

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