The X Factor – Series 12: Six Chair Challenge (Part 1)

Rita Ora sits in judgement of a parade of young women, and yet we wonder where we’re going wrong as a society.

Obviously this entry is a little bit late. *checks Wikipedia* About two-and-a-half months late, actually. But I’m a completist and the last thing I want is another half-finished series of blog posts, so I’m going back to look through the audition stages that I missed at the time. I’m going to try something a little bit different, since the series is over now and we all know that Louisa won, so it seems silly to act like I don’t have this information, so what I intend to do instead is to try to review these stages in the wider context of the whole competition, look at some of the successes and failures, and try to take a bit of an overview of the whole thing.

The First Rule Of Fight Factor Is…: One thing I took away from this episode is that even though the Six Chair Challenge is generally the nadir of any series it appears in, the contestants have already accepted its existence as inevitable and even conditioned themselves to act in the way it expects them to. In the midst of the Inception-esque foghorn that played over the intro sequence, we kept hearing snatches of the contestants talking about how they were planning to fight for their place in the contest, and turf people out of their chairs if necessary. I understand that the show wants them all to show passion and drive, but it’s one thing to watch the contestants indirectly eliminate each other by getting more votes than them in the live shows, and it’s quite another to see them actively rooting for other people to get sent home so that they can stay. It’s just a small part of the rather sour atmosphere surrounding this episode, but it did set the tone for what followed.

Simon Says: Following on from that, I think a lot of the problems with this series are rooted in Simon and in his attitude. While I’m sure that he wants to preserve this show for as long as possible because it was his baby once upon a time, I don’t think his heart is in it any more, and I think his crotchety approach is infecting the show as a whole. The obvious example was his rejection of his category when it was announced in front of everyone, swearing, asking Olly and Caroline if they’d made a mistake, asking to see the card for himself. This to me marked a crossover from his standard panto villainy into something more insidious, a general contempt for the show and its contestants. It wasn’t just the overs backstage who were horrified by his reaction, every single contestant waiting for the reveal seemed appalled that anyone mentoring on this show could be so callously disregarding of the people in their charge. We also saw the groundwork being laid here for Simon’s tendency to undermine the other judges on the live shows (usually Cheryl, but he got a few digs in at Rita and Nick as well as I remember). Here we had Rita telling Katie Coleman that it wasn’t over for her just because she hadn’t been given a seat, and Simon chiming in “you just said it was”, as though he’s never stood on that stage and vowed that this won’t be the last we hear of one of his acts. And when he wasn’t being rude he was just flat-out being unnecessary, like when Rita turned away Kelly Mai Webb (who, in all fairness, was terrible) and Simon felt the need to announce as she was walking off that yes, he wouldn’t have given her a seat either. Thanks for your input, Simon. Maybe just wait till the end and stick it all in an email next time.

Britain’s Least Wanted: Speaking of people padding their part far more than necessary, step forward Rita Ora. Of course, part of the job description of an X Factor judge requires you to act like you’re shaving away a part of your soul every time you’re forced to eliminate a contestant, but I think Rita needs to understand that if you’re going to start claiming how much the crowd hate you for doing your job, you should probably…wait for signs that they actually hate you? Sure, there was booing when she swapped out certain contestants after previously giving them a seat (particularly when Karen Mav was sent home in favour of keeping human afterthought Kiera Weathers, but that was understandable), but most of the booing seemed to be directed at the decisions and the process rather than specifically at Rita herself. Compare it to the outrage directed at Cheryl last year when she sent Monica Michael home (“ESSMAYCHOICE!”), and this was nothing. Yet Rita kept insisting “they hate me so much right now”, “I’m probably the most hated woman in Britain” and, when Simon wished Lucy Duffield good luck when she came on to sing at a point where all six chairs were occupied, Rita mumbled “good luck to me, more like”. For me, however, the clear low point was when she pulled the typical X Factor tactic of inventing absolute nonsense in the industry of self-justification: “Sorry, this is how it is, this industry’s crazy, this is exactly how it is”. I mean, I don’t doubt that the music industry is brutal and cut-throat but I’m pretty sure the music industry does not operate on a basis where only six artists can be signed at any one time, and in order to sign someone new, one of the existing six gets dropped.

Crowd Control: More than anything, though, it’s the audience at this stage that really unnerves me. They’re generally pretty sedate in the early stages – booing, cheering, the usual stuff. But once the chairs have been filled, they get really intimidating: constantly screaming not so much for a contestant to be kept around, but for someone to be dismissed in order to keep them. It really does have an air of bloodsports about it, a gladitorial games that makes me wonder what sort of person even goes to see this in the first place and whether we should really be allowing them to rejoin society afterwards. Again, Kelly’s audition was a good example of this – she biffed her chance and she knew it, I don’t think she really needed to hear an entire arena full of people shouting “off! off! off!” and I doubt Rita needed prompting either.

Contestant Craving: I suppose I should probably talk about the auditions themselves somewhere in all this, shouldn’t I? I think this round did at least serve a purpose in seeing how the contestants could handle themselves in front of an arena crowd without the sort of whistles and bells several of them were permitted in their first auditions. Most of them coped well: Karen Mav was a little off-pitch and a little out of control in her rendition of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, but she had such presence and charisma that it was disappointing to see her ditched for Kiera Weathers – especially knowing how that ended (not that I would’ve expected Karen to be much more of a votewinner than Kiera turned out to be). I felt disappointed in the short shrift given to Sharon Rose The Secret Shopper, whose calm and confident performance of James Bay’s ‘Let It Be’ was one of the highlights for me, but given Simon’s reaction to it I can only assume it was too understated for this show. Compare and contrast to Monica Michael, who absolutely painted her emotions for the back row with her performance of V Bozeman’s ‘What Is Love’ (which she went on to repeat in week three of the live shows without me even realising it at the time), and prompted Cheryl to ask Monica why she hadn’t done that last year. Sadly Monica did not answer “because this song hadn’t been released last year, you total ignoramus”. (Monica was another key figure in contributing to X Factor self-justification, announcing that she clearly wasn’t ready last year when she got kicked off at this stage. As opposed to Stephanie Anal, Chloe-Jasmine, Fishy Lola and Lauren Platt, all of whom were totally ripe for the big time as we’ve seen over the last 12 months.) I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Havva Rebka, although watching her repeatedly sing ‘No Diggity’ as “no dignity” was a bit unfortunate, however good the rest of the performance was. Meanwhile, there was a certain amount of “hilarious in hindsight” fun to be had from seeing future Top 9 Chart Sensation Louisa Johnson’s loud and precise but utterly characterless rendition of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’. “You’re gonna love me”, indeed. And best of all was seeing the look of “oh, FUCK” spreading over everyone’s faces when Lauren Murray was last out and absolutely slayed ‘Say You Love Me’ by Jessie Ware. As much as I dislike this format, it’s almost worth it for moments like that. Almost.

Next up, at some point: the boys.

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One thought on “The X Factor – Series 12: Six Chair Challenge (Part 1)

  1. Miles says:

    Don’t forget to recap the final

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