The X Factor – Series 12: Six Chair Challenge (Part 2)

Boy oh boy oh boy. (And a couple of groups thrown in at the end for good measure.)

Well, these certainly aren’t getting any timelier, are they? But I have resolved to get a blog post up for every episode of this series even if we’ve reached Boot Camp in series 13 by the time I’ve finished, and gosh darn it I will make it happen. (Just don’t go expecting me to finish my blog posts on Survivor: Cambodia because I think that ship has sailed at this point. Maybe I should just stop assuming I’m ever going to have time to recap a full autumn season of Survivor.) So if you’re still with me at this point, bless you for your dedication, however misplaced it may be. Anyway, let’s move on to the second episode of the Six Chair Challenge, which mostly comprised of Nick Grimshaw sorting the boys from the, er, boys and Cheryl filtering out a few groups for the sake of variation.

Sequence Gown: (Yes, that is a fairly niche RuPaul’s Drag Race reference, in case you were wondering.) I think one of the biggest flaws of the Six Chair Challenge as a format – if you overlook the part where it’s horribly manipulative and utterly barbaric – is how the sequencing makes for disappointingly dull television. For the most part, it’s not really worth getting terribly attached to the contestants who are rolled out first, because these are not the ones who will still be standing at the end. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part they are fodder: the contestants that we have been groomed to love over the audition process will be kept for the very end, when all the chairs are full, so that we can all be aghast to see this clear frontrunner walking out to audition when all six chairs are already full, meaning that one of these incredibly talented people already sitting down must get booted. As a result, the first 45 minutes or so of each round require us to sit through auditions for people who will be dismissed by the end of the episode, and crises such as the one we were faced with in this episode – Nick sending home his first four contestants, prompting Simon to conclude that his category must be rubbish and Rita and Cheryl to fret that he might not be able to get six boys through at all – have no weight because we know there will be loads of ringers left for the end. Which there were. I’m wise to you, show.

Audience Participation: I mentioned in the previous post that the arena audience’s involvement in this section is more of a hindrance than a help. I can appreciate why the producers want them there, because it ratchets up the tension in the moment, but after watching this episode I can’t help feeling that the audience has a little too much power. When they start a “bring him back!” chant for a particular contestant – in this case, Tom Bleasby the 19-year-old student in seat #1 who was turfed out so Nick could seat dadrock borefest Ben Clark – some of the judges will feel compelled to listen to the audience and bring that contestant back for another go. This is exactly what happened to Tom, who Nick apologetically called back and put in seat #5, turfing out the excellently-named Nathanael Landskroner instead. (Which, in all fairness, is the decision he should have made in the first place – I like Nathanael, and he really does have a brilliant name that I want to hear shouted out in the live shows, but his performance of ‘I Have Nothing’ was pretty weak and once Papasidero – a novelty contestant on similarly shaky ground – had been booted, Nathanael was the obvious next choice to get ditched.) But this meant that Nick was clearly too intimidated by the crowd to get rid of Tom again, even though a) Tom’s trilly falsetto voice isn’t that great, and nobody’s going to want to listen to a whole album of it, and b) it meant that Nick ended up with both Tom and Ché Chesterman sitting in the six chairs at the end when they are basically two examples of the same contestant trope. Now sure, you could argue that the solution to this is to hire judges who are less spineless than Nick, but clearly the show wants them to occasionally have a wobble over their choices for the sake of drama. The problem is having the audience there, not only chanting for someone to get a seat or for someone to dismissed, but all actively suggesting which contestant should be de-seated in order to accommodate the latest favourite. The atmosphere at the Six Chair Challenge can get pretty heated, and I don’t particularly trust the audience there to be the shrewdest of judges of talent, so listening to what they want too much can be a dangerous game. The audience gets to have its say when you open up the phone lines in the live shows – by all means consult them before that happens, but the ultimate decision should be the show’s, not the audiences.

Too Much Noise: It’s fun to look at this episode in the context of the series as a whole when considering The Mason Noise Incident, because it ended up hanging over him for his entire stay on the show. It started out well enough, with a brief recap of his audition where Rita gave him a lap dance, followed by a medley of Blackstreet’s ‘Fix’ and Justin Timberlake’s ‘SexyBack’ (complete with some sort of hype-man who came out for the second half), but then Mason decided to give himself A Moment. And, apparently not trusting the producers to show it (as if they could resist such delicious drama), he encouraged the audience to film it on their phones because “they ain’t gonna throw 5000 people out”. Mason’s complaint was that he’d watched his own audition go out the previous Saturday, and he was Outraged Of Tunbridge Wells to discover that he had only received 47 seconds of airtime, compared to the full 10 minutes that some others had been given. Now, considering how many people don’t get shown at all at this stage and only appear for the very first time at Boot Camp, 47 seconds doesn’t seem too shabby to me, and it seemed that the audience – who had loved his performance here, don’t get me wrong – didn’t feel particularly cheated by this revelation. In fact, as Simon curtly informed Mason that the show’s production team work incredibly hard to edit the whole thing together and that his attempt to shame them for doing their jobs was unwelcome, they turned against Mason and started booing him. Mason hadn’t quite prepared for this turn of events – “you shouldn’t be booing! I’m doing this for entertainment! I’m doing this for artists!” – and, once even his hype-man had started encouraging him to cut his losses and go, Mason refused Simon’s final offer to apologise to the production team, did a *literal* mic drop, and flounced off. The best part of all of this? That Nick, whose category this still is, didn’t actually have any involvement in this whole process other than to mention afterwards that Mason would’ve got a seat if he hadn’t acted like such a dick. If this had been the coda to Mason Noise’s story, it would still have been satisfying, but as the midpoint of a journey that left him grovelling an apology to the nation for his behaviour, it was absolutely magical.

Some Song Choices Should Be Grounds For Automatic Dismissal: Yes, I’m talking to you Tom Davies, with your Chris Brown song. And you, Ollie Marland, with ‘Marvin Gaye’ by Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor. We need to draw a line in the sand to make sure future auditionees know that there is some shit that is just completely unforgivable.

Group Decision: So when Nick had finally narrowed down his boys to Ben Clark, Ché Chesterman, Josh Daniel, Simon Lynch, Tom Bleasby and Seann Miley Moore, there was just enough time left for Cheryl to make a start on the groups. It was a bit jarring to go back to the days where Reggie ‘n’ Bollie were called Menn On Poinnte (although I think of all the name-changes that happened before live shows, that was one that was definitely for the better) and 4th Impact were called 4th Power, but it was interesting to see how this category actually defied the odds by putting so many of its big hitters on early: the acts that first filled the six chairs were Menn On Poinnte, Alien, Rumour Has It, 4th Power, Mon Amie and the First Kings – which we know with the benefit of hindsight to include the three acts who made live shows. Which sort of undermines my rant about sequencing earlier in this recap. Dammit, X Factor. You got me again.

Next: Cheryl has more groups to see but also six occupied chairs, and Simon grits his teeth and gets through the seniors.


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