For the first time ever: LIVE! (Technically speaking.)
Oy, Judges’ Houses. Of the many areas where The X Factor dropped the ball this year, this one was perhaps the biggest mess. Early in the series we were promised “live judges’ houses”, which sounded like it had the potential to genuinely shake up the show and really re-energise this section. Whether the initial message was misinterpreted or whether they changed their plans when they realised that would be a logistical nightmare isn’t entirely clear, but it was eventually confirmed that the programme itself would be live, but the performances would be pre-recorded in glamorous locations as usual. As a result, we were served up a weird Frankenstein’s monster of a show, patched inelegantly together from too many sources, and hampered once again by ITV’s scheduling necessities that led to the two parts being unequally split. Let’s look in more detail:
Structurally Unsound: “How’s it all going to work?” asked Caroline at the top of the show. How indeed. Well, as I mentioned above, the performances were carried out in a variety of international destinations (except Nick’s, which we’ll get to presently), and Olly explained that the judges have never yet seen them played out on a big screen or in front of a live audience. No, but they were there, Olly. The judges were there, in person, watching the performances at the time and almost certainly making their minds up there and then. Sure, maybe their resolve has wobbled a bit in the meantime but very little of this is going to come as any great surprise to them. (Mind you, this didn’t stop Cheryl from saying that there were “a few unexpected things” in the performances. YOU WERE THERE, YOU TWIT.) Really, all this means is that they’ve had a chance to see how the viewing audience at home responded to these acts and they now have a get-out clause if somebody they thought was a sure thing turned out not to be so popular.
So we spent the vast majority of the show watching replays of the Judges’ Houses performances, occasionally with the artists’ reactions being shown in a little box-out in the bottom corner of the screen. Then we were supposed to cut back to the studio for the live decision, but there was a staggering amount of padding surrounding this. First all six acts were invited to plead their case to their mentor as to why they should be selected, while the audience cheered and screamed and generally drowned out most of what they were saying. Then the mentor got to pick two of their acts, but only two. Why? Because after that, the other judges were consulted on who the third act should be. As were the audience. Then there was an inexplicable 10-second countdown after which the mentor was supposed to announce the third act, except none of them ever seemed to take the end of the countdown as any sort of cue. Honestly. ALL. OVER. THE. PLACE.
Studio Politics: Actually, a lot of the activity in the studio seemed fairly inessential, despite it being where all of the important decisions took place. Every time we cut back to Caroline and Olly, it felt like we were just delaying the stuff that we’d actually tuned in to see, and every conversation with the judges about how hard this must be, how they’d been having sleepless nights and so on, just felt like the sort of thing they usually do in the results show to fill time when the votes are being verified – only there wasn’t any reason for this, because they wasn’t any sort of phone-in, it was just a fairly pointless attempt to add tension into an already overextended concept.
The other problem was that the whole concept of “the judges must watch the performances back and then decide who to put through” was completely undermined by the structure of the show. I appreciate that ITV had their hands tied in this series, scheduling-wise, by the Rugby World Cup, but the choice to make one episode two hours and 25 minutes long while the second was a mere 90 meant that the whole thing felt hopelessly unbalanced: we saw Cheryl and Simon watch their categories’ performances back and pick their top three on the spot, and then we watched Nick watch his category back…only for him to have to make his decisions at the start of the next show. If this was an attempt at a cliffhanger, it was a poor one: it just felt like a bit of a fizzle-out of an ending. For all that Nick tried to claim that having the best part of a day to mull over his decision made the whole thing harder, it felt more like he had the easiest job of everyone because he could go home and double-check the whole thing on Sky+ if he had any doubts – an opportunity Simon and Cheryl wouldn’t have, and one that wasn’t going to be afforded Rita either. It just felt like the programme had been built around the time available, which it probably had, but that just made me think back to the days when it would be utterly inconceivable that The X Factor wouldn’t be ITV’s number one priority. It was also handled fairly nonsensically on air, with Nick announcing at the top of his section that he’d be making his final decisions tomorrow, but Caroline throwing to an ad-break midway through by saying “in a minute we’ll see the last of the performances and then Nick will have to choose who’s in his final three”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally take “and then” to mean “in the next episode, tomorrow”.
That said, there was one utterly delightful, entirely unscripted moment in the programme: when Simon was about to pick the third and final contestant that he would take through to the live shows, Caroline and Olly asked Cheryl if she had any advice for Simon. Cheryl, in that moment, was busy gassing away to one of Alien Uncovered, and not paying attention in the slightest.
LOL BUSTED. (And thanks to Twitter’s Andi McLellan for sourcing the gif for me.)
Group Activity: Cheryl went first, and had to explain that somehow every single act had to change their name “for legal reasons”. I can understand that with Alien, for example, but I’m struggling to accept that Menn On Point was already claimed. Anyway: Alien are now Alien Uncovered, The First Kings are now New Kings Order (what?), Silver Tone are now Melody Stone, BEKLN are now BEKLN Mile, Menn On Point are Reggie ‘n’ Bollie, 4th Power are now 4th Impact, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Cheryl’s groups were taken to Rome, where they sadly did not perform in the Coliseum (although they did stop by en route to take some selfies), and where they were even more regrettably joined by Jess Glynne as Cheryl’s advisor. Jess Glynne would go on to offer such invaluable insights as “they’ve got the best voices”, “they’ve all got different qualities that are great”, “they’re so nice” and “I’m not sure they’re ready”. Thanks Jess Glynne.
4th Impact went first and sang ‘Love The Way You Lie’, which had some nice harmonies but didn’t offer the same, well, impact as most of their earlier auditions. Alien Uncovered performed Usher’s ‘Bad Girl’ while brandishing magazines with “Alien News” on the front of them (let this be a lesson to you: wait until your name has been approved by Legal before getting your props made), which was a bit of a mess vocally but performance-wise was everything 4th Impact should have been doing. Melody Stone sang ‘Heaven’ by Emeli Sandé and sounded the most professional of the lot, but were kind of boring. BEKLN Mile sang ‘Lay Me Down’ by Sam Smith, which ought to have been an instant elimination on grounds of taste, and gave a decent vocal with no real stage presence. Reggie ‘n’ Bollie sang ‘Twist And Shout’ and it sounded like the vocals were given a bit of a hand in post-production. Finally, New Kings Order were down one voice after one of them (I still don’t know which one, sorry) fell ill, but soldiered on to sing ‘This I Promise You’ by N*Sync, and Cheryl was pleased to see them just relying on their vocals for once rather than showy presentation.
Back in the studio, the time (eventually) came for Cheryl to select her acts. 4th Impact were first through, followed by “Alien” (guess those name changes are going to take some getting used to). Then, after a brief lecture in which Cheryl congratulated everyone in her category for getting this far, and herself for picking all the right people in the first place (OH CHERYL), she picked Reggie ‘n’ Bollie for her third act. And because this all took so long, we only had time to speak to New Kings Order at the end, so we’ll never know how BEKLN Mile and Melody Stone felt about their eliminations. Oh well.
Overs Indulged: Next was Simon with the Overs, and the promise of A GHOST (or “someone random walking into shot”, which is what it mostly looked like) at his location. This was after an awkward interlude where Caroline told us that she’d been asked to clarify that these were not the judges’ actual houses, claiming that this came from Simon because he wouldn’t want us to think he lived in a dump like this hahahahaha – and then Simon confirmed that he had actually just bought this property. Anyway, they were off to rural France to be joined by NotSinitta in the form of One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, Bupsi’s guesses of Simon’s advisor being “Oprah” or “Trevor McDonald from News At Ten” being a little wide of the mark.
Conveniently, Jennifer Phillips was up first singing ‘Drag Me Down’ by One Direction. She was nervous about singing this in front of Louis, even though the amount of singing he does in 1D is negligible. Her nerves clearly got to her, because she was squeaky and had poor breath control. Next up was Ebru Ellis, who never expected to be here, which was appropriate because I don’t think anyone even remembered she was there. She sang ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran, which also seemed to have received a little bit of a post-production upgrade. Bupsi was next and sang ‘Pony’ by Ginuwine and ought to have won the entire series on the spot, really, which only makes what happened to her in the live shows even more appalling. Max Stone then ruined everything by singing an acoustic cover of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ which was the whitest thing I’ve ever heard. Kerri-Anne Phillips sang ‘Best Of My Love’ and did a decent job of it, but I feel like the song choice took her out of the running right from the off. Finally, Anton Stephans sang ‘Superstar’ by The Carpenters and it was an absolute royale with cheese, but it was good to see he’d already mastered the art of looking earnestly into the camera.
Simon said that watching it back had made it harder – well, whose fault was that? Quite rightly, he put Bupsi through first, followed by Anton, who clearly had the most crowd support. Simon said that he’d narrowed it down to two people for the final slot, and eventually claimed to have changed his mind at the last second to put Max through. I can only assume he’d originally earmarked Jennifer until he watched it back? I can’t imagine Kerri-Anne or Ebru were ever really in with a shot.
Wander Boys: Finally, we got to Nick and the boys, who would not be leaving the UK, presumably because of Nick’s Radio 1 commitments. Instead, he took them off to the country in a helicopter, much to the distress of Ché Chesterman who spent the entire time throwing up due to his debilitating fear of heights. Oops. There was also the small matter of Tom Bleasby having dropped out, so “Nick” decided to bring back Mason Noise. Mason Noise who never even had a seat at the Six Chair Challenge. Sucks to be Nathanael Landskroner, who lost his seat to Tom in the first place. Anyway, the other five boys were all forced (possibly at gunpoint) to do a VT saying how much Mason had clearly been humbled by his experiences at the Six Chair Challenge, and then Nick introduced his special guest: superstar producer Mark Ronson.
Seann Miley Moore went first and sang ‘This Woman’s Work’. It was a good performance, but I’m a little over guys doing strained renditions of that on talent shows just to prove they can falsetto. Simon Lynch went second, singing ‘Too Lost In You’ by Sugababes with a cut-glass accent, and getting called “Twilight” by Mark because…he’s pale, I guess? Mason Noise attempted to prove he isn’t the megadouche he’s been portrayed as so far by…singing ‘Lost Without U’ by Robin Thicke. Ooh, a swing and a miss there. Bland Bland Ben Clark was next, singing ‘Yours’ by Ella Henderson entirely unmemorably. Ché Chesterman sang his mum and dad’s wedding song which turned out to be ‘Don’t Know Much’ by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville (CHEEEEEEESE), and finally Josh Daniel sang ‘Style’ by Taylor Swift without gender-switching the lyrics. It wasn’t the strongest vocal of the night, but honestly I would have put him through just for not worrying about gay panic. Also, I’m not suggesting that this category is kind of homogenous but nearly everyone sang either in a giant coat (INDOORS) or a white shirt and black jeans. Come on guys, mix it up a little.
Next: Nick’s decisions, and Rita Ora. Not really worth coming back for, is it?