Girls! Girls! Girls! (Also some admin with the boys that takes over a third of the show.)
1. Déjà Vu All Over Again: The second half of the brave (/foolhardy) experiment that was semi-live judges’ houses gave us more of the same, in a very literal sense; because somebody decided that it would be tense and amazing to split Nick’s decision-making process between both episodes (it wasn’t), we had to sit through a lengthy recap of last night’s performances to remind us of the people he was choosing between. Caroline and Olly reflected on the fact that Nick had in fact had an extra hour beyond the time he was allotted because the clocks went back overnight, and apologised to him for not allowing him to do the whole thing on last night’s show, but they wanted to make him sweat because “it’s telly”. Is it? I must admit I was starting to wonder. Eventually he got to choosing, and his first selection was Mason Noise – at which point booing could be heard from the audience, making Mason the Russia of X Factor's Eurovision Song Contest. Actually, that’s unfair – Russia are accomplished villians, Mason’s more the Azerbaijan. Caroline told the audience not to boo, which of course just brought more attention to the booing in the first place. The second seat went to Ché Chesterman, which was slightly embarrassing because there were three screens at either side of the stage to show the faces of each finalist, and Seann Miley Moore’s face came up instead of Ché’s. So, either someone in the production gallery goofed and pressed the wrong button, or this whole thing isn’t quite as spontaneous as they would have us believe and Nick decided to go off-script. Either way, it did make the third selection rather anti-climactic, as we had to endure the other judges giving their advice and Nick facing that interminable 10-second countdown before announcing that his third finalist was…Seann Miley Moore. To be fair, even without the screen screw-up, it was inevitable that Seann would be the third finalist after all the investment the show had put into him – no way was Simon, Josh or Ben getting in over him. If it had been up to me, I would’ve left Mason until last for maximum drama. As Nick’s final three spoke about how excited they were to be in the finals, the audience was still booing Mason, but only half-heartedly, which was somehow funnier to me than if they’d been baying for his blood. Like, Mason was clearly intended to be this year’s big controversy, and even then people could barely bring themselves to care about it. (Also, all that had to happen in this entire segment was for Nick to read out three names and it still took THIRTY-TWO MINUTES.)
2. Trainoring Day: Finally, Rita’s girls (sorry, “females”) gathered at the airport to learn where they would be heading for, and trembling hands opened the envelope to reveal their destination was Los Angeles. There was much screaming and rejoicing, with a little pause from Lauren Murray to check whether LA is warm at this time of year or not, because she’d packed for heat, dammit. After a spot of sightseeing (Havva Rebke was very keen to get a selfie with the Hollywood sign), they headed to a rental house in the Hollywood hills to attend to business. Rita announced her guest judge for this portion of the competition, and hinted that it was someone “inspirational”, “creative”, “authentic” and “one of [her] dearest, kindest friends”. Imagine how disappointed you’d feel if you’d sat through that intro and then found out that it was, in fact, Meghan Trainor. I’d have been straight on the phone to Ofcom, Trading Standards, Amnesty International. Childline too, if I were Louisa. (She’s 17. Did you know that?)
3. Female Trouble: So, what did Rita’s top six females have to offer? Havva sang Drake’s ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ (I’m not familiar with the song but I assume he wrote it two-thirds of the way into a long roadtrip with the kids) and had her habitual problem where her idiosyncratic enunciation made her occasionally sound a little off-key, but she had warmth and charisma to spare. Meghan wasn’t a fan of her arm-waving, though. Monica Michael sang an original song about her brother, who drowned a few days after she got kicked off the show last year. I’m guessing that was a pretty rough week for Monica. At the risk of sounding uncharitable, it was a little simplistic, but you couldn’t deny it was heartfelt, and Monica had a lovely tone to her voice. Chloe “Cultural Appropriation” Paige (note: I’m pretty sure they digitally removed her problematic bindi when they did the flashback to her audition) sang ‘A Little Respect’ as a total dirge and earned herself a one-way ticket to the bin. For all the show would go on to claim that all six of them deserved a spot in the final, I think it’s just because they thought it would be unsporting to say that five of them did and make it clear that Chloe was the odd one out. She was followed by Kiera Weathers, who sang ‘Show Me Love’ and was so exciting that she prompted Rita to talk about how “reliable” she would be. Welp. Louisa Johnson went fifth, and was 17. After sobbing that not getting through would be the absolute worst thing to ever happen to everyone (17-year-olds and their lack of perspective ♥), Louisa sang a mellifluous but pretty hollow rendition of ‘Respect’ – she’s got pipes, but I’m not sure she’s got soul – and Meghan noted that she came alive when it got windy. Thanks Meghan. Finally, Lauren sang ‘Take Me Home’ by Jess Glynne (after walking up mouthing the first line over and over again so she wouldn’t forget it ♥), and I have no great love for the oeuvre of Ms Glynne but it’s always nice to hear her songs being performed by someone who can actually sing. After Lauren finished singing, Rita worried about her stage presence and whether she had the necessary magnetism to enrapture an audience week after week, which is a valid concern for an X Factor mentor but also entirely moot when you’re sitting next to the human brainfart that is Meghan Trainor. Meghan and Rita burned their tiny brains out wondering who to take through to the finals, and Meghan wondered why Rita couldn’t just take four people through. FORESHADOWING, WE SEE IT.
4. Decision Three: So we went back to the studio and JESUS CHRIST, MY EYES. Sorry, it’s just that this was the first point I actually caught sight of Rita’s outfit in full and it was such a horror show of clashing prints that I’m amazed she didn’t send the nation’s televisions into perma-strobe. She was serving harlequin realness, though I imagine she hadn’t intended to be funny. Rita got the easy choices out of the way first and picked obvious ringer Louisa followed by also-quite-ringery-just-not-as-much Lauren. I was willing to give Rita a fair bit of credit here for not wasting anyone’s time, but then she promptly burnt off all that goodwill by giving another long speech about “females” and the difficulty of being A Female in the music industry because people will always misunderstand your motives. I mean, I don’t wish to cast aspersions but I understand that Rita Ora is not widely liked in the showbiz industry and I don’t think it’s just because she’s a woman. ANYway, after delaying the inevitable for far too long, she opted to give her final spot to Kiera, who burst into tears. Havva, Monica and Chloe were all good sports about it and just said how much they wanted a girl to win this year, and vowed to all return in some shape or form. SOME SOONER THAN OTHERS. *theatrical wink*
5. Live And Let Die: So, what have we learned from this experiment? Apart from “it was a terrible idea and should never be repeated”? I think the main problem here was that the live studio decisions just didn’t generate the tension that they were clearly meant to, and I suspect the problem there was the sheer amount of filler – the endless referrals to the other judges to get their opinions, that utterly pointless 10-second countdown, the spontaneous self-justifying speeches when the show was already running over its timeslot – which just ended up deflating the whole thing. Also, while I can see the appeal of the idea of live decision-making, basing it on performances that had been recorded weeks ago robbed it of all spontaneity. And I know the producers had their hands forced slightly by ITV’s available timeslots, but running the Boys’ performances and Nick’s decisions on separate nights was an awful idea – it might have worked with one of the other categories, perhaps, but Nick’s top three seemed like the biggest foregone conclusion of the lot, so using him as the cliffhanger to encourage us to come back the following night was a mistake. So while I still think live judges’ houses could’ve been genuinely amazing TV if done properly, this halfway house attempt was not the way to do it.
Coming soon: the long, long, long overdue recap of the finale.