The X Factor – Series 12: The Final Part 1

Yes, it really has been sat on my Sky+ box since December. Never doubt my commitment to the cause.

Yes, I’m aware that this is even more ridiculously late than last time, but in my defence I have a full-time job and a wedding to plan, so writing up what happened at the end of a singing competition I didn’t feel any particular connection to last year in the first place was never really at the top of my list of priorities. But now, over five months after the finale aired (and just in time for Louisa to release her first post-X Factor single), I’m finally getting myself all caught up. And I’m going to make a virtue (of sorts) of the tardiness of this post by examining what an X Factor final looks like when you go back to it cold, as opposed to going in after months of build-up. Shall we?

Ché Chesterman

The first problem I had going back to watch the final was my inability to remember whether there were two contestants left at this point or three, which is either a damning indication of the lack of lasting impression left on me by Ché Chesterman, or just a sign that I’m getting old. Ché started us off, in classic X Factor final style, by going back to Essex in a great big bus. (Point of interest: Ché is from Basildon and Louisa is from Thurrock. They’re about 15 minutes apart by road. If their battle buses both visited on the same day, I bet they created a right little tailback.) We got a bit of journey bookending as we were told that Ché once sang in assembly when he was in Year 7, and now he’s singing in assembly as an X Factor finalist (and it’s only just occurring to me that school assemblies seem like such a low-rent gig for people they’re trying to convince us are on the brink of pop superstardom. I didn’t go to one of those schools where up-and-coming pop acts would occasionally get sent on promotional tours, but my understanding is that it usually happened a long time before their first single came out). Ché caught up with his dad, Ché Sr, and talked about how “things like this don’t happen to people like us.” Spoiler: indeed they don’t.

I don’t think Ché was ever in much danger of winning the competition, and I think his first performance is a pretty good argument in favour of the show having no clear idea of how to market him. He sang ‘Valerie’ (Amy Winehouse version), which as song choices go is agreeably on-brand, but the staging was absolutely baffling: it took place in “Ché’s Diner” complete with giant prop burgers and dancing girls playing…sexy burger toppings? I WISH I WAS KIDDING. Simon was quick to say that the concept made no sense to him and was promptly booed by the audience for saying so, then he called Ché “the underdog” and got booed for that as well. I know that anything that even remotely resembles criticism of any kind must be booed on reality TV, but calling someone an underdog is not criticism. (Also Cheryl’s feedback included the line “I hate to use the cliché word ‘journey'”, because Cheryl’s all about the fresh and original feedback.) Nick wrapped things up for the first round by pointing out that this is the seventh live performance of Ché’s life, which just served to remind us how the format was total garbage this year.

Ché’s comeback chance came in the duet round where he was given the opportunity to sing ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ with Rod Stewart. Poor Ché, he never stood a chance, did he? Nothing says “current and relevant” like someone whose last top 10 hit in this country was as in 1997 as a guest vocalist with N-Trance. (The Helping Haiti charity single doesn’t count, it was a group effort.) Rod’s level of investment in Ché was evidenced when Olly asked him what it was like to work with “our man Ché” and Rod replied “we only had one rehearsal this afternoon”. He attempted to frame this as some sort of monument to Ché’s professionalism, that this was all they needed. I don’t think he fooled anyone.

As the only finalist who had been in the bottom two at all – and been there twice, for that matter – it was no great surprise to see Ché sent on his merry way at the end of Saturday’s show. Everyone involved, up to and including Ché, seemed to have anticipated this outcome, and Nick said that he felt so blessed to have been given an act like Ché “in my first year”. Well, at least it was funny in hindsight.

Reggie ’n’ Bollie

Reggie ’n’ Bollie’s battle bus back to Farnborough got a little bit sidetracked – not by their wives fighting but by The X Factor’s endless belief that Cheryl is the most fascinating person in any scenario where she might be present. As a result, while we got a brief sampling of Reggie ’n’ Bollie and their fans and their families, an awful lot of this segment happened to be about Wonderful Cheryl taking a chance on them when no one else would. Even their second VT, leading into their duet was full of Cheryl crying about how much she believed in them from day one. I didn’t even dislike Cheryl that much this year, but still: it’s okay sometimes for things not to be about her, you know?

For their first performance, they gave us ‘Spice Up Your Life’ with a carnival beat, which then segued into ‘Boom Boom Boom’ by the Outhere Brothers, which didn’t really do a lot to quell the nagging feeling that Reggie ’n’ Bollie are a novelty act – a fun, high quality novelty act, but a novelty act nonetheless. It felt like something that you’d see third on the bill at a Student Union Summer Ball: something everyone would enjoy going mad to for 20 minutes, but not necessarily the act that sells the tickets. Simon found it all very strange and suggested that they need to be careful with their vocals, while Nick claimed that “the biggest artists in the world” don’t get the reaction that Reggie ’n’ Bollie just got. I feel like Nick needs to be followed around by a giant ‘CITATION NEEDED’ bracket. Rita worried that she might be the most hated person ever for saying this (hey, wait until people think you’re Becky With The Good Hair, hon), but she found it all a bit “cruise ship”. Cheryl’s handling of this? “AH WANNA GO TO WHATEVER CROOZE SHIPS REETAH GOES TO AN SIMON SPICE UP YAH LIFE MATE.” Thanks, Cheryl.

Reggie ’n’ Bollie technically got two celebrity guests for their duet round, because they never just stick to one song and they’re not about to start now. They began with a reprise of ‘Dangerous Love’ which they sang in Love & Heartbreak week, but this time accompanied by Fuse ODG, and then they were joined by Craig David for ‘Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’ (#justice4artfuldodger). By far the best part of this came once the song was over, and Caroline took to the stage to fangirl massively at Craig David, while Craig congratulated Cheryl on “finding this talent”, like she’d been out on the A&R trail hanging out in clubs watching people play to audiences of <20 in the hope of just finding the next big thing. Still, this was the best match-up of contestant to guest artist, in that Reggie ’n' Bollie managed to hold their own on the stage and still maintain some semblance of being the stars.

Louisa Johnson Is 17

Again, I don’t know if this says more about the show or about my memory, but when I went back to this episode I started at Louisa for a good five minutes trying to remember her name. Was it Lauren? Ella? Susan? I realise I’m probably increasingly irrelevant to the demographic that they’re targeting, but it still can’t be a good thing if I can’t remember the winner’s name five months later when I’m looking right at her. (I had a similar sensation when she popped up on the Britain’s Got Talent final this weekend. Who’s that? She looks familiar in an unspecific way…) Louisa’s hometown visit was the best, not because of Louisa or Rita, but because of the visit to Louisa’s old primary school where one very excitable little boy breathlessly told the cameras that he “NEVER THOUGHT THIS DAY WOULD COME”. Chafford Hundred: hard at work on the next generation of drama queens.

Louisa’s first performance was incredibly subtle in its messaging: she sang ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, dressed in white, atop a staircase, with everyone around her also in white, surrounded by dry ice. Just in case you didn’t quite pick up on the subliminal direction there, Simon and Rita helped us out by saying in their comments afterwards that they were pretty sure Louisa was literally an angel. I’m surprised they didn’t go the whole hog and give her wings and a halo. For my money, the performance felt a little too familiar: even the riffs felt like the same riffs I’ve seen other people do on this track before, but I suppose that’s unavoidable with a song as overdone as this.

Louisa was the only contestant who got to resurrect the concept of the “mentor duet” this year as she performed ‘And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)’ with Rita. I’m not going to say that Rita isn’t a talented singer, but there are some songs that don’t really suit her voice, and I’m inclined to say that this is one of them. And, since all of Louisa’s performances in the final carried a general sense of déjà vu with them, this is not the first time someone’s celebrity duet has been a song from Dreamgirls, and Rita shouting “sing it baby” at Louisa as they rounded the final corner only served to reinforce the unflattering comparisons. I might have been able to stomach the shameless retread of the series five final if it hadn’t been for Rita going on to claim that the only contestant to have made this level of impact on the show before Louisa was Leona, completely ignoring the contestant whose most impactful moment she’d just stolen wholesale. In the bin with you, Rita Ora.

Incidentally, the actual best moment of Louisa’s on the performance show didn’t come during the performances, but at the end when she learned she was through to Sunday night’s final stage, and Caroline informed her that she loved “your face reaction”. Indeed.

Best Of British Guest Stars

The line-up of guest performers for the final was a strong one, but big-hitters Adele and One Direction were being kept for Sunday night so we were left with the slightly less exciting end of the equation in this show. Up first were Ben Haenow and Leona Lewis, duetting on his new single ‘Slamming Doors’ and her old single ‘Run’, and serving as a prime example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”, because they are both singers whose voices I quite enjoy in isolation, but they did not blend well in the slightest. Ben in particular really suffered from trying to keep up, and I think he owes Leona a drink for singing loud enough to drown him out when he was clearly going off-key. This performance was another part of the show that didn’t play so well five months later, as Caroline rounded off the performance by saying to Ben “that was your new single and you’re on tour next year”, knowing as we do now that neither of those things ever ended up actually happening.

The next mash-up of former finalists came from Fleur East joining Little Mix for the evening to perform ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Sax’ together. They worked much better together than Ben and Leona did, but personally I thought Fleur outperformed them by a considerable margin, which may not have been the case if Little Mix hadn’t been miming the chorus. I’m not their greatest fan by any means, but they sang live every week while they were actually on the show and it never seemed to give them any problems, and it’s not as if their dance routine was that energetic, so I didn’t really understand why they were miming here, back on the show that made them, of which the whole point is people singing live every week.

And for our final performance of the evening? Rod Stewart. Again. This time singing ‘Stay With Me Tonight’. This one baffled me, to be honest. I can understand Strictly Come Dancing booking him to perform every year (/trying to book him as a contestant and booking his wife instead when that didn’t work out) because their demographic skews older and he probably plays right into the heartland for them, but is Rod Stewart really that relevant to the young audience that The X Factor was clearly courting when it signed up Nick Grimshaw and Rita Ora? I just can’t see it. Rod Stewart feels very off-brand for whatever it is that this show is trying to be at this point, and as a capper to the second biggest show of the year, just felt like another example of what a very confused and confusing series this was.

Coming soon: I write up Louisa’s win, just in time for the show to start again.

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