Oct 12

Taking The Positives

FT/11 comments • 679 views

X-Factor 2012 Live Shows, Week 1

Last year I managed only two weeks of this before the faffery and tedium of the AGE OF BARLOW drove me away. So let’s see what happens this time. As usual I haven’t watched a second of the auditions, judges’ houses, etc – this is my first encounter with all the contestants.

The narrative around the X-Factor this year is one of decline – the show’s losing viewers, the format (apparently) feels tired. Also, while it’s the biggest entertainment TV draw in the UK just about, like Premiership football it took a bit of a moral hiding this year from sanctimonious Olympics-inspired columnists, keen to elevate people who run and jump over people who sing and dance. (Big secret: you can like both). Against the Real Role Models Of Sport the show ranges its usual parade of worthies and wasters – perhaps fewer of the latter this time, though. It also converts “Heroes Week” into “Heroes Week (Inspired By The Olympics)” though nobody does “Bonkers” so it’s no Olympics *I* remember.

So what happened?

District 3: Close-harmonising boy band dropped into the series-opening doomsday slot. Technically proficient (I guess), devoid of much personality, they weren’t bad but their cannon-fodder status became more obvious as the show proceeded. If someone had to do “The Best” – and almost certainly someone did – probably better it not be a belter. “Take the positives”, as the sports folk say.

James Arthur: As we’ll see there’s something of a back-to-basics vibe to parts of this line-up and this guy would have fitted safely into that – until a sudden switch into rap midway through “Stronger” (the Kelly C one). Not necessarily a well-advised switch, mind you. A stolid performer without much of an angle that I could see, but he’ll tick along for a few weeks.

Melanie Masson: By some distance the most convincing rock performer the X-Factor has ever had – the faintest of praise, this, considering the competition – but I liked her lung-shredding tilt at “With A Little Help From My Friends”, a slick, theatrical take on the Joe Cocker version. I don’t know whether there’s much room for improvement or variety, though.

Lucy Spraggan: The first live finalist ever to play their own song, which takes a bit of gumption, and this was far less terrible than it might have been (imagine a Matt Cardle type being given that chance, and shudder) – Spraggan is down the raconteur end of singer-songwriting and the song’s main weakness was the need to bolt on a soaraway chorus. I never want to hear it again but I didn’t feel that while it was actually playing, which counts as some sort of win. Tulisa’s got the likely winner (see below) so good for her trying things out with her other picks.

MK1: So kitchen-sink was Louis Walsh’s approach, and so energetically confused were the performers, that I completely missed the Hot Chocolate bits in this. Unless Wikipedia is just lying. Excitable duo who look good but have too little chemistry or control at the moment to pull off the potential odd-couple act.

Christopher Maloney: Saved from a previous axe by a Wildcard vote, apparently. He can sing, he’s playing the nice guy card, he’ll be around a while, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about him. One of the contestants who feels like a bit of a throwback to series past, happy to be there and sincerely roll out the big tunes until his number is finally called.

Union J: Were a three-piece until the inevitable Harry Styles lookalike was parachuted in. Unfortunately, what he adds in tousle-haired teen appeal he subtracts vocally: he’s bloody awful. So are at least two of his bandmates, making an attack on a Freddie Mercury song horribly wrong-headed. The judges blamed it on the staging, quite wrongly – a misconceived act from Louis Walsh, lazy on several levels.

Jade Ellis
: Commanding, slightly torchy go at Enrique’s “Hero”, a song I despair of ever liking but this was at least close. Never quite inched across the line between “decent” and “attention-grabbing”. Excellent hair, I thought.

Rylan Clark: Follows in the largely unlamented footsteps of Diva Fever, except the song choice (and arrangement) was even more Almighty Records style hi-NRG, a poppers-o-clock version of “Gold” complete with much Egyptological mumming. Amidst ample glitz, fierceness by the yard, only BARLOW is willing to point out the dreadful truth, that Rylan can’t sing for toffee. Affably rotten, but take him out of the picture and the show starts losing its excuses for spectacle.

Kye Sones: The line-up this year is short on heels – there’s nobody I love to hate, nobody I even just hate. This fellow comes close but only because I could not work out his game – where was the angle? Then I realised of course there is no angle – he’s a pub singer at heart, tweaking and adjusting his approach to fit the audience. At one point he did what looked like a duck walk – hurrah – but there’s something a little creepy about him, too eager to please.

Ella Henderson: Imperiously fine and controlled version of “Rule The World” from 16-year old prodigy. Good, though not as spine-tingling as the judges claimed, but obviously miles ahead in technique and probably commitment. The show might become a coronation quicker than it hopes, so I woudn’t be surprised if shenanigans change her ‘narrative’ midway to add tension.

Carolynne Poole: Transformed “Starships” into a pop-country song, which made perfect sense once the judges had explained what it was meant to be. Nothing to say about its performer. “We’ve never had a UK country singer on the X-Factor” said Louis. And we’ve also never had a UK polka specialist. A footnote in waiting.

Jahmene Douglas: A likeable lad with – like Ella – tons of control and class. Reality pop shows are – in the minds of those not watching – orgies of Mariah-style exploded melismatic runs, but they’re actually very rare. Jahmene is the first time in years I’ve seen it done and he did it very entertainingly, losing his shit and jumping 3 octaves up. Again, it’s back to basics – and anyhow crowd-pleasing gymnastics on “Imagine” are a lot better than a reverent shot at it.

So, that was that. I don’t think this line-up is what the show needs to win back fans. On first showing only Jahmene or more likely Ella can win it. Both are good, Ella is terrifically impressive when you factor her age in, but neither is thrilling (yet). Several contestants haven’t really come into focus, and there’s nobody I could call a favourite or really detest. I dozed off writing about it. A quietly competent year might suit Gary’s managerial side – he came down hard on Rylan, the one stab at outright showmanship – but Cowell HQ is likely to be nervous. Expect gimmickry to come.


  1. 1
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 Oct 2012 #

    Jahmene’s melisma sounded like it was inserted randomly and technologically, except the technology had gone mad and was getting madder and couldn’t be turned off. Naturally I liked this.

  2. 2
    byebyepride on 7 Oct 2012 #

    I enjoyed this more than I was expecting, having skipped all of last season, and almost all of the pre-live show stages this time round.

    Tick vg goes to: Melanie, Ella, Carolynne
    Enjoyably OTT: Rylan, MK1
    Potentially interesting: Jade
    WTF: James Arthur, Lucy Spraggan
    Yawn: Jahmene, Union J, C Maloney
    Creepy: Kye

  3. 3
    Tom on 7 Oct 2012 #

    I’d have got it wrong if I had ventured a prediction – of course if voting is allowed from the beginning the opening-slot curse no longer applies, and a forgettable contestant near the end is, essentially, fucked.

    But I did at least get the footnote part right.

  4. 4
    Andrew F on 9 Oct 2012 #

    byebyepride – if you saw nothing last year, have a go of this.

  5. 5
    pink champale on 9 Oct 2012 #

    union j – quite likeable, but really no good. (and terrible name)
    district 3, not very likeable, not very good either.
    maloney – aaargh! ever so ‘umble, doing it for his family, entire head goes red at key points. most likely to go postal.
    james arthur – i agree with BARLOW. clearly had an artistic vision at audition state (tortured intensity, not actually nice to watch) now made over into blandness. restore the nan glasses NOW!
    carolynne – the dullest, so rightfully the first off.
    kye – i know it’s not right to dislike him on the strength of his face. but i do. the name doesn’t help either, nor the hair.
    lucy spraggan – clearly a future as a professional songwriter (okay, i’d hate her songs if they were on the radio, but what she does she does well). not much future on the show i think – abba week would not be pretty.
    ella h – erm, she’s good isn’t she? and not even boring.
    MK1 – missing the audition stage means you missed their foundation myth. the third member, a do-gooding youth worker in his mid-thirties gamely mucking in. the judges asked him to step down, he nobly sacrificed himself for the sake of their dream and “thirty three percent of everything you make”. every time they perform i see him there like banquo at the feast.
    rylan – quite fun to have around. BARLOW doesn’t seem to have noticed he can sing better than anyone in the boybands.
    jade – her hair was better before the makeover, i think her singing might have been too.
    melanie massan – she really does belt it out every single time. so far to enjoyable effect.
    jahmene – looks endearingly like a ventriloquists dummy. sukrat has how he sounds spot on.

  6. 6
    Another Pete on 14 Oct 2012 #

    Aren’t MK1 just Thompson Twins Juniors or at least appearance wise. (More so if they had the third member)

  7. 7
    Tom on 14 Oct 2012 #

    I missed this yesterday because I was in the black hole of IKEA. So no recaps! I heard it was better than last week tho.

  8. 8
    Billy Hicks on 15 Oct 2012 #

    Surely Chico beats Lucy Spraggan to performing their own song by seven years? I’m sure ‘It’s Chico Time’ was on the show months before it came out as a single.

  9. 9
    Tom on 15 Oct 2012 #

    Chico was Pop Idol though! In the wider annals of Reality Pop performing yr own songs isn’t new – Fame Adademy was partly based on it!

  10. 10
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 15 Oct 2012 #

    From memory: save-yrselves sing-off items in bold

    union j: the boys groups are unusually uninteresting this year
    district 3: woefully out of tune in the sing-off, but the judges were plainly favouring youth and malleability over melanie’s experience and consolidated style
    maloney: BORELOW called him “the people’s vote” at one point (as the reason judges mustn’t criticise him) which was even more arsey than the arsey heights GB usually patrols
    james arthur: can do very effective actual total massive emotional turmoil and break-down, quite striking, possibly authentic, could get exhausting to watch (i have an affection for him while not much liking his music)
    kye: totally failed to stay in tune, should have been in the vote-off, one among us KNEW HIM IN SCHOOL
    spragbot: a pal tweeted “COMPO RAPS” during her version of kanye — i kind of enjoyed it in a perverse wtf way
    ella h: unimpeachable, esp. hitting those absurdly exposed ultrasonic queen-of-the-night notes — the fact that she’s so ahead of the field is probably responsible for the producers upping the ante trolling the judges (esp BORELOW) (louis meanwhile is becoming smaller and dafter, like a sponge rubber glovepuppet whose characteristic is knowing nothing abut anything)
    MK1: “note: poochie died on the way to his home planet” <– pertinent gag remains reusable
    rylan: TEN FASHIONISTA PANDAS! he still can't sing but is having fun himself now going for broke and adding to the er gaiety of the nation in epic style (plus he and nicole were taking great and justifiable pleasure ragging on BORELOW: including repeatedly calling him this)
    jade: second best, stylish and relaxed, lovely smile
    melanie massan: BORELOW totally undermined her with terrible song-choice, emphasised by ghastly and inadvisable makeover which made her look abt 120, shouldn’t have gone when kye stayed
    jahmene – ramped his slightly psychotic melisma back a lot this week, to my disappointment but his music's benefit i suspect — he is enormously nervous and i find him very likeable

  11. 11
    pink champale on 16 Oct 2012 #

    can’t work out why the poochie comparison seems so spot on or makes me grin so much. but it does.
    i am VINDICATED re kye. each judge in turn struggled to put their finger on the SOMETHING they didn’t quite like about kye. i struggled not – it’s his FACE!
    ‘never tear us apart’ is a good song, i think, but melanie somehow failed to make it at all dramatic, mainly be being far too dramatic in all the wrong places. and yes, the thinking behind the makeover was counter-intuitive at best. what do do with an attractive boho type woman? make her look like gillian mckeith at a wedding!
    didn’t much like ella h this week. hitting the high notes was impressive enough, but the rest of the song was all gutsy where it should have been [beware, i am about to use a word that has not been used without irony to describe music since 1991] ethereal.

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