peep peep peeeeeeeep: the x factor half time analysis

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Today I am releasing my inner Jamie Redknapp, a sartorially gifted gent with a love of package holidays and hanging out the back of it, because it’s half time on this year’s X Factor. So grab some orange wedges and brush up on Nicole Sherzinger’s dead balls, as we analyse the season so far for these top, top, top players.

Hannah Barrett

Belting Barrett started the show as Misha B without the kerazy eyes, but has since become a bit of a Treyc Cohen, ending up in the bottom two twice. The vagueness of her sob story (randomly dead relative, randomly poor home life) has perhaps alienated the public, while her boisterous singing is sometimes so much like an exorcism that you half expect Hannah to throw up pea soup on the judges while pissing on the shiny floor.

Tamera Foster

She was the one to beat, they said. She’d walk to the final, they said. She’s a shoe-in for a record deal, they said. What ‘they’ didn’t say is that Tamera is only sixteen, and her inexperience has showed in every Live Show. She has tackled some big songs decently, but has nothing like the natural pop-star confidence seen in, for example, Cher Lloyd. Tamera lacks personality so much that one of her ‘stories’ on the show has been about getting blonde hair, but after forgetting the lyrics to ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (a song she probably thought was by Kanye West), Tamera is proof that blondes don’t have very much fun at all.

Luke Friend

Who’d have thunk it? Stig of the Dump has only gone and become this year’s sleeper hit, a horse so dark that it would suit the Nazgûl. Luke has fashioned himself into a croaky crooner, and his performance of ‘Kiss From a Rose’ remains one of the highlights of the series. Like an inverse (and less jihadi) Samson, Luke had his hair cut and grew in strength, and is now surely challenging for a place in the Top 3. Just don’t chain him to any pillars.

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Nicholas McDonald

It’s difficult to say too much about SEXTEEN YER AULD Nicholas, because he might be The X Factor‘s first test-tube contestant: young, competent and likeable. The Baby Bublé is pulling in both the Scottish vote and the Granny vote (and the Scottish Granny vote) and will certainly make it to the final. He won’t sell any records, but he will be a big name on the charity fundraiser circuit in 2014. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Sam Callahan

Sam Callahan is the worst contestant ever to grace The X Factor live shows. It’s bad enough that he can’t sing and can’t dance, but he also shares a first name with the singer who is going to win the whole thing, making him look even more bumhole-clenchingly awful than he already is. Sam isn’t funny-bad like Rylan or Jedward, he just makes the audience feel uncomfortable, like they are watching a kid fluff his way through a holiday camp talent show, and then have to applaud politely as he shuffles off stage. With contoured eyebrows to rival Rikki Loney’s, Sam has forged himself as a ‘fighter’, but he really needs to just lie down and stay down, like a disheartened movie henchman.

Rough Copy

The urban trio call their mentor ‘Uncle Gary’, but it would be more apt to call him ‘Uncle Tom’. It’s no secret that, back in the day, it didn’t pay to be black in the music biz, but you would hope that we had moved on a bit. Instead, Uncle Tom has turned cool, exciting Rough Copy into three Nat King Coles, crooning out honky hits (Bryan Adams?!) and forgetting about the tight harmonies that got the group into the Lives in the first place. I’m not suggesting that Rough Copy should be confined to rapping and body-popping, but they are a can of relaxer away from screwing up their chances. Gary has done such a terrible job with Rough Copy that I actually miss The Female Boss.

Sam Bailey

The X Factor has made a big deal this year of going back to basics, but nothing is more retro than the prospect of an older woman winning the show. The Susan Boyle comparisons aren’t just unfair, they are plain wrong, because Sam is Britain’s answer to Barbra Streisand: glamorous and humble, with a killer voice. Not only has Sam produced note-perfect renditions of massive pop songs, she is the only contestant who can ‘perform’ a song without looking over directed. Her version of ‘(No More Tears) Enough Is Enough’ was powerful, and the best performance of the series so far. In another time Sam could have been one of the biggest stars on the planet, and I sincerely hope that she gets all the success she deserves post-show.

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how the x factor slipped on its boots and went back to its roots.

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“Strange, I’ve seen that face before.” – Grace Jones

A long time before The X Factor returned to our telly screens in August, all the tabloid whispers pointed to the fact that this series would be going back to basics, in a attempt to revive the glory days of the mid-noughties. This was a fairly predictable move given the lack of talent/fun in recent years, and one that has been modelled successfully over at Channel 5 with Big Brother. Superficially at least, X Factor X (that’s ten in Rocky language) has some features of the good old days, most of all the return of cackling Sharon Osbourne, to whom everything (apart from Dannii Minogue) is faaabulous. Shazza’s reunion with Louish Waltz is a true blast from the past, and an admission from the production team that, actually, experience is what matters on the panel. Despite experimenting with wizened old hags like Pixie Lott, Rita Ora and that drug dealer out of The N-Dubz, we now have four judges that have been around the world and I-I-I, if you get my drift.

On top of this, room auditions were back. The rationale behind moving the auditions to an arena was about finding stage presence, but really turned the whole thing into more of a pantomime than it already was. I attended the Manchester auditions last year, and was struck by how orchestrated the theatrics are. One woman was laughed off the stage for singing in an African accent, and I realised that the arena auditions were creating a foaming mob of racist, unthinking fools. The return of the room audition has thankfully removed the ignorance of the British public, while also drawing attention back to the singing. Even the laughably terrible acts have had a nostalgic silliness to them which was turned to near bullying in the arena. This focus on vocal ability instead of audience interaction has meant that for the first time since Jedward cartwheeled into our consciousnesses, we are entering the Live Shows without a joke act. It remains to be seen how boring this will make the darkening Saturday nights until Xmas, but it seems that the circus is inching slowly out of town.

Or is it? For, while singing has definitely been back on the menu this year, one of the more contrived elements of early twentieth century singing competitions is back with a blub: the sob story. Over on the BBC, that other singing competition with the swivel-chairs promised to eradicate the sob story, but failed when the two winners were fat and/or blind. This year, The X Factor is taking sob stories to a new level by making them ludicrously vague. Rejected wife-beater Joseph Whelan went with ‘I have a son’, while Wagon-Wheel-shaped Hannah Barratt mumbled something about living away from home. I presume it is up to the tabloids to go digging for skeletons, but so far this series the contestants have been getting very upset about nothing too specific. Zoe Devlin was worried about what her three-year-old daughter would think of her failure, and her concerns were justified. When Zoe finally had the courage to break the news, the little girl blew a spit bubble and picked her nose for a bit. Damning. Other excellently pathetic blub-tales included: ‘I drive a van’ (Shelley Smith); ‘I love my husband’ (Sam Bailey); ‘I can’t afford shampoo’ (Luke Friend) and ‘We are poor hipsters who inexplicably live in an expensive part of London’ (Kingsland Road).

ImageIf the format and the style remind you of the days when Kate Thornton hadn’t been melted down for scrap, just look at the contestants. The Boys category in particular is so dated that it should come with Computers-For-Schools vouchers. In fairness to the lads, they are being mentored by Louis Walsh, a man so out-of-touch with reality that he still leaves confused voicemail messages on Stephen Gately’s answering machine. Even Louis’ choice of guest judges was baffling, as the bankrupt one from Westlife, an Appleton sister and (who else) Sinitta joined him in Saint-Tropez. The whole thing was like an audition for the next series of The Big Reunion, or a strange, meta reality show where washed up celebrities sunbathe for charity. I half expected Rebecca Loos to show up and toss off a pig while Paul Danan fell in love with something. The Boys have a decent chance, but their coup is Nicholas McDonald, a sparkly-eyed Scot with a good tone and zero chance of being a pop star. I was surprised that he made it to the Lives, but he has the classic ‘confidence problem’ of a Leon Jackson or Joe McElderry, and no doubt the whole of Scotland will push him into the final three. Hell, he might even win it, and that truly would be a return to the past of the show, when the contestants could actually get to Xmas Number One with a stinky ballad about overcoming adversity.

Elsewhere, there is little to suggest that this series will produce any bona fide pop stars. Poor Sharon O has picked three average pub singers who can belt the favourites but have no concept of music, and her three girls will certainly be fighting over the Mary Byrne-issue billowing black fabric. Meanwhile, the Girls gave Nicole Scherzinger ample opportunity to do her ‘I’m listening intently’ face and some pretty tough decisions to make. Scherzy ended up sending home two of the best singers in the competition (Melanie McCabe and Relley C) in favour of the Wagon Wheel and Andrea Begley in disguise (she was blind, but now she can see!) Abi Alton. Abi has an average voice, but she wears a flower in her hair so she’s like totes current and like visceral, do you know what I mean by that? The Girls is a good category, but surely no one will get further than Tamera Foster, who is definitely lying about her age. In an attempt to show more of her ‘personality’, Tamera has been droning on about upsetting her family, but considering her age, the worst she could have done is accidently deleted Don’t Tell The Bride on the Sky Plus. It is worth noting that having a personality bypass didn’t hurt Leona Lewis or A-Burke, so I don’t quite understand what the producers are playing at here.

One of the most retro images from this weekend’s offerings was the sight of Gary Barlow in a sitting room in South London. He was telling a member of Rough Copy that, despite his illegal immigrant status, he would be able to go to the ball. This all seems fine now, but will take a tragic turn when Rough Copy are condemned to playing ice rinks in the North of England. Anyway, the image of Gaz Baz living like proper folk brought back lovely memories of the days when Judges Houses’ was nought but an idea, and the mentors actually had to visit their contestants to break the news. In a potent wave of nostalgia I saw Nigel Lythgoe telling Myleene Klass that she had made it into Hear’Say; I imagined Sharon O pulling up to a grotty, terraced house in Hull, stepping over piles of dog shit and Sports Direct bags-for-life, just so she could crush someone’s singing career. Oh, the memories! Oh, what a happy day!

Aside from these infrequent fits of ecstasy, this series has been exhausting so far. Everything is so familiar, with only subtle changes, that watching The X Factor is like watching a conveyor belt of your own, half-remembered memories, as infinite reference points come to the fore and drown us in our viewing history. I find myself predicting that Hannah Barrett will get booted off the show for happy slapping somebody; that Abi Alton will forget the words to MMM-Bop; that Sam Callahan will go on to release a single which references soon-to-be-defunct social networking sites. It’s all too saturating; at once canny and wholly uncanny, like watching The X Factor from an alternate reality. It’s a bizzarre and unnerving process, and one that makes series, contestants and years merge into one shapeless blob of pop culture information that is struggling to be contained. Crumbs.

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