Talent in a Previous Life

Because It's Never Just About the Music

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Reign of Shayne Falls Mainly on the Plain 

After ten weeks of television that reached both the highest heights (Hello Maria doing Take Another Little Piece of My Heart!) and the lowest lows (Hello... well, pretty much everything else really) X Factor finally reached it's conclusion last night. Over seventy days we've seen hopes raised before being cruelly dashed, dreams shattered before our very eyes, Kate Thornton in a variety of unsuitable dresses and far, far more of Chico than we ever wanted to. We've seen petty bickering amongst the judges, desperate attempts to stir up controversy and more lukewarm ballads than you can shake a stick at. In short, we've looked into the abyss and seen the blazing fires of hell itself, but finally we can tear our eyes away, look up to the blue sky above and see hope for us all, as they finally crowned their winner and we can all go home and get on with our lives again.

As it was both the final and Christmas they decided to decorate the studio! Well, they stuck up a couple of cheaply decorated Christmas trees at any rate. Kate herself was also decorated, donning her poshest frock for the evening. We assume it was anyway, as the other possibility was that she'd worn her nightdress by mistake. Treating the show as if it was the most exciting event of the year and not just the final of a glorified Opportunity Knocks competition, Kate introduced us once again to the judges and the remaining contestants, before handing over to Simon to introduce his act for the evening.

As with all the contestants, Journey South - a band for who the phrase "Ugly brothers with bad hair and all the charisma of a pair of pebbles" might well have been invented and, indeed, was - had a homecoming this week, taking a private jet to return to Middlesborough. Upon landing either Robson or Jerome, we couldn't see which, knelt down to touch the airport tarmac as if it was the very soil of the promised land itself. The twat. They were driven home to be greeted by an entirely spontaneous and in no way pre-organised crowd of cheering fans drawn mainly, it seemed, from the local primary school. We're not sure whether the chance to holler enthusiastically at a pair of no marks was really worth skipping classess for, though to be fair there are many lessons that can be learnt from the boys, which mainly revolve around seeing what they do and then promptly doing the opposite.

They were joined for their triumphant return - "We want to go home and give something back", said one of the trip, not that they've shown that they've got anything whatsoever to give so far - by mentor Simon Cowell, who took the opportunity to have a private chat with the boys' mother, although by 'private chat', Simon seemed to mean "On camera then broadcast to the watching millions". We can only hope he shows more decorum when he goes to the toilet and other such moments in his life where privacy is generally expected.

Finally, they did a gig at their local town hall. "The reaction we got from Middlesborough was so humbling", said one of the brothers, which says a lot more about the quality of entertainment in Middlesborough than it does about the quality of a Journey South gig.

With that out of the way, they stepped up to the stage to give us their first song of the night, Elton John's I Won't Let The Sun Go Down on Me. Robson, in a misguided attempt to attract the female vote, had his shirt button undone a tad, while Jerome spent half the song reaching out his hand towards his brother in a way that made our skin crawl. Had he spent less time concentrating on that and more on ths singing, he might have stood more chance of actually reaching all the notes he was supposed to, a task which he seemed to find entirely impossible to complete. They stepped out from behind the mic stands for their big finish and, despite the fact that their entire performance was an object lesson in anti-showmanship, Simon still declared that watching their performance "really was such a buzz", which seems to imply that he's not getting access to the quality of drugs that a man in his position should have. We couldn't concentrate on Louis' comments as every time we saw him in his tuxedo we wanted to pull back his bowtie and let it twang into his face.

For Andy's homecoming, he eschewed the use of a private jet, presumably feeling it'd be a tad excessive given that he lives just down the road from the X Factor studios. Instead, the humble, normal, straightforward, plain old ordinary Andy decided that the best transport to go home and see his equally humble, normal, straightforward, plain old ordinary family in their humble, normal, straightforward, plain old ordinary home was, ummm, a stretch limousine. Andy introduced his mentor, Sharon Osbourne, to his family, while she happily took advantage of the opportunity to reprise her "annoying patronising woman" role from the Asda adverts. "So nice to go to a nice normal home and have sausages on sticks!", she screeched, before going on to ask the various family members what they did and telling them that it must be interesting before they've even had a chance to reply.

Andy's first song of the night was When a Man Loves a Woman and, while his game was undoubtedly raised tonight compared to his more, ahem, predictable performances previously on the series, it's still hard to feel any sort of connection or warmth from his performances. Especially when his face immediately reverts to its default blank expression the minute he places his microphone back into the stand. The judges, naturally, loved him, but given they'd already raved about Journey South's performance, it's fair to say that had a mop been placed on the stage which was jiggled around to the sound of Elvis Presley's greatest hits, they'd have been equally enthusiastic.

Finally for the homecomings, we have Shayne traveling back to Manchester in a helicopter, before getting a police escort to revisit his local school. Well, why should his Mum have all the fun of traveling around in the back of a police van? Again he was greeted by screaming schoolkids, and it was probably a wise move for him to visit a place of education as his success in this competition rides mainly on enough pay as you go vouchers being sold in the vicinity of high schools up and down the country. As with Journey South, he was also overawed by the crowd of people waiting to see him do a gig, the fact that he was doing a free gig in a shopping centre which meant that not getting an audience full of vaguely interested shoppers would have been an impressive feat seemed to pass him by.

For Shayne's opening song, he decided to reprise his version of Daniel Bedingfield's If You're Not the One from Week 2, a performance we orginally described as "a complete non-event from start to finish". This time around things were much the same, with a low key, one gear, uninvolving performance which so lacked passion that he might as well have been singing a song about choosing a puppy at the cat and dog home for all we cared. "Flawless", suggested Simon, while his mentor, Louis Walsh, excitedly exclaimed "He's so humble", as if that was somehow a good quality for a pop star.

Equally as lacklustre as their decorations, each act stepped up to the plate to give us a Christmas song in an attempt to get us into the festive spirit and, given that for many Christmas is nothing more than a season of misery and frustration, they did a damned good job of echoing that. Journey South gave us John and Yoko's Happy Christmas (War is Over) - well they would, wouldn't they - Andy missed a trick by giving us O Holy Night instead of Nat King Cole's Christmas Song, while Shayne took it upon himself to try and ruin any chance he might have of winning the competition by performing Johnny Mathis' When a Child is Born, one of the most vomit inducing tracks of all time. Annoyingly though, he actually did quite a good job, possibly because he resisted the temptation to arse around with his falsetto for once in his time on the show.

Labouring under the delusion that not only do we remember much about all the failed auditionees, we somehow care about the prospect of actually seeing them on stage again. A selection of some of the worst/embarrassing/misguided folk to face the X Factor judges, though quite why Chico wasn't included in this line-up we're not sure, got together to perform My Way, demonstrating once again, as if there was any doubt, that there are far too many people in the world who will happily humiliate themselves for little more than thirty seconds of screentime.

So, with that moment of pointlessness out of the way, we move on to a different moment of pointlessness and Journey South's last song of the evening. They chose to reprise Let it Be from last week's show - "they are in fact passion vacuums, managing to suck any sort of emotion out of every song they turn their clumsy, unfeeling hands to" - and performed it in an entirely identical fashion, even down to wearing the same suits, so if they can't be bothered coming up with any new material, we'll follow their example and point out once again that they are, in fact, passion vacuums, managing to suck any sort of emotion out of every song they turn their clumsy, unfeeling hands to.

Andy chose to redo Me and Mrs Jones, which he originally performed on Week 6 - "he wore a Saville Row suit in a rather uninspiring shade of grey. Very appropriate.". This time around he managed to do a much better job of it, even if you'd still find it hard to be convinced that he'd have the imagination to have an affair, even if going to the same cafe at the same time every single night rings a bit more true. "What would you like to say to the judges?", asked Kate after they'd sung his praises. Quick as a flash, and demonstrating the sort of wit and personality that would make him a boon to interviewers all around the world should he win the competition, he quipped "Dunno", before mumbling into his shoes.

"You're the reason why I love the music business", said Louis of Shayne in his intro footage. How interesting, who'd ever have thought that pretty young boys were the sort of thing that kept Louis involved in this industry. The things you learn. Anyway, Shayne gave us Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a very odd arrangement which seemed to bear little relation to the original tune, but against all odds - and given the song choices tonight, it's almost like Louis wanted him to lose - Shayne managed to pull it off and, with this song, managed to hit a high note, both literally and metaphorically. He got all emotional as the judges told him how wonderful he was, helpfully demonstrating his feminine side to any voter who might have been swithering about whether to call or not.

And with that, the performances were over, Kate wrapped it all up, exhorting us to vote for our favourite as the only way they could win was down to us. And, of course, the only way Simon and ITV can make their profits is by people constantly hitting redial to connect to a premium rate phoneline, something far more important to the whole enterprise. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire filled in the time to the results show and a nation waited with bated breath to find out what would happen next, though admittedly we're talking about that part of the nation which was tuned into Strictly Come Dancing on the other side, of course.

"It's a battle of the giants", Kate informed us on the show's return, and if she genuinely believed that to be true, we can only assume that she is, in fact, only 2 foot tall and virtually everyone in the world would appear to her to be a giant. Apart from Jamie Cullum. After various re-caps and updates, we eventually heard the news we'd all been waiting for. Journey South haven't won! There was a technical error at this point, as when they were shown their highlights package, they broadcast a selection of their performances throughout the series, rather than the blank tape which would have been more factually accurate. "Really gutted", was their response when asked how they felt, but who cares, we've got no time to hang around and focus upon your hangdog expressions! Andi Peters is hanging around a CD pressing plant and we simply must find out what he's doing there.

Yes, in a bid to add some sense of occasion and history to the show, Andi is indeed in a CD pressing plant, which is just waiting to fire up the machinery and go into action the minute the winner is announced. It was never made quite clear exactly why Andi was picked for this somewhat pointless presenting job, but we assume it's because he'd got a job at the plant on night security and the producers figured they might as well kill two birds with one stone. But if the CD's are already mastered and ready to go, it can only mean one thing: It's time for us to actually hear what the eventual winner will inflict upon us in the name of entertainment.

The track is called That's My Goal and sounds exactly how you'd expect it to. Both Andy and Shayne's versions are pretty much identical, though Shayne's performance probably just edges it as the song is more suited for his voice. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact we strongly suspect that this is a Westlife offcut, we'd almost be tempted to suggest that it had been written with him mind. Presumably there was a Journey South version ready to roll as well, but again we imagine there would have been little difference between that and the performances we heard, though Journey South's would probably have involved a tad more atonal grunting.

And so, with that out of the way, and after giving Andy and Shayne a chance to see both their journeys and some messages of support from their friends and family - Guess what! They all wanted someone they knew to do well! What a surprise! - it was finally the moment of truth. 10.8 million votes had been cast, so it's no wonder Simon was looking very pleased with himself despite having no acts left in the contest, and the tension in the air was palpable. Or at least it would have been had either of the two finalists been capable of expressing any sort of emotion whatsoever. After a pause which you could drive a truck through, Kate announced the winner: "It's Shayne!", to much celebration and happiness from himself and his family. "Thank you so much!", he exclaimed, while Kate went to commiserate with Andy: "You may be a binman, but you're certainly not rubbish!", she exclaimed. Just think, someone actually got paid to write that line.

Shayne then took to the stage for a final time to, once again, perform That's My Goal, a song which managed to be even less interesting the third time we heard it. As it reached its, for want of a better word, climax, all of the contestants from this year's series took to the stage behind him to join in, and we assume some sort of prize was available if you were able to name more than six of them. "I'm not going to change", were Shayne's final words on the show, once again entirely missing the point of being a popstar. One thing's for sure, while he might not have to sell shoes any more, his career from this point on is likely to be a load of cobblers.

And that's it! Ten weeks of our life have flown past like a penguin with concrete wings and once again we find ourselves despairing at what dregs remain in the talent pool of this country of ours. Despite the fact that until the current generation of children grow up there are clearly no more stars remaining in this country, the X Factor bandwagon rolls on regardless and they're already taking applicants for the 2006 series. While this year may have found, and hopefully not promptly lost, Maria, we also have to remember that disturbing the rock also caused Chico and Journey South to come scuttling out to see what all the commotion was about. Is it really worth the risk of a third trawl to find out if the nation's undiscovered talent should really have remained undiscovered? Who knows, but we're sure that there'll be more than enough people who not only believe that they have the so-called X factor, but that going on a TV show like this will actually give them a long term career and not just the opportunity to feature in "Where are they Now?" pieces every five years or so.