Talent in a Previous Life

Because It's Never Just About the Music

Sunday, October 22, 2006

4Sure 4Gotten 

It's week 2 of X Factor and, according to the throaty sounding voiceover man, "just 11 acts remain". Just?! No wonder the links on this show are sometimes a bit torturous when the writers don't even understand the meanings of some of the more basic words in our language. Mind you, they've already proven, in series past and present, that their definition of what 'the X factor' might be veers dramatically away from what the rest of us would expect.

After another run through of the remaining acts, on the not entirely unreasonable grounds that their names are unlikely to have lodged firmly in the heads of those involved with the show, Kate Thornton (Dresswatch: A horrible green wrap thing, more bathrobe than dress) introduced tonight's 'special' guest, Rod Stewart, a man who's clearly forgone the use of both botox and, indeed, a hairdresser whose training has been updated since the seventies. She reads off a whole ream of most impressive sounding facts and figures about his career, but fails to give any sort of justification for any of them. Rod appears on stage to wildly enthusiastic cheers from the studio audience who, as we've previously pointed out, would no doubt cheer an appearance from the reanimated corpse of Hitler, or even someone truly evil, such as The Kooks. All the acts tonight will be performing songs taken entirely from his back catalogue, although as it turns out, this has been stretched somewhat to mean songs he's done, songs he's covered, songs he once sang along to in the shower and songs that he once heard the chorus of on the radio, back in 1984. Rod jokingly berates the judges for not picking any of his more recent songs, but perhaps if Rod hadn't spent the last decade selling album after album of pisspoor covers to an undemanding and uncritical audience they might have had something to choose from. All the acts this week have also had the joy of Rod popping into the studio to help them with their rehearsals, an experience we imagine would be akin to having an aging uncle taking an interest in your relationship with their son or daughter and offering you some advice in that regard; entirely unwanted, frankly off-putting but you're not in a position where you can just tell him to fuck off.

But it's not about Rod, it's all about the finalists, and first up this week is Leona, who appears to be sharing a wardrobe mistress with Kate, such is the unsuitability of her dresses. The theme song for scalpel wielding surgeons everywhere, The First Cut is the Deepest, was her song of choice, but unfortunately for her - and for most of the girls in the contest. And Antony from Eton Road - Rod's songs are designed to be sung in a somewhat lower register than her own more girlish tones can muster, and she definitely struggles at first, but eventually discovers her inner testicles and manages to deliver a more ballsy performance by the end of the song. The judges all loved her, but then, with the exception of Simon, the judges seem to love pretty much everything this year. They're obviously getting their water from the same supply as the studio audience.

Next up is Kerry who, according to her mentor, Sharon, is "unstoppable", which is only true insofar as there are no stairs in the way - guilty arf. Kerry tells us that she wants to "make Scotland proud the way Rod has", which leads us to point out for the umpteenth time that Rod is not actually Scottish. He wears tartan, it's not the same thing, otherwise we'll be able to claim Rupert the Bear as a proud son of the highlands. In a bid to convince us that she's in the contest on the basis of her singing talent alone and not because of her disability, her wheelchair has been ditched for this performance and she's instead sat perched upon a stool, which serves mainly to give the impression that the show's producers are embarrassed by her, an impression not exactly helped by the fact that she doesn't get to come out with Sharon's other acts during the introductory piece and instead has to come on awkwardly from the side while the rest of them appear behind the screen.

Seemingly possessed by the spirit of Jayne MacDonald, she failed to connect emotionally to the song at all during her version of I Don't Wanna Talk About It, preferring instead to give it the sort of melodramatic edge as beloved of regular kareoke goers up and own the country. Despite this the judges still showered her with an avalanche of praise, despite Simon claiming that "We've still not seen the best of you", much like he did last week, and much like he no doubt will every week throughout the series until she's knocked out once the public finally realise that, in actual fact, we have already seen the best of her and it's just not that impressive. "I don't think that you're going anywhere", said Simon, somewhat unfortunately given that going anywhere wasn't really an option for her until the stagehands gave her her wheelchair back.

Jesus wept, it's The MacDonald Brothers, and they're wearing red t-shirts and tartan free, black kilts - i.e. pleated skirts, not kilts. If they try and up their Scottishness - in an entirely touristy view of the word of course - they'll be coming on next week dressed as haggises and performing the theme to Supergran. We're Scottish ourselves and we feel embarrassed just watching them come on stage, and that's before they've even started singing. One of them is clutching a guitar which, as is traditional in this sort of contest, the strumming of which has no bearing on the sound which comes across on the backing track. Sailing is their song for the night, proving if nothing else that they have a remarkable talent for finding the absolute nadir of an artist's entire output. Of course, this is the only remarkable talent which is on display during their performance, but this doesn't seem to bother Louis or Sharon, the latter of which asks them, with the crushing inevitability of gravity, what they've got under their kilts. Yawn. Simon correctly points out that they're terrible, to which Louis responds "Give them a chance, they're trying very hard". They probably are, which is the worrying thing.

It's Ashley next and according to Simon "he's got an opinion", if not any actual braincells. This seems to be a reference to him not being overly happy with a song choice back in bootcamp and getting a bit mardy over it, which isn't so much having an opinion, more being a toddler, and he's certainly expressed no personality whatsoever since the live shows began, unless by 'personality' people mean 'big hair. Whatever. Actually, he was almost quite good this week as he sleptwalked his way through a song which may or may not have been called Something Told Me It Was Over, and we'd probably warm to him more if it wasn't for the fact that a) he constantly decides to sing like he's got a mouthful of phlegm - which we think is his attempt at showing character - and the slightly more important b) he carries himself entirely in the manner of an irritating arsehole who you wouldn't want to see in your local pub. The judges, who don't go to local pubs, preferring to enjoy the atmosphere in private members clubs, with Louis being particularly fond of an exclusive gentlemen's club, instead treated him like he was Jesus incarnate and practically prostrated themselves before him. "You're going to be a right little handful", suggested Sharon, being rude. Again. Yawn.

Last week Dionne shone, but it seems that the experience of being in the bottom two has caused her to try a bit too hard this week. Coming across more like a parody of a soul singer during her run through of Tonight's the Night - a not hugely appropriate song for her voice. Mind you, all Rod Stewart songs can be ultimately said to be inappropriate in general - bellowing where she should have soared and generally seeming a bit uncomfortable with the whole thing. And she was wearing too much lipgloss. Both Louis and Sharon likened her to Tina Turner, having taken an entire week thinking of another black female singer to add to their usual list of Diana Ross and Gladys Night, while Simon suggested she might like to "spend some time in front of a mirror, practicing your performance". And applying your lipgloss more frugally, he didn't say, but he was definitely thinking it.

"Doing a Rod Stewart song is outside our comfort zone", moaned 4Sure in a polite manner, but even so it's no excuse for the embarrassing way they crooned through You're in My Heart, sat upon stools, looking for all the world like they'd rather be anywhere else, as they finger clicked simultaneously during the dodgy harmonies on the chorus. "You did a good job", suggested Louis, as if they'd just sorted out a minor problem with his guttering that he wasn't in too much of a rush to get sorted. "Old fashioned and wet", was Simon's considered opinion, and he was right.

Nikitta, who not only has a dead mum, but has a dead mum who was apparently with her on stage last week. Surely this must be in breach of the rules? If she wanted to perform as a duo then she should really have auditioned as a group, and we'd have loved to have seen Louis deal with a live artist and a dead mum in the background. Mind you, he's got a lot of experience in dealing with presenceless spectres, clad only in white, who can only make an uncomfortable, eerie, eldritch noise. He manages Westlife. Arf! Nikitta was accompanied by a choir, who she seemed to be peering at quizzically, presumably on the offchance that one of them might be her dead mum. Her song we'd never heard before, but may have been called Bring it on to Me and bring it on she certainly did, giving a confident and sassy performance which easily outshone every other act this evening. Not that Louis noticed, describing it as a "forgetful song" - we never knew songs had memories - and claiming she showed no star quality from the stage, while Sharon could find little to say other than suggesting that the one glove look she was rocking made her look like she was wearing OJ Simpson's cast offs, so it's nice to see that Sharon, as always, is living in the present day with such a relevant and topical comment.

Robert - who was "unbelievable last week". Well, we certainly couldn't believe it - does Try a Little Tenderness, starting off slowly before shouting "Come on, let's party!" as the song takes a wrong turning down the road of listenablity and ends up in a bizarre uptempo cul-de-sac of wrongness. It was the sort of thing that Chico would have done, only Robert doesn't have the, for want of a better word, 'uniqueness' of Chico's personality to carry it off. It was all just an embarrassing mess. Unless, of course, you're Louis Walsh, in which case it was "the best performance of the night". It wasn't even the best performance of the last three minutes. "You were running around like a bat", was Sharon's contribution, which leads us to wonder exactly what sort of creature she thinks a bat actually is. Simon likened it to a Chippendale show and the judges collapse in helpless giggles as they question when, exactly, Simon went to see the Chippendales.

Eton Road's fans have football rattles, which they spin irritatingly before and after their performance, and possibly even during, but it was hard to tell as their performance of This Old Heart of Mine apparently came direct from an echo chamber, such was the poor sound quality, so we can't really comment on whether it was any good or not. They looked like they were having fun, though, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The judges were certainly enthusiastic, likening them to Take That, with Sharon claiming that her daughter Kelly Osbourne wanted to propose to Antony. We're not sure whether Antony is gay or just a bit camp, but if not then the thought of Kelly wanting to get her claws into you would certainly be enough to turn a man.

"This is what I've wanted to do for a long, long time", is Ray's opening gambit. Ray, remember, is 17. We've probably waited for buses for longer than he's wanted this. He's still a supremely irritating young man, and his mother clearly still holds a lot of influence in his life, not only was he wearing a waistcoat and trousers combo that she'd clearly picked out from George at Asda especially for the occasion, but he's sporting the sort of greasy slicked back hairdo that can only come from mothers spit. She probably cleaned his cheek with a hanky before coming on stage as well. Ray claimed that It's a Wonderful World, something clearly not true as if it were there'd be no Ray in it for a start. He's essentially Jamie Cullum - who, as we've not mentioned him for a while, is a cunt - without the piano, which is disappointing as it means we can only entertain fantasies about strangling him with his mike flex but not simultaneously slamming down the piano lid on his fingers. "If this was a smiling contest you'd win", offers Louis, while the head of programming at ITV2 quickly notes this down as a possible prime time idea. Sharon comments on his less than modern style, claiming that he's in a category with kids who are cutting edge. If Ashley, Leona and Nikitta are at the cutting edge then someone really needs to take modern culture down to the sharpeners pretty damned quickly.

"I don't want to be seen as a Rod Stewart impersonator", worries Ben, before coming on stage and performing Maggie May in the sort of way you'd expect a Rod Stewart impersonator to do. He began sitting at a piano, before getting up to dance around a bit - in a not exactly rhythmic sense of the word - after the intro, including jumping on top of said piano at the end, something which will play merry hell with the tuning. No respect. Or range beyond being a bit growly and throaty, although Simon reckoned that he showed a different side of himself with that performance. We, however, are beginning to think that Ben is a bit of a one trick pony and is so 2-dimensional that if he turned to the side he'd disappear. He's a bit like Paris Hilton in that respect... and one other.

And so the 11 acts have sung for their supper and now it's time to find out who's going home without getting the chance for seconds, but not before Rod gets to sing a song as well, dressed, for reasons which were never made clear, in Pete Doherty's old cast offs. We found this performance very uncomfortable to watch, mainly because every time they did a close up on Rod's face we got worried that our TV had suddenly collapsed in on itself. After Kate's failed attempt to get Rod to offer any sort of opinion on the acts' performances - and who can blame him for wanting to keep quiet. After all, you can't swear on ITV at that time of night - it was time to find out who would face each other in tonight's sing off. Once again, and against all possible reason, the MacDonald Brothers found themselves safe and sound, with even Louis looking gobsmacked at this result, with the public coming to the reasonably accurate conclusion that Robert and 4Sure gave the two worst performances of the night. There was little differences of any note between their second performances and the originals, although Robert performed sans jacket this time around for all the difference it made, and there were even less surprises when Simon, once again given the casting vote, chose 4Sure to take the long bus journey back to obscurity, although he didn't bother giving any reasons why. One of the band started crying, while the other claimed that "It's not the end of us, we know that much", despite the fact that the overwhelming historical evidence suggests that it definitely is the end for them. "There's nothing that they didn't do", was Louis' final thought. Well, apart from getting enough votes, that is. Goodbye 4Sure, you won't be missed a huge amount, that's for sure.

Gordon Bennett, next week it's Tony Bennett. Someone had better do the All Seeing I's Walk Like a Panther otherwise there's literally no point to him being there. Altogether now: "A halfwit in a leotard stands on the stage..." (Yeah, yeah, we got our Tonys mixed up. We must have left our brain in San Francisco)