Talent in a Previous Life

Because It's Never Just About the Music

Monday, October 16, 2006


It starts with a bang and will end, if previous series are anything to go by, with a whimper. Once again ITV's, if nothing else, most lucrative series returns to clog up the Saturday night schedules like a rancid onion skin in the plughole of life. But they're not content to rest on their laurels, oh no! It's all change as they've finally decided to upgrade the starting titles, with the episode now starting off with shots of a massive X shooting through space, crashing through the atmosphere and landing somewhere in London with sparks, fireworks, and other such brilliant things. It makes the whole thing seem very exciting, so we're currently in consultation with our lawyers to see whether we can get them under breach of the Trade Descriptions Act. The set has also been rejigged, with a million plasma screens covering every bit of blank space the designer could find, a look which serves mainly to give the impression that the show is coming live from a branch of Dixons.

But the changes aren't just superficial. Well, they are, but they have decided to 'theme' each show and have a very special guest who has both nothing better to do on a Saturday night and a record to plug who's keen to offer their input on the acts performances and represent the chosen theme. This week they producers went for the entirely original and not at all done to death choice of Motown, so naturally they booked the guest whose name springs straight to everyone's lips when they hear the word and went for, umm, Lionel Richie, a man so famous that Kate Thornton (Dress Watch: Black, strapless, extremely unflattering, and at least a size too small) had to spend five minutes introducing him. Still, the crowd did go wild when he was introduced. Mind you, the crowd also went wild when the 12 acts, about two of whom may actually ring a bell if you watched the auditions, were all introduced on stage by the voiceover man with a Lockets phobia and, judging by their apparent willingness to cheer anything, would no doubt have continued to go wild had all the contestants as one turned around and simultaneously mooned the crowd. But we digress.

"This is history", says Lionel, presumably referring more to his career than to the two hours of entertainment we have ahead of us, "We're only in this business because we're fans", he continued, distracting Simon Cowell who was at that moment busy working out exactly how much money he'd made since the show started, and, having offered us such hugely insightful pearls of wisdom he's off, presumably to work out exactly how much money he made in the last thirty seconds, but don't worry! Kate promises us he'll be back to perform his latest single for us later. Please, be still my beating heart.

But it's not about the old stars! It's about making money. Oh, and some new talent as well, but that's more of a means to an end, but either way the first of this year's crop of wannabes is here to strut their stuff and it's Robert, who's in Sharon's category and, according to his mentor, has an amazing personality, although frankly we could no more pick him out of an ID parade than we could who ever was driving the bus we got two weeks last Thursday. He give us Lionel Richie'S All Night Long, which includes a number of hand movements which appear to suggest, somewhat unpleasantly, that he's masturbating. Just because a wanker managed to do quite well last year and end up releasing a couple of singles is no reason to start trying to emulate him. We seriously don't need, or want, another Chico.

We can't fault his energy' he strides around the stage like a man who's just downed a keg of sugar, but it's hard to see exactly what he's so enthusiastic and excited about given that his performance as a whole is quite, quite dull. "You're what X Factor is all about", opines Louis Walsh, and we can only concur. He gets impressive comments from all the judges, and begins to blub a bit, but composes himself and does a bit of dancing when speaking to Kate. "Get down with your big bad self", she suggests, sounding for all the world like the nearest she's ever been to the ghetto was once wandering into a branch of Netto by mistake. An experience she would no doubt have found almost as horrifying.

Next up are Eton Rd, who we quite like, if only because they do at least manage to seem like a proper group who are actually mates, unlike their ousted rivals, Avenue, who quite clearly could see nothing more unpleasant and hateful than the prospect of having to hang out together and pretend to like each other for the next three months. We're still not quite sure why Brian Molko from Placebo is fronting a boyband though.

My Girl is their song of choice, though bizarrely, despite being a four piece band who are fully able to provide backing vocals of their own, surely one of the main benefits of having entered the competition as a group, their backing track has backing vocals on it, surely one of the more pointless things in the contest other than the very contest itself. Despite this needless intrusion they are very good indeed, although the fact they dance like a group of tramps trying to shake a turd out of their trousers may count against them in the long run. The judges all reckon that they're odd, but in a good way, while Louis reckons that everyone in Liverpool will be voting for them, labouring, as he seems to do on a regular basis, under the delusion that someone coming from the same 20 mile radius as you do means you'll automatically think they're the bestest thing since sliced Blunt.

Nikitta, who can't even spell her own name properly and has, as you're unlikely to be aware as she hardly ever mentions it, a dead Mum, is the third act of the night and reckons, apropos of nothing, that her mum will be round her as she performs. We'd pay good money for someone to dress up as the dead mum, sit just behind the judges each week and, after Nikitta's performance, shake their head sadly, and get up and leave with a look of abject disappointment on their face. Actually, that's not really fair, as she was quite good, and would probably have done a bit better had she been given a decent song to sing and not something which sounded like a pastiche of the genre, designed to be used in cheap documentary series on low-key cable channels who can't afford to pay for the rights to use any of the proper songs from the era. "She's 17!", protests Sharon, as Louis points out this faux pas from Simon, "She's never done this before", as if that in any way mattered. "You're a nasty vicious little man", offers Simon, despite the fact that Louis had praised Nikitta's performance to the skies and reserved his criticism for the song choice. Perhaps Simon felt that the audience were desperate to see a physical representation of the phrase "Takes one to know one".

According to Sharon, Ben "defines the rawness of rock & roll", by which she means "He has long hair". He growled his way through Tracks of my Tears, pointing randomly at people in the audience during the "Need you" bit and throwing his arms around like a toddler having a tantrum. He's fine if you like Rod Stewart, but given that liking Rod Stewart instantly renders any musical opinion you may have null and void, this is pretty irrelevant. Sharon praised them, especially because this was the "first time he's ever performed without a guitar or behind a piano", which presumably means that all the time he performed without a guitar or behind a piano during the X Factor audition process was nothing more than a group hallucination. We'd have hoped that a group hallucination was a bit more interesting to be honest. "Possibly one of the best contestants we've ever had" was Simon's contribution to the debate, this time giving the audience a physical representation of the phrase "Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and prove it".

Less a band, more two annoying kids doing a turn at wedding, The MacDonald Brothers turned in a performance which managed to be even less entertaining that that sounds. They're essentially a Scottish Journey South, only worse, something which top musicologists had hitherto thought impossible. They gurn their way through Three Times a Lady, dedicated, in a slightly uncomfortable way, to their mum. Three Times a Lady is a song which anyone who has even a passing interest in music knows is on a par with two day old dog excrement. Even someone particularly amazing and talented would struggle to make anything decent out of it, so two charm free losers dressed in awful matching waistcoats just aren't going to cut it. It was an honest, pure, "No frills" performance according to Louis, although perhaps he just mispronounced his 'th'. The other judges were less enthusiastic, but the brothers, while slightly down, seemed relatively unphased, saying "We enjoyed every minute of it". Well, at least someone did.

Ray, a cross between Malcolm in the Middle and Eddie Munster and as punchable as a Vernon Kay shaped punchbag, does Ben - nice to see the rival contestants getting on so well, arf! - and gives it his all, assuming "His all" is equivalent to his benign nasal, awkward and as irritating as putting your hand in a lucky dip barrel filled with itching powder and pulling out a Sandi Thom CD. Both Louis and Sharon reckoned that he'll easily capture the mum vote, which may be true, but he's not got the dead mum vote has he? Simon reckoned his performance was 'believable', but so is a rather dull story about going to work and seeing a pigeon. It's not necessarily something you'd call enjoyable.

Scrubbing up rather well indeed, even if the gap in her teeth is still somewhat offputting, even if it will give her an advantage should the contest ever become more whistle based, is Dionne, who was frankly amazing. Her performance of I'm Gonna Make You Love Me was generally powerful and, like an exciting form of Ronseal, did exactly what it said on the tin. We may well have found this year's Maria, i.e. someone who's going to get unceremoniously dumped thanks to a hellish combination of cloth-eared members of the public and fuckwitted judges. Still, tonight she shone and we can only look forward to her doing so again for at least half of the contest. "You looked a little stiff", suggested Simon, but we'd suggest that that was probably more down to the fact that her dress was designed more for standing and less for actually, y'know, doing stuff.

We've become quite fond of The Unconventionals, awful band name aside. This is mainly down to the fact that we find the blonde girl who looks like Jenni Falconer rather pretty and we're rather shallow, but they do, unlike most of the acts on the show, at least have the potential to be interesting. Mind you, we said that about G4 and look what happened there. Dressed in the proceeds of a ramraid at BHS, they gave us Dancing in the Street, coming across like an ADD S Club, with the camera desperately trying, and often failing, to keep up with whoever was actually singing at the time. They did their best to give everyone a shot, and they were certainly fun, but it was a little bit too much and came across more like they'd all had a sherbert dib dab before they went on stage and were just a little bit too hyper. "I got confused for a minute" said Sharon, but we think she was just meaning in general, rather than anything to do with the band.

Ashley clearly has an extra chromosome somewhere down the line. There's something not quite right about him, and we don't just mean the fact that he considers Sideshow Bob to be a stylistic role model. His song choice, Easy Like Sunday Morning was rather appropriate, as he's definitely a Sunday morning singer as opposed to a Saturday night one as, like all Sunday mornings, he was dull, pointless, and a complete non-event which can only be enlivened by watching the Hollyoaks omnibus. We don't like Sunday mornings. He even waved to his mum in the crowd like a particularly gormless child in a school play. The judges all praised him however, and Ashley seemed quite chuffed by this, grinning and staring wordlessly at Kate, looking for all the world like the feckless simpleton he no doubt is.

And so, Kerry. Is she in this competition for any other reason than the fact she's not going to be winning any speed walking competitions any time soon? Nope. She's not a bad singer, she's pleasant enough, but while she might want people to look beyond her wheelchair, she's got nothing else to make her stand out from the pack in this competition. We're not entirely convinced that having her reclined on a bed for her promo shot was exactly a tasteful idea either, it serving mainly to look like she's been dumped there and left while they set up the lights. She did Sunshine of my Life but made it feel more like a cloudy day with only occasional flashes of warmth. Rather than get involved in the whole judging process, Simon decided to start flirting with her instead, which is an interesting Pete & Nikki in Big Brother-esque tactic towards keeping her in.

Managing the impressive feat of having a worse band name than The Unconventionals are 4Sure - which we assume was the last word they could think of that hadn't already been used as a band name with the word 'for' in it - a sort of negative Blue, not that a positive Blue exists, of course. Blue never did a positive thing in their entire career, merrily harmonising their way through What Becomes of the Broken Hearted with a bit of street dancing thrown in for good measure and were exactly as memorable as the anniversary of the first time you examined your nails for dirt.

Closing the show is the remarkably horsey looking Leona, who made great play in her opening video about how she lacks confidence in her singing and lives in eternal fear of knockbacks. Despite this claim, however, she's clearly more than aware of the fact she's a good singer, but it's probably fair to say she doesn't exactly exude confidence, instead it's an air of smugness that hangs over her performance of I'll Be There. For all the technical goodness, there was a distinct lack of spark or star quality, and she had a definite tendency towards oversinging, rarely failing to use a dozen notes when only one would do. She showed no emotion whatsoever during the actual song, but did manage to shed a few tears when the crowd cheered her at the end, showing exactly what she's looking for in this contest. The judges were overwhelmingly positive towards her, although Sharon did moan that she performed like an older person, but thanks to time constraints, Leona was unable to give Kate her thoughts on the comments she'd received, which was probably for the best given that she responded to most of the judges comments by mouthing "Thank you"'s like a grateful goldfish.

And so, two sodding hours of our life later, it's all over. The acts have all done their best and it's time for everyone to reach for their phones and vote in this meaningless parody of democracy. An hour or so later, the results show begins, but not before we get that Lionel Richie performance we were promised! Oh lucky, lucky us. Lionel performs I Call it Love - we call it something else all together - and it's little more than an even duller version of Neyo's So Sick, with all the cloying unbearableness that that implies. "Show your appreciation for Lionel Richie!", demands Kate. Oh we are, Kate. Trust us, we are. Given they've dragged him all the way out from backstage, Kate demands that he gives us his opinions on the acts, but fails to actually give him any time to do so. Though to be fair this was mainly because he wasted most of it chuntering on about "Potential" - and acting as if this was some amazing word that we might not have heard of - and wondering what the acts might be doing in twenty or thirty years. We've thought about it and we're not entirely sure. We don't know how the Tesco promotion system works. When he eventually decided to name his favourites, he named virtually everyone who had performed, which made the whole thing a bit pointless. Just like his career. Arf!

Anyway, the usual tension building "You're through" bit begins, and many of the acts react with undue enthusiasm to the news they're going to have to come back and sing Rod Bloody Stewart songs next week. Sharon encourages this sort of behaviour from all her acts, even suggesting to Kerry that she should pop a wheelie, something which isn't patronising in any way shape or form. But the votes have been counted and verified and the result is not, as you might have expected having actually watched the show, The MacDonald Brothers vs Anyone Else, It Doesn't Matter Who, but instead was The Unconventionals vs Dionne. Oh, for fuck's sake. Of course, The Unconventionals weren't exactly helped by the fact their overlong name was far too longwinded to actually text in. We're not surprised if people started, got bored half way through, thought "Bugger it", and decided to vote for Ray or Ben instead on the basis that life's just too short.

Now, if the MacDonald Brothers had any sort of morals or backbone they would have stepped up at this point, pointed out that there had clearly been some sort of mistake and obviously they were the worst act of the night, so there should be no debate, no sing-off, none of that malarky, just evict them and we can all move on, safe in the knowledge that their departure will make no difference to anyone's lives whatsoever. Alas, they couldn't even get that right, reacting to the news that they've managed to make it through by the skin of their teeth with the sort of happiness and celebratory movements more suited to a group who actually deserved to be there.

There were no more surprises to come. Despite giving it a bit more oomph the second time around, there was no way in hell The Unconventionals were going to stay going up against Dionne. They knew this, and at least were gracious in defeat, even if Simon wasn't in his mini-victory of having the casting vote, and were perhaps smiling inside with the relief of not having to deal with next week's theme. They're doing Rod Stewart. We're not sure we'll be able to watch the whole thing without tearing out our ears.