Talent in a Previous Life

Because It's Never Just About the Music

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

MacDonalds to Go 

Week 8 - Eight! - of X Factor and things are hotting up! Well, getting slightly lukewarm at any rate. With Eton Road out we didn't think our not exactly enthusiastic support for Leona would get us through the Saturday evening, so for this week's episode we turned to drink. Yes, we're surprised it's taken us this long as well. On the plus side, it did make the viewing experience a lot more pleasurable than normal, but on the downside our notes, illegible enough at the best of times thanks to our completely awful handwriting, are now requiring something akin to the Rosetta stone to decipher. We apologise in advance for any inaccuracies, missed moments and claims that the MacDonald Brothers might have actually been in some way entertaining. Sorry.

Kate Thornton (Dresswatch: A fuscia one shoulder dress which, despite making her arms look a bit chunky, made her look quite fetching. Mind you, we found that she looked more and more fetching as the evening wore on. We blame the alcohol.) had a bit of exposition to do tonight, as this week marks the moment where the pointless 'rivalry' between the judges finally comes to an end and only the viewers' vote counts towards who gets the boot. She also had the less than envious task of trying to be enthusiastic about introducing this week's guest star, the frankly terrifying looking Barry Manilow. Clearly a choice which indicates that the X Factor bosses have given up any pretence at being a vaguely youthful TV show and have firmly accepted that most of their viewers are of the granny variety. Ray might as well start polishing his crown already, even if it means he won't have enough time to spend on his favourite activity: polishing his helmet.

Realising that even the most rabid Barry Manilow fan would have trouble stomaching the generally talent avoiding acts left in the contest covering two Barry Manilow songs - and realising that most of them would have been hard pushed to have even named any other Barry Manilow songs apart from Copacabana - we were spared that particular nightmare, and instead for the second song the acts were given free reign to perform any song they liked. Well, they said free reign. We imagine that if any of them had expressed a desire to perform anything by the incredibly unpleasant Anal Cunt, or had Ben decided he wanted to perform the full 25 minutes of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, they might have found themselves encouraged to move in a different direction. Although, given what Ben, did decide to come up with, we can only wish though reins had been pulled a bit tighter.

But that's not til later, first up are The MacDonald Brothers and one of them attempted, despite the clear evidence to the contrary throughout this contest, to convince us that he can feel some sort of emotion. "I almost burst into tears", was his recollection of how he felt after Simon 'complimented' them - in a very damning with faint praise kinda way - last week. Really? We could have sworn they just stood their expressionlessly while mumbling how they were going to take what the judges said on board, just like they've done every single bloody week since this contest started. Still, Barry liked them, being "surprised at how wonderful they sounded", which, to be fair, we can relate to. We'd be gobsmacked if we ever heard them sounding wonderful. He also complimented them on the fact it was "in tune", which is hardly the sort of quote you can stick on your publicity material. For once they managed to avoid dressing in matching outfits like a pair of toddlers being taken out by their grandmother for their first song, Can't Smile Without You, and it was clearly at this point that the alcohol started kicking in as we found it almost pleasant. Almost we hasten to stress. Their harmonies were off, and the dark haired one seemed to find singing in tune almost as hard a task as he finds being even vaguely trendier than Barry Manilow, but had it been just Blondie on his own it would probably have been halfway listenable to. Simon, perhaps, inevitably - whether because he's not been drinking or not, we can't say - disagreed, describing it as their "Weakest performance so far", while Louis, somewhat half-heartedly and certainly lacking conviction, claimed it was "A good performance".

Ray, who no doubt sees Barry as some sort of God, was up next, declared himself to be "A little fighter", and we can only hope that he decides to try and prove this by stepping into the ring with anyone even remotely hard. Or even us. We reckon we could probably have him in a fight and we doubt we'd be able to beat JoJo at arm-wrestling, even if she used her left arm. He decided to do Mandy - well, it could have been worse, it could have been a swing version of Could it Be Magic - and, after Barry gave him some advice, declared he was going to think about who his Mandy was so he could sing it to her. Judging by the plastic look upon his face throughout, we can only assume, then, that he got confused and started thinking about Sindy instead. Can't we just slap an ASBO on him and be done with it? Or at least just slap him. Louis and Sharon were full of praise while Simon, his own mentor, told him he'd need to work a bit harder second time around, something he'll continue to hear once this contest is finally over. After all, those burgers won't cook themselves.

"My worst nightmare came true", confessed Ben, who with every passing week is looking more and more like Justin from The Darkness, "I was in the bottom two". Ben needs to start eating more cheese before he goes to bed and develop a better imagination. Dressed in an ill fitting suit and perched upon a stool, Ben took this horrible, painful experience, the sort of experience which even those suffering from poverty and famine wouldn't wish to endure, and used it as the inspiration for his Barry song, I Made it Through the Rain. Which was an apt choice, really, as being in the bottom two really is the sort of upsetting experience which is roughly akin to getting a bit damp. Either that or he was thinking about his days erecting marquees. "It spoke for itself", reckoned Sharon. Yup, dull, dull, dull, dull, dull.

We've finally figured out what our problem is with Leona. She's not so much an X Factor contestant, more someone playing a contestant in a film about a TV talent show. She's got the back story, the vocal talent, the looks, and the two dimensional characterisation and lack of emotional involvment which you'd expect from something like that. We wonder what Hugh Grant would have to say about her. Fair play to her, though, she definitely did something a bit different this week, going all Kelly Lorena on us with a camp, dancey, upbeat and hugely fun version of Could it Be Magic. Her dancing was better, if still slighly awkward, she looked fab, sang amazingly and did manage to tick all the boxes this week. If she is playing a part in a film, this will likely be leading up to the big twist where she gets voted off unexpectedly. We hope that's not the case.

So, with the first four songs out of the way, a plug for the DVD, and some rather unpleasant flirting betwixt Barry and Kate - "Don't ask me to give you one!" - as she tried to find out what Barry thought of the acts - Simon was the best singer, apparently - it was time for the second set of songs. And with the acts choosing exactly what they wanted to sing, this would surely be a chance for them to shine, to express themselves in a way they've not been able to do so far, to show us every single thing they've got. Did they succeed? Let's see, shall we..?

Back in matching outfits, the MacDonald Brothers are first to retake the stage and, given the entire spectrum of recorded music to choose from, what did they go for? Erm, Shang-a-lang by The Bay City Rollers and it was, frankly, brilliant. Yes, they might as well have just stood on stage holding a big sign saying "LooK! We're Scottish!" for all the relevance the song choice had - and they were even, Jesus wept, wearing tartan ties - but we love Shang-a-lang and even if it was performed by two braying donkeys using two bricks and a plank of wood as instrumentation we'd still have loved it. But even without our blindly uncritical acceptance of any Shang-a-lang cover, it would still have been an enjoyable performance, they were having fun, looked relaxed for the first time ever on the show, getting the crowd going and looking, despite doing a seventies cover, almost relevant. Not that such thoughts troubled Simon, however, "This is your final week", he predicted.

"It's got Ray Quinn stamped all over it", smugged Ray as he VTd his track. But what song could truely sum up Ray's personality? Is there a song called "Talentless Prick With No Self-Awareness Whatsover"? Whatever, Ray would have ignored that choice anyway, what with him being a talentless prick with no self-awareness whatsoever. Instead he gave us My Way - Simon: "When he told me what song he was going to sing I dropped the phone". And rushed round to strangle him with the flex, he failed to add - and it wasn't as awful as you would have expected. Mainly because no matter how sordid and unpleasant your imagination, how troubled a childhood you may have had, and how low your expectations of Ray may have been, you still wouldn't have come close to imagining just how dreadful this was. We're talking definitive proof that the devil has the worst tunes. Not that such thoughts bothered Simon: "You now deserve a place in the semi-final". Ray doesn't even deserve a seat on the bus.

So, to Ben. And after ending up in the bottom two last week, he needed to pull out something pretty special this week to get the public back on side, and what did he go for? A rendition of Queen's Somebody to Love, accompanied only by a choir and the audience's out of time clapping. We're not quite sure exactly what he was trying to do here, but whatever it was it didn't quite work, unless he genuinely was attempting to create something of an embarassing mess on stage. Which hardly strikes us as a vote winner. All the judges congratulated on his bravery, which allowed them to avoid pointing out the sheer awfulness of what they'd just seen.

Finally Leona, and guess what, she's finally pulled out the Without You card out of the bag - it really is the big climax to an X Factor film, isn't it? - and, as always, vocally it was excellent, but she still seems more like a girl in her bedroom pretending to be a star rather than an actual star. Louis reckons she's the new Mariah. We worry she'll end up as the new Jayne MacDonald.

So, results time, and without the sing off to fill up 6 minutes of air time, the show is even more packed with filler than usual. Barry sings for a bit, Kate asks him the same questions she did first time around, there's some pointless backstage banter before we finally get around to the business of booting out the brainless. Ray is the first to be told he's coming back next week, and looks exactly like a monkey as he celebrates. Leona is next, and does her usual shocked, amazed, "Oh, I can't beleive they like me, they really like me!" expression. Ben and the MacDonald Brothers face each other down, Ben is practically crying, while the MacDonalds look resigned to their fate. Kate attempts to ramp up the tension, but even she can't last and, with a hint of a smile playing around her lips, she gives the announcement we've all been waiting for for a long, long time - OK, eight weeks, but it seems like longer - the MacDonald Brothers are out! Ah, let's take a moment to savour that news, shall we?

Mmmm, feels good, doesn't it? Of course, it's slightly ironic that they're leaving in what was probably their best week, but we're not going to shed any tears. And certainly Simon won't, who could be seen grinning away quite happily as the news was announced. "But I won last year!", said Louis, who is now out of the contest and offering a look at what the English cricket team will be saying in a few weeks time. "I'm sure they'll have great future in the music industry", he added, but was noticeable in his reluctance to actually put his money where his mouth was with them as he did with Eton Road. They got to do perform for one final - hopefully in the literal sense - time and Kate, in an effort to leave us remembering them as having some sort of personality, attempts to get them to say something rude about Simon, now that they're out of the competition and don't need to be polite any more, but as they're both as dull as a kettle covered in grey matt paint, they just mumbled their usual pleasantries.

Semi-finals next week. We think we're going to need something a bit stronger.