Talent in a Previous Life

Because It's Never Just About the Music

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The XX Factor 

It's been ten long, long weeks, but finally we've reached the X Factor Final and what an exciting battle it promises to be, as Ray takes on Leona for the opportunity to be the next Steve Brookstein with all the fun, excitement and glamour that you'd imagine that to entail. Of course, we say Ray vs Leona, but as far as we're concerned it's Ray vs Not Ray, and as long as Not Ray wins, we'll be happy.

100,000 started out on this journey and now only two remain, although for us we started off with 23 billion brain cells and now are left with only two, which still makes us a bit brighter than our host for the evening, the ever, umm, reliable Miss Kate Thornton (DRESSWATCH: A black, sparkly, sequinned number, the sort of thing that Shirley Bassey might wear, were she a goth), and not only did she have to anchor the London show, she also had to do a number of throws to the live OB's as tonight, as she excitedly informed us, the final was coming from across the country. Apparently the country now stretches no further than Liverpool. We wonder what this means for our passport.

And so, with little preamble from our hostess, Ray kicks off what we shall call, in complete defiance of the trades description act, the evening's entertainment, but first we have a short film about Ray's final week as an X Factor contestant. A private jet was there to whisk him back to Liverpool, presumably because if any paying passengers had been forced to sit on the same plane as the perma-smugged social irritant there'd have been a revolt, and he returned to his family home, where a crowd of people who definitely weren't pressganged in from the local schools were there to greet him, but Ray is a grounded lad and was more keen to grab a precious few moments alone with his family, a fact we know because not only did he allow the production crew to film this through the kitchen window, he also made sure his mum and gran were miked up so we didn't miss a moment of their inane and pointless babble.

But life for a charismatic, amazing, potentially globe straddling megastar isn't easy, and neither, it seems, is life for Ray, as he had to leave his family behind to go and turn in a crappy public appearence at a shopping centre, where a crowd of surly looking teenagers where enthusiastically shouting his name. "That was the best thing ever to happen in my entire lifetime", was Ray's summing up of the experience, which is a good thing, as having teenagers shout at him is going to be a regular part of his life from now on. And throwing things at him. Probably spitting, too.

Kicking off his attempt to steal the victor's tiara from under Leona's nose, Ray once again gives us his horrendous version of My Way, imbuing it with all the sort of fake sincerity and bad overacting you'd expect from someone who used to act... sorry, stand in front of the cameras on Brookside. "You're teflon!", declared Simon, presumably as a compliment. His suit was certainly made of it, anyway. "Words can't describe how much I feel for everyone that's voted for me!" was Ray's contribution. We know a word that describes how we feel about all his voters: "Sick", even more so when we cut to the hall in Liverpool where, in the company of Jeff Brazier - the Essex version of Ray: unpleasant, unlikeable, uncharasimatic, slightly deformed in the face but still carving out a career in public life for entirely unfathomable reasongs - a load of scousers were doing their best to embarrass themselves on national TV, and largely succeeding. We don't know how much they were being paid to publicly out themselves on TV as Ray fans, but whatever it was, it wasn't enough.

Next up was Leona, who in the past week was amazed by getting to ride in a limo, which is a bit like being amazed by someone delivering your post, "Right to your door!". Limo's are ten-a-penny these days, surely, and meeting someone who's not been driven somewhere in a car whose main selling point is it's inability to do U-turns is the only thing about them that would genuinely count as amazing. Hell, we once got a limo because we couldn't get a taxi in time and we're not, beleive it or not, superstar celebrities. "It's like a fairytale", she said, because she is nothing more than a walking cliche.

She opened, once again, with her take on I Will Always Love You, and it struck us that if she would just stop concentrating so much on her singing and actually relaxed enough to allow a bit of emotion come through. She managed this on a couple of occasions here, but to be honest, it doesn't really matter whether she connects emotionally with the song or not, either way her career will stretch out before her as a serious of dull yet overwrought ballads, destined to be played as the first dance at particularly unimaginative couple's weddings. The judges were particularly rhapsodic about her performance, as were the crowd in East London where Mylene Klass, fresh from spending two weeks in a bikini in the jungle - or at least that's the impression we got from the newspapers - was presiding over the events. As Leona is the first girl to make it to the X Factor final, Mylene reckons that history is being made tonight and, indeed, all over the country historians were preparing to tear out the World War II pages from their history books to make space for this important event. David Starkey has already been commisioned to make a five part series for Channel 4 on the events leading up to this, and The Guardian is going to do a wallchart. Though the latter is entirely unrelated, they just like doing wallcharts.

But while we may be down to two finalists, many, many more than them went by the wayside in the auditions stage, and so we get a chance to see some of the highlights of those who didn't quite make the grade and seemed mainly to feature people crying, like some failed pitch for the Kleenex advertising contract. One person who, had he gotten into the final 12, would now doubt have ended up with a sponsorship deal from Kleenex was Shaun who, you may remember, was more tear duct than man and the few parts of him that weren't comprised entirely of bitter, salty water were composed of sheep. He was, in short, an annoying little shit but would, at least, have been more palatable than Ray. Anyway, for some reason, and not because they desperately needed to fill up airtime, he was invited back on to sing Right Here Waiting. No longer looking 12 - he now looks at least 14 - his performance was pretty unremarkable and it's safe to say that we didn't really miss much by his failure to make the final cut.

But now it's time for Ray to return and this time he's dressed in a tux, like an annoyingly precocious child going to a fancy dress party as James Bond. This time it was That's Life, which is appropriate as Ray has a willy shaped like a parsnip, except it wasn't just Ray doing it, oh no. The doors at the back of the stage opened to reveal none other than Westlife, and if ever there was a need for an assassin with five bullets, then this was it. Although we'd still reccommend that they were all used on Ray, just in case. It was an embarassingly awful performance, even if they were probably only chosen as they were the only men in the country uglier than Ray. He is also probably the only person in the world who would respond to the question "You're a fan of Westlife, aren't you?" with "Of course, They did a swing album!", which is normally the response to the question "You hate Westlife, don't you?"

So Leona was up next, and who would she have backing her? One of the country's more successful girl bands? It seems unlikely, how would Louis know Girls Aloud's number? And so, once again giving us a Da Vinci Code style clue into what will make up the bulk of her career, the backing track of A Million Love Songs pipes up and Leona, wearing a very lovely dress, is soon joined by Take That - presumably a Boy Bands Who've Carried on After Losing a Member conference was taking place next door to the studio - and it was all rather lovely, or it would have been if it wasn't for the fact that Gary looked like someone who was currently out on parole for Christmas.

A reprise of the more embarassing auditons follows, before arriving on stage are some of the more hopeless, laughable and talentless acts who tried to enter the contest, so out walk The MacDonald Brothers, Robert, 4 Sure... oh, hang on, sorry it's more about the bad auditionees. After being introduced by Edna, the woman who told Simon he was rude after he justifiably laughed at her hopeless daughter, various awful acts appeared to mangle Earth Song, including the twins who made it to bootcamp and some woman who managed to make the most of her time in the spotlight by forgetting to actually sing and staring blankly at the camera. The only place there was less dignity and self-respect in the world than that is a whole room full of misprinted dictionaries.

With the inevitablity of a dog returning to its own vomit, we return once again to Ray, who regails us with Fly Me To the Moon, showing that while the great pop artists paint from a multi-coloured paintbox, Ray's remains resolutely filled with nothing more than grey. As is his canvas, for that matter. "If I win I'll roll into a ball and die", he said, and if ever there was a more desperate bid to get votes then we've never heard it.

Leona finishes things off with All By Myself, and it's no surprise that she doesn't want to be all by herself. Without a personality to call her own it's probably a bit like being a ventirolquist's dummy, stuck in a box, waiting for someone to... well, you get the picture. Not that Simon agrees that her charisma free lifestyle is a bad thing: "If lack of personality means a shy girl who's not aware of her talent then give me lack of personality!", which would, perhaps, be fine if it wasn't for the fact that 'lack of personality' doesn't mean that. It means that a cardboard tube would have more stage presence than her and her shyness has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Being a good pop star is more than just being a good singer, it's about grabbing the imagination, sparkling and shining, or, to put it more bluntly, they need to be someone you actually give a shit about. Leona's an excellent singer, but she's not any more than that.

And so, that's it for the main show, but not before all the X Factor finalists take the stage to sing That's What Friends Are For, although for some reason, neither 4Sure, Kerry, The Unconventionals or Dionne get to sing a solo line and are left only for the eagle-eyed to spot as the camera pans across as everyone joins in on the chorus. "How special was that?!" asks Kate. Very special, Kate, Very special indeed.

So, Results time. Except they have to stretch that out to godawful lengths as well, so first of all Take That perform Patience for what seems like the millionth time, before we get to see Andi Peters overseeing the preperations - i.e. getting in the way - at the CD pressing plant which will seen be churning out millions of copies of the winner's CD, virtually all of which are destined to remain unlistened before turning up at your local charity shop in bundles of a dozen for 10p.

Then, it's the big moment, the chance for us to hear exactly what this years X Factor single, A Moment Like This will sound like, although if you missed the premiere, don't worry, you'll be hearing it a million or so times over the next month, even if you're unlikely to even be vaguely able to recall it once January's been and gone. It is, surprise, surprise, a dull ballad with a vague metaphor about how the X Factor is a bit like life and sounds exactly like you'd expect it to and, of course, has a gospel choir coming in half way through. Both Ray and Leona gave us their versions, Leona's was undoubtedly better, but they were still both nothing anyone would actually choose to listen to and served mainly to demonstrate exactly how out of touch the X Factor is with modern pop music. A moment like this? A moment like piss, more like. Arf, etc.

But still we don't get to find out who won, as we first have to go backstage with Ray and Leona to find out how they're feeling. Not only do we have to endure an entirely pointless set of interviews with their friends and family - guess what, they're all quite proud of Ray/Leona, who'd have guessed - though as it revealed that Ray's dad is also called Ray, it did at least demonstrate exactly where he gets his lack of imagination from, we also had to sit through their highlights packages, revealing that Ray's time on the show was mainly spent being a cunt, while Leona's was spent singing quite high and looking like she's about to burst into tears.

Finally, we get to the announcement. Finally! And with no sense of surprise or shock whatsoever, it's not Ray! Hooray! Confetti cannons fire and this year's winner nearly has a heart attack, which would have put something of a dampener on things. Eventually she calmed down and looked a bit chuffed, but was still unable to come up with much more to say than "I'm speechless", something she's more than demonstrated over the last two and a half months. Simon was proud, Leona sings again, all the X Factor finalists join in for the final chorus, with Ray doing his very best to get into shot and actively mauling her just as soon as is decently possible and it's all over for another year so we can all, and we really can't use this word enough, finally go home.

That's it for another year. Please don't make us do it again in 2007. We really don't think we can cope.