We’ve sat through awful auditions, endured pointless boot camp challenges and seen the most overblown judges’ homes round in X-Factor history, but thankfully now we’ve arrived at the live shows, so finally there’s something to talk about. I want to kick off by discussing host Dermot O’Leary who I always think is great but went back on his word after promising not to dance this year. Having said that I thought his quick moves with those sexy milk-maids gave the show an opening oomph.
Though Dermot’s dancing remained intact, there were a few changes tonight, namely that the seat arrangement has been changed, with Gary no longer on the far right as he’s sandwiched between Nicole and Tulisa, a move which will obviously provoke the tabloids to insinuate there is some sort of friction between the pair.
While I had no problem with the seat-swapping, what really threw me was the order in which the judges delivered their verdicts as it usually used to go left to right before ending on the mentor but instead this year it was a random order that I found oddly unsettling.
The biggest change of the night though was that people could vote without hearing their favourites perform, a move that I don’t like very much as it will just make fans pick up the phone to vote for their preferred act no matter how good or bad they were.
Tonight’s incredibly loose theme was songs that celebrated our triumphs in the Olympics, which meant choosing songs about being the best, winning gold and succeeding but even in week one this theme was stretched to breaking point. Out the gates first were District3, formerly GMD3, who asked their fans as well as the viewers of This Morning to help them select a new name with my favourite being Which Direction but in the end the District won out.
Obviously Louis ‘boyband’ Walsh had put his mark on this, with the trio harmonising in faux American accents on a R&B version of ‘Simply the Best’ which in my opinion was simply average. The boys had also been given a wardrobe which made them look like mannequins from a Top Man window, while the lad in the middle had been given a Justin Bieber style hat. I was surprised at how much the judges enjoyed it, with Tulisa praises their R&B vocals, Gary telling they wouldn’t be going home and Nicole predictably praising their sweet tone while also admitting she had a soft spot for them. Of course this wouldn’t be The X-Factor without a corny joke and a ridiculous comparison from Louis Walsh as he likened District3 to Boys II Men before telling them they were simply the best which was a blatant lie.
Just to remind you what a proper X-Factor boy band should look like, One Direction then turned up for no apparent reason to talk to Dermot for a couple of minutes. In this two minute period, the arena fell into a state of hysteria while the boys gave scintillating answers to Dermot’s probing questions and didn’t in anyway resort to using a cavalcade of clichés. So they told us they knew how hard it was to go out on the stage for the first time, advised all of the acts to have a good time despite the amount of pressure heaped on them and mainly that they should enjoy themselves. They also revealed that their favourite act was James Arthur, who coincidentally was up next singing Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Stronger’ which I feel is a song that we hear every flippin’ year on X-Factor though at least here it sounded a bit different.
Though Nicole described James as a unique and special artist here he broke out into some not so special rapping while he wasn’t given much in the way of staging having said that I still think he’s a talented guy. We also got our first spat between the judges here as Gary questioned James’ choice of song calling it predictable, which I didn’t agree with though I do think it’s overused on this programme, which caused Nicole to snap at Barlow informing him that he doesn’t know what goes on behind the scenes while showing him that this Pussycat Doll has claws.
Third up was Melanie Masson, who misses her children; a fact that was hammered home a lot especially during the scenes in which her kids actually visited the hotel where all the acts are staying. As for the performance itself, Melanie took to the stage dressed as an aging hippie standing on a big box against a computer-generated woodland backdrop. Thankfully, her powerful vocals made up for the poor staging and costumes as she put some real gusto behind her performance of ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ while she also got the obligatory X-Factor accessory of the backing choir. Nicole called Melanie all of the things under the sun, including a beautiful soul child and one righteous babe, but hit back at Gary for giving her a predictable song choice, while Tulisa described Melanie as the diva of the competition. The best comment though came from Louis, who said she reminded him of being at Woodstock and the acts of the time such as Robert Plant and Janis Joplin this led to a bemused Dermot questioning Louis’ attendance at the iconic American festival but it was then he revealed that he’d simply seen the film.
Lucy Spraggan was next, and instead of performing a cover about running or jumping she chose one of her original songs entitled Mountains. I do really enjoy Lucy’s easy style and ability to get over the story in her songs, but there’s already been a huge amount of backlash about how she’ll fit into the competition. Personally I enjoyed the song, though it’s not the strongest from her repertoire, but I think Spraggan would fit a lot better on Britain’s Got Talent where original songs and acoustic guitars are par for the course. If every week she comes out and performs a song such as this, I feel it will get a little tiresome however we shall see how her story progresses over the next few weeks but it was still good to hear something fresh. In terms of the judges’ comments all of them picked up on how good of a songwriter she is while Nicole told her she was spunky, honest and witty and Louis said she was a mix between Victoria Wood and Kate Nash which I have to say is fairly on the money.
The second of the groups were MK1, an urban act managed by Louis Walsh, what could go wrong? I don’t really have a problem with Charlie and Sim, though I do miss Will the singing accountant, though I do question how much time Louis spent with this act as all we saw of him here was a clip in which he told the duo not to let him down. MK1’s choice of song was Chipmunk’s ‘Champion’ which they oddly mixed with Hot Chocolate’s ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ however I thought this mash-up sort of worked. Overall though MK1’s vocal work was dodgy, I have to say Charlie’s vocals were a little on the shouty side, while Sim’s rapping was often incomprehensible though on the plus side they did look like they were enjoying themselves. The judges’ comments were mainly based around the energy with Tulisa commenting on how comfortable they looked and Nicole telling them that they were current and fresh. Gary though questioned the ‘interesting relationship’ between MK1 and Louis however the act, who were blatantly lying, told him that they had worked with Louis on all decisions. From the fact that they’re a bit different and they didn’t give a strong performance I would think that MK1 were the favourites to go however they seemed to have lots of support in the audience including from gold medal winning boxer Nicola Adams.
As we discovered earlier in the evening, Christopher Maloney had won the wild card, which to me was a shock as I was convinced Amy Mottram would be the thirteenth act, but I suppose you should never underestimate the power of the Liverpudlian vote. I wasn’t a big fan of Maloney throughout the contest and he did little here to prove that he was no more than a cruise ship/cabaret singer cruising his way through an obvious version of Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’. While there’s no doubting he’s got a confident vocal at the end of the day I don’t find him a very marketable act though I think he’ll stay in for a while on the sympathy vote alone. The judges praised Christopher’s vocals as well as the fact that he kept his nerves under control, however the song choice was criticised; an issue that was picked up by Gary who said that the songs for the wildcards were chosen ahead of time. The star of this performance though was Christopher’s nan who has become the breakout family member of the programme and will surely be mentioned by Dermot O’Leary every time she’s in the audience.
The last of the bands were the second of Louis’ incredibly similar boy bands in Union J, who have added the younger George Shelley to their line-up to make them look a little bit more like One Direction as he does bare some resemblance to one Harry Styles. To me it seemed that Louis was championing Union J over District3 in terms of his two boy bands however after giving them ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ to sing he may have thrown them under the metaphorical bus. Though this was the most criticised performance of the evening I didn’t have that much of an issue with it sure the vocals were a little off but the quartet did seem to be making an effort to put their own stamp on the song. It also seemed to me that they grew in confidence as the performance went on, eventually creating a sense of fun, though I wasn’t sure about the dancers surrounding them who looked like extras from a 1980s workout video. The old X-Factor song choice question was wheeled out again as both Gary and Tulisa wondered why Louis had given these boys a song that didn’t suit them one iota with Walsh eventually agreeing that he may have stretched them too far. I honestly didn’t know why Louis said this rather than stick up for his act, this was the man who tried to promote Wagner a serious contender, he came across as apologetic and made the group look weak though I do feel they may be saved by the younger female voters.
This year’s dark horse has to be Jade Ellis who, like Melanie Masson, is also missing her incredibly adorable daughter who seems to feature in all of her VTs and here we saw the pair enjoying lunch together at the hotel. Though this mother and daughter scene was cute it was once again there to give us a reason to care about Jade as she wanted a better life for her and her child. I thought the staging for Jade’s number was simple and effective as she came out in a cute little black number to be accompanied by a piano on her interpretation of Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Hero’. As Jade is one of the least known acts in this final 13, I thought she gave an adequate accounting of herself with this lovely little performance however for me it just wasn’t that memorable. The judges were complimentary with Gary telling her she won’t be forgotten any more while Louis laid on the exaggeration telling her she resembled an international pop star. I think though Jade’s positioning in tonight’s show will mean that her performance will probably be forgotten and although she doesn’t deserve to be there I think she may find herself in the bottom two tomorrow night.
Next up, the moment a lot of us had been waiting for, mainly for all the wrong reasons, occurred as Rylan Clark took to the stage for his big number. The opening VT was peppered with Rylan discovering that most of the nation hated him as he was taking up a valuable spot in the final 13 that could’ve gone to someone with more talent. After claiming last week that he wanted to be taken seriously, Rylan came out dressed as an Egyptian Pharaoh while male and female dancers cavorted around him essentially portraying his slaves. In terms of vocal ability Rylan seemed a lot more comfortable with the choruses of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ than he did with the verses, however this portion of the show was so camp it rivalled some of Wagner’s performances for craziest ever X-Factor turn. Louis and Tulisa both praised Rylan for being the entertainer of the competition, but inevitably Gary said he was an embarrassment to the show, adding that Nicole shouldn’t have turned up tonight after she put him through. This set the stage for Gary/Nicole II as the Pussycat Doll reminded Barlow that in Take That’s early days he participated in a video which saw him cavort around in jelly and whipped cream, though this was a funny moment, I think it was a reference that went over the heads of any audience members under 20. Generally I don’t have an issue with Rylan as the joke act/hate figure is now an established part of The X-Factor cast and at the end of the day he’s not going to win the thing so why don’t we sit back and enjoy what he has to offer?
One of the acts who I’m not wholly won over by is Kye Sones, the singing chimney sweep, as I don’t feel I know that much about him other than what he does for a living. His version of ‘Man in the Mirror’ was a competent first performance but lacked any real sparkle for me however the judges seemed to love it as Louis described him as an amazing artist. The only real criticism came from Tulisa who, in the oddest moment of the night, described the backing track as being too bubbly whatever that means. Kye also had the bad luck of being sandwiched between the ridiculous Rylan and the brilliant Ella Henderson meaning that his performance was completely forgotten as soon as the 16 year old songstress walked out on stage. Ella’s version of Take That’s ‘Rule the World’ was predictably amazing and you sometimes forget that this girl is only sixteen, or you would if you weren’t constantly reminded of the fact, though again I felt the staging was slightly underwhelming. Gary told Ella that he hated hearing one of his songs sung ten times better but that was what had happened tonight while Louis laid on the platitudes describing it as a faultless, effortless performance before making a dig at Barlow by describing it as better than the original.
One of this year’s most popular acts seems to be Carolynne Poole, who has been presented as someone who has never been given the chance to display her singing talents on a national stage as she was prevented from progressing in last year’s contest after Louis didn’t bring her forward to the live shows. I feel though that this is a bit of false advertising as she made the final of the BBC’s talent contest Fame Academy in 2003 so in fact this is her second shot at a TV talent show. Carolynne has also been boxed in as the ‘country act’ of the competition meaning that every week now she’ll have to perform a current song in a country style starting this week with an almost unrecognisable rendition of Nicky Minaj’s ‘Starship’ on which she was accompanied by a full band before being blasted by a wind machine. There was plenty of praise here as Tulisa told her she owned the stage, Nicole complemented her on her vocals and Louis Walsh did yet another comparison by likening her to a young Shania Twain.
The final act was Jahmene Douglas who, following Nicole’s advice last week, has now grown some balls, although still has that quite whispering voice which makes me feel slightly uneasy. The two things we know about Jahmene were both included into the opening VT in that he use to work at Asda and that he can’t control his nerves breaking out into a giggle any time he started to feel a little nervous. On stage though the nerves were at bay as he pelted his way through John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ employing a few too many vocal gymnastics for my liking a point that Gary Barlow picked up on telling him not to oversing his songs. Jahmene also was given yet another choir which I felt was a bit over-the-top and that the performance would’ve been better off being a little simpler. Overall though, I can’t fault Jahmene on his vocals and I feel he did deserve a place on the live shows, but I do fear for him after being given the kiss of death by Louis Walsh when he told Jahmene that he was his biggest fan.
After watching this first live show I’m actually quite excited about this year’s contest as I feel it’s the most talented line-up since the 2008 series. The fact that there’s only 13 acts means that things aren’t over-complicated while at the same time there are a diverse range of acts from singer-songwriter Lucy, to urban duo MK1 to country crooner Carolynne. Rylan is the obvious exception however, I’m not that bothered by this novelty act and if he can add a little camp value every Saturday night then where’s the harm in that? My major issue is the phoning in before all the acts have performed, as in a way, I feel it belittles the performances themselves because fans can simply vote for their favourites regardless of the quality of their vocals. So it seems that The X-Factor craziness has well and truly settled in and I for one am enjoying the judge’s fights, Louis’ awful comparisons and Dermot’s dancing so am greatly anticipating another ten weeks of this madness.
What did you think to this first live show? Who was your favourite act? Leave Your Comments Below. Also, check out what we thought and where we ranked all of last night’s finalists in the first of this year’s Unreality TV X Factor charts.