As I’ve documented over the past number of weeks, there’s been a lot of changes to this series of The X-Factor. From Double Auditions to the Six Chair Challenge, a lot has been done to modernise the formula which last year felt incredibly stale. But, tonight we seemed to step back in time as the cheesiness returned thanks to all of the acts warbling their way through classic hits of the 1980s. However, we did see one change – the dreaded flash vote, which we’ll get to in a little while.
Though he wasn’t dancing this year, Dermot O’Leary still managed to steal the show early on by wearing trousers which, in the words of Nicole Scherzinger, were tight like a tiger. Meanwhile, the judges already appeared to have been drinking in the green room before the show, especially Sharon who was ever so slight unhinged throughout last night’s show. Hannah Barrett was first up tonight and, before she began her performance, she told us how glad she was that she wouldn’t have to get up early to turn the Gregg’s ovens on for ungrateful punters. Hannah really wasn’t given a lot to do during her rendition of ‘What’s Love Got to do with It?’ and oddly she was singing in front of a computer screen that was set up to resemble a New York apartment building. The highlight of Hannah’s performance had to be when the camera swung around and we saw Louis Walsh clapping like an excited seal. It was Louis who was first to praise Hannah telling her she had an amazing personality and gave her the ultimate accolade when he told her she had poe-tential. However, Sharon got off to a flying start when she claimed seventeen year old Hannah was only sixteen and had to be corrected by both Gary and Nicole. Trust me though; it was the only time in the night that things went wrong for dear Mrs O.
As the majority of this year’s acts are teenagers, the problem with a 1980’s night is that a lot of them won’t have heard the song before. This was especially true of sixteen year old Nicholas McDonald, who had no idea who Spandau Ballet were, constantly referring to them as Spandex Belly. Despite not knowing who they were, the young Scot still did gave a good accounting of himself, although his performance was slightly ruined by the ‘school prom’ staging that had been given to him. Nicholas’ version of the song garnered praise from all of the judges with Gary telling him he’d completely nailed it and Nicole informing him that she’d always loved his singing. Miss Dynamix’s opening VT concentrated on the fact that SeSe is now pregnant but that generous Gary has allowed her to continue in the contest. However, I suspect that Gary’s only adopting this mentality as he feels that the girls will probably crash out in a couple of weeks. After seeing the VT, I expected Miss Dynamix to be singing a ballad and sitting on stools, but instead they decided to give a raucous performance of ‘Jump’ by The Pointer Sisters. But it appears as if this performance wasn’t as raucous as some had hoped with all of the judges telling them that they need to have more fun.
Somebody else who’s taken the contest far too seriously up to this point is prison officer Sam Bailey, who got a bit of justified criticism from Robbie Williams who wondered where she’d fit in today’s music industry. After hearing her powerful performance of Jennifer Rush’s ‘The Power of Love’, it was clear to me that she would fit best in the easy listening section of the record shop. Glam Sam also now looks much more like a recording artist after her obligatory X-Factor makeover. Sam did receive some tremendous comments for her performance, most notably from Nicole who told Sam that she’d left her speechless. From one Sam to another as hunky Sam Callahan surrounded himself with dancers to mask the fact that he was one of the weaker singers in the contest. Sam, who used the word cheeky about fifty times in his opening VT, definitely played to his strengths and the rowdy crowd seemed to take to his performance of ‘Summer of 69’. It’s a shame then that his comments from the judges weren’t that great, with them criticising his weak vocals and telling him he needed to work harder in order to compete with some of the other contestants.
Before they performed, Gary told us that he felt Kingsland Road could really steal the show. But, when I realised they were singing ‘I’m Your Man’ by Wham I didn’t think this would be possible. Though Kingsland Road don’t have the best vocals, they definitely have a lot of positive energy and I felt their performance was possibly one of the most entertaining. I rather enjoyed the staging as well which saw black and white versions of the boys appear on video screens while they were also backed by a line-up board which was constantly streaming behind them. Positive comments poured in for the boys with Nicole telling them she was very impressed with they worked while Sharon praised them for creating a positive atmosphere. The contestant who’s best known for possessing a positive personality is Shelley Smith, the bubbly white van woman and newly proclaimed ‘Devonshire Diva’. Shelley’s performance was the epitome of the 1980s as, during her rendition of Heart’s ‘Alone’, she wore shoulder pads, was accompanied by a wind machine and ended the routine by being ascended on a massive stair lift. Gary criticised her performance telling her it was a little too old-fashioned but he came round after Sharon physically assaulted him. Louis, with another of his great comic lines, told Shelley that she had welly.
Next up was Abi Alton, who put her own spin on Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’. In fact I could easily see this version being used on the next John Lewis Christmas advert. I’m a big fan of Abi’s and I really enjoyed this performance, but I’m hoping for bigger and better things for her in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile there was controversy at the judges’ table when Louis said Abi’s performance was so good that ‘you couldn’t hear a pin drop’, before Gary corrected him and told us that ‘you could hear a pin drop.’ While I’m not sure why this pin-dropping contest was going on during The X-Factor live show, it definitely needs more clarification in terms of the rules. Lorna Simpson was hoping to wow everyone and make the audience remember her after constantly being referred to as ‘the dark horse’. Lorna’s performance was certainly memorable, but unfortunately it was the oiled up topless men, rather than her rendition of ‘So Emotional’ that will be the abiding image people take away from them. This goes double for Louis Walsh, who seemed to be doing some furious scribbling while Lorna was on stage. On the whole, Lorna also received a heap of positive praise with both Gary and Nicole adding that she’ll definitely be remembered from here on in.
Like Nicholas, Tamera is another youngster who has no idea about eighties music and felt that the decade had been ‘all neon colours and tutus’. Tamera’s performance of ‘Ain’t Nobody’, featured some mesh fences that somebody surely nicked from a nearby building site. I felt that Tamera was incredibly confidant on the stage but I still don’t connect with her as much as I do some of the other acts. Scarecrow-boy Luke Friend spent his opening VT talking about his hair, which now has its own Twitter account. His performance of ‘Every Breath You Take’ was fairly enjoyable and he surprised everyone by breaking into folk rock about halfway through. Indeed his blend of The Police with a folk vibe surely means he was channelling the spirit of Mumford and Stings. While the judges weren’t completely sold on Luke’s vocals, they said he had a lot of passion and that came through during the performance. Last up were Rough Copy, who had now put all their visa issues behind them and were ready to give their all during their rendition of ‘Every Breath You Take’. For me this was the performance of the night, with the boys sharing excellent chemistry as well as receiving a positive reaction from the audience. But then, after all the judges delivered their positive comments, Gary dropped a bombshell when he admitted that this would be his final series of The X-Factor. In a way, it will be this announcement that people remember, rather than Rough Copy’s excellent performance.
Finally it was time for the new flash voting in which the audience had only ten minutes to vote to save their favourite acts. As they had about eight minutes of airtime to fill, there was a very awkward section in which Dermot had to ask each act quickfire questions which didn’t really provoke any interesting reactions. Thankfully he didn’t take too long to announce that it was Shelley who’d received the least votes and would be in the bottom two against whoever was bottom of tonight’s vote.
Overall I would say that The X-Factor live shows have started on a strong note, with many more quality acts than normal and a judging panel who aren’t taking themselves too seriously. It’s now easy to see why Sharon was brought back even if she’s mad as box of frogs she still made me laugh. Dermot once again is able to poke fun at himself and at the more naff elements that The X-Factor provides. Whether I’m feeling this positive in about six weeks’ time remains to be seen, but for now at least I would say that this is one of the best opening episodes of The X-Factor in a long time.
What did you think to the first live show of The X-Factor? Who performed the best?
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