Sunday, December 17, 2006

Final fantasy

"Grand" final: 16th December 2006

So here it is. Merry Christmas! Everybody's having fun. Except perhaps for Ray and Leona, who are probably vomiting in their mouths a little bit right now. Much in the same way that I'm sure we will all be vomiting in our mouths when Ray takes to the stage shortly. Before we begin on this recap of what I'm sure will be a thrill-packed and in no way overlong or bloated finale, I would like to thank the people who've been reading this blog every week for all of your kind comments. If you hadn't all been saying how much you've enjoyed reading, I doubt I'd have had the willpower to make it this far. Of course, one might argue that I'd have been better off if I'd stopped watching and/or blogging weeks ago, because I would've been spared the horror of Ray's plastic sexuality all this time. However, we all made it to the end, despite all the warbling and the judges' bickering and the boring Scottish duos and the anatomically-incorrect Scousers and the general paucity of talent this year. Well done, everyone, and thanks for sticking with me. And now, on with the show.

The search began with 100,000. Now just two remain: Leona, who loves singing and performing and really wants to win, and Ray, who also loves singing and performing and really wants to win. Gosh, this is exciting already, isn't it? They're going head-to-head for an alleged £1 million recording contract (which is of course based on a five-album deal or somesuch, and if the winner of this show makes it to his or her fifth album I'll eat my hat), and Simon claims it's "north vs south". Oh God, you did NOT just go there, Simon. I swear to God. You did this when it was Will vs. Gareth way back in 2002, back when we actually had dramatic tension and talented contestants and emotional investment, and even then we didn't care about the shitty north/south divide, so don't fucking start on that now. GOD. No wonder Louis's so obsessed with telling us where his acts are from every week. Ray goes back to Liverpool to see thousands of geographically-convenient but clearly tone-deaf fans, and Leona goes to what looks like the Hackney Empire to take it back to the streets, yo. Isn't Leona from Islington? Hmm. Our votes will change someone's life forever. Louis: "It's The Voice versus The Entertainer. I can't wait." The fact that you can sum up the grand final in those terms is precisely what's wrong with this programme. Sharon thinks it's going to be neck-and-neck. The biggest competition of the year is about to begin. Oh, please. That Sudoku I half-finished on Monday was a bigger competition than this shit.

Live studio. Judges. Sharon and Louis are basically ornamental at this point, and I'm not sure I can stand Simon's smuggery for two-and-a-half hours. Your finalists: Ray and Leona. Ray's got his Twat Pack suit on again, which isn't a good sign. Leona's wearing a pink dress and has lovely hair. Kate is wearing some kind of sparkly jacket, which still isn't the severe tailored suit I hoped for last week, but at least it's not one of those dresses that makes her look pregnant, so I'll be grateful for that and move on. Apparently tonight we're coming from across the nation, so Kate throws over to Ray's home town of Liverpool, where everybody supports Ray. I mean, maybe this is because I'm a disaffected Londoner, but I don't get this. I've never felt the need to support someone just because we share a hometown. I mean, the nearest celebrity to my hometown is Joss Stone (born in Dover, fact fans, despite being claimed by Devon later) and I can't stand that smug tongue-poking white-soul bitch. I'm not backing Leona because she's southern; I'm backing her because she's (a) the best singer here and (b) not Ray. Kate throws to Leona's supporters in East London. Huh. Maybe she's not from Islington after all, maybe that's just where she was born. Or maybe I just shouldn't trust the facts I get from Wikipedia. Kate assures us we'll be hearing lots more from them later. Oh, goody. Kate also promises lots of surprises later, which would probably be more surprising if I didn't already know that Take That and Westlife were coming on later.

So, we're finally kicking off the proceedings, and Ray is on first. Simon introduces him with the phrase "let's get ready to rumble", and if Ray actually sang 'Let's Get Ready To Rhumble' by PJ and Duncan, this might be the greatest show ever. Needless to say: it isn't, so he won't. Ray got to fly back to Liverpool on a private jet. Ray? It's December. PUT A FUCKING COAT ON. Seriously, what is with the short sleeves? Your guns aren't that impressive. If you need a scarf, then you need a coat, or at the very least, a shirt. Ray VTs that he can't believe how far he's come, and I think I speak for most of the viewing audience when I say neither can we. There's a red carpet outside Ray's house (don't be too impressed; his brothers own a carpet warehouse, remember? They probably got it at cost) and people scream for him. Ray gets to spend some time with his family. Ray's Not Bernie Nolan-mum: "Now you know that we know you were going to be the star that you are." Sadly, I doubt that's going to be the most incoherent sentence we hear this evening. 'Angels' plays in the background, and it's a good job I fucking hated that song anyway. Ray went to the shopping centre, and it was filled with people screaming his name. A sadder sight this Christmas I'm sure I will not see. I hope Santa brings them some taste. 'Let Me Entertain You' plays, and they really seem to be making Ray out to be the next Robbie Williams. I fucking hate Robbie Williams. I fucking hate Ray. So hey, that might work. Ray tells them that he's doing this not just for him, not just for his family, but "for all youse lot". Yes, I'm sure that the biggest thing on Ray's mind when he entered was to make some people he'd never met happy, and I'm sure that if he wins he will divide his £1 million prize equally between all of them. You suck, Ray. Leaving the "venue", Ray calls it the best thing to happen in his whole entire lifetime. Even better than the time he murdered the girl who was bullying him? I would've thought that was pretty special. Finally we get back to the studio and Ray takes his place on the Stool Of Tooliness. He's singing 'My Way' again, and everyone told me last time that it was wrong of me to skip ahead and not watch it because he was really good, but you guys? If it was anything like this, then you were wrong. It sucks, it's smug, it's affected, and I want to put my fist through the TV screen. He gets off the stool for the key change, because any kind of originality is strongly discouraged on this show. God, this sucks like an industrial strength vacuum cleaner. He gets a standing ovation from the judges, because they're desperate to convince us that the contestants they've found this year aren't really a colossal waste of everyone's time. Louis tells Ray he's come a really long way, and that he thinks Ray can win it. I think he's wrong. Sharon tells Ray that he definitely did it his way. It's a shame that Ray's way is basically Frank Sinatra's way with the smug factor ramped up to 98. Simon calls Ray "Teflon" because everything "just bounces off" him. Well, we've been saying for weeks that Ray's made from some kind of artificial substance. Is Simon a closet Bitch Factor fan? That would be exciting. Simon calls Ray "the favourite to win", and that's basically only true because this show has been manipulating the media to make it so. I'm so glad that I don't have to basically lie to everyone for a living, because that would really suck. Especially if I were lying to everyone for...Ray. I mean, come on. How would you sleep at night? Kate asks Ray how it feels to have achieved his big dream of making the final and to be standing on the stage. That would be the same stage he's been standing on for the past ten weeks, just so we're clear. Ray has no words, because he's secretly every bit as boring as Leona. Ray blathers his way through some thank yous, and we cross to Jeff Brazier (no, seriously) in Liverpool with Ray's supporters. There's a great moment when Jeff isn't sure whether he's live yet, and is being jostled by the screaming fangirls behind him and looks really pissed off, and then suddenly switches on the showbiz as he starts doing his piece, apparently unaware that we all just saw the bitchface. This is all bafflingly irrelevant, suffice to say that Ray's face is all "OMG! My hometown loves me!" which can't come as that much of a surprise after the events we just saw unfold in the VT, so: stop being fake, Ray. Jeff talks to the Mayor of Liverpool, who says that Ray is very very big in Liverpool, but who really means "no one told me I'd have to do this shit when I signed up for this job". I like that someone has a "Ray to Stay" poster, which I like to take as meaning "Ray to stay in London, far away from us." After the break, "Leona will be here, singing to win The X Factor!" Thanks for that, Kate. Couldn't have figured that one out on my own.

I hate the Barclaycard adverts with Julian Rhind-Tutt and Stephen Mangan almost as much as I hated the Homebase adverts with Neil Morrissey and Leslie Ash.

I wasn't looking closely enough at Kate's outfit: it's a sequinned dress, not a sparkly jacket. I don't like it as much now. To be in the final is a dream come true for Leona, who got to go back to Hackney in a limo. She waves to someone outside her chemist, or possibly to her chemist, and squees about being recognised. Somehow Leona manages to make this cute, but it's a thin line. Her dad is very proud. Leona says the whole journey has felt like a fairytale, and she's starting to feel like a popstar. Leona meets Jamie Theakston, and plays a "homecoming gig" at the Hackney Empire (I was right!). Lots of shots of Leona giggling as she performs. Her VT seemed half the length of Ray's, but maybe Ray's obnoxious personality just made his seem that much longer. Leona will be singing 'I Will Always Love You', and it doesn't appear to have the Dolly Parton-ness of the last time she did it, which is a real shame. There's a bit of wavering on her lower register, but I will give her points for actually singing, which Ray wasn't really doing in his first song. As much as I think Leona deserves to win, this performance is disappointingly karaoke, and I was hoping for something better. Louis calls it "an incredible performance" and tells Leona she's got "star quality", that she'll be "the next big girl singer from the UK" and that she'll "sell records worldwide". Sharon agrees: "If there's ever a contestant that's going to be a huge superstar, it's you, Leona." Simon says that Leona has delivered week on week, and says that he works in America a lot (this came as a huge surprise to me, I don't know about the rest of you) and that he's constantly being told that Britain will never produce someone who can represent the country on the worldwide stage (um, Elton John? Dido? U2? I'm just pulling names out of a hat, here. Possibly he's being told that our televised talent shows will never produce someone to represent Britain, and I've got to say I think that's true, and I think Simon's at least partially to blame for always backing such mediocre karaoke singing winners like Michelle McManus and Shayne Ward, but whatever) and that Leona has just proved them wrong. Well, hardly. Let's wait and see if she breaks America first, shall we? Also, if you're so sure that she's going to break America, I'd like to be the first to say that making her cover a Kelly Clarkson song for her first single is a monumentally stupid idea. Like, "hey, let's lick this kettle to see if it's still hot!" stupid, because it's going to invite comparisons, and I think Leona will be found wanting. Simon claims that Leona has come in as "the underdog" tonight (WHATEVER, again. GOD.) and that people who think she's going to walk it on her talent are wrong. I'm so sick of Simon now. Kate throws over to Myleene Klass (haha, seriously. This is awesome) in east London, who manages to make spazzy excitement look quite adorable. Bless you, Myleene. She's not a particularly skilled presenter, but all this specific job that she has requires is raw enthusiasm and the ability to form a sentence, so she should be fine. Myleene also points out that Leona is making history (WHATEVER) by being the first female through to the X Factor finals "in the world". How many countries has this format been exported to? I know it died on its arse in Australia and they only made one series, and hell, it's only on its third round in this country. It's not like she's the first female president of the United States or something. Tone it down a little, show. God. Time for another break (are you kidding me?), and Kate promises two big surprises when we return. I hope that one of these surprises is Ray being fed to a pack of wolves, and that the other is Maria taking his place and her rightful crown as the first female winner of this show, but I suspect I'll be wrong on both counts.

Back from the break, and Kate introduces a highlights package. I'm not writing about this, because I've inevitably already done it once, and it sucked the first time around. Sorry, folks, but this show is already at least an hour too long and I'm not going to pretend that this has been a vintage year because it's possibly been the worst run of this show yet. Anyway, Kate asks "who could forget this next contestant?" and we get a montage of Sean, who I'd kind of already forgotten, to be honest. I mean, there are points where they show clips of Kerry and I genuinely think for a second that she was on the show last year, because so much of this year's show has been so thoroughly unmemorable. Anyway, Sean finally gets a chance to sing 'Right Here Waiting' on the live shows, and to be honest, kind of sounds like a chipmunk. He was sweet in a pathologically nervous sort of way, but I don't think his eventual elimination was any great loss. God, there really were such slim pickings this year, weren't there? I wish this show would just admit that. Kate says that "we've all fallen in love with Sean", which: no, and sends him on his way.

Now Ray's back, and wearing a tuxedo this time. Jesus wept. Ray proves his versatility by singing yet another Rat Pack number, 'That's Life'. It's every bit as hideously stage-school as you'd expect, and just when you think it couldn't get any worse, Westlife come out to join him, and Ray MCs their intro. I am not making this shit up, I swear. I know that credibility and dignity are alien concepts to Westlife, but I thought even they were above this. And also: what's the point? If Ray's meant to be showing us what he's made of, why are these established stars intruding on his song? THIS SHOW IS SO STUPID. Kate mentions that Ray's a big fan of Westlife. Ray: "Yeah, of course - they've done a swing album!" Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrghhhhhh! I just...seriously, is this show TRYING to kill me? God, I don't think I've ever hated Ray more than I do right at this very minute. He can pretend he's some kind of swing aficionado all he wants, but if he's genuinely trying to convince us that Allow Us To Be Frank was anything other than a total abomination and a completely shameless cash-in, then I'm afraid I'm going to have to go around there with a sledgehammer and smash his moronic skull in. Ray thanks Westlife, and Kate asks Fishlips what Ray was like to work with. Fishlips forgets to hold his microphone anywhere near the aforementioned fishlips, so we don't hear the answer, but I assume it was suitably sycophantic. Kate points out that this was put together in a hurry, and they sang together for the first time last night, to which I say: yeah, we noticed. Nicky (I think, I can never tell him and Kian apart) tells us that it was an honour to work with Ray. Let this be a lesson to you all: no good can come from selling your soul to Louis Walsh. Another ad break. Fuck me.

We're back, and so is Leona, singing 'A Million Love Songs'. Ooh, I wonder who her special guests could be? She's wearing a lampshade-shaped dress that makes her look rather stocky, if I'm honest. Her version of the song is quite nice, actually: very heartfelt. Leona also gets to MC: "ladies and gentlemen: Take That!" It's like An Audience With The X Factor or something; seriously, this is so fucked up. Leona doesn't get to sing any of the second verse at all, but she harmonises very nicely on the chorus. Because God forbid she should take the lead vocal as THE CONTESTANT HERE or anything. God, this show is making me CAPS LOCK so much tonight. I can only apologise. I think it's safe to say that Leona's second performance pisses on Ray's from a great, great height, as if there were any doubt. Leona says she feels so lucky and so honoured to have sung with them, and squees that she was totally a fan back in the day. Wouldn't she have been, like, five? Then again, I was a bit too old to like Take That (even though I totally did) when they were first around, so Leona was probably the right age. There follows a moment which should secure Gary Barlow a sainthood, and I shall transcribe it verbatim: "I have to say, Leona, and Simon, this is to you, mate: you've got a big responsibility because this girl is probably 50 times better than any contestant you've ever had on this show and it's your responsibility to make her the best record you can. So please do that." Ladies and gentleman, you have just witnessed Gary Barlow calling Simon Cowell out live on TV and telling him not to peddle the same kind of shit on Leona that he normally forces everyone else to record. That's right: Gary Barlow just totally pwned Simon. Okay, it was worth sitting through this entire series just for that moment, I swear. God bless you, Gary Barlow.

So, Ray gets Westlife, and Leona gets Take That. I think we all know who's going to win now, don't we? Clips of the performances so far: Ray's marble-mouthed 'My Way', Leona's Whitney-by-numbers 'I Will Always Love You', Ray managing to outsmug Westlife on 'That's Life' and Leona being a very functional backing singer to Gary Barlow on 'A Million Love Songs'.

You are kidding me: another clip of the year's most "unforgettable" auditions, and they weren't funny the first time, and if you think I'm writing about them a second time, you can fucking forget it. Anyone wants to relive them can buy the damn DVD. What's hilarious here is that scary, dog-tripping, 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' woman Janet is included, and THEY PUT HER THROUGH TO BOOT CAMP. Seriously, show, stop making it so easy for us to mock you. Then they bring on Edna. Remember Edna? The woman who had a go at Simon when he was apparently mean to her daughter? Because that was totally your TV moment of the year, wasn't it? Never mind the season finale of Doctor Who or anything: this shit was your TV gold. This is such a fucking pantomime. Edna blows kisses to Simon. Edna tells us that she would like to apologise to Simon's mum for being rude to him, "but he deserved it". She says that she doesn't dislike Simon, and Simon apologises to Edna. Edna beckons Simon over for a hug, and Simon gets up and hugs her. Kate chides Edna for wasting time, and Edna's complete failure to understand Kate wastes a bit more time. I wonder if I can gnaw through the restraints with my teeth, or whether I still have to sit through the rest of this. Edna is here to introduce "all the real stars of The X Factor: the auditioneers (sic)". And then all of the worst performers come back to sing 'Earth Song': (Mad) Donna, Warren, Rocking Rick, Twice As Nice, Identical, some guy whom I don't even remember, another guy I don't recognise, someone else who I don't recognise who totally misses her cue, and Oncar Judge being lowered from above. Whoever thought this would be funny? YOU WERE WRONG. Most of the people this series weren't even bad enough to be memorable. There's not a William Hung amongst them, let me tell you. And again, the fact that you included Identical in this when they made it through to at least the second day of boot camp, if I remember rightly (and I do), just proves how utterly disastrous this show has been this year.

An advert for Britain's Got Talent: the statement this show has been trying to disprove for three months. Simon claims he's ready for anything we want to throw at him. Oh Simon, don't tempt me.

Kate tells us two million people have voted, and you've guessed it: It's Very Close. Ray comes on for the third and final time to sing 'Fly Me To The Moon', just in case we've forgotten where his skills lie. I want to cry at the fact that this show isn't even trying to produce a winner that can do more than one genre. Ray does some twirls and looks like a complete fucking girl in the process. His very existence upsets me so very much. I can't believe I wasted so much time hating Rudy in the early stages when I could have been directing the hatred towards Ray instead. Louis calls Ray "a true professional, and if anyone was ever a born entertainer, you are a born entertainer." The bounds of credibility get stretched further: "a couple of weeks ago, I thought you were a one-trick pony: tonight you've proved you're not." HOW, EXACTLY? Please tell me precisely at what point in the three out of three swing tracks that Ray performed he proved he was anything other than a one-trick pony? Do they think we're stupid? Perhaps it's best I don't go down that road. Sharon says there's nothing Ray can't do, except be likeable, perform something current and relevant, or have a reproductive system. She may not have said all of that out loud. Simon tells Ray he's had an outstanding night, and says that he's so happy he took a chance on Ray, that Ray's a complete dream to work with, and that he thinks Ray's on his way to winning the competition. This is bullshit, and I think even Ray knows that, judging by the bitchface I just caught in a freeze-frame. Ray says that he respects all three judges, despite the fact that they just proved they deserve respect from precisely no one. Kate asks Ray why people should pick up the phone and vote for him. Ray: "Pick up the phone and vote for both of us, because Leona's amazing and we both deserve to be here." Well, that achieved precisely nothing, didn't it? Although I really do think Ray knows he isn't really going to win, and maybe I respect him just a teensy, teensy little bit for that. Then he pulls one of those stupid faces again and I promptly stop respecting him, and all is right with the world. Kate asks him what he'd do if he won. Ray: "I'd probably curl up in a ball and die." Seriously, he actually said that, and if anything was going to persuade me to vote for him, that would be it. Kate throws to the people of Liverpool again, but it's all completely irrelevant and I so don't care any more.

Leona comes back on in a sea-green dress and does not punch Simon right in the face for saying that Ray was going to win, which is what I would have done. Instead she sings 'All By Myself', which kind of reminds me how her lower register really isn't her strong point. However, this looks like a good song choice because Leona's strength lies in her ability to empathise with the emotion behind a song, an ability that Ray lacks as a direct result of him being a robot. It's not her best performance ever (seriously, I don't think she ever bettered 'Summertime' or 'Chiquitita'), but still, inevitably, much much better than Ray. Though I suppose I should point out that since I've been ragging on Ray all evening for sticking to the same genre all night, Leona's done the same thing. I guess it's fractionally less noticeable with Leona because her genre does have a little more potential for variation in it, but either way: a little bit of diversity this evening would have gone a long, long way. Louis says that every week she delivers "100% every week", and says that she's the first girl in the UK who could compete with Mariah/Celine/Christina etc, and it's all stuff he's said before really. Also, he sounds kind of drunk. I wish I were drunk right now, it would make this so much more pleasant. Especially considering I'm a right bitch when I've been drinking. Sharon calls Leona "faultless" and says that she shouldn't have favourites but "it's a travesty if you don't win this contest". Slightly iffy grammar aside, that's the most sensible thing Sharon's said throughout this entire competition. Simon says "I think that final note may just have won you The X Factor." Simon then proceeds to address "the whole personality issue" by pointing out that a lot of these girls with so-called character are cocky bitches, and he'd take Leona's shyness any day. That's right, folks, because all confident women are complete bitches, and don't you forget it. I am so concerned about the message this show sends out to the nation. Confidence is bad! Success is something not to be encouraged in women, lest it go to their heads! Oh well, it's the bland leading the bland in this competition anyway, so what do I care? Leona says that she thinks maybe she's a better singer than a speaker (cocky bitch! She thinks she's a good singer! Stone the harlot to death!) but thanks everyone for their support. Cut to Myleene in east London, being joined by Donna, Leona's number one fan, who is slightly scary and thinks that Mariah Carey should move over. Mariah's all, "whatever, them chickens is ash and I'm lotion", or something equally scathing.

Kate welcomes back the final 12, because we can't just finish now when ITV1 desperately needs to hang on to the only show that's pulling in any ratings. They're singing 'That's What Friends Are For', and Ashley remembers his words, and Nikitta is awesome because she finally got to sing a ballad, and Robert is every bit as annoying as he was before, and Eton Road are cute in a slightly off-key way, and the MacDonald Brothers are competently boring, and Ben is gruff and looks like he took losing hard judging by his failure to shave, and Ray and Leona come on, and Ray proves that he can't sing a normal song in anything resembling the correct key, and Leona blows them out of the water. Kerry, Dionne, 4Sure and The Unconventionals don't get a solo, because we all hate them, apparently. They don't even cut to 4Sure during the "you can always count on me for sure" line, which I thought would've been a slam dunk. "How special was that?" asks Kate. Well, it was definitely "speshul", if you know what I mean.

Performance recap. We all lived through it once, I'm not writing about it again, but Leona hands Ray his anatomically-inaccurate ass on a plate. A plastic plate, naturally. Ray and Leona rejoin Kate, and Kate promises that during the results they will both sing the song that the winner will release. Shouldn't they have done that during this show? But then, I suppose we wouldn't have had room for all that lovely time spent laughing at shit auditionees. Yeah, that was choice.

Results show

Ray and Leona's journey began months ago. We re-witness Ray's father's terrifying act of child abuse, and now it's the moment we've all been waiting for, where Ray finally gets sent packing and Leona is crowned the victor. Kate tells us that over 5 million votes have been cast (and not a single one of those was mine, I'm happy to say. Okay, I voted three times to save Emma Bunton in Strictly Come Dancing and look where that got me, but still, I feel the moral victory is mine), but - and say it with me now - It's Too Close To Call. Performance recap, for about the ninetieth time this evening. Ray looks really ugly when he sings. Well, uglier. Leona's hair really does look lovely tonight, as I'm sure I've said already. But come on: there's no new material here for me to make fun of.

Take That return to the stage to show these losers how it's done, and with any luck to completely pwn Simon a couple more times before they have to go home. Gary Barlow appears to have a very large bulge. Or maybe everyone just looks like that in comparison to Ray XY. Anyway, they buck the trend of this show by not embarrassing themselves and actually being quite good. Kate promises that when we return we'll be "hearing what will become the winner's single for the very first time". Unless you've ever seen a Sandals advert, or heard Kelly Clarkson's first album.

We're back, and Kate tells us that the winner's CD will go into production as soon as the show finishes. And just to prove it, Kate crosses to Andi Peters at the CD pressing factory. OH MY GOD. This is almost as bad as the Pop Idol 2 finale when they sent the one and only Kate Thornton to the call centre where all of the votes got counted. NOBODY CARES. Apparently over a million copies have been pre-sold, despite no one knowing who's actually won yet. That depresses me. Although by "pre-sold" I have a sneaking feeling they mean "shipped to stores", rather than ordered by individual customers. Also depressing: Ray singing 'A Moment Like This'. He looks like a little kid dressed in his dad's suit, pushed in front of the family to sing for the family on Christmas day. I know that this is basically a schlocky winner's ballad that's all "winning a talent contest is a metaphor for life, really", but I do like the Kelly Clarkson version and Ray's sounds so flat and lifeless in comparison. Still, I should be grateful that he didn't get it made into a swing version, I suppose. A gospel choir gets trotted out halfway through, and there are pyrotechnics, although the performance really doesn't deserve it, to be honest. Louis tells Ray he's a fantastic role model for young people. No, Louis, he's a fantastic Airfix model for young people, ages 4-8. And there aren't any small pieces for the kids to choke on! "No matter what happens tonight, you're a winner." Except for the part where he's going to be a loser in about 35 minutes. Sharon calls it "a very hard song to sing" (which: not so much, really) and says that it's been such a pleasure going through the contest with him. Well, at least someone enjoyed it. Simon predicts that after tonight Ray will get everything he wanted out of this business. I hope one of those things is a kick in the teeth, because he's certainly earned that. Ray blathers something cringeworthy and tries to make a pun on the song title, and I won't do myself the indignity of repeating it. Kate kisses Ray on the lips, which he wasn't expecting, and she catches him with his mouth half open, which is pretty funny.

And now we have Leona, singing exactly the same song. Her arrangement is instantly more lifelike, as if we didn't already know she was going to win. Obviously the song suits her much better because it was always going to, although she doesn't have quite the same raw power as Kelly Clarkson and it still sounds a little anaemic in comparison. On the plus side, she's wearing this long, flowing dress and looks amazing. It's quite hilarious watching it, just to see how little they really expected Ray to win when you listen to his version next to Leona's. So, so far, Shayne Ward is the only X Factor winner to get an original song for his winner's single. Lucky him, eh? Leona gets the gospel choir too, except she gets a lightshow instead of pyrotechnics. Louis says that it's very, very simple: "That was world class, and you are a world-class artist. This time next year, everyone's going to know your name, and not just in the UK. I think you're going to be a world-class diva." Well, maybe we could have a year where anyone still cares about the previous winner by the time the next series starts before we start making claims like that, eh? Sharon says that Leona "saved the best to the last" (sic) and says that Leona owned the song. Simon does the whole "six months ago, a very insecure girl auditioned for us" schtick and says that Leona has proved you can be talented and also a nice person. That was never in doubt: I mean, I interviewed Kelly Clarkson once (not that I'm name dropping or anything), and not only is she hella talented, but she's also one of the nicest people I've ever met in my entire life. Seriously: before she left the room, she apologised to two people standing at the side (who were just waiting to take some photographs later and were nothing to do with the interview at this point) for not having introduced herself earlier, and stopped to have a quick chat with them. Charming as hell, she was. I think this whole "all talented women are conceited h0rs except Leona" thing is getting a bit offensive. Leona thanks the judges again. Another performance recap, with added 'A Moment Like This'.

After the ads, we go backstage to see Ray, who is feeling "scared". Er, why? "Nervous" I can understand, certainly, but "scared"? What's the worst thing that's going to happen if he doesn't win? Nobody's going to die. Unfortunately. Anyway, clip of Ray's highlights, and people lying about how likeable he is. Also amusing me greatly at this point is the fact that Ray has a blue band on his microphone and Leona has a red band on hers, so it's basically like televised SingStar. Wouldn't it be awesome if we had little green bars on the screen documenting all the off-key notes? I hope they implement that next year. Kate asks Ray what his favourite moment is, and his answer is predictably "everything". Kate tells us that they sent the X FActor pod to Liverpool, and it collected some nauseating testimonies from his family. She didn't say that last bit, I did. Leona is also feeling "nervous" and "scared", and oy with the scared already. Montage of Leona's journey. Katy points out that Leona looked like Tara Palmer-Tompkinson during her performance of 'I'll Be There' in Motown week. Leona says that she's learnt to do everything "to the fullest" from working with Simon, and thanks him for allowing her to be here. The pod went to Hackney, and there are more nauseatingly sentimental family and friends testimonies. Leona wells up at the sight of her nan.

Back form the ads again, and we cut for hopefully the final time to Jeff in Liverpool with the Ray fangirls. I am very concerned about the man holding a sign with "Ray ♥" on it. Over to Myleene in east London, trying to fight her way through the crowd who are "literally going mental" (really?) with little success. Kate welcomes Leona and Ray back to the stage for the moment of truth. Eight million votes were cast (bloody hell), and the winner of The X Factor 2006 is...Leona! There's a loud bang of a glitter cannon which clearly scares the crap out of her, which is kind of funny. Ray, to his credit, looks genuinely pleased for her, and they all make a big deal about how she's the first woman to win. They waste lots of time saying how wonderful Ray was, which is kind of crappy when this is Leona's moment. We cut back to east London, where Myleene has apparently been eaten by the baying crowd. Leona, bless her, looks absolutely stunned by the whole thing. Kate tells Leona that she's now a "bona fide superstar popstar" (here we go!) and asks her how she feels. Leona, predictably, is speechless. We cut to the CD factory and Andi Peters, where Leona's CD is going to press. Andi presses the button to get her first ever single made, and I learn that the process of making a CD looks really, really gross. Andi shows her her first ever CD, and Kate refers to her as "the bookies' favourite", which is completely at odds with the whole "you came into this the underdog" schtick from earlier. Simon says that he is possibly "the most proudest person" (sic) in the world right now, to which I say: get in line behind Leona's parents, you douchebag. Simon blows a raspberry to everyone who thinks these shows don't produce talent, because he's mature like that. Kate tells us that we can go to the website to download the single now (and apparently an awful lot of people did) and all that's left is for Leona to sing us out.

Well, there we go. Even though this year's show was a massive disappointment to most of us, the right person won, and I'm grateful for that. I'm also grateful for everyone who's been reading the blog for managing to make the show fun - something the show itself failed to do. We might possibly blog about something else before the next series starts, it depends on how much free time we have and how masochistic we're feeling. If you have any suggestions of any shows you'd like us to tackle, or if you'd just like us to let you know if and when we plan to blog about another TV show, feel free to e-mail us. Otherwise, we'll probably be back next year for the fourth round, for more sob stories. You know you love it, bitches.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Someone died! Please vote for me!

Performance Show 9: 9th December 2006

Last week: the competition ended for Louis. And also, y'know, for The MacDonald Brothers, but who cares about them when there are idiot judges to put in the spotlight? Congratulations, show: you managed to demonstrate one of your biggest flaws in the first seven seconds. That's got to be some kind of record. The battle is still on for the two remaining judges, and we see/hear them bickering, because it's far more important to hear them talking about how much they want to win than it is for us to perhaps get some semblance of personality out of the contestants. No wonder the finalists in this competition are always so dull; I wonder if they don't deliberately pick people who aren't going to upstage the triumvirate of ego. Anyway, Simon wants both his acts in the final, Sharon isn't scared of Simon, and Louis is scared of both of them. What. Ever. Someone's dream ends tonight, and I really hope it's Ray's. Your Saturday night starts here, apparently. Interestingly, not only was I watching Strictly Come Dancing when all this happened for the first time, but I was also recording it as well, because some primal instinct made me set the wrong channel on the video. It's almost as if God wants me to stop watching this show. Who am I to go against God?

Anyway, there are judges, and there are finalists. In case you've spent so long staring at the judges that you've forgotten, those finalists are Ray, Leona and Ben. We're in the semi-final, and Kate's come dressed as a matronly librarian. Those huge lapels that cover her boobs are quite something. I'd like to see Kate wearing a nice tailored suit, actually; I think she could look beautifully severe if she got it right. This is sort of halfway there, but those ruffles aren't going to scare anyone. There's no theme this week, instead the contestants and judges have picked the two songs they think will get them into the final. Er, are you kidding me? Hasn't that been the underlying theme EVERY week? What kind of fuckery is this, to quote Amy Winehouse? I swear to God, just when I think this show can't get any more shamelessly half-arsed, it has to go and prove me wrong. Still, at least it's only an hour tonight; thank the heavens for small mercies.

Kate rubs some salt into Louis's no-acts wound, and fluffs Simon's ego by reminding us that he has two acts. Ray is up first, and Simon genuinely believed for the first time last week that Ray could win this. I believe it too, because I have that little faith in the voting public. Simon says that Ray's performance last week reminded them all that when they saw Ray for the first time in the auditions, they thought he could win, thus completely contradicting what he just said. Does no one check for continuity on this show at all? Ray's proud parents tell us that Ray becomes a man when he walks onto the stage, and Simon claims that Ray is the dark horse. A dark horseman of the apocalypse, perhaps? What? I'm just putting those two statements together and following them to their natural conclusion. Anyway, Ray is singing 'Smile' (as in "smile though your heart is breaking", not the Lily Allen 'Smile', because that would actually have been brilliant and we couldn't have that on THIS show, could we?), because we all know that what this competition needs right now is more cod-swing bastardisations from the amazing anatomically incorrect Ray. I am so bored of his old-soul schtick now, and the fact that every man and his dog has released a swing album by now makes me think that you don't need to be especially talented to pull it off. Ray's final note is pretty off, but fortunately for him it gets drowned out by the Pavlovian rapturous applause from the idiotic audience, who appear to be under the misapprehension that they've just witnessed a semi-final standard performance as opposed to some half-arsed crooning. Sharon reiterates Simon's dark horse story, and tells Ray that he's definitely not a one-trick pony, despite the fact that he does the exact same performance every week. Sharon makes no fucking sense. Louis tells Ray that he loves Ray's work ethic, and thinks Ray has the best personality of the three remaining finalists. Ray's personality sucks ass, as we've all seen, so that reflects pretty badly on Leona and Gentle Ben. Simon thinks Ray is one song away from getting through to the final. God help us all. (I apologise for the amount of times I've invoked God so far. I'm getting desperate.)

After the break, we're still with Simon, so obviously Leona's next. Leona really enjoyed singing 'Without You' last week. Sharon thinks Leona is very special, and Simon thinks she's consistently the best vocalist in the competition. Well, DUH. She wipes the fucking floor with everyone else vocally, and if this were an actual singing competion she could win it from three streets away. Unfortunately you're misguided enough to make it into some kind of cult of personality, which means that Ray will probably win the bloody thing. Still, at least that way the whole thing would be confirmed as the utter joke we always suspected it was. But I digress. Leona feels like she's in another world when she's on stage. Her mum doesn't want this to end. Leona thinks the first audition seems like such a long time ago, and never expected to get this far. Simon thinks it's easy to assume she's a certainty for the final, but her lack of confidence could be her downfall, which Louis echoes. Leona tells us she is getting more confident. Don't get more confident, Leona! All the girls will think you're a bitch! Simon thinks Leona needs to give the performance of a lifetime, so let's see what she's got up her sleeve. She's wearing a polka-dot dress which possibly came from the Thornton School of Ill-Advised Wardrobe Choices. She's singing 'I Have Nothing', and I think she's actually a bit sharp at the beginning. She's certainly a little bit wobbly. However, as we probably all expected, she hits her stride in the chorus and sells the key change like the kids need new school clothes. There's an impressive bit of melisma and vibrato at the end that turns it from a Whitney into a Christina, but I still think she's had better performances. Louis starts to talk, but Leona isn't even looking at him; she's gazing into the audience and grinning, which possibly won't do her any favours. A lifetime of experience of watching shows like this tells me that the voting public do not like girls who acknowledge their applause, because apparently that makes them bitches. It's fine for men to do it, just not girls. Please note: I do not have a problem with it. I'm just acutely aware that people seem keen to find any excuse to tear strips off pretty young girls with nice voices and make them out to be heartless whores or something. Anyway, when the audience finally shuts up and Leona can actually hear Louis, and gives him her full attention, he tells her that if there's any justice she'll be in the final. Sharon calls Leona "superb" and says she hasn't faltered through the whole contest. Simon tells her that it's easy to assume she'll be in the final, but begs the audience to vote because he's so proud of what she's achieved. This makes me worried that Ray is actually getting more votes than she is. Simon adds that Leona has grown more than any act in the competition, and Kate encourages us to vote for Leona.

Sharon's intro is short: "Vote for Ben! Vote for Ben! Eeee!" or something to that effect. Desperation is such a turn-off, Sharon. We flash back to last week when it was down to Gentle Ben and the Righteous Brothers for the final place in the semi-final, and Gentle claims he was crapping himself. Sharon says that she was so unsure what was going to happen, but then Kate said his name and she felt Ben's hand squeeze and...hold on, is she writing some kind of erotic novel here? Ewww. Back to the auditions (with added Paula!) and to Gentle Ben's progress throughout the competition. Gentle has had times where he's wondered if he's really good enough for this. Louis adds that Gentle Ben has problems with his confidence, and this is the first we've heard of this. If you want to do an "OMG, I don't believe in myself" tragedy, you need to establish that much earlier on. You don't wait and go, "ooo, hang on, that's really working for Leona, why don't we try that?" in the last two weeks. Simon thinks Gentle needs to lighten up. Sharon sees how much he wants and needs it, and Gentle says that getting to the final means everything to him. Ben's singing 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You)', and for some reason I feel like someone's already done this in the finals. I mean, I don't think that is actually the case, but everything's starting to feel so predictable and familiar at this stage, and all I want is for someone to do something that displays a bit of individuality and charisma, like deciding to sing 'Let's Make Love And Listen To Death From Above' or something. Actually, they wouldn't even need to do something as leftfield as that; I'd settle for some Girls Aloud or some Sugababes or even some McFly, just something to prove these people can be relevant to the modern pop music scene. ANYway, Gentle Ben's on the Westlife Memorial Stool Of Sudden Key Change Movement, and of course gets up during the middle eight. He really needs to learn how to work the mic stand, because he just has his hand on the top and sort of sways it about a bit, which rather betrays a lack of conviction to my mind. Put your back into it, Gentle Ben. He gravels his way through the rest of the song adequately enough, and the audience go nuts as usual. Simon thinks that was Gentle's best performance in weeks, and wishes no one had to go home because no one deserves to go home on the basis of the first three songs. Except Ray, and I really can't say that enough. Louis thinks Gentle deserves to be in the final, but people have to pick up the phones and vote. Golly, and to think at this stage I still wasn't sure how this competition worked. Sharon says that Gentle Ben nailed it, and that is that. Kate opens the voting lines (sadly without cutting a ribbon) and reminds us to come back for the finalists' second songs, which will be a something mawkish done in a swing style from Ray, a big ballad for Leona and a rock-pop track for Gentle Ben. Unless they suddenly pick this opportunity to confound us with their range, but I'm not hopeful.

Oh God, ITV2 is doing a programme on Michelle Heaton and Andy Scott-Lee's wedding day. Who would want to watch that? Except for scientists discovering the debilitating effects of tanorexia, I suppose.

"For the final time, it's Ray." Good God, I hope so. Ray says this next song is in his heart, it's grown up with him, it's where he's from. Simon says they've always wanted someone to represent Liverpool, "home of the Beatles". Yep, and I'm sure Ray is the spiritual successor to the founders of modern pop music. Do me a fucking favour. Ray is, of course, singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' in an off-key Frank Sinatra style. How entirely uncynical. Look! He loves his home! He's so empathetic about Hillsborough! This is in no way shamelessly engineered to tug at your heart strings! Hilariously, Ray is singing this with a look on his face like he's mightily pissed off at someone, and with all kinds of crappy amateur musical theatre affectations. Please get him off my television screen now. He's getting wobbly on the high notes, and let me tell you: he does not have the voice or the personality for torch-singing. There's one impressive glory-note at the end, I will give him that, but it doesn't counteract the sizeable number of what I will politely call "iffily-pitched notes". Ray cries at the end, of course. Louis tells him it was an amazing performance and that Ray should be proud. STOP FUCKING CRYING, RAY. You cannot possibly have found that moving because you have no soul. You are made of plastic and Brylcreem and human emotions are an alien concept to you, so stop turning on the waterworks to make people vote, or I will come down there and really give you something to cry about. Sharon, of course, draws attention to Ray's blubbering by telling him that he's setting her off. Oh, spare me. Simon says that on the day he put Ray through the finals, Ray said he wouldn't let Simon down, "and you haven't". Vomit. Kate asks Ray why the tears, as if we can't fucking guess, and Ray is all "it means a lot to my family and some people I know, so I sang it for them, really." He sang it for his family! And the people of Liverpool! He's the people's hero! Fuck off.

"Final time tonight, it's Leona." Now see, that's interesting. Note how Ray was on "for the final time", and Leona was on "for the final time tonight". Possibly a genuine coincidence, but possibly also Simon being very sure indeed that she won't be singing us out in the results show. I dunno, I'm reaching here, but I still thought it was interesting. Leona is dedicating this song to a very special family member, WHO IS DEAD. Seriously, I have had the sob stories right up to here now. I thought that once Kerry and Nikitta had been sent packing, we'd be spared all this "pleeeease feel sorry for my tragic life" bullshit, so why is it all being dredged up again? Leona breaks down in the VT as she talks about her cousin, WHO IS DEAD. It's not about winning the competition, she says, but about giving something back to her cousin and her family. Yes, and it has nothing to do with ensuring that all-important final push for votes that a bit of tragedy assists with nicely. I like Leona and all, but this stuff is not freaking necessary. Of course, Leona is singing the Eva Cassidy version of 'Over The Rainbow', and doing a fairly nice job of it, but to be honest I'm already prejudiced against this performance because they seem to want to guilt me into liking it, and implying that I'm some kind of heartless bastard who dances on dead children's graves if I don't vote for her. Plus, it's just such a predictable song choice, in that I've seen several people table this song for Leona at some stage in the competition. Anyway, it finishes and Simon gives her a standing ovation. Leona starts to weep a little bit as well, but gets it under control, thankfully. Sharon says that Leona "leonified" the song and owned it, and to her credit, I will say that that was one of the times where it didn't feel like a complete carbon copy of someone else's version, so well done to her for that. Sharon wants Leona to believe in her ability. Louis tells her that he's looking at "the X factor and star quality"; that she's got it all. Simon thinks that her lack of awareness of how good she is is what makes her a special performer. Simon says it was the single best performance he's ever witnessed. Personally I thought Katherine McPhee's performance on American Idol had the edge on it, but then I'm not trying to get my act into the final here. Leona says that song meant a lot to her, but you will notice she does not turn on the waterworks at this stage, and so I forgive her a little bit for that completely mawkish intro. Kate tells us that we'll need our tissues for Gentle Ben's final performance, and by the way this evening has been going I can only assume he's going to sing it from his own deathbed or something.

Back from the ads, and Sharon's final intro: "Vote vote vote for Ben!" Oh dear. Gentle Ben will be singing his favourite song, and tells us that when he was little, he told his mum he wanted to be a singer, and she told him to go for it. She's always been supportive, even when he was busking and had no money (before he became the Best Tent Erector EVAR, presumably), and so this one's for her. BECAUSE SHE IS DEAD. Whoops, except she's not. Seriously: that's your sob story? I hate to break this to you Gentle Ben, but "I love my supportive mummy" just doesn't cut the mustard at this stage. She needs some kind of incurable-yet-photogenic disease at the very least. He sings 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For', and I'm drawn to his terrible posture. Is it rock and roll to be all hunched over like that? It looks very uncomfortable. Maybe they need to raise his mic stand a little bit. Anyway, he gravels his way through it in his usual technically-accurate-yet-oddly-unexciting way, and there's even a moment where the key change kicks in and he looks a bit lost because he realises he's already standing up. Simon tells him it was his best performance of the competition so far. Louis says that he always thought Gentle Ben should be in the final, and people should vote for him because he could be a major recording artist. Hmmm. Sharon says that she finally sees the passion in him finally, and "I could smack you, but you're there!" Gentle Ben says that it's taken him a while to realise, but now he's in the semi-final and he's realising how big it all is. Kate asks him what it would mean to make the final next week, and he says that that's his dream, and I really need some kind of macro for "like, DUH".

Recap: Ray proved he wasn't a one-trick pony by doing what he does every week, Leona grabbed another Whitney out of her Big Book O' Ballads, Gentle Ben did Bryan Adams because somebody had to at some point, Ray sang for Liverpool and cried fat fake tears, Leona sang 'Over The Rainbow' for all the dead people in the world, and Gentle Ben loved his mum. Kate tells us that 1.5 million votes have already been cast this evening (holy smokes), and reminds us to return for the results and a Very Special Performance from Gloria Estefan.


Earlier tonight, Ray and Leona sang for Simon, and Gentle Ben sang for Sharon. No one sang for Louis, because he sucks. Only two acts can make the final, because we were desperate for publicity earlier in the series and kicked two acts out in the same week, thus leaving us with an extra week to fill. It's The X Factor! Kate tells us that three million votes have been cast, and that the positions have been changing constantly, and that it's simply too close to call. You've cried wolf too many times, Kate. Sorry, but I plain don't believe you. Kate also tells us that we can catch the finalists live on tour next year. I'd like not to believe that as well, but sadly I know it's going to happen.

This week's special guest star, who apparently wasn't special enough to mentor the contestants this week, is the queen of Latin pop, Gloria Estefan. Aww, and she's even brought the Miami Sound Machine with her! I loved Gloria Estefan so much when I was a kid, and kind of still do. She sings a medley of 'Anything For You', 'Can't Stay Away From You' and 'Rhythm Is Gonna Get You' (including a shout-out to Simon, oh dear) and barely looks any older than I remember her, which is pretty impressive, even if she falls foul to the curse of the X Factor guest by pulling some slightly ropey vocals out of the bag. It's a shame we didn't have a Gloria Estefan theme week, but I know they did that on American Idol (in season three, I think) and it's widely regarded as one of the biggest car crashes in the entire history of the show, so I can perhaps understand their reasons.

Kate crosses to the finalists, who are nervous and all love each other, but all want to be back for the final next week. That's basically what it all amounts to. Kate's hair appears to be weighing her down at this stage - it's gone all bouffant-y and looks like it's going to eat her entire head if she makes one false move. Gentle Ben says he's not going to beg people to vote for him because he's just happy to be doing what he loves. I have a feeling that might come back to bit him in the ass in a few minutes. Adverts!

Kate tells us that the vote tally is now 3.5 million, and welcomes back the judges and their "semi-finalists", which sounds weird when she's been referring to them as the "finalists" for all the weeks prior to this. Simon comes back with Leona and Ray, and Sharon comes back with Gentle Ben. Louis is already sitting at the desk. Hee. Kate says that because the result is so tight, they're just confirming who will be going home. In no particular order, the first act through to next week's final is Leona, who cries. One question: can this really be "no particular order" now? If they're going to have a bottom two, then surely Leona got the highest number of votes? Kate reiterates that the results are being revealed in no particular order, but one of them has polled the lowest number and will be going home. Oh, fine, be like that. The second act through to the final is...audience favourite Ray, who practically falls over with smug joy. Ray hugs Gentle Ben, and Simon hugs Sharon. Gentle is happy, and tells Kate that he's done well to get this far. Kate tells him that there was 3% separating all three of them. Huh. They pulled that shit during the semi-final of American Idol this year, where they claimed the votes came down to 33% each and it all came down to a tenth of a percent or something, and it didn't stop Taylor Hicks absolutely trouncing Katharine McPhee in the final. Votes-wise, I mean. Personally I thought he was a twitchy, smug, massively overrated cunt who didn't deserve to win, but I wasn't allowed to vote. We watch Gentle Ben's journey, wherein apparently he brought "real rock 'n' roll" to the competition. Gentle Ben vows to continue singing, and sings out with 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. Oh, sweet irony. He looks kind of pissed off singing it, and I'd be pissed off too if I'd been pipped to the final by Ray, of all people.

So, next week it's the battle of the 16-24s to take the crown once and for all. And just so you know, I reserve the right to track down anyone who votes for Ray, chop their fingers off and feed them to my dog. I don't have a dog, but I will get one from somewhere if that's what it takes. Kate invites Ray and Leona back onto the stage. Kate reminds Leona that she's the first lady to sing in an X Factor final, and reminds Ray that he's the Trojan horse. Er, I mean, "a dark horse". So, they'll be back next week, and then it'll all be over. Hooray!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Changingmanilow

Performance Show 8: 2nd December 2006

I can't quite believe this show is still on. It feels like it's devoured my entire life. However, being so close to the finish line, I can't give up now. Hopefully you'll forgive me if I'm a little less in-depth than I sometimes am, but I'm finding it so hard to give a shit. So, last week: the dream ended for boyband fans and lovers of homoeroticism everywhere as Eton Road were sent home. Inexplicably, Ray and the MacDougall Brothers were saved by the public vote again. Incidentally, someone suggested in the comments last week that the "MacDougall Brothers" moniker is rather old hat now, so I shall be experimenting with different names for them during this writeup. Maybe we'll find a new permanent one. Maybe they'll actually go this week, and it won't matter? Anyway, the dream is still alive for four acts: Ray, Leona, the Doobie Brothers and Ben. They'll be fighting for a place in the semi-final. Sheesh. In normal circumstances, this would BE the semi-final. I hate this programme. Apparently this week it's all down to the public vote, which finally means no bullshit judging decisions. The judges lay out their fighting words, which I won't bother to repeat here because they've obviously been cribbed from the main show anyway. Cue titles and sense of impending doom!

Judges, finalists. We know who they all are, so I'm not wasting time writing about them. Ray's dressed like your dead grandfather again. It's slightly confusing how they talk about next week being the semi-final, yet refer to these acts as "the finalists". My brain, she hurts. Kate Thornton Dresswatch: A sort of cerise-purple affair that hangs from one shoulder and appears to have buttons to prevent her cleavage from spilling out. Interesting choice. At first I thought the strap had a flower on it, but it just appears to be tied in a big knot. She's worn worse, I suppose. So, everybody's singing twice again (spare me), and for the first song tonight everyone will be bastardising a Barry Manilow song. I wasn't even sure that was possible. The special guests are getting tiresome, actually - not because I don't want to see a professional giving advice on this show, but because so many of them were doing the exact same thing on the last season of American Idol. Can they not get some people who are a bit more relevant to the contemporary music scene? I mean, give them a week with Xenomania or Cathy Dennis or something. That would rock. Seriously: they should have a "songs written by Cathy Dennis" theme week. Anyway, I digress. Barry Manilow's face looks kind of weird. There must be some serious botox in there. He looks a bit like Barbara Cartland. Pre-decomposition, obviously. He'll be giving his thoughts on tonight's performances in the results show, and presumably giving his actual thoughts in the tabloids on Monday.

We start with Louis and "two of the nicest people I've met in a long, long time": the Righteous Brothers. They got positive feedback from Simon last week for doing a Proclaimers song, although Simon VTs that they're still not good enough for the competition, and he's worried that they're getting confident. Louis thinks they can make the semi-final now. Barry loves their harmonies, but does offer some constructive criticism about their stage presence, and does a completely awesome impression of what they look like on stage. Seriously, it's great: he just acts like his spine suddenly disappeared and sort of swings around by his hips and gazes blankly to the left and to the right. Who would've thought that Barry Manilow would be the one to put the most accurate burn on the Outhere Brothers? Not I, that's for sure. He suggests they pick a focal point for the girl they can't smile without (yep, they're doing 'Can't Smile Without You', and when the acts on this show start performing songs that I learned to play on the keyboard when I was nine, that's when I consider giving up and getting some kind of intravenous injection of vodka) and not take their eyes off her. If they end up directing this to Sharon, I may be violently sick. Blond Brother, aka The Only Brother Who's Allowed To Talk, rats out his bitches (which is a big no-no, just ask Janice Dickinson) and tells Barry that Simon's, like, really mean to them. Barry basically tells them that people have been saying mean things about him for his entire career and so they should just shut the fuck up, dammit. I may have been paraphrasing there. It's all down to the public vote, Simon doesn't have a say any more, and they're ready for anything. Let's see how that works out, shall we? My God, the arrangement of this song is so anaemic. It's like a strong wind could just blow it right over. This is actually a pretty pisspoor performance, if I'm honest. You should not sound this bored when you're performing a love song. That's surely not a hard concept to grasp? I know 'Can't Smile Without You' is hardly the most exciting song of all time, but they really need to find some inspiration here, and if it means doing that creepy thing where they look into each other's eyes and sing love songs to each other, then so be it. Also, Blond is doing exactly what Barry told him not to do: looking all over the place. Quite a few of the notes are really flat on this one, too. That's actually quite unlike these guys: they're normally duller than an extended episode of Celebrity Love Island, but at least they're generally very technically proficient. I wonder what went wrong here. The song goes on forever and ever, and the key change picks things up briefly, but not for long. The final note is flatter than Nicole Richie's stomach. Sharon tells them that the audience love them, and calls it a "feelgood song" to open with. She thinks they sang it nicely, but thinks they were "a bit off" on the note at the end. Simon: "A bit?" Hee. They make some kind of excuse about the backing track and it being "deliberate", which I don't quite understand. Saying that the key of the backing track was different to the one you'd been practising in or something I could understand, but saying that you deliberately sang off-key? You might do that if you were in some kind of experimental alt-rock band, but not on this show. The public don't make those kind of distinctions; they just hear a note that made the cat run into the kitchen and decide to vote for someone else. The viewers, not the cat. Simon isn't swayed by the excuse. Simon thought it was their weakest performance so far, and gets booed even though he's right. He points out that he liked them last week, but that you need personality to get away with a cheesefest like 'Can't Smile Without You', and the Pointer Sisters (I'm running out of band names with 'Brothers' in the title right now, or at least ones that spring directly to mind) do not have personality. Louis tells them he wants them to make the final three, and that people should vote for them because they deserve it, and it was a good performance. Lies, lies, lies. Also, I think I may have finally learnt that Craig is the blond one and Brian is the silent one, though I could still be wrong.

Ray's up after the break. Ray says that last week's performance was, for him, amazing. He inserts that qualifier because it was gut-wrenchingly awful for everyone else. Simon thinks Ray earned his spot in the final four last week by proving he's a singer and not just an entertainer. Still hasn't proved that he's good at anything beyond eye-gougingly smug renditions of swing music though, has he? We recall Sharon saying that it was his best vocal performance so far, and Ray says that's what he was waiting for "all week". Not all series, you'll note. "All week". You know he was just rehearsing and thinking "I'm going to get such great feedback for this, because I'm the bestest ever!" I hate him so much. We flashback to Louis bleating that Simon prefers Leona to Ray, and Simon points out that he puts the same amount of work into both of his acts. Ray says that Simon's always made the right decisions where he's concerned, which: lies. Ray says he is a little fighter and wants to make the most of every day he's here. Ray says that meeting Barry Manilow was amazing, because he's a legend. Barry's a legend, not Ray, although you suspect that Ray secretly thought it was an honour for Barry to be meeting Ray too, because he's a complete goon that way. Ray will be singing 'Mandy', of course, because it wasn't enough to have Westlife destroy that song, we need Ray to put his own unique stamp on it too. Jesus wept. Barry gives Ray the same advice he gave the Chemical Brothers, which is to direct the song to one specific person. Incidentally, in this insert, Ray looks more like a mannequin than ever before. His hair looks plastic, and he's standing to attention in this really creepy, unnatural way. Also, his clothes are too tight again, and it's making me retch. Just stop it, right now. Ray hugs Barry and it's plastic fantastic, right there. He even walks onto the stage like Action Man, it's creepy. His performance is every bit as passionless as Brother Beyond's, and he can't enunciate the word "without". That's all I'm willing to say, because I'm hoping that if I don't pay him any attention he'll just disintegrate or something. Louis calls it a very convincing performance (lies), Sharon thinks he's stopped doing the song-and-dance man and calls him a singer, and declares the performance "elegant". Simon says that they had to change the arrangement last night (it's hard to see precisely what they did to it) and Ray's only had a day to learn it, so y'know we should all vote for him because of that. Shut up, Simon. He says it wasn't the best he's heard Ray sing that, and he has to work a bit harder the second time around. Somehow I get the feeling that was all planned just so he can go "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" after the second song. Yeeesh.

Kate introduces "the ravishing Sharon", who in turn giggles and introduces "a ravishing Ben". Why did anyone give her her own show? She's so stilted and awful. Sharon thought it was over for her last week because Gentle Ben was always Simon's biggest threat. She was very surprised that Simon didn't play dirty by getting rid of Gentle Ben. Simon thinks he may have shot himself in the foot, but it was the right thing to do. Tell that to the Eton Road fans. Gentle Ben thinks he could be going home, and looks all emo with some stubble and a grey overcoat in a leaf-covered garden. Barry advises Gentle Ben to find the truth in 'I Made It Through The Rain', which shouldn't be difficult after last week. Gentle Ben has not mastered the art of waving whilst wearing a suit, because his jacket rides up all over the place when he tries. Something about this song makes Gentle Ben very fey, which is rather alarming. He looks kind of lost without his Piano of Rawk Contrivance. He gets up from his stool during the key change, which makes me think he's secretly been mentored by Louis. Simon says that he likes Gentle Ben doing this stuff best, without the gimmicks, and thought it was very good. Louis found it very "believable" and that he didn't pick a typical Barry Manilow song. Sharon says she can't add anything because Gentle Ben's performance spoke for itself, which is Sharonese for "I shall make a virtue out of my lack of vocabulary". Gentle Ben is happy with his feedback, and would like your votes, kthnx.

Back from the ads, and we're with Leona, the only remaining girl as they keep reminding us. She enjoyed doing an uptempo song last week, and Simon points out that Leona is unaware of how good she is, despite the constant good feedback. Sharon thinks Leona has a truly spectacular voice, but isn't sure that she has the X factor. I'm not sure anybody has had the X factor in three whole series of this shit, with the possible exception of Maria, and look what happened to her. Simon says that this is the point where the contestants start to change (presumably into little madams, just like Ray's been all along), but he's not seen that from Leona so far. She says she's just an East End girl at heart, and feels blessed to be here, etc etc. Leona will be singing 'Could It Be Magic' (no one's singing 'Copacabana'? Swizz!) and Barry's only feedback is "thank you for making my song sound so beautiful". Leona is touched, obviously. Her skin looks really bad in her VT, though. Was the make-up artist asleep that day? I'm not too keen on her outfit, either. The top's okay, but wearing it with leggings? I'm not so sure. She's a bit wobbly on the first few notes, but there's a very nice clarity of phrasing in there. I'm probably starting to sound like a Leona evangelist, but once again she's actually injecting the song with some feeling, which makes so much difference. I'm not sure she's terribly well-served by the cheesy eurodisco beat that comes in after the first verse, but it's still the best performance of the night by a mile. My housemate John hates this show, but feels compelled to point out that her voice is faultless and wonders why they're bothering to actually have the competition since she's so much better than everyone else. Ah, if only John were director of programmes at ITV. Louis says he's trying to find something negative to say, but can't. What a lovely compliment. Sharon says it was fun to see her dancing, and she looks cute, and she always sings superbly. Simon declares her performance "simply sensational". Kate manages to fluff Leona's name three times when reading out the voting numbers, which is kind of funny. Possibly less funny if you're Leona, mind.

Kate crosses over to Barry backstage, to fill some time. Sorry, "to get his opinions". Barry thought they were all great, and couldn't pick a favourite, of course. He cracks a joke about the best singer being Simon, which goes down like the proverbial lead balloon. He thinks everyone made the song their own, which I'd dispute on a few counts. There's a quick recap of the performances because the voting lines have opened, and they can't bear to have the show run for less than 90 minutes even when there are only four contestants left. Even in recap form, Leona wipes the floor with the others.

When you watch the ads on fast-forward, it looks a bit like Gary Barlow is "from the makers of Shrek". Hee.

For the second performance of the evening, the acts have chosen their own song without assistance from the judges. Louis begs the audience to help him as he introduces the Blues Brothers. I think we're all begging for support from a higher power at this point. They'll be singing a song they used to sing all the time as wedding singers, which doesn't bode well. They'll be singing 'Shang-A-Lang'. I've never heard it before and I'm rather glad of that fact. I wonder how many couples got divorced as a direct result of having these guys play at their wedding? They're wearing tartan ties, which is sort of interesting if you're desperate to find something about them to talk about. They get a standing ovation from Louis, but not from anyone else. Simon's comments: "you know what? I surrender. I don't think this has got anything to do with singing any more. I'm going to make a prediction: I think this is your final week." Boos from the audience, predictably. Louis disagrees, predictably. Sharon's not going to predict anything, because she's not Mystic Meg, she's Mrs O. Can they not find a slightly more topical psychic to reference than Mystic Meg? Possibly I watch too many cheesy TV shows, but I would've invoked Phoebe Halliwell or Sam Winchester here. Or Jennifer Love Hewitt, or Patricia Arquette...there's hardly a shortage, is there? Oh God. I just had a mental image of Sharon doing Jennifer Love Halfwit's (TM Joel) role in The Boob Whisperer and now I feel rather ill. Where's the brain bleach? She tells them they've made everyone here very happy. Simon: "Not everyone." Sharon asks Simon if he likes anyone, which is stupid because he likes Ray, Ben and Leona. Louis says that people like them, blah blah blah. Silent Brother says that they're doing it for the public, which is boring but at least he spoke for once, right?

Ray says that his second song is really him, and it's got "Ray Quinn" stamped all over it. I think it's got "cunt" stamped all over it, then. Simon says that when Ray told him what song he'd picked, Simon dropped the phone. Apparently the song's directed at Sharon and Louis. Ray is singing 'My Way', of COURSE. He's so smug that I'm going to fast-forward through this. Sorry, but no one's paying me and even if you were, there is no money in the world that could convince me to listen to that. Sharon and Simon give him a standing ovation. Sharon says that he sang with "such great emotion" and that he gave it "200 million percent of your soul". Ray doesn't have a soul, Sharon. Sharon says he's like a little Jack Russell that just won't go away. Katy: "Kick it, then." Can Katy replace Sharon on the next series of this show? Louis agrees with Sharon and calls Ray one of the most professional acts in this contest. That would be why this contest is such shit, then. Simon says that Ray deserves a place in the semi-final based on that performance, and that he's proud of Ray. I didn't even watch the performance, but I still know that's bullshit. Ray's all "if I'm here next Saturday, I'll still be doing it my way." KILL HIM NOW. Kate kisses him on the cheek and then rubs it off, which makes me laugh. It's like she's his auntie or something.

Gentle Ben has apparently picked a really big song, and knows he has to do something really special. Oy, there's a choir. Gentle Ben stands at the front and acts like he's conducting them, which makes me kind of hate him. Anyway, he's singing Queen's 'Somebody To Love', with just the choir for backing, and not doing it nearly as well as Elliott Yamin on American Idol (or indeed as the original), acapella or not acappella. And if the whole thing's acapella, why was he rehearsing with a keyboard? This is so fucking self-indulgent, and the sort of thing that I'd expect from...well, Ray. I didn't enjoy that at all. Dave (I'm watching with a lot of people this week) notes that he "pussied out of doing any high notes", which is a good point. Simon and Louis both declare it a "brave" performance, and cram it with that word already. It's not like he ran into a burning building to rescue some orphans. Sharon says that she's seen Ben do stuff like this all the way through and that he constantly works hard to take things to another level, etc etc. Gentle Ben gayvoices that he'd like to thank the choir for learning it all so quickly, and thanks the judges for the comments, and says that his performance "had to be risky". Yeah, because no one ever got anywhere on a televised talent show by appealling to the lowest common denominator or anything. (Did you call?-Lois Common-Denominator)

Simon wondered if Leona could have perhaps chosen an easier song for her choice, but Leona was adamant because she used to listen to this on the radio all the time and wish it was her singing it. She's standing in a diamond-shape made of candles, and will be singing 'Without You'. No doubt as you read this you're imagining in your head what it'll sound like, and you'll be on the money: very Mariah-like, very proficient, a little bit too much like the radio version for comfort. I preferred her first performance, but this is still enough to mark her at the head of the pack. At the end, the crowd starts chanting her name, which I suspect was planned all along. Sharon says it was "beautifully sung", Louis says that she's going to be an absolute star of the kind that the UK hasn't had for a long time. Simon begs us all to vote for Leona and not to assume that she's safe, and thinks it's astonishing that she doesn't know how good she is. Someone in the audience screams so hard that I think they're actually dying. Leona thanks the judges, and Barry Manilow. Apparently it's her lifetime's ambition to sing that song in front of an audience, and it was everything she dreamed and more. I'd rather Leona's brand of humble than Ray's smug jokes, but yawn, all the same.

Kate reminds us that it's all down to the votes this week, and we get another performance recap. Bros were probably the worst they've ever been, Ray inspired people who are normally pacifists to arm a Scud missile and direct it right into his stupid smug mouth, Gentle Ben played on the fact that he almost got kicked out last week, and Leona was too good for this show, as usual.

Kate reminds us to stick around for All-Star Family Fortunes with Vernon Kay. Surely that's a contradiction in terms? Anyway: Thornton out.


You know the drill: earlier this evening people sang for your votes, and for once your votes actually decided who stays and who goes. Kate returns and says that it's the biggest vote of the series at three million, but it's still unclear who's going home; there are just a few votes in it. Bullshit. Big fat bullshit. If you want us to believe that, then don't say it every damn week. Kate tells us that the official DVD of the auditions goes on sale on Monday, and speaking as someone who watched all of those shows on TV, why would anyone want that on DVD? It was boring as fuck.

Barry Manilow is back, and singing 'Everybody Loves Somebody', and looks a bit like he's having a seizure. I can't be too rude about him though, because of the aforementioned awesome burn on the Everly Brothers. Dave shares his theory that Barry Manilow is actually Martin Short in a costume, which I resolve to examine in more detail later. Barry tells Kate that the second performances were stronger because the contestants chose the songs themselves. Kate pushes him to find out who really shone tonight, and he sticks to the "Simon" argument. He wishes them all the best and refuses to choose. How boring.

Backstage, everyone now fits onscreen at the same time. Brothers, Can You Spare A Dime? (okay, I'm getting desperate) say that they weren't despondent over Simon's comments because they've had that every week. Kate asks Ray why people should vote for him, and even he can't think of a good reason. Gentle Ben is nervous because he was in the bottom two last week, and Kate calls his performance "brave" again and I'm getting very sick of that word. Leona's really nervous and wishes everyone the best of luck, because she's talented but rather bland.

Back from the ads, we're just one minute away from finding out who's going home. 3.5 million votes have been cast, and Leona had better be at the front by a very wide margin, or I will be forced to break some kneecaps. Kate invites the acts and judges back onto the stage, and the people coming back are, in no particular order: Ray and Leona. Kate gathers Gentle Ben and Shakespear's Sister together before breaking the news that Ben is safe and the He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brothers will be going home, finally. We get the montage of their time in the competition, which goes on far too bloody long. They thank the judges, and Kate reminds Louis that he's out of the competition this year. Louis: "I know, but I won last year!" Somewhere, Shayne Ward clears his throat very loudly, but no one's listening. The MacDonald Brothers (it seems only fair to call them by their real name at least once) sing us out with 'Shang-A-Lang'.

Next week: Semi-final. Ray had better be bloody going, or I will cut a bitch.