Sunday, August 19, 2012

A study in Pink

Auditions 1: 18th August 2012

If the reports are to be believed, the whole country experienced an outbreak of goodwill this summer thanks to the Olympics. A cynic might write here that the arrival of a new series of The X Factor would be just the thing to free our inner curmudgeons once again, but in a bid for self-improvement, I'm going to try to go into this year's run with an open mind. Any leftover grievances I might have with Gary, Louis and Tulisa are going to be put to one side, and we'll start afresh for 2012. Unless of course Little Mix come back for their valedictory performance and St Jesy is still wearing those godforsaken leggings, in which case all bets are off. [I maintained my grump. It was a hard job but I did it for the good of the nation - Helen]

We open with a greyscale, slightly mournful aerial shot of London, as an on-screen caption tells us that "in the beginning...stars were born". That this particular statement is backed up by a clip of Leona's 'Bleeding Love' is not, I imagine, going to do anything to repair Steve Brookstein's fractured relationship with this programme - or Shayne Ward's, for that matter. JLS are also featured here, as is Future Head Judge Alexandra Burke, though her section features Beyoncé singing while Alexandra just nods tearfully by her side. The caption goes on to assert that "lives were changed" as we see footage of the all-conquering One Direction. Finally we see Little Mix triumphing over Marcus in last year's final, as we are asked "but who is next?" Who indeed. Now the past is but a faint memory and our only concern is looking ahead, as a group of auditionees, many of whom we will probably never see again, are shown hugging their photogenic or inspirational family members (note: it is not possible to be both) and making their way to a potentially life-changing audition. [I am hoping so hard for a male solo winner whose career follows the usual trajectory because 6/9 would be hilarious, especially after all the 'most talented year ever' guff they've been spouting this year - Rad]

The set is shown lighting up, and the logo appears to have had another slight cosmetic overhaul from last year - nothing major, but a bit more blue in there than I remember. We see many more people waiting nervously backstage as one man prays to God to help him to go through to the next round, seemingly unaware that God has His (or Her) hands full trying to stop the gays from getting married and ruining everything. We get a contestant's eye shot of the walk up to the X upon which they must stand when they perform, as Gary tells whoever-it-is that they're being watched by 5,000 people right now, so there's no pressure. Oh, Gary. I know the ratings were a bit disappointing last night, but there's no need to downplay it quite that much. Then there follows a frantic montage of auditions we will presumably see in more detail later, soundtracked by 'Hot Right Now', interspersed with some choice quotes from the judges and a quick roll call of this year's guest panellists which consists of Rita Ora, Geri Halliwell, a barely recognisable Leona Lewis, Anastacia, and Mel B. Edited highlights of auditions: a lot of high-pitched screaming, the obligatory backstage shot of a cameraperson being shoved out of the way, Nicole Scherzinger getting to her feet and saying "no, baby, no" to somebody (I'm very intrigued to see that one in context), Anastacia in tears, the return of Jade from last year and a small child slapping Dermot repeatedly about the face. Hey, maybe it'll be a good year after all!

Titles. Inevitably, we open in London at the O2 Arena, where thousands upon thousands upon thousands have turned up in the rather slim hope of being asked to come back later to perform for Gary, Tulisa, Louis, whoever's replacing Kelly and of course the ITV1 audience at home. Dermot strolls past the crowds in a rather drab white shirt and plain dark trousers telling us, in case we've not noticed, that lots of people have turned up to audition in the hope of their life changing forever. To prove his point, in a flash Dermot's walking down a different street where former call centre Olly Murs is being photographed as part of his new life as a pop star. Whatever criticisms you might wish to level at The X Factor, it's to their credit that they continue to accept responsibility for inflicting Olly Murs on us. Dermot also interrupts Alexandra's very busy recording schedule and invades the stage at the Leeds Party In The Park to remind us how very, very successful One Direction are these days. I quite want his next port of call to be Matt Cardle's parents' living room, where the Lazy Decorator is hosting a viewing party, sharing a small bowl of tortilla chips and a thimbleful of dip with Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leon Jackson and Joe McElderry and screaming obscenities at the screen, but it appears that the tour ends there. [I want it to be like this but with Olly Murs playing Robbie - Helen]

The screen fills with footage of people who insist that they've got the X factor, but of course they're not the ones who get to decide that - it's down to the judges. First up is, of course, Gary Barlow, who hijacks the Olympics for his own ends so shamelessly you can barely tell where he ends and David Cameron begins, as Gary tells us that 2012 has already showcased some amazing British talent and he's sure there's another star out there just waiting to be discovered. Dermot tells us that also back is "the girl everyone's talking about" (though he doesn't mention why because this is a pre-watershed broadcast), last year's winning judge Tulisa. She seems to think that last year she established herself as a no-nonsense straight talker, and in the aforementioned spirit of clean slates, I shall not be correcting her impression of how she came across. Returning for a ninth year and mysteriously looking younger than ever, we have Louis Walsh. He gets in a sly dig at The Voice by saying that this is the only show that can find real stars who sell records worldwide (or indeed anywhere), and that it's not "just about the voice" - you need star quality and the right attitude, otherwise known as the X factor. And since Kelly Rowland declined to return for a second series (a turn of events I can't help finding amusing given the number of years prior to her engagement she spent hanging around in the audience at the live shows and turning up on The Xtra Factor hoping someone would notice her eminent employability), her seat will eventually be filled on a full-time basis by Nicole Scherzinger. The brief biography we get of her highlights her time as a Pussycat Doll and a successful "worldwide" solo artist, as well as her guest-judging stint on this show two years ago (which is, regrettably, illustrated by her allowing Rebecca "endless supply of songs about how materialism is bad and I am nice" Ferguson to progress to the next round) and downplays that a) she doesn't appear to be able to sell records in her home country and b) her stint as a full-time judge on this show in America did not end well. Still, the Americans seemed to like what they saw of Cheryl Cole, so what do they know, eh? We get our first legitimately AMAZING moment of the series when Nicole attempts to assure us that while she might seem like the nice, sweet judge, "underneath it all, I'm a scary bitch". So much of the amazingness comes from the fact that even Nicole clearly doesn't believe this statement. You can practically see her shrugging. Still, Nicole is already my favourite judge for that intro alone. The bar has been set high, Other Three. Come join me and Nicole up here whenever you feel you're ready.

Right, it's time to into the meat, as it were: let's get on with the auditions. Dermot appears on stage to introduce the judges to the crowd, and the rapturous reception they get sends shockwaves backstage, as the penned-in auditionees realise that Shit Is About To Get Real. The judges take their seats and Nicole and Gary clink their mugs together with an optimistic "cheers!" and Gary states that they should start as they mean to go on. Which, in Tulisa's case, appears to be "getting more make-up added". Presumably this means that by boot camp she'll look like this.

Up first this year is 17-year-old Sheyi Omotayo from Camden, who is very excited to meet "my boy Derms". Sheyi works in Nando's, a job he loves so much that he has to forcibly restrain himself from asking "and what sides would you like?" at the end of every sentence. He tells Dermot that Pixie Lott came into his branch once, and bowled everyone over with the sheer force of her personality and charisma. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, oh I slay me. Anyway, Sheyi thinks Pixie was quite taken with him, and has a picture of the two of them together, which he just happens to have about his person. Dermot thinks they look like a nice couple. Sheyi is here because he wants to be a star and have the money to buys lots of cars and attract women. This interview footage is intercut with backstage footage of him apparently being unable to follow simple instructions from the production crew, like "this way". Is he going to turn out to be inept on stage, or is this canny misdirection? Let's find out.

Sheyi heads out onstage and introduces himself to the judges, making sure to point out that he's from Camden, just like Tulisa. Tulisa whoop-whoops in response. Sheyi makes the rather rash promise that if he gets through today, he'll sort the judges and the entire audience out with free Nando's. Sheyi tells Nicole that she looks like a lemon and herb sort of person. Personally I'd say that the panellist who absolutely screams "lemon and herb" is Gary, because I'm sure anything medium and above would raise his excitement levels so high that Louis would have to sit on him for two hours until he calmed down, but Sheyi's the professional here, so I'll defer to him. After we've established that Tulisa is more of a mango and lime girl, and Louis looks "plain", Sheyi is asked who he's brought with him, and he replies that he's brought two of his best girlfriends, a statement that generates considerable excitement until he clarifies that they are "friends who are girls" and that girls aren't interested in him. Not even with his psychic spice-preference predicting powers? That's inconceivable. I blame EL James for this; nowadays if you don't carry a ball gag and several lengths of cable around with you at all times, no woman will even look twice at you. Backstage, Dermot asks the anonymous girlfriends if they've ever heard Shay sing before; they have not.

Sheyi announces that he will be singing 'What A Wonderful World', and regrettably the undermining in his pre-audition VT was not misdirection - he's essentially a gurgling parody of what the song normally sounds like. It sounds more like one of Cookie Monster's YouTube videos, and I find myself mentally filling in the lyrics as and me think to meself, what a cookieful world. Eventually, Gary elects to put Sheyi out of his misery, and Tulisa tells him he has a completely different tone to his voice when he's singing - a raspy croak. Sheyi asks for some water, and bounds down to the judges' table to drink Nicole's. Louis suggests he sing another song, because this is apparently one of those auditions where we pretend that the song or the lack of adequate preparation was the problem, rather than the singer himself. Sheyi opts to sing 'Leave Right Now' - exactly the same way. Me think me better leave right now, before me eat any cookies. Still, Sheyi's enjoying himself, and gets the audience to join him on the chorus, much to the judges' delight. Time for those final decisions, and Nicole opens with a breathy "it is a WONDERFUL world!" Is she a scary bitch yet? I'm waiting on tenterhooks. She loves his personality, and thinks there is potential "if we're doing a Louis Armstrong tribute". Tulisa says he went from "Camden Boy to Cookie Monster in 0.5 seconds", and damn, I hate when the judges horn in on my jokes. Though, to be fair, that's usually a sign I should think of more original jokes, so YOU WIN THIS ROUND, CONTOSTAVLOS. Gary, in a wickedly accurate impression of Sheyi's singing voice, says that he "thought it was terrible". He points out that the work that needs doing on Sheyi's voice is surgical, which is not within their remit. The judges vote, and it's a no for Sheyi. But, on the bright side, he isn't footing the bill for 5,004 chicken pittas with chips and coleslaw on the side. The screen suggests we might like to get #itsano trending. The sooner TV producers learn that Twitter is one of the more contrary social networks and doesn't like being told what to do, the less painful it will be for everyone. Sheyi makes an angst-ridden exits, and one of the Anonygirls tells him that "the audience were completely on your side". Yes, especially when they were laughing at you. Seriously, on the list of people you want on your side, I'd say an X Factor audition audience ranks somewhere between Toby Young and Louise Mensch.

After an ad break, we return to a [bloody weird and very ITV2/daytime TV - Rad] montage of people doing various jobs. They work in supermarkets, in florists, in hospitals, but they are all united by one common understanding: that these are terrible, soul-destroying jobs, and being on the telly and briefly in the pop charts would be far more satisfying. This is our segue into the audition of Fe Cockton Leckie (26), who is a waitress, but she only does it to pay the bills (as opposed to all those career-driven waitresses?) and regales Nicole with exciting tales of the really big burgers that she serves. Nicole asks her what toppings they have, and Tulisa giggles, causing Nicole to deadpan "I LIKE FOOD" at her. Fe sings 'Think' in what appears to be Simlish, but the judges like it enough for Nicole to sing it right back at her and for Fe to get a unanimous yes. Oh, and we're in Manchester now, by the way, as fleeting shots of trams and "I ♥ MCR" posters would suggest, unless the auditions happen to be taking place close to a lot of really devoted My Chemical Romance fans. Next in is Rick Moorhouse, who is a fireman and who actually likes his job despite it not being as obviously fulfilling as being a pop star, since it only involves saving lives and not appearing at T4 On The Beach. He sings 'Iris' decently enough, and Tulisa tells him that they need a fireman in the competition. Bloody ITV cutbacks. Gary comes up with the dazzlingly original nickname of "Fireman Sam" (I hope that there's a slightly bewildered Italian lady who runs a café who auditions at some point so Gary can call her "Bella Lasagne"), and tells him he's got four yeses. The florist from earlier reappears next; her name is Tasha Leigh and she admits that she too loves her job (what is with this sudden outbreak of job satisfaction? Clearly the government is doing something very wrong) but can't help daydreaming about being a performer. She flirts with the judges and seems slightly drunk, and looks a bit like Jo Joyner with a red rinse and tattoos. I like Tasha, or at least I do until she starts singing 'Nothing's Real But Love'. Bleurgh. There's something oddly affected about her voice - I mean, not as affected as when Rebecca Ferguson sings this song, because that's not actually possible - but there's a sort of stagey clarity to her phrasing that leaves it all feeling a bit emotionally disconnected and hollow. Still, it's more pleasant to listen to than "nothing's real but HYUUUURGH", because what wouldn't be? It's four yeses for Tasha, who then gets mobbed by her 40-strong entourage.

Up next is Jahmene Douglas (21) who has already been seen in both the jobs montage at the beginning of this section and the "saying goodbye to loved ones" montage at the top of the hour, so he's a lucky man. He makes some awkward small talk with a handsome production assistant, and makes his way out onto the stage. A barely interested Nicole asks him what his name is and where he works, and Jahmene tells us he works in Asda-Walmart [who the hell actually calls it Asda-Walmart?  Did the high-ups threaten him with the sack if he didn't use their Sunday name or something? - Rad]. Everyone seems a lot more open about the specific nature of their job now that the product placement regulations have been relaxed, don't they? He's the bloke who goes around the store reducing the prices of products that are nearing their sell-by dates, a process that is apparently of endless fascination to Dermot, who wants to know if Jahmene gets to make up all the prices himself. I guess after five years of smalltalk, Dermot's really running out of other topics of conversation. Anyway, Jahmene tells us that he goes around three times a day, taking ten per cent off each time. So now we all know. Jahmene is here with his mum, and has a sort of nervous chuckle that punctuates his speech. He admits that he's a worrier and not good at mingling.

Back on the stage, he finally gets the chance to sing - he's chosen 'At Last', which he opens with a run through his falsetto range, which seems reasonably impressive. He's got a good voice, but he needs to learn to calm his nerves, and also to OPEN HIS EYES, for the love of god [and sing in time, not that that ever stopped Susan Boyle - Rad]. Nicole shows off the goosebumps on her arms to Gary, who nods approvingly. Jahmene's melisma at the end gets a little bit out of control, but the crowd are so behind him at this point that it doesn't matter. Louis tells Jahmene that he's a revelation, and that he has exactly what they're looking. Tulisa thinks he has The Shock Factor in addition to The X Factor and Raw Talent (Raw Talent should totally be a wrestling reality show. And The Shock Factor could be one about...modern art? I dunno, there's a reason I don't work in TV development), and she loved his transformation when he started singing. Nicole thinks he's an amazing vocalist, and that they need more singers like him. "I want to eat you up, honey," she says, somewhat alarmingly. Gary says he's never seen a vocal performance like that before, and that Jahmene completely nailed it today. It's yeses all round for Jahmene. "Do I go?" he asks, adorably. Tulisa tells him to go and celebrate. Hopefully he marked down a few bottles of Cava at Asda the day before for just such an occurrence. After he leaves, Louis says that he wants to mentor Jahmene, and Nicole opines that he could sell records all over the world. Tulisa, meanwhile, is still stuck on "he works in a supermarket!" Jahmene leaves, arm-in-arm with his mum. (Incidentally, the establishing shots of this section of the programme were definitely of Manchester, but according to The Journalist's Bible, Nicole was never actually on the panel in Manchester. Hmmm.)

After another break for some words from our sponsors, the auditions continue with some people who, despite all evidence to the contrary, think it's a good idea to turn up to this show dressed as an existing popstar. I suppose Katie Waissel auditioned while dressed Like A Virgin-era Madonna, but she was a special case for a great many reasons. Anyway, we have a Prince, a Rod Stewart, a Pink and even a Tulisa. The Tulisalike is named Ashley Whitelaw (18) we discover that she "hasn't had any bookings yet" as far as being a lookalike goes, and that she works in a chipshop. Tulisa's smile grows noticeably thinner the longer this conversation goes on. The Prince impersonator is Omar Rajpute (29, tribute artist) who wows the crowd with his looks and his moves, but Gary suspects he may lack versatility. No flies on that one, eh? The Rod Stewart lookalike is Alexander McLeish (56, construction site manager) who Rods his way through 'To Love Somebody', and gets scolded by Louis that he is not on Stars In Their Eyes. Ashley sings 'Young' and her ultimate fate is unclear, since all we see is her swapping places with Tulisa and Ashley giving Tulisa a pass through to boot camp. Then, after Gary has talked about the importance of finding an original popstar, the Pink lookalike - Zoe Alexander (22) - comes bounding on excitedly. She explains to Louis that she works as a Pink tribute artist, but doesn't call herself Cerise or Fuchsia or anything like that - she is billed as "Zoe Alexander as Pink", but she wants to get rid of the "as Pink" part, which seems fair enough. Zoe gets an extended intro as she tells us how much she loves her job because she gets to perform and make people happy, and that doing well would be a dream come true. "I'm not really very good at anything else," she muses. Back on stage, she tells the panel that she wants to get four yeses and find her own identity (musical, I assume, not just in general) and also that her dad is a Tom Jones tribute act and her mum does Shania Twain, while Dermot establishes backstage that they do all in fact perform on the same bill. She'll be singing 'So What' by Pink, which earns an eye-roll from Louis. Her Pink impersonation is pretty decent, but all the pretense and fakery, as far as the judges are concerned, goes down about as well as it would on Snog, Marry, Avoid? Gary nixes the performance fairly early on, and a bored Tulisa explains that she found it confusing, because Zoe was saying she wanted to get away from the Pink thing and then she sang that song.

Anyway, Louis argues that Zoe should get another chance to sing as herself, so Zoe opts to sing 'Next To Me' by Emeli Sandé. "Be you," Louis advises, and Zoe says "I'm always being me," which - yeah, considering she's already admitted to cutting her hair to look like Pink and working as a Pink tribute act, she's not helping her case here. Her vocals are pretty wobbly on this track, and she gets cut off mid-chorus again. Nicole tells Zoe that she likes her energy, but she needs to go away and find herself as an artist. Gary says that he's confused by her identity, and that while he thought the second song was better, she definitely needs to figure out who she is, because at the moment she just sounds like "every other average singing voice". Louis agrees that the vocal was "average", but he thinks in time she could be fantastic. It's four nos for Zoe, who is slightly miffed and saying "you told me to sing a Pink song!" Tulisa's uneasy, all "we never told you to sing a Pink song", but I should think it's fairly obvious here that Zoe's talking to the producers, not the judges. She has a bit of a meltdown all, "I didn't want to do it, I wanted to be me, you guys told me to sing a Pink song", at which point the judges get all affronted and the audience turns nasty. Eventually, Zoe leaves, hurling her microphone across the stage in fury - her dad's there to greet her as she walks off, and leads her right back onto the stage, which is the point where Nicole leaps to her feet and gives the "no, baby, no!" that we saw in the previews. Most of what Zoe says to the judges here is bleeped out, but it doesn't take particularly close listening to figure out that she's calling them "fucking cunts". Heading backstage, Zoe takes out a cameraperson and a piece of the set, while Handsome Production Assistant sensibly leaps out of her path. Gary relays what's going on to the rest of the judges, and Nicole squeals "inappropriate!" while Louis maintains that he "tried to help her". Backstage, an inconsolable Zoe launches herself at another camera. I'm rarely sorry that this programme isn't broadcast in 3D, but how amazing would that have been? "You at home! You're all fucking cunts as well!"

Oy. Okay, so I don't want to get too sidetracked by this because it's manipulative nonsense of the absolute worst kind, but here's my take on that. Tulisa has gone on record saying that nobody gets told what to sing, either by the judges or the producers, but I find that hard to believe. I mean, we've just seen four separate lookalikes all covering songs performed by the person they resemble, and while it's not inconceivable that they all reached that decision independently, I would say it seems fairly likely that there was some degree of steering involved. As for the claims that auditionees have free will: well, there's plenty of testimony from previous auditionees and audience members that at least hints otherwise. (On a similar nature, Kitty Brucknell said recently that the only reason she jumped into the pool at Judges' Houses last year was because the producers asked her to. So again, there's obviously some level of autonomy in there but the producers obviously have a storybody that they want to follow on some level.) Besides, all the audition tracks are pre-agreed in order to be cued up by the sound team, so the idea that "she didn't have to sing a Pink song!!!" seems to be missing the point - she would have had five options at the most, and at least one of them was a Pink song, for whatever reason. Ultimately, yes, nobody was forcing Zoe at gunpoint to sing 'So What', but if a producer tells you to sing something and you say no, then I'm guessing you don't get to be on the telly and you possibly don't even get to go on stage at all. But, equally, this show has been on the air since 2004, and anyone who auditions and doesn't already know what goes on can't really hold anyone else responsible for the outcome, because it doesn't take more than a minute to google it. End sidebar.

After a nice calming ad break, Dermot announces that we have now, officially, definitely moved to Manchester. Nicole is, as established earlier in this recap, not with us for this part of the audition process, so her seat will temporarily be filled by Mel B from out of being in the Spice Girls. On his way to the venue, Louis interviews that he likes Mel because there's no filter between her brain and her mouth. Mel tells the cameras that she likes being back up north, because she's a northern girl: "this is my hometown". Aren't you from Leeds, though? I know my grasp of UK geography is not the best, but I was pretty sure Manchester and Leeds weren't the same thing [well, they are the same thing in that they're both inferior to Sheffield - Rad]. Mel arrives in hair and make-up and discovers a Scary Spice doll on the table, and Louis just happens to have a Ginger Spice one, and asks if they can fight. That would totally have been my response, too.  [And then they lined all five dolls up and there was a bit where Mel didn't want either Melc or Victoria - couldn't tell which - or Geri in the doll band.  That whole sequence was the best bit of the show - Rad]

Outside, there are lots of "spontaneous", "unscripted" conversations about Mel B, which are so awkward and stilted that they make The Only Way Is Essex look like Blue Valentine [The sub-TOWIE bit was hideous.  What IS it?  Where did they FIND it? - Rad]. One of the participants this mess is Curtis Golden (18), who admits to being a "stereotypical geek", although he's not sure if he might in fact be a nerd. His scene partner asks him if he's ever had a girlfriend. Curtis demurs to answer. Curtis interviews that he and his sisters used to like the Spice Girls, and use to sing their songs. His random blonde scene partner auditions before him, and Mel B is not keen on her voice, but she seems to get through. On stage, Tulisa asks him to tell them something about himself, and in a story that he readily admits is a bit creepy, he explains that he bought a cardboard cut-out display that was used to promote Spice World: The Movie in a shop window, so somewhere in his home he has a cardboard version of a leopard print-clad Mel B doing a high kick. This seems to win over both Mel and the audience, so: well played, Curtis.

The stage crew bring out a mic stand and his guitar, and he plays an acoustic, slowed-down version of 'Candyman'. I have no idea how much of this arrangement is his own work, but he delivers it well - I just hope this isn't going to be the entirety of his schtick, because this sort of thing has happened before on American Idol and it got old really quickly. There is actually a really nice tone to his voice, at least. Once he grows in confidence, he could be a force to be reckoned with. Louis likes his quirkiness and thinks Curtis reminds him of Peter Kay. Gary thinks it was a great audition. Tulisa thinks he's very talented. Mel, on the other hand, found it all a bit irritating. It's a yes from Gary, a yes from Tulisa, a no from Mel and a yes from Louis. Wow, who thought anyone would ever wrest the "least popular Spice Girl ever to sit on an X Factor judging panel" crown away from Geri? Although I suppose we've not seen her latest stint yet, so there's still time for Geri to defend her title. Still, she'll have her work cut out to beat Mardy Mel, I feel. Backstage, Curtis is disappointed to have been rejected by a Spice Girl, as anyone would me.

Mardy Spice Montage: during one audition, you can actually see the camera operator realising how expressive Mel's face is when she's disgusted, and trying frantically to capture it at any cost. She offers one girl, Maria, a "reality check", telling her she should definitely not be singing and not to continue wasting her time. Maria cries. Mel tells another girl that she looks like a popstar, but she doesn't sound like one. Mel also appears to have a different outfit on in each scenario. How long did this bit go on for? A trio of poorly-harmonising girls get criticised on their sloppy, half-arsed dance routine. Eventually the crowd start booing her, and she starts trying to take them on as well. And here she was thinking that her role in The Vagina Monologues would be the most times people shouted "cunt" at her in public. 82-year-old Lou Dilke comes out to audition, and Louis warns Mel to be nice. Lou sings 'Make You Feel My Love', which causes some total sap in the audience to be struck with the irrepressible urge to kiss his girlfriend. Way to broadcast your emotional incontinence to the entire nation, dude. Even Tulisa and Louis cuddle up to each other, but Mardy Mel remains unmoved, telling him she wanted to fall asleep. "Where is her heart?" wonders Dermot. Same place as your spine, probably, Derm.  [I loved Mardy Mel.  She would end up sending everyone home at bootcamp in a strop and then we wouldn't have any live shows.  WIN. - Rad] [It all smacked a bit of publicity stunt to me. She needs to raise her profile, they need ratings. Mardy Mel is a win all round - Helen]

As we return for the final portion of the programme, Mel is still not winning any new friends and the editors really pile on the footage of the carnage that Mel's cutting comments create backstage, with shattered dreams as far as the eye can see, as well as contestants who haven't been seen yet wondering if they shouldn't perhaps be doing something safer, like joining an amateur dramatics society in Midsomer Parva. One of those suddenly struck by nerves is Ella Henderson (16), who will be taking advantage of the apparent rule relaxations this year and singing a self-penned song for her audition. She's been writing songs since she was 13, she tells us, and that she used to sing all the time for her granddad, WHO IS NOW DEAD. Ella waits anxiously in the wings as a five-piece hipster girlband get ripped to shreds by Mel, but could Ella be the one to finally put a smile on Mel's face? Seriously, there are only nine minutes left on this episode, what do you think is going to happen? Ella admits that it is scary, but that she was told by her granddad, WHO IS DEAD, that she mustn't let anyone stand in the way of her dreams of being a singer.

Ella takes to the stage, and explains to Tulisa that she's still in school, and has loved music from a young age. Ella's voice is pretty impressive, and the song's not bad for something written by a 16-year-old, but it's exactly the sort of sub-Adele mawkish, self-indulgent wangst that leaves me entirely unmoved, I'm afraid. The crowd roar, and Tulisa gets to her feet to applaud, and Mel finally cracks whatever expression it is she does that's meant to look like a smile. It still looks more like a snarl to me; let's compromise and call it a snile. The floodgates have broken, and Mel gushes about how Ella's songwriting is so clever that she struck a chord with everyone in the room and made Mel realise that she has felt like that in her life before as well. Louis is amazed that Ella is only 16. Gary tells her the performance was out of this world, and thanks her earnestly for sharing it with them. The plinky piano of sadness-tinged triumph kicks into overdrive as Tulisa tells Ella that she really wants to mentor her because she sees something special in her. Time for the judges to vote, and of course it's a yes from everyone, including the audience, who Mel appoints as her proxy. Ella leaves as Tulisa exclaims that she really "fell for" Ella and I'm already imagining the level of terrifying pandering that will result if Tulisa actually does end up mentoring Ella in the live shows, and how it will make all that offensive REPRESENTING WIMMINZ EVERYWHERE business with Little Mix pale in comparison, and I think it's fair to say at this point that my well-intentioned but clearly misguided attempt at a clean slate didn't even survive the first episode. Oh well.

Backstage, Ella gets all emotional and Tulisa comes scurring in because she JUST HAS TO KNOW what inspired the song, and Ella tells Tulisa about her grandfather, WHO IS DEAD (and the song is lyrically if not spiritually one of those 'my ex is rubbish' songs, which makes me think I shouldn't question the exact nature of her relationship with her grandfather in too much detail) and how he inspired her to write that song when she was feeling really down.

Coming soon! Lots of high-pitched screaming. Some more hopeless people. More men cracking on to Tulisa. Someone with animal face paint. A man who can't pronounce Tulisa's name. Someone who wants to go back on. Gary having some sort of lucky escape. Helen will be here to guide you through next week's episode, then Rad will do the following week, and I'll be back for episode four. See you then!

2 comments:

Lia said...

Back in great form Steve! Thanks again for brightening up my X-Factor

Kathryn Hyde said...

Ella: "my granddad died when I was very young."

Isn't that...everyone? That's the point of grandparents. Is this the best sob story they can come up with this year.