Every series of the X-Factor has some kind of overarching story to lure in potential viewers. It’s more like a scripted television drama than a reality singing competition in that regard. Either it’s a conscious effort by the producers to appeal to the sensibilities of teenagers and young adults in this generation who spend the majority of their time watching the lives of fictional characters unfold, or they just don’t believe musical talent and singing ability can reliably draw an audience. In which case, they’re in the wrong business.
This series is no different. Having seen the departure of three quarters (and at one point all four were thought to be leaving) of the judging panel, the big event of series eleven is that Simon Cowell has returned to the UK version. The official reasoning is that he is coming back to the original in order to find a global superstar. Unofficially, the failure of the X-Factor US to produce ratings has caused Simon to come running back with his tail between his legs. And he’s bringing Cheryl with him. Oh, joy. I can’t complain about her too much though. She’s easily more tolerable than Mel B’s tough, no nonsense shtick.
The truth is that it works. This is a blog post about the first live show and I’ve spent the first two paragraphs talking about the judging panel and Cowell’s return. As much as people might wish that the show was more about the contestant with legitimate singing skill, it’s the drama that gets people talking. That’s free promotion for the show. By the time the weekend rolls around, you’ve been thinking about the X-Factor all week because you’re talking about what Mel B said or who Cheryl brought back. That is exactly what Simon Cowell wants. At some point though, I do have to talk about the actual competition, so here goes.
Over 25s (Cowell)
Not the strongest performance in regards to either rap or song but it was cool and fun in a way that managed to avoid being cheesy. I do think she will outlast the other acts in the Over 25’s category but she will probably struggle against some of the younger boys and girls.
In what I suspect could be said about most of the contestants, Ben is an alright singer who simply fails to stand out in any meaningful way. He might have sang a tolerable version of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ but both his look and the song have been done before. That kind of performer tends to fall by the wayside unless they pull out something spectacular.
Jay started strong and be brought it back up during the bridge but it fell a bit in between. He’s not a bad singer though and showed himself to be diverse in his ability with his performance of Sigma’s ‘Changing’. It is a good position from where he can hopefully grow.
Oh, so this is the joke act for 2014. He’s an average singer at best but he is popular so he’ll hang around until the competition starts heating up. Just have fun with him until then.
What did we do to deserve two joke acts? It’s like if Jack Black and Ke$ha raised t.A.T.u. I do find it amusing that their song was only a number one in Finland. Fortunately, they have annoying singing voices and aren’t terribly popular so they probably won’t linger around for too long.
Aside from having the blandest name in history, Stereo Kicks also boost the most members of any manufactured boy band group…unless you count the frankenstein group NKOTBSB. And they needn’t have worried about another boy band singing Katy Perry because they had the better performance. Marginally. Nothing was bad but nothing really stood out either. It was just boring.
Only The Young
Only the Young are one of those groups that are competent but feel slightly out of place on a show like this. Their song choice came across as skittish and disheveled so if they do make it through to next week they might have to review their style.
It’s telling why these guys weren’t Walsh’s first pick. All five members looked a bit lost and stiff and worst of all, they were very hard to listen to. Maybe it was nerves but they need to get over those quick. Popularity might keep them in the competition but they’ll struggle outside the contest if that’s all they’ve got.
Boys (Mel B)
Paul had some decent moments but I didn’t enjoy the song choice. In part that might be Mel B’s failure for picking it, but it song seemed to overwhelm his voice so that very little came through until he did a few flourishes at the end. Singing can’t just be about biding your time then booming your voice. It needs to be strong throughout. In essence, he was controlled by the song when he should be taking the lead.
Andrea is an odd duck. He sings better than one would expect, especially when that song is Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’. That said, calling for him to win the series because of that one song was perhaps overdoing just a tad. As surprising as he singing ability is, I do think there are better contestants in the competition, although only time will tell.
Another likable contestant who doesn’t have the best singing voice and sang a song that we’ve heard many times before. It was very typical and with so many acts who are actually challenging themselves, likeable just isn’t going to cut it.
This was a textbook example of how to change a song in a way that makes both the singer and the song seem original. It actually took be a moment to recognise the song thanks to how Walton performed it. Props to Mel B on that one. He’s a good singer with a solid sound so I imagine he’ll do quite well.
Regardless of whether her poshness is an act, Chloe is a competent singer. That said, while I like the idea of jazz version of ‘Toxic’, she didn’t perform it quite as well as I would have liked. The song was cool and it suited her style of singing but it just didn’t come together as I expected. Controversy might put her near the bottom but the judges will save her if it comes to that.
Back in my Britain’s Got Talent final analysis, I said I enjoyed the Luminites’ blend of easy listening and hip-hop. None of that has translated into Steph’s solo career. The attempt to soften Ken Booth’s reggae version of ‘Everything I Own’ was just not cohesive with Steph’s style. I don’t think it’s enough to send her home but she needs to do something different next week.
Like Jack Wilton, this was another brilliant example of doing a song in a different way that lifts both her singer and the music. And Lauren nailed it. Right up until they brought in the percussion. Lauren still did well but I felt that it could have remained down tempo for the entirety of the song and it would have been a very methodical rendition that people would have remembered separate from Pharrell’s original. That’s not to take anything away from Lauren. She was great.
It’s nice when the wildcard acts demonstrate exactly why they were brought back. This was a solid performance throughout and I thought some of the song lyrics tied into her struggle with her nerves which was a nice, subtle touch. And who cares what she wears. This is the X-Factor, not Britain’s Next Top Model.
At this stage in the competition it is almost impossible to tell who will leave tonight, nevermind who will win. And a double elimination awaits so one of the more popular acts could leave in a controversial twist to ram home the notion that anything could happen. From here, the show could go in any number of directions and it’s that fact, not the singing, that will keep viewers coming back week after week. That many not be a good thing anymore though. To find out if your favourite singer makes it through to next week’s live show, tune into ITV at 8:15pm.