Sunday, 6 December 2009

X Factor Round-Up

Originally I had planned to write a weekly X Factor round-up. Complacency put paid to the first few and as the weeks passed I realised what a futile act it would have been, given that most of this year's acts take the stage every week and do pretty much exactly the same thing.

But with a week until the final this seems a good time to post my musings on the series so far.

First and foremost, it's been an undeniably poor crop this year. Around two thirds of the acts that reached the live finals wouldn't even have passed boot camp in previous series. Weakest by far was the groups category, all of them being dreadful.

When Louis Walsh's segment of the 'Judges' Houses' episode rolled around I recognised only three of his six acts. The groups had been so uunspectacular that we never even saw their auditions. His final six included two brothers who appeared to spend much of their time crooning love songs to one another and an acapella doo-wop group who looked like they'd met in a young offenders institute.

Walsh's best bet appeared to be 'Miss Frank', a trio of mediocre solo applicants thrust together by Cowell and co, presumably to bolster the fledgling category. The trio were repeatedly sold as 'contemporary' and 'relevant' artists, apparently on the basis that one of them could sort of rap a little bit. Said rapper, Graziella, appeared to suffer from a baseless superiority complex, spending much of her time offstage refusing to contribute more than three words to any group interview and much of her time onstage attempting to outsing her two amigos. And failing quite miserably.

Of course, surprise hit of the series was Jedward, but enough has been written of the pair already. What I will say is that I don't subscribe to the bloodthirsty hatred which has been directed towards the pair. Could they sing? No. But their vivaciousness was infectious and at least they had the audience laughing for the right reasons, unlike some of the other contestants.

In a ludicrous controversy reminiscent of last year's Laura White debacle, there was much whinging when Lucie Jones was booted out, two weeks after Danni Minogue took to dressing her up as Avril Lavigne and proclaiming that she had 'found her voice' (which sounded suspiciously like Avril Lavigne's voice).

'Outrage' was sparked when Simon Cowell announced that he didn't feel strongly about Lucie or Jedward, so handed the deciding vote over to the public. What ensued was perhaps the most postmodern media storm witnessed this decade; the public's decision to complain about Simon Cowell's decision to back the public's decision.

As in the case of Laura White, the public was left to protest against its own stupidity, never once stopping to consider that if they really felt so strongly about Lucie Jones, perhaps they should have picked up their phones and voted for her.

This year we lost two passable but mellow vocalists to the X Factor's bizarre mandate that any successful musician should be able to sing any song in any genre. This, of course, is a nonsense. Billie Holliday was one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time - but confronted with a Robbie Williams week on X Factor, she would have been told she wasn't versatile enough and kicked to the curb.

Said mellow vocalists were Ricky, most famous for his eyebrows and fondness for pork pie hats, and Lloyd Daniels. Neither was a phenomenal vocalist, but nor are three of the four semi-finalists, so what does that matter? Each could have soared if afforded jazzy or acoustic song choices but mentor Cheryl Cole failed massively in her representation of both acts. Ricky was sent packing on diva week after Cheryl Cole inexplicably handed him an Aretha Franklin tune. Lloyd lasted much longer on account of his haircut but was eventually sent home last week.

In week 10 - semi-final week - we are left with four contestants.

Stacy, the only girl left in the competition, is a fair vocalist but not amazing. Her speciality appears to be the last 20 seconds of any grand scale ballad, during which she can easily hold a long, shouty note. Her problem comes... well, everywhere else.

Lacking in confidence, Stacy's vocals are often wobbly. When required to sing in a low register her speaking voice seems to set in, which is most unflattering. Noted for her 'bubbly' personality, Stacy can be seen before and after most performances talking nonsense and pulling funny faces - an affectation which has become more exaggerated every week since her first audition, during which she actually seemed quite genuine.

Simon Cowell is the only judge with two acts in the semi-final. First is Danyl, frequently lauded by Cowell as 'the best male vocalist in the competition' and 'one of the best male vocalists we've ever had on the X Factor'. Danyl wasn't even the best male vocalist at his audition.

In fact, Danyl can't sing at all. His USP seems to be shouting at the top of his voice in an increasingly bizarre American accent. 'Pwar-pow reh-heeeen, Pwar-har-pow reh-hee-heen-AH!' (Purple Rain). 'Eena yaow kintell eyaf-ray-bow-day-uh, theyat this is yow sow-wow-wowng!' (Your Song).

Still, this is perhaps marginally more substantial than former housemate Jamie Archer's USP, which seemed simply to be 'having an afro'.

Cowell's second contestant, Olly Murs, is one of the weakest vocalists to reach the final twelve of any X Factor. He seems to have coasted from his first audition to the semi-final on the sole basis that he can sort of do one not very impressive dance move. Watching him crowbar it into any performance, from Robbie's 'She's The One' to Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now', is quite hilarious.

However, watching the judges shower him with undeserved praise on a weekly basis is less hilarious. He spends so much time trying to incorporate his rubbish dancing into every song that most of the time he winds up entirely breathless and delivers a terrible vocal performance. The one time that Danni Minogue pointed this out, the other judges reacted as though she'd taken a dump on the desk.

Olly lost fans last week after his frankly unsportsmanlike attitude during the results show. With no bottom two, Olly and Lloyd were both left onstage waiting to hear which of them was going through to the semi-finals. When Olly got through, rather than showing any decorum or compassion for housemate Lloyd he scrunched up his face and began aggressively punching the air, edging towards the audience and screaming 'Come on! Come on!', like some manner of football hooligan. An entire thread cropped up on the Digital Spy forum for people who would no longer be voting for Olly on account of his rude outburst.

As I said at the beginning, this year has been a very poor crop. With only one stand out vocalist, the judges have been seen heaping praise upon mediocre performers week upon week in an attempt to legitimise the competition.

That stand out vocalist - and clear winner - is Joe McElderry. The happy chappy from South Shields has delivered a pitch perfect vocal every single week. Unlike his rivals he has never delivered a bum note, never missed a dance step and never appeared to be struggling. Every week he delivers what is asked of him with ease. Displaying more talent and professionalism than even most of the show's high profile guest performers, he's a little star in the making.

Arguments have been made that Joe is more of a musical theatre star than a pop singer, and there may be a modicum of truth to those arguments, but the fact remains that he is the best vocalist in the competition by miles.

Additionally, he is the most likable. Since the competition began fellow contestants have accused Danyl of bullying them. Stacy was revealed to have lied about the absence of her son's father in an attempt to win sympathy votes and Olly showed himself up last week. Joe meanwhile remains untarnished after almost three months in the limelight.

If anybody other than Joe wins this year's X Factor, it will be a travesty of gargantuan proportions.

Joe to win!