Is this a blip or a trend? Last night X Factor heavily featured two more singer-songwriters performing their own material. With Lucy Spraggan and James Arthur joining Ella Henderson at single-figure prices in places, three of the current top six in the betting auditioned with fully or partly original tunes. The other to make waves in the market last night, Kye Sones, also claimed to be a songwriter.
All of which begs the question: How far does the show want to take this? Will this early pitch for “credibility” be quickly forgotten with a return to staples such as ‘Purple Rain’ during the live shows? Or will producers allow some contestants to perform their own material week after week? Perhaps they’ll unleash an original song sparingly in the lives, when a contestant is in need of a “brave” or “risky” move?
While the decision to allow instruments on the audition stage is a sensible one, so far it’s feeling overcooked – guitars are the new black and there’s far too much indie-fixation going on for my taste. I realise that Ed Sheeran is a thing right now, but I want my Saturday night entertainment also to include some straightforward pop covers, please.
We didn’t get that even from the mercifully guitarless Kye Sones, the top-ranked of last night’s auditionees in the market at prices from 6/1 to 9/1. He stripped back a Swedish House Mafia dance tune, mashing it up with Rita Ora to produce an earnest yawn-fest.
To be fair, Kye has enough going for him to get into the lives, especially as he qualifies for the traditionally-weak overs category. He’s personable, doesn’t scare the horses, and the show set him up with a resonant backstory for these neo-Dickensian times by majoring on his work as a hard-pressed chimney sweep (rather than that he’s already had a record deal with Sony and has played at the Roundhouse, not just “shit toilet” clubs).
“A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be”, Dick van Dyke tells us, and Boki is right that Kye “could be a very credible over for Gary”. Barlow described Kye as an “artist”, but let’s not get carried away here – this is an epithet he has previously bestowed upon Frankie Cocozza.
I agree with Dr Rich, however, that Kye “lacked a bit of vocal consistency at times” – to me he came across as a low-rent version of Matt Cardle, who has already done the late-twentysomething, journeyman-labourer, first-seen-in-a-hat routine to better effect. Given how that worked out for the show, you’d expect producers would rather brick up the fireplace than allow Kye to develop into a serious contender. Given which, 9-1 doesn’t appeal at this stage.
Lucy Spraggan was the highlight of the whole show for Boki and Dr Rich, and I can’t disagree even though the Kate Nash shtick isn’t my thing at all. Lucy delivered the witty, self-penned ‘Last Night’ with aplomb. She’s distinctive, likeable and a strong performer. My only questions are what the hell is she doing on X Factor and what is the show going to do with her?
She’s had other media coverage in the past and is already flogging an album on her professional-looking website. On which subject Steve notes that “Some are thinking that Lucy didn’t even make the lives since her song is charting on iTunes right now. I’m not convinced, especially since judges’ houses haven’t been filmed yet”. Indeed, and we should also bear in mind that it’s too early to tell how this year’s rule changes – allowing acts with existing management and deals – will change the dynamic in terms of who the show is willing to push. Who knows what deal Lucy might have signed up to?
Like Ella last week, Lucy got an Olly Murs interview on Xtra Factor. That’s where the similarity ended. Lucy is an anarchic, free-spirited presence, revealing a penchant for tattoos, and engraving the pop star’s full name on the side of her foot.
In terms of personality though not singing style, she reminds me a little of Jade Richards, who was controversially rejected last year at judges’ houses. Jade has reportedly returned to audition this year, but producers may feel they can get a similar character into this year’s live shows thanks to Lucy without admitting their mistake too openly by giving Jade a second chance.
Lucy was briefly available at 25/1 during the show, which would have been worth a punt considering how much there was to like about her. She’s now down to a top price of 10/1, however, which seems skinny enough at this stage given how hard it is to guess yet what such an unconventional audition might portend.
The words “acoustic guitar” are increasingly striking fear into me every time they are spoken on X Factor. Soon after the evening’s final auditionee, James Arthur, uttered them I was wishing I’d dived behind the sofa. He came across as a highly sympathetic individual, but I found the version of Tulisa’s ‘Forever Young’ overlaid with his own rap a rather painful experience. The vocal seemed limited and the rapping no better. This was no Misha B moment.
Producers were keen to push a tragic backstory on us, with the idea of music saving a troubled soul and the feelgood element of James’s estranged parents coming together to support his audition. Which may all end up being a way of making a rejection at judges’ houses all the more heart rending, if producers share my reaction that James doesn’t look like he has enough talent or versatility to make it far in the live shows. They may, of course, have other ideas, but I’m not tempted by a top price of 12/1.
Competing with the Saltburn singer for a place in the boys category is Rylan Clark, who was like last year’s Essex duo 2Shoes, plus a beard and minus the vocal abilities and the charm. Given the amount of time spent showing his preparations, including spray tanning in the back garden, the audition itself was a big disappointment: his voice was remarkably thin.
On this evidence – and bearing in mind that we’ll need some pantomime from elsewhere this year if Gary’s overs is to be less of a joke category – the show may be intending to make a concerted effort to push Rylan on us as a ‘character’. In which case, he may at some point end up trading a bit shorter than his current odds of 125/1. But surely not by much – it’s hard to see the public buying it.
What do you think about last night’s performers, and the “X Factor unplugged” trend in general? As ever, do let us know in the comments section below.