Saturday’s Daily Mirror ran a piece suggesting the end of X Factor is nigh. This time the main criticism was a lack of singing time, with five full auditions getting just over a minute each during last night’s hour-long show. As Sofabet commenter R pointed out, however, “Don’t they usually only get about 1.30 each anyway? Most of the time is spent on building up their back-stories.” Indeed.
And actually, without any mash-ups, no self-penned material and only the briefest glimpse of a guitar, this show felt far more like a return to the X Factor from days of yore. We had cute offspring aplenty, embarrassing mums and memorable try-hards amongst others. After a shaky couple of experimental opening episodes, I thought it showed life in the old dog yet. But did we see any real contenders?
Dr Rich was not easily swayed but reckoned Melanie Masson was the best of last night’s bunch. She got the pimp slot for her rendition of Janis Joplin’s ‘Cry Baby’, with her two adorable youngsters watching from the wings, and was accorded the honour of The Olly Murs Interview on Xtra Factor afterwards, like Ella Henderson and Lucy Spraggan before her. The kooky 44-year-old looks to be another credible over for rumoured mentor Gary Barlow in the live shows, following on from Kye Sones last week.
Originally from Scotland, she should have some regional support to help her through the earliest rounds, too. Could she do a Mary Byrne and reach the latter stages?
I don’t think Melanie has the everywoman quality that partly propelled Tesco Mary to the top of the phone vote in Week 1 and kept her stubbornly around long after producers had ceased showing her any love. Whereas Mary came across as a ballsy survivor with self-esteem issues and arthritic knees, here we have a yummy mummy who now lives in North London with a TV actor husband and has a background as a West End and session singer.
She does have a distinctive voice, but looks potentially easy to nobble. Just as Mary was most comfortable doing Shirley Bassey numbers, Melanie seems to have a similar soft spot for Janis Joplin – she sang ‘Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart’ for Xtra Factor. As with Mary, if middle-aged Melanie needed to be cut down to size, producers could lump her with ‘Could It Be Magic’ in Disco Week, and Bob’s your uncle.
She may manage a mid-table finish, but I don’t see her matching Mary’s semi-final exit nor that of Niki Evans in 2007, the West Midlands dinner lady also offering more of an everywoman quality. Bookies were split on Melanie, with Skybet opening at a measly 8/1 and Coral at 50/1. The latter now offer her top price at 25/1, but my instinct is that she’ll have served her purpose for the show before we reach the each-way payout places.
First up last night was another potential overs candidate for Gary. She couldn’t have been more different. Where Melanie was airy fairy, Nicola Marie felt more Spearmint Rhino, bulldozing her way through the personal introduction and a succession of strip-club dance moves during a dubstep version of ‘Tell it To My Heart’. Whatever else, the X Factor still has the ability to confound.
On the surface, Gary’s comment that ‘I’d find you really annoying if you were in my category,’ would appear to do little for her chances. But it also set up a comic storyline with Barlow trying to effect a Pygmalion-style makeover on Nicola. “When she gets to boot camp, I want to strip all that stuff away,” Barlow said. Tulisa disagreed, giving the storyline yet more potential.
Based on last night’s evidence, Nicola Marie is not as vocally strong as Kitty Brucknell, with whom she shares the trait of being a Lady Gaga impersonator, as well as a mad glint in the eye. But there was something similarly compelling in how Nicola put the TV audience on edge, and producers may try to set her up for a Brucknell/Waissel turn in the spotlight this autumn.
Like Rylan Clark last week, there’s no doubting she’s a character, and these provide much of X Factor’s oxygen during the live shows. It’s just a case of how many characters the producers want and which ones they choose. As we stated with Clark last week, there could be a back-to-lay opportunity from a current 125/1, but just how much is open to debate – especially as we’ve already seen, in the shape of Kye Sones and Melanie Masson, two strong contenders for places in Gary’s category.
The boys’ category was looking even more competitive before last night, after the first two shows had introduced us to Jahmene Douglas, Curtis Golden, Rylan Clark and James Arthur – not to mention Joe Cox (who may have almost made it last year, but looks crazily short at 16/1 considering he was relegated to the Xtra Factor this year). We also need to consider that there is plenty of online buzz around an urban act called Starboy Nathan, whom we haven’t seen yet.
Into this already crowded field, last night’s show introduced two more possibilities who both look to have plenty of potential.
“You’ve got the likeability, that’s the thing.” With these words we were introduced to Jake Quickenden, a cute, self-deprecating 23-year-old lifeguard from Scunthorpe. “He’s very likeable,” Louis explained as a bookend to Jake’s screentime, having already said “people are going to like him”. Got that?! If you didn’t, there were copious clips of women in the audience liking him very much.
Likeable Jake wasn’t vocally perfect, as Tulisa conceded, and trawling through some of his output on YouTube confirms this. But his rendition of ‘Use Somebody’ was decent enough, and in the boys category, the overall package is more important than vocal perfection.
In short, Jake offers us a thoroughly recognisable X Factor archetype, and you can’t say that of many of the auditionees we’d seen in the shows before him. In a normal year he would tick a lot of boxes and you’d be hopeful of a place in the live shows for him.
But any consideration of current best prices available (20/1 with Coral) has to be overshadowed by the strength of the competition within his category for a live show slot. Of the eleven successful auditionees who’ve received lengthy screentime on the main show so far, no fewer than six have now been in the boys category (with the reported raise in age limit of the overs to 28, last night’s Joseph Whelan is also in the boys). In the circumstances, I can only advise a wait-and-see policy for Jake.
Joseph Whelan’s story is that he is a Proud Dad. Thankfully for producers, it’s okay for women to project their hopes onto the 26-year-old from Wolverhampton because he’s no longer with his son’s mother. And project they will, as Joseph is a rough-and-ready tool salesman with tattoos and big guns. What’s more, he’s got a distinctive, rocky voice that he showcased very effectively during ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
Proud Dad Joseph has got a talent page in which he claims to be an expert with the guitar and a classically-trained vocalist. He mentioned on the programme a ten year stint in bands, the latest of which appears to be heavy metal outfit Cloven Hoof. According to the Mirror, he once allegedly had a charity single with another heavy metal band called Dementia unwittingly bankrolled by Britain’s Most Wanted, and as well as being a tool salesman he’s a professional cagefighter.
But above all this, and now ingrained in the hearts and minds of viewers, is his adorable four-year-old kid who timed the run to greet his weeping father like a stage veteran.
Interestingly, he also has a Facebook page flogging a solo single which is out on iTunes. It’ll be interesting to see if this one, like Lucy Spraggan’s last week, is taken down. And if it isn’t, does that suggest he doesn’t make the lives while Lucy does?
If forced to choose between Likeable Jake and Proud Dad Joseph, I would say the latter has more going for him. Whelan has a more distinctive voice, a greater suggestion of musicianship and a better back-story. Producers, as ever, may have other ideas – and let’s not forget that the boys’ judges’ houses have reportedly filmed already. 16/1 with Paddy Power seems a reasonable price but with no credible leaks about who’s made it and who hasn’t, I’m not getting involved.
There was a brief glimpse of two other boys, Taylor Breslin and Matt deFreitas. They don’t look short of talent, but being this short of screen time suggests that joining a manufactured group at boot camp is their best hope of making the lives.
The X Factor editing suite is a ruthless place. Just ask Jade Richards. Last year’s unlucky rejectee at judges’ houses was relegated to last night’s sister show on ITV2, Xtra Factor. She’d been Joe Cox-ed. Where bookmakers have priced her up, Jade is single figure odds to win. Silly season is still with us, apparently.
Jade had clearly been slated for the Xtra Factor from the getgo, as the Caroline Flack interview indicated. The latter was also filming in front of the Fife lass as she performed. It was a rather underwhelming audition. As eurovicious put it, Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’, “didn’t show off her power and range, just her colour/texture”.
I suppose Jade could always end up in a group. With Melanie McCabe. Kelly’s Rejects. Throw Joe Cox into the mix and you could call them Class of 2011.
Agree or disagree? Let us know what you thought of last night’s heart-throbs and divas. How would you divide them into contenders and also-rans?