This year’s cosier, friendlier X Factor doesn’t offer much for the guilt-racked armchair sneerer, with its mostly sane contestants and positive but unsentimental judges. Damn them all. At this rate we’ll just be enjoying it unashamedly.
Who could fail to be warmed by Johnny Robinson, an unemployed 45-year-old with a shiny tracksuit top and a gaunt, smiling face halfway between Kenneth Williams and Tim Westwood? Having politely listed the judges’ names like they were a Family Fortunes team (“Hello Louis, hello Gary, Kelly and Tulisa. Lovely to meet you!”), Johnny gave At Last by Etta James a thorough saucing, with pouts, points and a quacking falsetto that at times recalled that bloke from two years ago who worked in the chicken factory.
Johnny, however, got an ovation because he did it with total conviction in a style honed, you imagine, while home alone night after night. (“I live in a bedsit. Ooh, I should say studio, that sounds better, dunnit?”)
Croydon’s Derry Mensah was just as winningly odd, despite having the appearance of a right little playa: 20 years old and prettier than his friends, about 40 of whom had turned out in specially made Derry sweatshirts. Derry had a weakness: Kelly Rowland. “Kelly Rowland… Kelly Rowland,” he said, as if she were cycling past the school gates, pigtails flying in the breeze.
Derry told Kelly Rowland he loved her, sang an Usher song perfectly, then told Kelly Rowland he loved her again. Superstars are never grateful for stalkers, but Kelly at least has a talented one.
Manchester’s Misha Bryan (above) was seen leaving her tiny bedroom to catch an empty bus from a deserted street. On arrival at the auditions, she thanked the driver. In the queue she tried to pay tribute to the aunt who raised her, but broke down in tears.
But as soon as her backing track – Aretha Franklin’s Respect, on a slow, solo jazz piano – started, 19-year-old Misha morphed into a strutting headmistress of soul, growling out huge notes with ridiculous confidence. Halfway through, the audience stood because Misha ordered them to stand – and that was before a blazing rap breakdown that had Tulisa Contostavlos rapidly going through her extensive repertoire of you-go-girl facial expressions. “Tooop dog, guh, everybody barkin’, rrrrRRAOW!” Well, quite.
Misha’s a sure finalist alongside cuddly cartoon scouser Craig Colton, who had one of those voices that pull the owner’s face into weird, wind-tunnel shapes, and might at any moment make them vomit at the sheer emotion of it all.
Viewers desperate for a snark can always rely, however, on the groups. A montage of bad ones began with a duo called, brilliantly, The Duos, who were barely singing: it was more like the song had escaped and they were sucking it back in, making a quiet, high-pitched whistling noise with the effort.
The Keys were set up as the category’s redeeming heroes, but weren’t convincing. Most groups have one member who stands there looking confused and seems to be wondering why these other people are singing. The Keys had at least three of those – even the sweet-voiced lead singer was hunched, tentative and dressed as Mickey Pearce from Only Fools and Horses, in contrast to the others who resembled a living history of the Next catalogue.
Only the rapper on the end had any stage presence, but it was the stale imposition of a fitness instructor, and his rhymes were as stiff as bricks. The Keys were terrible, in all the right ways. Can’t wait to see them again.