Kids are disgustingly self-assured these days, aren’t they? When I was 16, communicating with anyone at all was a daunting adventure best achieved via a handwritten postcard. Yet this week’s X Factor had a whole series of 16-year-olds swagger-jaggering on the stage of the O2 Arena. They even had showbiz names like Max Mackay and, most implausibly, Luke Lucas.
Luke was a chirpy mini-geezer from Margate who hadn’t just come to sing. He also intended to woo Tulisa Contostavlos. “I love her, Mum!” said Luke before he went on. “I want to touch her face!” Then when he saw her: “Hi Tulisa. You look beautiful.”
Being confident enough to sing on national TV is one thing, but cracking on to the lovely Tulisa? Offensive. And Tulisa reciprocating by perching on the table and arching backwards for a kiss on the cheek? Speaking as a hardened Tulisa fan, this was simply an abomination – until her comments after Luke had sung, that is.
“You are absolutely adorable,” said Tulisa in response to Luke’s blisteringly strong, high and clear rendering of the Shaheen Jafargholi classic Who’s Lovin’ You. “I just wanna squeeze his little cheeks! You are so cute.” Ooh, Luke. Stuck in the Friend Zone. Bad luck, son.
Michael Lewis (above) was 27, but a dire warning of how confidence can be dangerous: he was brazenly back as himself after the epic squirm of his Michael Jackson tribute last year. That he’d freely chosen to sing Look at Me by Geri Halliwell immediately signalled that it would have been kinder not to let him display his real self in public. The less said about his version of it, the better. There were pelvic thrusts.
The expectation-defying hero of the episode was David Wilder. Having rocked to no acclaim ever since leaving school, he now claimed to be 42, but looked closer to 42 and a half, equals 63. David had all the marks of an embarrassing, clapped-out glam uncle: long hair thinned by decades of blond dye, ambitious jeans, use of the word “baby”, and plumes of those boho scarves, wristbands and jewellery that don’t suit any man if it isn’t 1971.
David started badly. He punched the air madly to the slow piano intro of Life on Mars, then introduced his wheezy twang of a voice by marching up to the judges and giving them a line each, right in the face, nose-to-eyeball.
But this was enthusiasm, not desperation. Soon David was dashing into the crowd, somehow singing better while running, which he did with the infectious spring of Anneka Rice trotting into a builders’ merchants. It didn’t matter that he had to hit the big high note twice using two different octaves to kill it off: by then, four semi-ironic yeses were in the bag.
David benefited from comparison with last year’s middle-aged grasper, Storm Lee. He upended the stereotype. Fife 21-year-old Jade Richards might be a victim of the show’s familiar set-ups, though. She looked right, which is to say wrong – trackie top, pudge, badly drawn eyebrows – and thanks to a super-supportive gran backstage in a wheelchair, Jade’s sob credentials were impeccable.
The judges fell for it, with Kelly Rowland weeping throughout (and babbling about having had a premonition – spiritual hooey lurks behind her harmless exterior) and Louis Walsh saving his tears for a sudden downpour after Jade had stopped. When the hysteria’s all mopped up it might be clear that this soul-scraping epiphany was really just a competent cover of Adele’s unimprovable Someone like You. It was the song chopping the onions, not Jade.