“I know you’re nervous, but just think about how this will change your life.” Kelly Rowland’s words to one sweating contestant were perhaps the worst piece of advice in X Factor history. That’s it, focus on the enormity of the situation and you’ll be fine. Think of the 10,000 people in the arena and the 10,000,000 people at home. Aaaand relax.
Nevertheless, this weekend’s X Factor felt like it was changing a few lives, in a number of ways.
Sami Brookes, a 31-year-old barmaid who spends her tips on kebabs after work, was a shaft of joy. “I just want to sing. To be honest, I’m too thick to do anything else,” she said. “I can sing, I’ve got a good personality, but I can’t dance because I’ve got a funny arm.” A lovely riot of leopard-print, DFS leather, self-deprecating chatter and a funny arm, Sami had the judges on her side before she began, and the audience on their feet with One Moment in Time.
In the face of Sami’s visibly boosted self-esteem and her friends’ tears of pride, pointing out that she sang in the club style – crunching the low notes, and bludgeoning the high ones while adopting the wide-legged squat of a roadworker pick-axeing tarmac – would be churlish.
Lascel Wood didn’t need his personality to help him, but he had a charming one. He talked articulately about his difficult upbringing and how his troubled but recovering mother was hearing him perform for the first time, before singing Use Somebody in a clear, controlled soul voice that had stunning range. He was a cross between Will Young and Terence Trent D’Arby (the Terence comparison is a massive compliment I do not wield lightly) and would make a fine pop star. I suspect Lascel won’t win, but his was the best audition yet.
Or was it? At the end of Sunday’s show, up popped 16-year-old Amelia Lily with a searing Piece of My Heart that Tulisa Contostavlos, as right as ever, observed had the virtuosity of someone twice as old. The only downside: there wasn’t really much else to say about Amelia’s performance other than it was very, very good.
Similarly, Marcus Collins might soon get his wish to be able to “walk into Marks & Spencer and not have to walk past it”, but his version of Signed, Sealed, Delivered was excellent without being exceptional. It’s the song: too familiar yet always flat compared to Stevie, whoever sings it now.
So this double-bill weekend belonged to doomed girl band Twisted (above), whose appearance on the show was a timeless fable, laden with cruel irony. Chrissie Pitt had failed at boot camp last year but returned with three friends, who stood and oohed vaguely while she delivered a sandpapery Someone like You.
It was a no until the devil, in the unlikely persona of Kelly Rowland, offered Chrissie a deal: a second chance if she ditched her pals. Choking with the guilt, Chrissie paused for three seconds and then sprinted back on. The song she chose to perform? Forget You by Cee-Lo Green. Her former bandmates watched, frozen by hateful envy, as Chrissie was voted through.
“If they’re really your friends they’re going to be right behind you,” said Gary Barlow, but the other three had never really been Chrissie’s friends. The lure of fame had blinded them to their own failings and Chrissie’s motives, and now this positively Shakespearean loop of deception and delusion had been brutally snipped. I’ll be haunted by the rejects’ stares – especially the silent one with the raven hair and big, unblinking eyes – for months.
“Break the group up? I felt awful!” said Kelly, somehow understanding how band members feel when the most prominent member ditches them to pursue a solo career. As Chrissie returned to the backstage area – we weren’t shown what happened when she met the other girls – Kelly was worried about her: “Her biggest enemy is going to be herself.” Only her fourth biggest enemy, I fear. Twisted’s lives had changed for ever.