Two hours of auditions, over two evenings. Halfway through Saturday night – which was perhaps the weakest episode ever – my notepad was blank. At the end of Sunday, it was hurtling towards the telly.
Just about stealing the show in the barren wasteland of Saturday were Times Red, a boy/man band led by a guy with teeth and abs that looked freshly painted on. Tulisa Contostavlos compared his face to Richard Gere. It emerged that he worked in a US clothing chain where famously the staff, if not the customers, are all unusually attractive.
Britain munched another kettle chip and mustered its hatred as he and his friends started performing, only to be faced with a fairly impressive reworking of Rehab by Amy Winehouse. The sixpack played guitar, messed with the metre and sang falsetto. The geezer on the right harmonised. The other bloke did some beatboxing, some of which sounded like raspberries although this could easily be worked on.
Cian Morrin and Melanie McCabe probably won’t be in even the early live shows, but they did remind me of them: out of tune and too loud but with lots of notes, teeth and, in Cian’s case, looking meaningfully at the floor and bouncing.
Melanie failed at judges’ houses last year. She movingly told the crowd she’d cried all the way back from Miami. If she reaches that stage again, let’s hope it’s somewhere closer.
One man who could be in the finals was Christopher Maloney, because he’s 34 and thus in the under-subscribed over-25s category. He was so nervous his hand was shaking like someone trying to dislodge a bogey from the microphone.
Christopher said he’d finally applied after ripping up the completed application form five years running. He was so relieved and triumphant when everybody applauded his emotional version of Bette Midler’s The Rose, it seems inappropriate to say that by the end it was looking and sounding a bit “hard poo”.
Sunday night opened with Eddy String, an 18-year-old from Worthing who thought X Factor was light on people “in women’s jeans singing The Strokes”. He cheeked the judges, worked the crowd and generally rocked about as hard as Frankie Cocozza advertising hairspray.
After two possible contenders – Amy Mottram, a 16-year-old from Essex who sang an Adele song but didn’t suffer from the comparison, and Sharon Rose, who did the same with Etta James’ At Last – 1D-ish boy band GMD3 were massively well received. Maybe they were an example of sounding great in the room but terrible at home. All we got was three children quacking quietly.
Then, with everyone of any discernment or moral fibre watching the Paralympics Closing Ceremony on the other side, The X Factor thought: sod it, let’s be naughty and stitch a couple of people up.
MK1 were an obviously odd trio: young female singer, young rapper, much older nerdy bloke. She sang sweetly, him on the right rapped assuredly, while the pale speccy man sang back-up badly and danced like a father. The judges told MK1 to become a duo and, after a conflab, the awkward one magnanimously took the only way out of an impossible pressure situation and admitted defeat.
We’ve seen this scenario before, but here we weren’t meant to sympathise with the outcast, because we’d sneakily been given subtitles for their frantic on-stage discussion, and seen him stipulating that he get 33% of their professional earnings.
So he was painted as the bad guy. A man making contractual arrangements to safeguard his financial share. Painted as the bad guy. On The X Factor.
Worse followed. In trailers we’d been given flashes of a woman in a bodystocking, hoiking her ankles onto Louis Walsh’s shoulders before crawling across the judges’ desk. Now we saw it was serial reality TV scapegoat Lorna Bliss.
Lorna cannot sing but has buckets of nerve and, especially for 33, looks good in a bodystocking. The judges angrily disagreed with her that this might be enough – wherever did she get that idea? Well, possibly the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent 2011 where, having done her bodystocking thing in the heats, Lorna tried focusing on her vocals and was told, basically, to strip off again.
Featuring Lorna at all when she went through all this on BGT was desperate enough. But placing her as the climactic last act of the weekend, then slamming her for doing what the other show encouraged, was a sign that The X Factor is critically ill.