When The Voice started and people liked it, it seemed to have spooked Simon Cowell and his generals. Episodes of Britain’s Got Talent were edited to make them more Voice-y. More positivity, fewer sob stories.
Well, we’ve forgotten all that now. This year’s final X Factor auditions dripped with the snot of unfortunate contestants, kicking off with a single mum whose eighth-floor flat depressed her, and moving through every combo of bereavement, abandonment, disappointment and being Bianca Gascoigne.
Jade Collins – whose singing was plucky, loud and flat – tearfully reported that her mother was there backstage, but her father had never really been there for her at all. This was sad but, on the other hand, her mother had let her go on national television aged 17, dressed as she was: jester trousers and boob tube, topped with a headscarf and customised jacket that looked like a toddler had been gluing random craft-box items to Boy George. So I thought the parents were about even.
Tammy Cartwright was 33, so that’s emotional; her nan joined her on stage (Can she sing? “Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. I’m mental. Ta-ra!”); and, after she’d finished her mince-and-onions version of One Night Only – when the disco bit kicked in she shouted “Come on, let’s rock it!” in Jim Bowen’s voice – she threw in that she’d not sung for years because her brother had been in trouble AND her mum had had cancer.
At this point, a klaxon should have sounded, recognising Tammy’s full set of X Factor baggage. A cash prize, or possibly a speedboat or a holiday to the Maldives, should have been awarded there and then. In fact, Tammy was merely put through to boot camp and will be eliminated in week three of the live shows when Britain once again remembers that it doesn’t like gutsy pub belters after all.
The one sob story you couldn’t cynically dismiss was Robbie Hance, who told the London O2 that he was a long-term rough sleeper. Having been put in care as a teenager and not settled since, he said music had “showed me that I’m… worth a little something”. His tough but tender cover of Coconut Skins by Damien Rice was shown in full and was worth a lot.
The sob stories were one way to distract from judges and contestants often having nothing to offer. Gaggles of hotpanted women wafted by, looking and sounding quite nice. And while the indiscernible Nicole Scherzinger might be a dull choice of new mentor, she’s had little competition over the past few weeks from Geri Halliwell, Leona Lewis and orangey pop star Rita Ora. Anastacia, whose records all sound like sterilised sledgehammers and was thus never a promising choice, was edited out almost completely.
Mel B was the way they should have gone: at first it looked like she was slagging everyone off just for a laugh, until you realised that was just in comparison to the constant flow of pleasant bilge from everyone else. Mel said she hated the way this year’s John Lewis singer, Lauren Smith, kept her eyes closed as she hid behind her guitar. Fair enough.
The shtick to liven up Tulisa Contostavlos is to play on her sex-symbol status. Admittedly this is an easy sell, but a montage of young male contestants who had clearly gone through the entire audition process just for a chance to perv in person was queasy viewing. It peaked with randy teen Dale Ali, who slobbered most of an Olly Murs song directly into Tulisa’s face from inches away. Evolution should dictate that this pick-up technique cannot ever work on any woman, but it was still scary.
The acceptable face of Constostav-love were Rough Copy, three fresh princes who, as well as wooing Tulisa, fell over, got up again, ran around, sang when they should have been talking, cheeked everyone, wouldn’t shut up and wouldn’t stand still, but had their vocals and harmonies spot on. Imagine a black, singing Jedward. Them being in their mid-20s, not their late teens, creeped me out slightly, but their spark was much needed.