“He can sustain a falsetto… I have breathy whistle tones.” Once The X Factor judges had told a third of the final 200 that they’d wasted their time coming to boot camp and wouldn’t get to sing – a move that shocked everyone who hadn’t seen last year’s X Factor – they got on with unhelpfully grouping people into themed trios that would bitch about each other.
Scratching hardest were Gathan Cheema, Rylan Clark and Ottavio Columbro, three camp men bluntly bracketed together. Rylan, who is marking time before joining series 11 of The Only Way Is Essex, had gone dark since his Lion King auditions look, but still had an impeccable spray-face, teamed with a blouse with a wig on each shoulder. Ottavio was rocking a jumbo scarf and Ivy League shorts, as well as those whistle tones.
Gathan’s muscle vest, mascara, sustained falsetto and flicked hair were conservative in comparison, but he made up for it by announcing his own greatness and dramatically grabbing fistfuls of air. Nicole Scherzinger unkindly described the eventual battle as a “ho-down”. Nobody won.
Phase one of boot camp was otherwise notable for the destructive power of Moves like Jagger. Jahmene Douglas, who is terrified by anything recorded by a man or after 1968, sang it like a crown court judge incredulously repeating the lyrics back to a witness. Lucy Spraggan, forced to put her guitar down, also looked like how an anxiety dream feels.
Among many acts letting themselves, their co-performers and the whole school down was Robbie Hance, the homeless young man who had impressed at the auditions. Now he failed to mingle at the boot camp arrival party and napped on a sofa when he should have been rehearsing! The other two singers in his group were livid. Under-prepared, he forgot his lyrics and was eliminated, the big homeless idiot. Why couldn’t he have been confident, resilient and disciplined, like normal people? Well, The X Factor gave him a chance. One.
The second half of boot camp, with 70 of the 200 now left to sing in front of 5,000 people in Liverpool, began with Tulisa in another alarming new outfit – during the weekend, her stylist collected a total of £5,560 from bets with friends and other stylists – and Lucy Spraggan back to playing her homemade songs.
Spraggan’s Tea and Toast was a curious ballad covering the entire lives of an old couple. Like a cupcake with thick green icing presented to you by a child, it didn’t follow the normal rules and consequently didn’t quite taste right, but was sort of delightful.
Jahmene Douglas felt “dizzy” and “weak”, nearly collapsed on the steps up to the stage and had to be talked into braving the crowd and doing his freaky soul thing. He adapted Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow to get more bendy high notes in, climaxing on a big, long, slightly wrong one that made the audience and judges go wild. Can anyone really be that nervous? I suspect Jahmene is a massive hustler, and once he’d done his song there were Keyzer Soze moments backstage, where he knocked back cocktails with a bevy of birds.
After Jahmene there was a run of hysterical belters – because so many classic records feature the vocalist building to an enormous note it takes them several seconds to get the pitch of, don’t they? Even the likeable Melanie Masson was guilty. Kye Sones sounded like Leonard Cohen in comparison and was easily through.
Guitars are everywhere this year: Adam Burridge treated us to a glimpse of what Ed Sheeran would sound like covering Chaka Khan. James Arthur also strummed his way to the judges’ houses stage, with a new look somewhere between a pre-fame Jarvis Cocker and the kid from Kes. He sang like a man shouting to overcome a 100-yard restraining order.
The clear favourite is still world-weary 16-year-old Ella Henderson, whose slow reworking of Cher’s Believe was the acceptable face of annoying extra notes. She did some multi-syllabic acrobatics but mainly stuck to the actual bloody melody and lyrics. Without the beat and the Autotune of the record, both turned out to be brilliant.
Finally, the last 24 were revealed, as was the fact that this year’s editing had gone haywire. The heavily favoured Times Red didn’t get through and nor, amazingly, did Brummie retro-rocker Joseph Whelan, who had looked like second favourite to win the whole thing behind Ella Henderson. Surely he’s a “sorry, we made a mistake” wild card?
Even odder, a man I am 90% sure we haven’t seen before – Brad Something – made it. And very oddly indeed, last year’s judges’ houses contender Jade Richards, who unless I blacked out at some stage had not been seen singing in either the auditions or boot camp, was suddenly presented as a shock omission from the girls’ list.
It didn’t even stop with the end of the show: Rough Copy aren’t actually in the judges’ houses phase due to visa issues and have been replaced by the reprieved Times Red, with Triple-J, who lost a boot camp sing-off to GMD3, also being added but with an extra member, George Shelley, and a new name, Union J. So that’s cleared that up. That makes a final 25, for now…