The judges’ houses stage traditionally involves a massive injustice, the creation of a group from people who don’t know each other, and a hasty rule change. This year we only got one of three.
The boys competed against a pristine, moneyed, hot, soulless backdrop: Nicole Scherzinger, who took them to Dubai. You could tell when someone was easily through thanks to Nicole’s acting, which extended to two types of stare: almost grinding out a gelatin tear for the raw emotion of James Arthur; contemplative and analytical for Jahmene Douglas and his biologically improbable high notes.
Outside those two, Nathan Fagan-Gayle was just competent and Adam Burridge was rather clenched. Jake Quickenden wasn’t good enough on the day, but understandably so: his circumstances made the usual sob stories about really wanting to get through “because I’ve always wanted to sing and I can’t do anything else and this means everything and my nan’s sprained her wrist” look as hollow as they are. Jake wanted to give his terminally ill brother Oliver “something to live for”. By the time the show aired, Oliver had gone.
That left Essex mannequin Rylan Clark, who sang in a vaguely Middle Eastern silk cowl, and microshorts. Top half: Can’t Get You out of My Head. Bottom half: Spinning Around. Rylan can sing a bit and is a good novelty contestant. There was no other viable option. Face it. These people cannot be defeated with indifference.
The groups did a lovely job of seeming pleased to see Louis Walsh, with a trip to Las Vegas the sweetener. Backed by a new-look Sharon Osbourne, Louis didn’t understand Duke’s beatboxing – he and Sharon thought they’d hired a didgeridoo impersonator. Times Red’s medley was a mess, which left a space open for the undercooked MK1 to get in alongside Union J, a One Direction with vocals who are dark horses for the whole thing, you mark my words. I’ve been wrong before.
The other spot went to boy band GMD3, whose frantic faux-American emoting hinted that, when they do eventually have sex, they’ll cry afterwards. Britain won’t stand for their nonsense week on week.
In St Lucia, Tulisa Contostavlos and her guest Tinie Tempah had a headstart when Amy Mottram muffed the audition, while Ella Henderson was even better than before, making her deservedly the hottest X Factor favourite ever. Jade Ellis got past the much improved Jade Collins, perhaps due to a clerical error. Leanne Robinson had big lungs, but her audition was virtually edited out. Not so Lucy Spraggan, who’s in the live shows despite everything.
Lucy likes to sing her own comic or bittersweet songs, but The X Factor is about cover versions and sometimes they make her do those instead. In the past she’s muddled through apologetically. Now she strode up and attempted, astonishingly, I Will Always Love You. She was more or less OK until the second verse, when she sped up and started sounding like the “George Formby sings Prince” sketch from The Fast Show.
In Northamptonshire in front of Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole, Carolynne Poole introduced some tension when her vocals fell behind the music. Rather than pausing and then rejoining the song later, Carolynne gradually accelerated and had caught up again by the end. Bravo.
Nicola Marie Bloor thought she was doomed when Gary was revealed as the over-28s judge, but that wasn’t why. After she’d done her Tuesday-cabaret version of Tragedy – she really should have been holding Hugh, loving Hugh – Gaz and Chez mourned the loss of the dance routine she’d done in the auditions. Nicola-Marie was in heels on a lawn, though. If she’d jumped into a splits she’d never have come back.
Kye Sones was obviously in the last 12, so it was two from Carolynne, Melanie Masson, Brad Thingamijig – who could forget seeing his original audition, when it was shown on ITV2 at 1.45am? Great TV! – or quavering saltwater dispenser Christopher Maloney. Carolynne snuck in, which meant an unconvincing decision-off between Melanie and Christopher. Melanie was through. Christopher’s exit interview with Dermot must have been unbroadcastable.
Next week, we’re live. In the least exciting twist ever, a phone vote will decide which of Amy, Christopher, Adam and Times Red will come back for one week only.