The clip that’s been played most often on TV to refer to this year’s X Factor isn’t of anyone singing: it’s Rylan Clark’s reaction to getting through to the live shows. The sight of an outrageously dressed male model from Essex, crawling all over Nicole Scherzinger’s sofa and honking like a seal pup on miaow-miaow that’s just been clubbed by Jesus, is the best bit so far. The show needs Rylan’s massive flamboyance to keep us interested.
The panto contestant has been an established part of The X Factor’s appeal since 2009, when a set of Irish identical twins who couldn’t sing, dance or talk coherently were the main talking point of the show. Jedward finished sixth behind Joe McElderry – he’s doing OK now, but they’re multi-millionaires.
An important part of the joke contestant’s arc is that they keep amusing us for as long as possible until they annoy the public, who like to think The X Factor is about singing. Katie Waissel, Wagner, Kitty Brucknell, Frankie Cocozza, Johnny Robinson: all of them burned brightly and stupidly in their own ways until about halfway through the series.
That’s just long enough to get plenty of front pages. Their last week often comes with a suspiciously poor song choice or unfavourable spot in the running order. For The X Factor bosses, the problem with Sunday’s Deadlockgate, where Rylan was kept in even after Louis Walsh had apparently saved nondescript balladeer Carolynne Poole, wasn’t that it happened at all, but that it happened in week one. That Louis Walsh made a hash of umming and aahing theatrically before voting against Carolynne is one thing; the real worry for the producers is that Rylan was in the bottom two too soon.
They must have thought they’d done enough to keep him in for a while, with his epic, Egyptian-themed performance of the Olympic-tastic Gold by Spandau Ballet. Dressed as a gold pharaoh, with a set and a dance routine that looked like more money and time had been thrown at them than all the other contestants’ performances put together, Rylan camped it up Ibiza/Giza-style. It was classic X Factor panto. But the public said no.
If Rylan goes, all The X Factor has left is a bunch of people singing moderately well – or, in Ella Henderson’s case, very well indeed, which is another problem because the winner of this year’s competition already looks like a foregone conclusion. The groups and the over-28s in particular are very drab. Without Rylan, we have some boring Saturday nights ahead of us.
The X Factor publicity machine has swung into gear, choosing to go down the route of Rylan being a serious contender according to his rivals, who in no way resent his presence. Yes, he can’t sing and has silly styling (precisely trimmed hair and beard: David Beckham. Clothes and vocal prowess: Victoria Beckham). But for entertainment’s sake, we should keep Rylan in.