The closed auditions ran out of puff in their final week, failing to turn up any likely series winners. Two or three half-decent people shuffled into that small carpeted room in the back of a deserted shopping centre in Stevenage. Apart from that it was all pretty familiar goofing.
Soulful pub singer Paul Akister did an earnestly clenched run through the Rebecca Ferguson classic A Change Is Gonna Come, booking himself a ticket to the next round but probably no further than that. Better was Jayson Newland, a likeable and expressive call-centre worker who had a pineapple of hair on his head and a clear, strong voice. Jayson spiced up Never Too Much by Luther Vandross by bringing in a backing track that was just the odd piano chord with long gaps in between. Had he kept pace with it? It was hard to tell until… “I just don’t wanna STOP.” Yes he had!
The pick of the proper contestants was Justin Peng, who at first came across as a classic mooning ninny who only wanted to be there so he could perv limply over Nicole Scherzinger. He brought her a rose and insisted on an awkward hug. But once that was out of the way – along with a confusing prepared intro in which he emphasised that he wasn’t Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake, something that didn’t massively need clearing up – Justin was delightful. He assured Louis Walsh that yes, he did want to sing Whitney’s I Look to You, and he hit the notes, with his audible Chinese accent adding to the cute.
Let’s gloss quickly over the rash of eccentrics who could conceivably be bracketed together as “amusingly clueless eastern Europeans”, since what their inclusion says about us as a nation might not be cheery Saturday-night fare.
In any case we had our own eccentrics, starting with Duplex, two teen girls who said they were two halves of the same person, and had an extraordinary way of saying the same thing not quite at the same time. “Oh my god my god literally when we met we’re like we’re like twins twins literally definitely it was like like fate,” they said, explaining how they’d formed. They’d already given Gary one of his grumpy migraines even before they sang flatter than Lincolnshire. Dodgy outfits, too: their bowties, tuxedos and tights were meant to be “bunny girls” but turned out more like “snooker referees who have just had their trousers taken by muggers”.
Two contestants fulfilled the stereotype of a hunky man sensitively strumming. First to flex his neck muscles and caress an acoustic was Sam Callahan from Essex, who sang Beautiful much faster than the James Blunt original, which was something.
Then we saw the return of Wolves rocker Joseph Whelan, a surprise reject at the boot camp stage last year. His reappearance was a bit surprising given his comments to yours truly at the end of last year, where he said the producers know what they want and are willing to eject the best singers to get it. Still, if they don’t mind, why should we? Sadly his version of Always by Bon Jovi was in too high a key for him and had a lot of fluey croaks in it as a result. Getting much further than boot camp might be a big ask.
The Daisy Chains arrived as three steadfast best friends, who had chosen that name because: “If one of the links is broken, we don’t work.” Uh-oh. Regular X Factor viewers knew precisely what was coming next: the lead singer, Hannah, was quite good and better than the other two. She was told as much then and there by the judges. Which was more important? Her best friends in the world, or her shot at stardom?
“This is serious,” said Gary Barlow, his eyes hardening as he impressed upon Hannah what a massive opportunity she had before her. “You could get as far as judges’ houses and then be eliminated and forgotten. It’s the chance of a lifetime. KILL YOUR FRIENDS.” OK, so he didn’t say that. But he did say Hannah should cut the other two loose. After some tears outside by the escalators, she did.
No such problems for Green Boots, aka young couple Patricia and Dean. Two pale, bespectacled souls who snogged toothily in front of Dermot O’Leary and boldly professed their love for each other, they were played for laughs by the show because they were, shall we say, unconventionally attractive. Their singing was technically unconventional too, ignoring the widely accepted notes and keys in favour of their own mutually pleasurable language of honks, clicks and whines. They reminded me of a young Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker.
Still. You rarely see people that happy in each other’s company. I think Green Boots won and Hannah from The Daisy Chains lost.
Closing the show was an act that had perhaps become slightly disoriented and applied for The X Factor by mistake instead of Britain’s Got Talent. The Nostalgics were a gang of 14 smiling, healthy codgers from Coventry aged between 68 and 94. They sang Bring Me Sunshine accompanied by their own keyboard player, who had her instrument set to Tales of the Unexpected Vibrato.
“The one third from the left in the back row could make it as a solo artist, but they have to tell the rest to f*** off,” said Gary Barlow. OK, so he didn’t say that. Nothing like it, in fact. The Nostalgics got four big yeses. Are they the future?