Eight weeks ago I started this live blog as an X Factor virgin, having never watched an episode. I honestly came into it with an open mind. I’ve long since aged out of thinking that popularity automatically means something is rubbish. On the whole I want to be like other people, and I want other people to like me. It’s the human condition.
Plus, while Strictly Come Dancing looks as appealing as playing the Knife Game with a fork, singing is a universal joy. But after eight weeks of the X Factor, I don’t understand how such an odd show can be so boring.
As a newcomer, series 13 was the equivalent of joining a cult. Dermot looks like one of those slick preachers on American religious television, and at every point baffling things happen for no reason, a strange sacrament between contestants, judges and the audience. The noise is unbelievable. Why is everyone always shouting? Why can’t they play more than five seconds of a song? Why all of the flashing lights? The atmosphere is so charged that the judges speak in tongues, babbling nonsense that nobody remarks on, like it’s totally normal. If they brought out a rattle snake and started foaming at the mouth, I wouldn’t blink.
And yet it’s dull, fist-chewingly dull. Dermot is a priest with a dwindling flock. We move through the traditions, dead eyed and resigned, the meaning long since lost. Everyone knows that this is pointless. No one will get famous. No one is saved.
Before I watched, I would never have believed how irrelevant the music is to proceedings. It’s clear that the contestants throw their hearts and souls into preparing, and they all improved as time went on. (Yes, even Honey G.) This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of them. However, no one could genuinely enjoy the truncated and mediocre performances they’re forced into.
For all of the bleating about her ‘ruining the competition’, it’s why Honey G was so successful. She was something different, even if novelty rapping is an easy kind of different. There’s a reason she was brought back for a performance in yesterday’s final and has been signed with Syco. Simon Cowell, who cut his teeth with novelty records, gives people what they want, and what you all want is to whinge about Honey G on Twitter.
By the way, that wish fulfilment includes journalists. What struck me the most while watching was how X Factor is the ultimate clickbait machine. You’ve got a steady trickle of information and events on which to report (eliminations, who’s singing what, live blogs), plus manufactured stories (Emily/Ryan, Nicole/Matt) and manufactured controversies (‘Is the X Factor jukebox rigged?’). You’ve got dozens of people plucked from obscurity and ready to be investigated and humiliated. You’ve got hate figures (Honey G) and the judges constantly sparking off each other. It’s an impressive operation. The audience may be declining, but trust me, journalists will keep hitting this button until the high is long gone.
What’s missing is the human connection that music usually brings. The final was effective because it managed to get across the sheer exhaustion of this process. But before that point, ‘emotion’ was boiled down to five seconds of crying in an intro reel, Nicole having paroxysms over Matt and Dermot ‘having relations’ with their Dad. It feels cynical, with a nasty undercurrent that runs through the freakshow auditions, to Dermot sniping at the judges, to the abuse of Honey G and others on social media.
Like with all cults, I came into this looking for understanding, and was left feeling weary, confused and conned.
See you next year!
Well, that was quite the final. Congratulations to Matt Terry, and commiserations to Saara Aalto. They both deserved the win. A round of applause for all of the finalists, and everyone who applied to the show as well. It took guts to queue up, and a lot of hard work to stay. Here’s a link to download the single, which you really should do if you’ve been following all of these weeks. It all goes to a good cause.
Judges struggling to come up with anything else to say about Matt. To be fair, I’ll happily live the rest of my life without Nicole rhapsodising this wee man again.
Oh, it’s One Day I’ll Fly Away by Randy Crawford. Bit a danger Matt will make it, well, boring.
5.6 million votes thus far! Can Matt clinch it with his final song?
Now a round up of more or less random clips of the judges. (Nicole gives a killer Shakira impression.) A couple of nice moments when Dermot asks for their highlights. Sharon talks about needing to have fun at this point in her life…
The boy can sing. Here are the judges. (It’s hard to get across Nicole’s preening from this. Trust us, it was strong.)
Louis: “You’re in the final, you have the voice of an angel. Sam Smith, move over, you’ve got competition. No matter what happens, you’ve got a career.”
Sharon: “My darling little boy, you’re just this young boy with the most spectacular voice that comes with you. You touch my heart.”
Simon: “From the duet last night, to this, you are having a very strong final. It’s like you suddenly evolved.“
Nicole: “I just want to thank you. You are the reason why I came back to X Factor.”
Matt now. Writing’s on the Wall is a rubbish song, but it does show off his incredible falsetto.
A typical Saara performance, if there is such a thing, leading to lovely comments from the judges.
Louis: “This show is about discovering an undiscovered talent who can sell music worldwide. That person is you. You have the X Factor.”
Nicole: “Saara you put the word fun in funtastical. (sic) You fill the entire stage with your effervescent energy.”
Simon: “Saara, on one of the most important lives of your life, you decided to come back with the most bonkers performance of your life. This is why the public is in love with you.”
Sharon: “I can’t think of anything else to say about your performances because you’ve said it all. I want to thank Nicole for sending you to me, because she picked you as my wild card. You are a great example to other women.”
Saara: “About a year ago I thought I would quit, because I couldn’t find my place. And here it is.”
Saara’s up first, Sharon giving an emotional plea to fans: “her future is in your hands.” We’re a long way from when Sharon forgot her name and her native country. (Well, not that long, but still. It’s nice.)
Saara and Matt will be reprising two of their mainstays for tonight’s performance.
Saara Aalto – It’s Oh So Quiet by Bjork
Matt Terry – The Writing’s On the Wall by Sam Smith
The bookies have gone back and forth over whether Saara Aalto or Matt Terry will clinch it tonight. Terry had a stronger showing yesterday, and it’s possible he will receive the bulk of 5 After Midnight’s voters – similar demographics and all that. However, Aalto has had the momentum behind her these last few weeks. I suppose the big question is: who does Vladimir Putin want to win?
7.00 – The Results
We’ve made it! We’re here! The X Factor final results! I genuinely wondered if we would back then, in the doldrums of week five, but look at us now! Just two acts and two hours and we’re free!
Well, it was the result we all expected, but Saara and Matt have worked hard and deserve to be here. Commiserations to 5am. For the first and only time I’ll be back tomorrow for the live results show. Until then…
Hmm, felt like Aalto got a bit overawed by the song there, possibly because she was doing a fairly ‘straight’ cover with few embellishments. Of the duets, Matt and Nicole are the clear winner, but I say that through gritted teeth and a taut sphincter.
It’s Adam Lambert.
Who could possibly match Saara Aalto singing Bohemian Rhapsody?
Fingers crossed for Kate Bush!
I’m enjoying how Nicole loves Matt so much but she’ll happily blow him off the stage during their duet.
Another dose of Nicole/Matt ickiness – “we’re so far away from each other right now!” – but at least we’re on to Matt’s duet song. Purple Rain is fun. Wonder who it’ll be….oh.
5 After Midnight are back, duetting with Clean Bandit on a version of Tears that better get really good really quickly.
Simon Cowell pays an emotional tribute to both Louis and his mother.
“The bravery of what you’ve just done. I respect you as an artist. I respect you as a person. Your mum was so proud of you, and she was so looking forward to seeing you here tonight. She’s looking down on you right now.”
Tomlinson kept his composure throughout.
Dermot having to cover a lot of technical glitches tonight, from faulty microphones to missed cues and now, a delay in Louis Tomlinson’s set. Tomlinson’s mother Johannah Deakin passed away Wednesday night, aged just 42.
This Wembley Crowd really is something, lots of energy coming through, must be scary for the acts. Judges are kind to 5 After Midnight, but Cowell does get one dig in: “Louis, you may be a horror of a human being…”
It’s only now, at the end of the series, that I realise why the judges’ mime intros are always so weird. They act like they’re in Power Rangers.
Five After Midnight up first, but first a tour round the old neighbourhood. Everyone is very proud of the boys, as they should be. Say what you will, everyone works phenomenally hard on this show.
And we’re off. The final kicks off with clips from the auditions and a mass sing along with ex contestants. This would all be very nostalgic if it hadn’t happened two days ago.
In that interview, Dermot also goes back to the Fright Night/Jukebox ‘controversy’. (I maintain my stance: this is not a thing to care about. I swear, if I find you Tweeted about this, I will show up at your house and sigh into your terrified face. My exaggerated eye-roll will put you in the ground.)
“We said to Simon beforehand: ‘Are you sure you want Fright Night on there? Because if it lands before Halloween it’s going to look weird, and if it lands after Halloween it’s going to look even weirder. And if it falls on Halloween, we’re going to get murdered!’ And it landed on Halloween. People were saying ‘fix’ like it was some 200-1 nag that came in – but there was a one-in-five chance it was going to land on Fright Night.”
Right, fine, let’s get the backstage stuff out of the way.