We might be witnessing the heat death of The X Factor now – I’m saying another three seasons after this, tops. But at least the show’s finding fun ways to eat itself.
First out of the year-nine oddbox was Sheyi Omatayo, a 17-year-old Nando’s operative with a sweet and only slightly creepy story about the time Pixie Lott came in for chicken and was totally into him.
Having flirted ickily with Tulisa Contostavlos and exciting new judge Nicole Scherzinger, Sheyi did What A Wonderful World. His high, eager speaking voice mutated into a gravelly comedy growl. Even a second song, not by Louis Armstrong, was the same.
In conversation, Sheyi went back to his normal voice – which he had also used to shout “Yeah!” in between lines of the song, switching back and forth seamlessly from the horrid doggy bark.
Like Pam Doove from The League of Gentlemen, Sheyi was a performer who couldn’t perform, because his subconscious has created a second, malignant personality to sabotage him. We’ve seen plenty of people on X Factor deluded about their ability, but nothing like this.
The first contestant likely to score ten million YouTube hits was Jahmene Douglas, a supermarket price-gunner who arrived in a buttoned-up suit and said he rarely left the house. He had a nervous tic, a wide smile and an astounding soul scream of a voice that he hurled towards At Last by Etta James.
Jahmene had an incredible range, with another incredible range on top of it. Could this be the year of the nerd? There was another one: Curtis Golden, a virginal teen who was cruelly filmed chatting awkwardly to a hot blonde contestant outside, for long enough that you knew his voice would be a surprise. Double points, though, if you predicted his confident, ironic acoustic-guitar version of Candyman by Christina Aguilera.
For students of The X Factor’s secrets and contradictions, however, this week was all about Zoe Alexander. She was a Pink tribute act who said she wanted to assert her own identity. But she sang So What? by Pink.
Gary gave her the wave of death and asked for a non-Pink song. Zoe complied but, either because she was flustered or just not very good, she sang Emeli Sande poorly and in the style of Pink. The judges told her this and said no. Then Zoe went postal.
Zoe throwing the mic down, destroying sundry parts of the set and then returning with her dad in tow to shout “You f***ing c***s!” at the judges was just the sort of meltdown by a young person under pressure that The X Factor loves – but in order for it to make sense in the edit, they had to leave in something revealing.
“You told me to do a Pink song!” Zoe had said to the judges, who reacted as if she were nuts, because clearly they hadn’t. How many viewers would work out the most likely explanation, that Zoe meant the show’s producers? We’ll never know. My guess is the sight of her crying and knocking over cameras was deemed too good not to broadcast, even if it did look like a stitch-up.
Ella Henderson nicely subverted The X Factor’s plundering of dead relatives. She was into music because of her late grandfather. Her performance was a tribute to him. Usually when people say that, they then do a tuneless crotch-grabbing version of Moves Like Jagger, and you wonder exactly how far their soul has been swelled by loss.
But Ella had channelled her feelings into something half-decent: a self-penned, piano-based torch song that was performed with searing clarity and had unbelievable emotional maturity and songwriting nous for a 16-year-old – especially if you’re not familiar with Someone Like You by Adele, its obvious inspiration.
OK, so everyone is familiar with Adele, but that might work in Ella’s favour. Adele is so huge now, not to mention apparently in no hurry to make another LP, that the market can easily take a clone. Ella could be a moon to orbit around the planet. And derivative as the song was, teenagers all over the country are trying to write songs that sound like Someone Like You (or Price Tag or Paradise or The A Team or Somebody That I Used To Know or whatever) and not getting anywhere near, but Ella did.
In an episode loaded with potential top-five finishers, Ella was saved until last. Put your house on her to win.