And once again it is that time of year where Saturday nights revolve around the fierce battles between dew-faced princesses and lecherous indie-trolls in the war for public approval. The theme for this year's X-factor seems, overwhelmingly, to be one of musical 'authenticity' - a word which translates roughly into standard English as "copying any (white) mercury-prize-nominee of the last five years as closely as possible."
As Popjustice's Peter Robinson pointed out so excellently in the Guardian, "by the time this year's X Factor boot camp rolled around, every white male contestant appeared to be attempting the self-consciously excitement-free vocal style of Tom Waits in a Strepsil famine." On that note, the other little idiosyncrasy acting as a tyrant upon my ears is the screeching, cracking hiccup technique of one Ms. Janet Devlin (for those of you who are foolish enough to shun this televisual delight, imagine a slowed-down Florence and the Machine without the laughable drag-queen element). Janet does my head in. Truly fucks me off. "It makes me feel more grounded," she whimpers, Celtic, as Kelly Rowland challenges her naked feet in Miami, "I'm just a sweet little fairy from heaven and I know not how good I be! Tee Hee (hiccup!)" Literally, Janet, fuck off. Nobody's buying it.
Except they are! A clear bookies favourite (ahead, even, of Matt Cardle at this point in last year's odds), Janet is also clearly what Sofabet.com commonly refer to as The Producers' "PLAN A". Not only this, but I am forced to face the fact that friends of mine, people with whom I converse, INTELLIGENT PEOPLE, like her. This bizarre phenomenon rattles round my head in a way that makes quantum mechanics look like a joke on the back of a Penguin wrapper. What is it that you all see that I cannot see? Or is it what I see that you cannot? Was it her simpering rendition of 'Your Song' that stole your heart away? Were I not the kind of person to glue my eyes to the screen, had I been looking away at that moment, I would have assumed I was listening to John Lewis feat. Ellie Goulding in the commercial break. I would have panicked that Christmas had crept up on me. The version was fucking identical. The very performance that made this Janet Devlin stand out as unique was, in fact, a total rip-off. And a cheap one. Straight from the 99p shop. She's a poor man's Diana Vickers, a baby Florence and a wannabe Goulding (a silvering if you like). She might be on trend but she is anything but unique. Anything but 'special' as she is so often called on the show.
Over the weekend, two of the best acts went home. The fantastic 2shoes were the first blow to my X-factor season. Not as stupid as they looked, almost to the point of being calculated, 2shoes were nonetheless a hell of a lot of fun. And as Tulisa so sharply articulated, Essex is very 'current right now.' No doubt they would have done very well in the public arena - Sofabet fancying their chances of coming third overall. Why were they jettisoned? Alas, they were pregnant (well one of them was) and pregnant people can't be popstars.
The second and more crushing blow to my spirit was the sacrificing of Amelia Lily. As the anti-Devlin, she was the only other girl with a chance in hell of winning the competition and my only hope of a satisfactory champion. Unfortunately, a weak vocal on a big song with an unusual arrangement made her seem mediocre, shouty and a bit forgettable - a far cry from her amazing rendition of 'Extra-terrestrial' at Judges' Houses and her placement with bookmakers as second favourite to win outright. Far more 'unusual' and 'unique' to me is not barefootedness and folksong whimsy but a strong, personable female who can come out on stage and belt a tune with confidence and panache whilst still applying her own twist. With the evacuation of Amelia from the building my only hope rests on the recently rebranded 'Misha B' - a fantastic performer that producers have already pigeon-holed and attempted to turn into the UK's version of Nicki Minaj. Misha's rendition of Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' at the initial audition stage blew my socks off and simultaneously sealed her fate as a loser. If I have learnt anything from experience it is that the credible acts never do better than about eighth place.
On the whole, the weekend provided few surprises. The older boyband were marginally better than the younger boyband. The girlband's performance looked like an argument with the judges, Sami Brookes wailed her way through a mediocre rendition of a club classic, Marcus Collins was still too cheerful to show up as a real contender, Johnny Robinson was a vision in silver and Kitty Brucknell was a Hot Mess.
Sophie was soulful and sexy as she sat cross-legged on a piano, trying her best to sound like Adele. Lots of singers are doing this at the moment - at least four of them among the X-factor finalists. I can only imagine, in light of recent news regarding Adele's vocal 'injuries,' that singers all over the world are preparing to usurp her throne. The crack in Janet's voice is typical in this trend but the surprise performance by an Adele Soundalike on Saturday was in Craig Colton's version of 'Jar of Hearts'. Whilst he's not to my taste, in fact whilst he sums up pretty much everything that is mediocre in the world, I find Craig a lot less offensive than Janet. He has an offbeat sense of humour and you get the feeling that he's not trying to trick anyone into thinking he's more humble than he actually is. On top of that, I think he's a better singer. It's really only Craig or Marcus that have an outside chance of beating the Devil-woman into submission. The former is very middle-of-the-road whilst the latter is only slightly more interesting than Joe McElderry. In short, the possibility of this season creating a genuinely successful star is narrow.
My only other shock of the night came with Frankie Cocozza covering Ed Sheeran's 'A Team.' The shock came not with the song choice (although I thought they'd save this one for Frankie in later weeks) but with the horrific realisation that he may be more than a tabloid contestant. Whilst I had though he was there only to grab column inches, I now suspect the producers hope to get him into the top 5 in order to carve out a post-show career for him as a teen heartthrob professional rasping indie-twink. There is little hope for this world.