This series was a revamp, with big changes intended to make The X Factor new and improved, revitalise the brand and allow it to regain its status as the biggest show on TV. Did it work? Well, the short answer: LOL, NO!
Changes in the judges line-up aren’t anything out of the ordinary. In fact there’s been some sort of change in the judges line-up for the past 5 series. But that Louis Walsh was one who wouldn’t be returning was a bit of a surprise, as he’s the only judge that has been on the panel for every series up until this one. But for this series Louis Walsh was chucked out like a cracked, faded Toby jug that’s been part of a house furniture for decades but nobody can be bothered to throw away, and even if someone does it somehow finds its way back in. His replacement was Radio One DJ Nick Grimshaw. While he’s not the most charismatic guy who ever lived and I don’t think he ever really settled into his role as an X Factor judge, I have to admit I quite liked Nick Grimshaw. Of the judges, his comments were the closest to what I was thinking anyway.
Mel B also wasn’t returning, so they had to find yet another female pop star to fill a vacant seat on The X Factor panel. I’m starting to think this show has a lottery machine filled with balls with the names of female pop stars on, and they just pick who’s going to fill the judge seat that way. The one they went with was Rita Ora, who had actually done it before, which I’d forgotten about, as one of the guest judges before Nicole Scherzinger joined. Despite getting the job full-time and being a former panelist on The Voice, Rita Ora was still a bit… well, not so much “work experience”, more like a daughter on take your child to work day, spinning on the swivel chair at her dad’s desk.
The two returning judges were Simon Cowell, who was, well, Simon Cowell. You could use clips from previous series and just replace the old contestant names with the new ones and it wouldn’t make much difference. Also back was Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, now an executive producer, and actually seemed to be enjoying herself this year. In her original stint as X Factor judge she sometimes came across a bit like a human trapped inside a robot, so it was nice to see the human managing to break free from the metal casing a little.
Of all the departures the one that turned out to hurt the show the most was the host Dermot O’Leary going. He was always a good TV presenter, but I think many of us viewers took it for granted how easy he made it look. He was replaced by former Xtra Factor presenters Olly Murs and Caroline Flack. They were like two dummies in search of a ventriloquist. It’s hard to say who was the least awful of them. Caroline Flack was bland and Olly Murs was useless.
Another exit was voice over man Peter Dickson. But then he was reinstated at the last-minute, so it didn’t really matter.
If there was one element of this years series that was universally unpopular, it was the 6 Chair Challenge, with contestants literally begging for a place in the final, like the judges were 4 smug Pauline Campbell-Joneses and the contestants were desperate, downbeaten members of her job centre restart course.
Because ITV were broadcasting the Rugby World Cup, that meant that there had to be fewer live shows. This had an effect of the series seeming to be caught in an eternal, continuous slow loop at the early stages, like a sort of Light Entertainment Hell and then the live shows speeding by before like your life flashing before your eyes. Kind of as if we as an audience were dying in reverse as a punishment for watching.
They had 7 weeks to get through the live shows, but not only did they put the usual 12 finalists in, they added another as a wild card! So the first 4 weeks were all double eliminations.
Leeds singer Bupsi had one of the biggest personalities in the series, and a decent voice, and was likeable. In her audition Simon said she was “too nice”, so she replied “if you want nasty I’ll do that right now” which included her giving Simon a lapdance, climbing over the judges desk and doing a splitdrop. But it was still predictable she wouldn’t really be the sort of contestant who attracts many public votes, especially as the song choice was not well-known, ‘You’re A Wonderful One’ by Marvin Gaye. It blanded her out and glossed over her personality. She finished at the bottom of the first public vote, which was a shame really, as inevitable as it was.
Also eliminated in week one were girlgroup Alien Uncovered. With brightly coloured red, blue, pink and purple hair and an unusual image they might have been interesting,
but after landing in the bottom 2 and doing a truly awful, tuneless sing-off performance of ‘Pressure’ by Sounds of Blackness they were voted off by the judges.
Keira Weathers survived the week one sing-off, but was bottom of the public vote the following week. She was nice, down-to-earth and was a good singer. She went through auditions being told she was amazing, then in the lives shows was constantly told she wasn’t very good. She was far from the first example, and wasn’t even the last in this series, but it left a nasty taste in the mouth.
The second week saw a shock elimination in Seann Miley Moore. He had fabulous costumes and make-up, a brilliant voice, some spectacular performances, but was clearly not to the taste of most of the voters, as he never polled well. I doubt that the show itself wanted him to leave so early though. They put him on the tour anyway, along with the final 7.
The slightly awkward Max Stone had three performances, all showing the bad, the good and the boring. The bad: a reggae version of ‘Someone Like You’ – nobody wants that, and it very nearly landed him in the bottom 3. The good(…. ish): The Israel Kamakawiwo’ole ukulele medley of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World’ giving him his highest public vote result in 6th place, and the boring: an absolute snorefest ‘Secret Garden’. He finished bottom of the vote with that, and off he went.
Monica Michael was the Wildcard contestant. She had a soulful voice and is a songwriter, but it seemed as though despite putting her back in the show didn’t really want her. She was styled in dresses which didn’t suit her and reprimanded for “letting it happen”. She actually did quite well in the first week vote, finishing 4th. I think what most X Factor viewers will remember her for though is the utter mess that her elimination announcement was. First she and her sing-off opponent Anton hugged each other in front of the much shorter Caroline and Olly, blocking the view of them. Then Olly Murs messed up by thinking that Monica had the most votes from the judges to eliminate and voting Anton would send it to deadlock. It was actually the other way round. After commiserating Monica for being eliminated, Caroline stepped in and said they were going to deadlock and, surprise surprise, it turned out Monica did have the fewest votes. It was very funny, but such a shambles.
Mason Noise (which is quite a good punny name, to be fair) became known in the show for the 6 Chair Challenge when he complained about the lack of screentime his audition got. The Birmingham singer argued with Simon Cowell before getting booed and storming off stage. He was bought back for the headlines after another contestant dropped out. But just as the show seemed to lose interest in Monica after she was bought back as a wildcard, it didn’t have much use for Mason after he’d been bought back for the headlines. They kept having him apologise and beg for public forgiveness, even via song choice (‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber). It was only after he survived the bottom 2 they started to present him like a pop star with his versions of Will Smith’s ‘Men In Black’ and Nick Jonas’ ‘Jealous’, but it turned out he was never all that popular in the public vote, so hey.
Anton Stephans started out in 3rd place in the vote with his take on ‘Dance With My Father’ by Luther Vandross, but the rest of his relatively short stay he was low in the vote. To be fair, he was thrown under the bus in week 2. A medley of ‘All About The Bass’ and ‘Bang Bang’, which he really couldn’t sing and shouted through, coupled with his natural over-the-top nature plus the gaudy eyesore glitter gold staging with dancing speakers was one of the bigger car crash TV occurences this series. Then he got given the Whitney/Mariah diva ballads, with cheesy performances of ‘I Have Nothing’, one of the most overdone songs on this show, and ‘One Sweet Day’, which is a morbidly sentimental borefest at the best of times. To an extent though, it’s easy to see why the producers might not have been keen on him as a potential winner. The sort of pop star he was most likely to be was a dated, easy listening balladeer. His performance style as well was very overwrought, and when he sang he ended up looking like a cheap Punch and Judy crocodile puppet, bulging eyes, mouth bigger than the rest his head showing umpteen teeth, and he ended up sounding like a foghorn. On one hand, he became very hard to watch and listen to. On the other hand, he was kind of stitched up.
Fillipino girlgroup 4th Impact, was made up of sisters Almira, Irene, Mylene and Celina. As one of the few uptempo acts their performances were among some of the highlights this year. For me I liked their energetic performance of Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea’s ‘Problem’, and I even liked the blossom and bubbles staging even if it didn’t fit with the song. It was their highest polling result, finishing 2nd in the vote. There was also their sassy performance of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Ain’t No Other Man’. My favourite and least performances of theirs both came in their final week. My least favourite was the one time they did a ballad, ‘I’ll Be There’ by the Jackson 5, which was a bit too sickly-sweet. But my favourite was their second performance, a fun medley of Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s ‘Fancy’ with Gwen Stefani – ‘Rich Girl’. That had them in a candy coloured dolls houses and as prepackaged set of dolls with glittery accessories with their names displayed on there. I liked the ending line with “Simon, remember our names!” after he’d, rather rudely I think, referred to them as “A,B, C and D”. But this was the week they got voted out, ironically in a bottom 2 against Lauren Murray after a ‘controversy’ the week before. But it was one of the best sing-offs the show has ever had, with both acts performing strongly.
Lauren Murray was another contestant who got Whitney/Mariah diva ballads, but in her case they were more “Girls Night In” songs. Whitney Houston’s version of ‘I’m Every Woman’ which had a hairdresser setting with giant pink glittery combs and scissors and women with pink curlers, and Mariah Carey’s ‘We Belong Together’ with falling pink rose petals and butterflies. But she was a lot more versatile than that. She did a very lovely version of James Bay’s ‘Hold Back The River’, she sang it very well. The North London vocalist also did a stripped back version of Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’, which was very, very good, my favourite performance of the whole series, and Lauren’s highest public vote result, where she finished 2nd. She delivered emotional connection, singing every word like she meant it and made top ten on the iTunes chart. In fact, many of her performances did well on iTunes.
Things took a turn for the worse for Lauren thanks to a brief shot of her declining a hug from 4th Impact. It ended up getting blown out of all proportion and her getting painted as evil incarnate despite 4th Impact and Lauren appearing in an online video to confirm there was no bad blood. But the internet loves a bandwagon, especially a hate based one. She survived against 4th Impact, then was bottom of the vote the following week, in both cases after been given some very modern but fairly unsuitable dance tracks. Her exit was one of the most uncomfortable to watch, where she likely knew she would be the one who was going home. She started the sing-off already in tears, before trying to get through Rachel Platten’s ‘Fight Song’ . It was nice of her mentor Rita Ora to go up to her after she had finished singing, and Nick Grimshaw always was a big fan of Lauren. While the result went to deadlock and she was at the bottom of the vote, she was less than 1% away from scoring more than Che, so she almost made the final. She was by far my favourite contestant this year, and the one I most enjoyed.
19-year-old Che Chesterman was very much an “old school” sort of singer, he mainly sang Motown soul type records, even doing the Marvin Gaye cover of The Beatles ‘Yesterday’. My favourite performance of his, even though it was his lowest public vote result finishing 8th, was his medley of Amy Winehouse – ‘Tears Dry Their Own’ and Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’.
He finished in 1st place in the vote in week 5, though I’m not sure anyone would call it his best performance. He sang Adele’s megahit ‘Hello’, and unfortunately he messed it up. He forgot the words, not only that the words of a song that is one of the biggest current hits and loads of people in the country know the words to! To be fair, when I first watched the performance I was wondering if he had forgotten the words or if it was some rubbish rearrangement, so he covered it up well. I felt really sorry for him, and so did a lot of voters it seems, as it was probably mostly a combination of a sympathy vote, a bounce from being in the bottom 2 the week before that caused him to top the vote.
Che has a fantastic voice, one of the best in the competition this year, and he seems like a really nice guy. I found him very likeable, particularly in the VTs with him and his dad, Che Senior. He wasn’t given a lot of help in the final. One example was the staging for his performance of Amy Winehouse’s version of ‘Valerie’ being set in a ’50s American diner with giant hamburgers for no apparent reason other than to be distracting. But overall, I think Che came across well, and again he has a lovely voice.
With Ghanaian duo Reggie n Bollie it was refreshing to have a fun, colourful act that wasn’t turned into a joke novelty act. Of course that didn’t last, but they started out well with their version of ‘It Wasn’t Me’ by Shaggy. Then in week 2 they did a medley of One Direction’s ‘What Makes Me Beautiful’ with OMI’s ‘Cheerleader’ which worked a lot better than you might imagine, in fact seemed to get everyone up dancing. But they were turned into a joke act in Movie Week, with pretending they were singing the theme from Titanic, going into ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ with Simon’s dogs in the stage background.
In week 4 they did a mash-up of Walk The Moon – ‘Shut Up and Dance’ and Fuse ODG feat. Sean Paul – ‘Dangerous Love’, two songs I really like. It was a very enjoyable performance, and they topped the public vote with it. They were sometimes joined by a whole carnival, and their children. Once in their ‘Azonto’ performance their mentor Cheryl got up to dance with them! The boring, ballad-heavy semi-final was improved with them doing ‘I Gotta Feeling/I Like To Move It’ at the end, and one of the better parts of the mediocre final was their performance of ‘Dangerous Love/Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)’ with the original artists of those songs, Fuse ODG and Craig David respectively. (Though Sean Paul and The Artful Dodger didn’t turn up). Reggie n Bollie were definitely one of the most popular acts this year. They were 1st place in the public vote once, and 2nd place in 4 out of the other 6 weeks, ultimately that was the position they ended in, as this years runners-up.
The winner was teenage singer Louisa Johnson. She was a favourite to win from the beginning of the series, and was top of the public vote 5 of the 7 weeks, and 2nd and 3rd in the other 2. She is undeniably a good singer, but … I never quite ‘got’ Louisa, to be honest. Her performances tended to be quite dull and clinical, and of the “show-off vocal gymnastics are more important than any connection to the lyrics” school of thought. The arrangements of the songs she was given all seemed like they were trying out to be next year’s John Lewis Christmas advert too.
She was massively hyped by the show throughout the series. In ‘Love and Heartbreak’ week she was placed on a high plinth above everyone else with heavenly cloud staging dressed in white. They couldn’t be more unsubtle if they’d stuck a halo over a head, got her to wear angel wings and play a harp… so in the semi-final they did give her some angel wings on the back of a screen and halo lighting, and even called her an angel several times in the final! They didn’t do the harp, but then, how often do you see musical instruments on this show?
The only performance that worked for me was her cover of Christina Aguilera’s cover of ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’.
In 11 series The X Factor has had, at most, 4 winners who’ve gone on to a reasonably successful pop career (Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and Little Mix). That’s not really a good hit rate. They’ve had more acts who’ve done well without winning, such as One Direction and Olly Murs among others, but that in itself doesn’t look great, that an act is better off finishing runner-up, third or even sixth like Ella Henderson, but not winning. That Louisa was hyped so much throughout the competition suggests that they will probably be spending a lot of time and money making her “happen”, but while her vocal talents are obvious, I think they are really going to have to work out what sort of personality or identity she has as a pop star.
This series of The X Factor had very low viewing figures. The Rugby World Cup messed up their schedule a bit, so they had to pad out the build-up, chop down the live shows and plough through the contestant eliminations, but I think it was more than that. The average viewer is becoming wiser to the manipulation, and the show itself becoming as subtle as a sledgehammer with it. That said, it’s also a year where the apparent producer intentions seemed to go exactly according to plan, with the possible exception of Sean Miley Moore’s early departure.
Yet again they had sing-offs in the quarter and semi-finals instead of just leaving it to the public vote, but the result went back to the public vote anyway.
I’m not a fan of the theme weeks, but they didn’t exactly bother having them this year. The theme for week one was ‘This Is Me’, for all the contestants to introduce themselves as the act they’d be in the charts. Week 2 was ‘Re-Invention’. So… week one was all about introducing them, now week 2 is them changing completely? Actually, it was more of a “making classic songs their own” theme. In other words, covering well-known songs by other artists. So, like every week, then. Other theme weeks included ‘Jukebox Week’ and ‘Get Me To The Final’. So, “songs” then.
The final included duets from past finalists. It was nowhere near as good as when Alexandra Burke and JLS collaborated in the series 6 finale, but we had Ben Haenow and Leona Lewis who were… fine, I guess. Little Mix and Fleur East did quite a fun performance. Fleur East appeared so many times in this series, she was kind of like when a former regular cast member who becomes “recurring” in an American drama series. She appeared almost as much as she did last year, and certainly more than she did in her first X Factor stint as part of Addictiv Ladies.
That said, one of Fleur East’s guest appearances was to perform her single ‘Sax’, which was a fantastic, fierce performance, not just showing up the current contestants but putting a lot of the half-arsed ‘proper’ pop star guest performers to shame.
My other performance highlights were Adele performing ‘Hello’ in the final, and her comments in her interview afterwards. She was surprised at how close the judges were to the stage. (“On the telly you look so far away!”) and said Lauren was her favourite.
Then there was Rudimental feat. Ed Sheeran – ‘Lay It All On Me’. I love that song, but the performance is probably best remembered for the apocalyptic scale of confetti coming down and practically smothering the whole X Factor studio.
If there’s one word I’d like to hear less of in the next series of The X Factor it’s “moment”. It felt like it was said a billion times this series!
All in all, series 12 of The X Factor was poor. It wasn’t a horrible series or even a unenjoyable one really, but it just wasn’t very good, and to be honest it felt a bit like a show that’s working its notice. We’ll see what they try next year.