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ColumnsMay 18, 2015

X Factor NZ: Power Rankings, Week 10 – A Nation Decides…

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Duncan Greive forces out a final Power Rankings, ending this dreadful season of X Factor NZ with a reflection on what turned a once-enjoyable show into an epic, endless waking nightmare.

When this season of X Factor NZ first entered this world, blind, tearful and covered in blood, New Zealand was a very different nation. It was August 3rd of last year when NZ On Air announced that the show would receive $800,000 in funding to return for a second season. “We can expect it to be bigger and better,” said Mark Caulton, TV3’s Director of Programming. How wrong would he prove.

Those were innocent days. Before Mark Weldon was appointed CEO of MediaWorks. Before he became a hero for greenlighting all the reality TV franchises in the world. Before he became a villain for knifing  Campbell Live in the kidneys. It was before the election, even. Dirty Politics was printed but not published. Internet Mana was going to be a force in Parliament. David Cunliffe was more famous than Dani Robinson.

We had never heard of Willy Moon or Natalia Kills, and Vibes were something you felt in central Wellington, not something you heard against your will every fucking Sunday. The point I’m trying to make is that it was a long, long time ago, and this show feels like it has been in production for most of my adult life.

And finally, against the odds, the end is here. Last night we watched it drag itself to within yowling distance of the finish line. It still looked like a show. There’s the smiling host. In front: the smiling judges. Behind them a loud proud crowd. Every 10 minutes or so a man or a lady or a group of hairy men would wander out and sing a song while some things happened around them.

Then the judges would speak and the host would speak at the title theme would pipe up and all that stuff. Everything was in its place, yet everyone involved seemed unspeakably sad. The sadness welled up in Dom’s eyes, their twinkle ever-dimming. It was reflected in Shelton’s vacant smile, in Beau’s desperate grin, in Thunderlips heroically doomed productions, in Kylie Cooke’s costumes-as-cries-for-help. Everything about the show begging to be over.

All involved knew, as we at home did, that something had gone catastrophically wrong with X Factor. And we all know what it was. As with everything bad in New Zealand, from the Auckland housing market to zero hours contracts, blame lies squarely at the pointy black feet of Natalia Kills and William Moon. If only they’d been able to hold their forked tongues for thirty seconds, things would have been so different.

We’d remember this season as ‘the one with that murderer on it’, and not ‘the one that entered a coma in mid-March but whose parents refused to turn off life support’. We endured week after baleful week, with the good singers and TV talent sent home, and new judges who watched people forget whole verses and fall over and still couldn’t find fault with them.

Last night I watched a finale which was both the best night of X Factor since March and terrible, listless television. The average year the songs covered were released was 1985. That’s a decade older than the average age of the remaining contestants. We heard nothing which charted post-1997. We saw handsome young men, with their whole lives ahead of them, not only playing Lenny Kravitz, but being roundly applauded for it. We will take years to recover from this as a nation. The only faint bright spot is that between SYCO and New Zealand On Air, tonight we will watch the last episode of X Factor NZ.

Here, then, are my last ever set of X Factor Power Rankings. It brings me no joy to write this, and likely you no joy to read it. Just know that now it is over.

1. (LW: 1) Nyssa Collins

Nyssa Collins is the only plausible winner of this competition. She has roughly as many Facebook fans as all the other acts combined, and is the only winner who wouldn’t cause an immediate revocation of our ‘proper country’ status at the UN. Nyssa sang ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ seguing into ‘Thriller’ – defining singles from Max Martin and Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones III, the great composers of the ’90s and ’80s respectively. She also did a sweet, simple, Samoan version of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, which was fine. But seriously – it’s a pop show, about finding a pop star. Nyssa gets and plays pop music. Her opponents did Cyprus Hill and Otis Redding and a traditional Tahitian ukulele song… It’s just unconscionably humiliating for us as a newly pop-credible nation that this could all be happening. Please New Zealand – don’t screw this up.

2. (LW: 2) Beau Monga

On the one hand, Beau is the most talented guy in New Zealand. There is no feat of human endeavour he cannot accomplish. He could play first five for Wairarapa Bush. He could be head of operations for King’s Plant Barn. He would make a fine District Court judge. Transparently he would win Dancing With the Stars. But he cannot be allowed to win this competition. Not after the tragi-comic depths he’s plumbed on this show. His cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Trouble’ was to this show what Stalingrad was to Germany’s World War Two. His ‘Freestyler’ their Normandy Landings. He has been beaten and broken by the mentors in X Factor NZ’s prison camp to the point where he seemed to genuinely think that covering Frankie Lymon’s version of ‘Goody Goody’ was a goody goody idea. In his defence, in the finale he finally got his beatboxing and loop pedalling and breakdancing and rapping into a vaguely coherent form on ‘Insane in the Membrane’, and ‘Roimata’ was sweet (and also hopelessly misplaced). But the worst possible outcome for Beau would be victory and a contract and more time in the belly of this strange, mortally wounded beast. So please, spare him your votes and set the bumblebee free.

3. (LW: 3) Brendon Thomas and the Vibes

“They’re ready to party like it’s not 1999, but 1969,” yelled Shelton, directly into the void. That’s been the problem with the Vibes right through. They’re 19 years old but obsessed with the music of their parents’ parents. Baby boomers have dealt their generation the most crushingly awful hand. On any front you care to name the Vibes’ peers will do it tougher than their parents and grandparents. House prices. Tertiary fees. Climate change. An increasingly binary economy. The goddamn Super Gold Card.

The least we could do is not feed into the preposterous lie that their record collections were the greatest and most glorious music ever created. But the Vibes have never deviated from their devotion to the flaccid classic rock hegemony, and Shelton has enabled them every step of the way. Last night we watched them cover Lenny Kravitz – Jeremy Clarkson aside, probably the world’s most indefensible human – then sing the cracked beauty of Otis Redding from a hyper-literal pantomime set. It was extraordinarily vacuous.

We also met their family, who seem adorable. I’m sure the Vibes are wonderful people with good hearts and sound minds. Mikey even made a passable joke about getting a boat, when the winner gets a car. Go him. But their qualities as humans could not matter less. They’re just not the right band for this competition, and winning would make them infinitely worse. They need to fail and boil and slug away and maybe after a few hard years there’s a 1/1000 chance they might do something worthwhile. Don’t get mad at me – that’s just how Mother Nature does her mysterious work. So if you love the Vibes (or Beau) – vote Nyssa. It’s the only humane thing to do, and this zombie competition’s best and only chance at an outcome we can live with.

Keep going!