“We ditched the drama this week – it’s all about the fun factor!”
– Dom Bowden
It wasn’t much fun, and I feel bad that slick, professional old Dom has to come out and lie to us every week. X Factor NZ is in a hole now, and I struggle to see a way out. Sappy reno show Our First Home has nearly double its ratings, and neither the judges nor contestants have any teeth. It’s like a support group for nice people to reaffirm their commitment to cuddling and clean living.
I still hold out a faint glimmer of hope that we’ve hit bottom. From next week we should be down to more bearable 90 minute shows. We’re nearly through the last of the can’t-win dregs of the competition. And surely mad reality TV scientist Julie Christie won’t allow a show this boring to exist on a network she oversees for much longer.
But this week was a true grind. One Hit Wonders meant that we were watching mostly untalented singers do bad covers of songs by artists which never made it. The only way is up from here, right?
1. (LW: 1) Finlay Robertson
Last night’s intro was all about ‘the real Finlay’. We learned that she burps. We learned that she dances. We learned that she raps, under the name ‘DJ Cuddle Munchkins’, which is a reference to her habit of cuddling people. As far as True Hollywood Story-style dirt goes, it wasn’t a lot. Either there’s constant meth parties at the X house, and we’re being duped, or these people are just really, really nice. Like last season’s, but without all the drinking and f***ing.
Song: Gotye – Somebody That I Used to Know. A lot was made (OK, Guy Williams tweeted about it) of Joe’s solo duet. But Finlay did one too! She’s just so good right now that no one noticed.
Staging / Outfit: She wore a fascinator which looked a bit like a pair of undies (maybe Maria Tutaia’s from the Heidi Klum party?), and stood on a small raised platform while some gothy ballet-type dancing happened around her. Nothing special, but with a voice like hers it doesn’t need to be.
Performance: Taking her cue from the video, she moved slowly, in a vaguely staccato style. It was less histrionic performance than in previous weeks, which suited the song and showed some of her range. Not her best, by any stretch, but Finlay cruising is beyond most of the competition’s top speed.
2.(LW: 2) Stevie Tonks
The preview meme this week was: ‘will Stevie Tonks’ face explode’. I’m not sure that all this Steviemania isn’t getting a little too cute. He’s an actor who’s been to acting school, and these segments feel very rehearsed. You know how when you get a bunch of singers together and they sing all the time? And writers talk knobbishly about writing? Putting a camera on an actor has the same effect. I get that they need to do something, anything to pump some juice into this show, but #Hatbeard needs a week where he’s just another contestant.
Song: Gnarls Barkley – Crazy. Great choice for Stevie T, especially after last week’s psychotically over-energised performance. The song is, of course, a mangy dog mostly deployed to accompany news reports about postpartum depression, and just should not be heard anymore. But it suited his voice and he gave it a good shot
Staging: Probably the best we’ve seen or ever will see on the NZ franchise. Simple, effective motif which only fleetingly made you think he was smearing jizz all over the window.
Outfit: #justbeard, asked Joseph Moore on our smash hit X Factor podcast last week. #justbeard is what we saw last night. Honestly, he’s essentially Stevie’s stylist and manager at this point, and deserves some money and/or Frutares.
Performance: It was great and all, but very stagey. Stevie Tonks will end up with a long career in musical theatre. Stevie Tonks in ‘Cats’, coming soon. Just watch.
3. (LW: 5) Sarah Spicer
I’m no expert, but if you’re running a reality singing show which recently lost its two biggest assets and is struggling mightily in the ratings, would you put a 42-year-old out there to close one live show and open the next? The reasons I enjoy Sarah Spicer are slightly cryptic even to me, and I just don’t understand why they keep giving her such prominent slots. She went horse-riding with Steve Broad this week – his main role on the show now seems to be ‘activity partner for actual contenders’.
Song: 4 Non Blondes – What’s Going On. Perfect choice, especially as it gave her the opportunity to humblebrag about hanging with their manager in SF before any of the Vibes were even born.
Staging: A long wharf down centre stage. Marks off for no sick bombs.
Outfit: Furry rug-like jumper and some very tiny and very shiny pants. She also looked a tiny bit like a long lost Kardashian sister adopted out during Kris’ youth at times. No bad thing.
Performance: Incredibly tough song to sing, with the swooping swings between falsetto and, uh, low-singing. Plus those grunty bits dangling like a goddamn diamond ring in front of her. Once again, she resisted. Well done you.
4. (LW: 7) Brendon Thomas and the Vibes
Does it seem weird that they released an EP during their time on the show? When did they record it? Are Sony OK with it? So many questions. One more: Could they win? Of all the artists left on the show, they’re by far the most charismatic and singular. This kind of band just doesn’t get airtime on their scale, and I feel like half the X Factor audience might be as enraptured by these kids as Shelton is. It seems insane, but maybe being out on your own and reasonably confident is enough this year.
Song: The Knack – My Sharona. As far as crappy fake new wave songs go, I’ve always preferred ‘Turning Japanese’ to ‘My Sharona’. It is edgier two ways, both by being about masturbation and totally racist. Still, even a shit new wave song is better than a great Hendrix song for the Vibes, who were forced to abandon most over their usual flourishes in favour of the beat and chords. That’s where they need to be, to my mind – struggling mightily against their instincts.
Staging / Outfits: They had a little drum riser thing which holy shit those mad young tyros tried and failed to destroy! “We’ve just experienced our first taste of actual rock’n’roll on the X Factor,” said noted rock’n’roll expert Stan Walker. As always, they looked amazing.
Performance: This was my favourite BT and the V performance, by far. The song’s pace and construction meant that it was impossible for them to do their usual Rockquest wigout, and instead had to content themselves with little flashes within tight confines. That is a much, much better scenario than songs which let them scratch about however they like. Even their big screwup was excused by the judges. “At least we know you’re actually playing your instruments,” Woolright said, after Thomas dropped his lead. That’s insane – if any other performer dropped a mic they’d be rightly destroyed. But not at Nicefest 2015…
5. (LW: 6) Nyssa
Nyssa starts off in the lovely lounge of her unwell grandmother. The sick relative is rightly a denigrated trope, but this was quite sweet. And honestly, they have to come up with some neat one minute hook for each of these dudes every week, so I can live with it. The thing I can’t live with is the constant affirming of her beauty. Yes, she’s beautiful, but no more or less so than anyone else on the show, none of whom gets half as much comment on their appearance. It feels incredibly patronising. Nyssa’s fine. Just talk about her performances, OK?
Song: Vanessa Carlton – A Thousand Miles. Song starts and I’m like ‘hu dis?’ By its end I feel the same – it’s naggingly familiar but utterly empty, too. Weirdly that works for Nyssa, who excels at vocal workout ballads. I guess that’s a thing, but is it a career?
Staging / Outfit: She wore a lot of gold jewelry, and I’m really loving the afrocentricity of her outfitting thus far this year. Staging was less exciting – a bunch of stools, basically.
Performance: Vocally immaculate, but I don’t get any sense of Nyssa being lifted by the audience. She’s a contestant who’s being handled with kid gloves, and isn’t benefiting from the babying. Tougher judges telling her to involve the crowd and bring a greater physicality to performance, say, might get us something huge. Sadly this is no longer that kind of show.
6. (LW: 4) Mae Valley
“Don’t be fooled, they’ve got a dark secret,” Dom said, before revealing the secret as… Zombie dancers! I’m not sure that qualifies as a secret so much as a ‘production decision’, though the statement did serve to drive home just how squeaky clean Mae Valley are. They’re so without sin that their intro climaxed with Stevie Tonks farting in the kitchen, which doesn’t give you all that much information about Mae Valley. Everything about Mae Valley was flat this week, including the ridiculous comments: “That’s such a skill, to take a song from one genre and put it in another,” says Shelton, before informing us that country is popular in America. Stop it with the bombshells, Walter Cronkite!
Song: Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag. One of the great One Hit Wonder singles of them all, chiefly because of that dynamite pop-grunge chorus. Mae Valley’s arrangement chastely excised the power chords, which was unfortunate, because the song would’ve perfectly suited a full Taylor ‘Forever and Always’-type treatment.
Staging / Outfit: Zombies! Remember?! I guess that did muss up their hair a little, but I can’t help think it was a cool trick deployed on the wrong band.
Performance: Weak. They stood there and sang it fairly earnestly, but the energy we normally get from them was absent, and while playing against type has its place, this persona just didn’t gel.
7. (LW: 3) Joe Irvine
Maybe that’s how they take down Our First Home? Turn X Factor into a reno show, with Joe Irvine running a Party Down-style crew of wannabe singers who do up old villas for beer money. Joe fixing the cupboard. Joe cleaning alligator poo out of the fountain. Pandemonium. Absolute scenes. Unfortunately it was way more entertaining than his shambolic performance.
Song: Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley – The Time of My Life. Great, great song. Awful, awful performance. Joe works best when he can pick an octave then go to town. Swooping from register to register leaves him and us dizzy, and had him in pieces all over the stage looking every inch the bad karaoke singer we saw at boot camp.
Staging / Outfit: He wandered around, half-dancing, in big cuban heels, as Mel’s selectorial hot streak wrecked itself around a lamppost. There were stripes. There were dancers. And in the middle there was Joe, lost, marooned, suddenly looking vulnerable and human again, and not in a good way.
Performance: “Terrible,” said Stan. “All of it, bro.” Yep.
8. (LW: 10) Lili Bayliss
Lili’s a classic Craig McMillan singer – hits a solid score every six innings. Just enough to keep him in the team, not nearly enough to make him reliable. She knows it, too. “I wasn’t in the bottom two by accident,” she said in the preamble. Production decided that what she needed was a makeover! They dyed her hair green and blue, a nice nod to her status as the only pop-aware singer in the field, and she rewarded the expenditure with a performance strong enough to keep her in.
Song: Soft Cell – Tainted Love. This was one of her good innings. The song is a sinuous, lusty piece of new romantic synth pop, sung by a non-singer originally, which meant her version couldn’t help but shine by comparison. Weaving in some elements from the ‘Sweet Dreams’ was a smart move too – in a week with a lot of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ song choices, she had two smash hits in the bank. This annoyed NatBass, who complained about her use of the Eurythmics, and quoted their 75m worldwide album sales, a weirdly specific number which turned out to be correct. You keep stowing away weird facts, NatBass.
Staging / Outfit: Her most Lorde-aping week yet, with three dudes shrouded in darkness on plinths behind, while she stood still and emoted up front. She’s blown her whole allocation on various elaborate sets prior to now, so this was inevitable.
Performance: Luckily her performance meant the staging didn’t matter. She sang like elimination was at stake, which it might well have been, and secured another week by simply being professional.
9. (LW: 8) Steve Broad
We watched Broado skyping his class ahead of time, framed as him checking in on them, when in fact it was a desperate plea for leniency from voters. “Please think of the children,” the segment screamed. As did his contention, as yet unproven by anything on stage, that “Mel and I are progressing really well”. We all joke about this a lot, but I’m starting to think Steve does have a big, hairy, creepy crush on Mel Blatt, and wants very badly to get more time on this show so he can try and climb his Everest. I don’t blame him for that – she’s an amazing human – but she’s not moving to Invercargill, buddy. So it’s her or the kids.
Song: Shakespeare’s Sister – Stay. “Bad song choice, Mel,” said Shelton. “I think you’re catering to the older women. Like Mel,” said Shelton. Is it just me or is Shelton negging the f*** out of Mel in front of the whole nation? As well as having mad Game, he’s also right – that song combined obscurity with suckfulness, which does not sound like the X Factor to me.
Staging / Outfit: He wore a jumper and some trousers. He played a piano. Honestly!
Performance: It was fine. He tinkled the ol’ ivories, caressing them like they were a lock of Mel’s hair he’d bought on eBay. He got slammed, then defended himself at length. Explaining is losing, goes the old political saw, and right now Steve Broad is losing so hard. He’s bloody lucky the next guy on the list exists.
10. (LW: 9) Beau Monga
Are we going to lose Beau and Nofo in the first month? That is extremely problematic. They are both young, sexy and brown, and pound-for-pound as talented as any singer in the comp. Beau in particular looked like a mortal lock coming into the live shows, yet has fallen apart to the point where it wasn’t a shock to see him dressed as a bumblebee and singing Bomfunk MCs on television. Legitimately depressed it’s come to this.
Song: Bomfunk MCs – Freestyler. One of the shabbiest songs ever covered on this show, and precisely the wrong vehicle for showing off Beau’s many talents. It has no singing, for starters, which tends to be highly valued on singing competitions. It is a rap song from Finland, which is not a phrase that has ever excited anyone, ever. It sounded dated on release, and worse now. It was a shockingly bad choice, basically.
Staging / Outfit: We already knew he could breakdance, so that wasn’t really necessary. And his hi-vis bee outfit was real silly. 0/2.
Performance: Nothing went right for Beau this week. He needed to show us he could sing, and rewarded us by dancing to a disastrously bad rap song. Things could only have been worse had he fallen over. Actually, he did fall over. Shit. Beau, you’re amazing. But you’re done.