Dom wore shorts! That was the biggest revelation and bombshell of the night, one which was both better than last week and also cemented the sense that this new look X Factor is going to be mostly drama-free.
It’s not a disaster. There were a handful of great performances, and Dom, Mel and Stan have a rapport and warmth that makes them good Sunday evening company. Natalie seems legitimately perceptive, while even Shelton intersperses his mystifying comments with some of genuine insight.
The unquestionable highlight, though, was meeting Mel’s spectacularly cool looking family:
COOL DAD ALERT. Rankings:
1. (LW: 2) Finlay Robertson
These nodules are starting to become the X Factor equivalent of Paul Pierce leaving the 2008 finals in a wheelchair, only to come back next quarter. They made just surviving a minor victory, and suggested to the opposition she was there for a good time, not a long one. Then bang bang! She rips off three straight huge performances. ‘Bang Bang’ was probably the biggest yet. The song’s originally sung by Ariana Grande and Jessie J, each doing their best Aguilera impression, and Finlay never got out of third gear in dominating the song. She looked great, moved well, and had a cool robotic looking bit of hand-bedazzling.
2. (LW: 1) Stevie Tonks
We reached peak Hatbeard this week. His whole preamble was him talking about how his beard has a name (Henry) and him showing off his hat collection. JJ Feeney is not happy:
— Jay-Jay Harvey (@JJHarveyNZ) March 30, 2015
It didn’t stop there though. He wore easily the nuttiest outfit of the night, a lovely blouse and hat straight from the Ezibuy catalogue: Plus weird white bondage pants. It was delightful. He obviously heard the criticism that he’s too much of standstill vein-throbber, and decided to show us all just how well he can move, in the stagiest, most acting school-way possible. He got way past the border of Mel’s personal space for way too long. He ran about a kilometre, covering the entire set, and had power to burn. He sang so hard that the song just disappeared underneath his histrionics. He sang so hard Natalie’s “butt hurt”. He sang too hard, basically.
3. (LW: 4) Joe Irvine
Dom called Mel “New Zealand’s Princess Diana” in the intro, but isn’t that Joe Irvine? The people’s prince, every old lady’s favourite person, raised from among us to seize our imaginations and never let go? He showed his mum the viaduct, which was magical, and his armpit pores cried the tears this week:
Then he sang Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of ‘69’ in the most maudlin style, hitting notes and tones he’s never revealed before. He turned it into a piano ballad, sucking all the cool fake-Springsteen riffy nostalgia out of the song. This is basically ‘how to ruin a pop song 101’, but because he’s Joe and he can only give us everything it worked a charm. The judges were nonplussed – “you have to give us more than this emotion,” said Stan, suggesting that 90 minutes of Joe Irvine would leave you “depressed”. He’s wrong, it’d be a magical, cathartic way to spend an evening. He’s even becoming at ease in interviews, saying “Dave, hook me up”, after Dom suggested the Dobber might send him a meatpack to follow Lorde’s muffins. Joe is a magic man.
4. (LW: 5) Mae Valley
After some good constructive criticism from the judges about their performance last week, Mae Valley met up with Shelton to set about getting better. Here’s his advice on movement:
They’re such magic kids, Mae Valley. They’ve grown up in a parallel universe New Zealand, where country’s the only music, and every single person can play guitar to a professional standard. They introduced Keith Urban’s ‘Somewhere in my Car’ as a big hit we’d all know, which definitely isn’t true. But they sang the hell out out of it, and looked extremely comfortable in a pretend car being pretend driven by a pretend driver. That’s the beauty of their PhD in pop country – it’s such hokey, earnest music that no situation is going to faze them. They still seem slightly out of sync as performers, but they’re better than they have any right to be after six weeks together, and improving all the time.
5. (LW: 3) Sarah Spicer
“Summertime,” sang Sarah Spicer, “and the living’s easy.” Sadly the next line wasn’t “Bradley’s on the microphone with Ras MG”. Sublime were the only sound of Summer when I was growing up. Gershwin – not so much. As soon as she talked about getting back to her roots my heart sank a little, to be honest, and this song choice was a really bung note to end on. That said – she sang it well, restrained her tendency to ‘rock grunt’ and overcame the astoundingly shit visual production for the performance which consisted of a nice wooden bench. Afterwards Shelton, who mixes quite sharp comments with amazingly dumb ones, asked, “are you a Katy Perry?” Which is not something anyone else has ever wondered about Sarah Spicer. Mel replied “no, she’s Sarah Spicer”. Classic response. Shelton’s reply? “The only artist that’s been able to cross over like that is Michael Jackson,” and I still have no clue what on earth he meant by that.
6. (LW: 10) Nyssa Collins
Finally. We’ve been waiting for Nyssa to go back to what she knows and get a song which lets her voice run free. Whitney is about as hard an ask vocally as you’re going to find in pop music, and she made it look effortless. My only issue was with the song chosen – ‘How Will I Know’ had me waiting for the beat to come in, whereas ‘The Greatest Love of All’ is already a ballad, and comes home with a tsunami of raw emotion. But it was the single best vocal performance of the night, and so long as she stays around this area then Nyssa will be fine. Also enjoyed seeing her go to Rainbow’s End. Between the Bachelor’s trip to the Zoo and Harbour Bridge and X Factor’s to Kelly Tarltons and Rainbow’s End we’ve now covered all Auckland’s cheesiest destinations. Seems like forward planning – I’m pretty sure ATEED will be replacing that lost NZ On Air cheque if there is a ‘next time’.
7. (LW: 8) Brendon Thomas and the Vibes
We start with a deep dive into BT and the V’s pre-history. Some photos of them from their pre-acid era, and chat about how they got together – “I thought of Tim, who I haven’t chilled with since like, year 7”. It was all to reinforce their ‘real musician’ credentials, which are so hot right now that Shelton had to get a kit brought in to bang out a few block rockin’ beats just to remind you of his. They then played Jack White’s ‘I’m Shakin’’, which neatly is from recent times while sounding 1000 years old. Perfect. It was undeniably their best performance yet – The V had a smile while Brendon had a shred. He also pulled some amazing faces, which may or may not have been in response to the show’s emerging white dance trend which I am going to christen ‘the loo’:
I am starting to love Steve Broad. He carries his mistakes and missteps so heavy on him all the time, you just wanna give the bro a hug. Last night, in what was otherwise a pretty decent performance of ‘Summertime Sadness’, he messed up a lyric. Afterwards, on Xtra Factor, he said despondently, “it’ll be all over the headlines: ‘Broad Flubs Again’.” I love that he thinks there are headlines about individual X Factor performances, and that they’re written in a 1940s ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’-style. I had to indulge him. He did some more odd dancing:
The preamble showed him getting hazed by Hatbeard and Beau for not knowing how to use Twitter, and he generally seems like his confidence is shot. But he still has a great voice, picks the right songs (mostly by female singers, which is cool) and seems one big performance away from getting back in contention again. This wasn’t it, but it wasn’t far off.
9. (LW: 6) Beau Monga
Something is deeply wrong with Beau. Every week it becomes more and more clear that he needs to ditch his pedal for a week and show us his voice and his moves. Every week we get another 45 seconds of pedal before a rushed shambles of a performance. The judges are getting louder and louder in their frustration, and I understand why: “It’s not street busking, it’s X Factor,” as Shelton put it. We know he can make a beat and then sing; we want to see something else. He admitted on Xtra Factor that he’d messed up the beat (at least I think he did – there were no microphones for the first half of the show. Odd decision), which was unfortunate. But it was hardly his only mistake – by incorporating the call-and-response break (shockingly, the audience didn’t buy in – maybe because the song is 11 years old!) we lost even more ‘actual singing time’. Beau’s got so many talents. But so long as he insists on showing us them all every week he’ll keep sliding back, and maybe out the bottom.
10.(LW: 7) Lili Bayliss
She came out looking dynamite, into a set which was clearly the result of production spending their entire week’s budget down at King’s Plant Barn. She picked ‘Only Girl in the World’, one of Rihanna’s best and most underrated singles. Then she pantsed the whole thing. Where the original is relentless and apocalyptic, Lili’s version was timid and sexless. Even Dom looked pained, and tried a little judging on to help her out of the hole: “the thing with you is, you are who you are”. Words. Not wise words, but undeniably words. It was the weakest performance of the night, and seemed like it was always fated to go that way – her personality is so meek you can never imagine her conjuring the song’s vast narcissism. So despite her coherent look and approach, I’m not at all certain that Lili is meant to be on a stage.
11. (LW: 12) Fare Thee Well
These guys are starting to scare me a little. The mismatch between what their faces and body language are trying to say and the sound which comes out is brutal. They have a desperation about them, perhaps the result of excess affirmation and prayer, which makes them almost pitiable. Their voice’s were flat and the energy forced, and even the judges’ enthusiasm felt entirely fake. “By far your best performance,” said someone (it could’ve been anyone, right?), which was both correct and the faintest praise going. They don’t know who they are, or why they’re here, and neither do we.
Author’s Note: this post has been edited to reflect the fact that I misplaced the decade of Truman’s presidency by 10 years or so. Thanks to Rob Hosking for the pickup.