Tag Archives: simon cowell

The X Factor: Xtinct-Factor boot camp

by Maggie Gordon-Walker

x-factorWhen you hear the words ‘boot camp’ you envisage bloodied, muddied, exhausted bodies staggering to a finish line. Something at the very least to stretch you. Back in the halcyon days of  X Factor, when Simon still had passing acquaintance with a razor and Sharon looked older than she does now, I seem to remember they did about three challenges; numbers being whittled down painfully and agonisingly before the weary survivors learned their fate on a grand stage reminiscent of A Chorus Line. Now they had a right royal knees-up on Friday night on Cowell’s dollar, then the next day performed one song that they chose from a wide selection.  Continue reading

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The X Factor: Gary Barlow replaces Simon Cowell

X Factor judging panel news has been the big thing over the past few days, with the latest almost-announcement being that Gary Barlow has finalised a deal to appear on the UK version when it returns later this year.

The news comes in the wake of announcements that Simon Cowell will not be on the panel this year so that he can focus on a US version, which will feature Cheryl Cole. As these two titans leave two gaping vacancies, Gary has filled one place while Alesha Dixon is the rumoured hot favourite to fill the other.

Meanwhile, Louis Walsh has confirmed that he will return for a seventh year while there remains no news on Dannii Minogue at this stage.

So, X Factor fans, what are your views on the judging panel changes? Is Gary Barlow a suitable choice? Who else would you have liked to have seen in the seat?

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The X Factor Final: Two very, very long hours

Over 19 million people tuned in for The X Factor final last night. Even Coronation Street didn’t manage that many, and they had a tram crash and Jane Danson producing actual snot on live television.

So what were the 19 million X Factor viewers getting for their money? And did they go to bed afterwards feeling their time had been well spent?

Fervent fans of Matt Cardle will doubtless have felt a warm glow upon seeing him crowned as King of The Jungle (sorry, wrong show) X Factor winner, and will be downloading his Biffy Clyro song as we speak. Biffy Clyro themselves will presumably be thrilled at the prospect of that lovely royalty money.

But, as a show, it was, frankly, dismal. Two hours were filled by eight new song performances and then a whole load of “let’s take a look at your X Factor journey,” and “here’s a reminder of what happened last night/just before the break.” I really didn’t need reminding of the creepy/awkward way Matt leered at Rihanna as she towered over him menacingly during their duet.

The “judges,” if we can call them that, plumbed new depths of cliché. Every judge told every act that they “deserved to be there.” Cheryl Cole marvelled at how everyone had “grown” over the weeks. They all agreed that Rebecca Ferguson is a “marvellous role model.”

As the will to live ebbed gently out of me, Dermot assured us that there was about to be “one last surprise.” Who or what could it be? Prince, perhaps? His name had been mentioned. Or maybe David Bowie and a hologram of Bing Crosby would join Cher Lloyd and Gamu in a festive mash-up version of Little Drummer Boy?

But no. It was Take That. Again. And they sang that boring song they sang a few weeks ago. Even they looked bored.

It’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

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The X Factor: Keep your desperation hidden

When magazines are dishing out advice to teens about attracting a partner, the advice is always to not look too desperate. Desperation is a very unattractive quality.

This is advice which Storm Lee would have been wise to heed, because what’s off-putting in a potential mate is similarly disastrous when it comes to TV popularity contests. So often we hear contestants wailing, “I really want this. I really, really want this,” as if wanting something automatically entitles you to have it.  No, it doesn’t. “You’ve not seen the last of me yet,” Storm uttered through clenched teeth as he made his X Factor exit. Frankly he looked as though the next time we see him he might be brandishing an Uzi in the general direction of Simon Cowell, he was that cross.

With Storm down the drain, it was up to the judges to choose either Belle Amie or Diva Fever to join him. I was surprised that the other judges all voted for Diva Fever to go, rather than mixing up their vote to force Simon to choose between his two acts. He’d have jettisoned the Divas anyway, because he keeps banging on about how the country “needs” another girl group. Obviously we don’t need them that much, particularly ones who are as rubbish as Belle Amie.

Saturday night’s show was very, very strange. The theme was “musical heroes,” but it was very loosely applied. Most of the contestants blew the pretence that they were singing songs by their heroes by cheerfully admitting, “I’m so glad Cheryl/Dannii/Louis/Simon chose this song for me.” I can’t really imagine that the members of Belle Amie had long cherished an ambition to sing a Kinks song, and Diva Fever relied on the name “Barbra Streisand” simply turning up in their song to give it some hero connotation.

Sunday night was possibly even stranger, thanks to guest artistes Katy Perry and Diana Vickers. Vickers is a loser from a previous show who has inexplicably become quite famous. She stomped around the stage without any trousers on screeching charmlessly. This was followed by Katy Perry (whom I hate almost as much as I hate Kirsty Allsopp and Cat Deeley), who took Vickers’ charmless screech and returned it in triplicate. Awful, but at the same time very inspiring if you happen to be a current contestant – see just how far you can go with very little talent and a lot of chutzpah.

At which point I realise I’ve gone full circle and contradicted what I said right at the beginning. Maybe there is a chance for Storm Lee after all – if he really, really wants it.

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The X Factor: It’s a mad world

Well, hasn’t The X Factor stirred up a storm of publicity this year? We’ve had Cheryl’s malaria, Gamu-gate, Cher allegedly having eating disorders/being a bully, and a whole pile of lurid stuff involving Katy and various ugly men.  And that was all before the live shows started. Simon Cowell must be a very happy man.

Finally the live shows opened on Saturday with an “unexpected twist” that would only have been unexpected if you’d spent the previous week in solitary confinement. Via the medium of Twitter I even knew what colour cars the judges would use to get to the homes of Treyc (pronounced Tracy), Wagner (pronounced Vargner), Paije (pronounced Page rather than Pie-heh) and Diva Fever (rhymes with Caoimhe) to give them the shock news that they’d best get their teeth whitened as a matter of urgency (no-one is allowed on The X Factor with off-white teeth), because they were due on live TV come Saturday.

Thanks to the addition of all these wild card acts (presumably so there can be a double eviction on weekends when ITV want extra big ratings), the procession of acts was seemingly endless,  and many of them were pretty unmemorable. There were some notable exceptions.

Aiden Grimshaw. Oh my lord. Aiden Grimshaw. That was completely unexpected. In his auditions he was good, with a kind of edgy vulnerability that made him very watchable. When he appeared centre stage sitting on a throne, with moody lighting, and the opening bars of Mad World (Gary Jules version) struck up, I was expecting an Adam Lambert copycat (all sweet and fragile). But no – the lad from Blackpool decided to go angry and anguished. Previously criticised for not opening his eyes while he sings, he used them to good effect to sullenly stare the camera down. It was brilliant – I had to watch it twice.  Makes me wonder what he’ll do in Abba week, though.

Another thing I enjoyed was Katy Waissel’s helmet. Not Katy’s performance, just her helmet. Multicoloured perspex, it was. I wondered if she had the lyrics of We Are The Champions printed on the inside of her visor, because she’s not had much success so far with remembering lyrics. She played a keyboard which was loosely balanced on a couple of men. Brian Friedman has obviously been heavily influenced by Lady Gaga’s previous bathtub performance.

I seem to remember a time, long, long ago, when X Factor contestants would trot out on the stage and sing their song with a few lighting effects if they were lucky. The presence of a small troupe of backing singers would be decried by Louis Walsh as “a gimmick.” Now you can hardly see the actual performers for the Vegas-sized array of dancers, acrobats, clowns, elephants, water features and pyrotechnics. This is the Brian Friedman effect. The empty stage is his enemy, standing still drives him crazy, grey is not allowed. All must be colour, movement and expressing the lyrics via the medium of dance in a way that hasn’t been seen since Pan’s People.

Having said that, another stand-out performance of the night was Tesco Mary’s rendition of ‘This is A Man’s World,’ which involved rather less prancing around than was going on elsewhere. She gave the song some serious welly and looked every inch the diva, though for future ref. a dress is generally more flattering than a jumpsuit.

Nicolo was described as a “diva” in his audition, and for that reason alone I’d have liked him. Sadly you can’t work your diva stuff properly while wearing sunglasses (it’s all about the eyes, darling), and someone should have had a word. Cheryl did have a word, but only after he’d finished singing. I don’t know if it would have made any difference in the end – he came last in the vote and it was ciao to Nicolo.

Then, in a sing-off between Katy and boyband FYD, the judges dumped the band. Of course they did – they hadn’t generated a single scandalous headline all week. Lightweights.

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Britain’s Got Talent: Now can we have somewhere to watch it, please?

Photo: ITV.com

So Britain’s Got Talent is over for another year. The winners, Spelbound, apart from not being able to spel, are absolutely brilliant (video here). They mix jaw-dropping acrobatics and spectacular choreography, and it’s amazing to watch.

The final was perfect Saturday night entertainment. There were funny dancers (Twist & Pulse), a lady with a performing dog, an impressionist who was clever and funny and (as Simon Cowell pointed out) didn’t stray into Frank Spencer territory even once. There was a kid playing the drums, another one singing ‘Danny Boy’ and an elderly Scottish lady who completely messed up ‘No Regrets’ but no-one minded because she was so lovely she was like an EveryGran for the nation.

It all reminded me of the cheesy-yet-cherishable variety shows of my formative years. Stuff like Saturday Night at the London Palladium, or something fronted by Cilla Black or Cliff Richard or Shirley Bassey. You’d get a magician, an impressionist (someone brilliant like Mike Yarwood), a couple of dance routines which may or may not involve Nigel Lythgoe and a singer or a band doing their latest hit. And these would be proper, big-name acts, household names like The Beatles or Tommy Cooper or Tom Jones.

The ratings that BGT has been enjoying shows that there’s a massive appetite for this kind of stuff, but apart from the Royal Variety Performance (where Spelbound will show their stuff to assorted Royals), where else do we get to see it? ITV ought to give Cheryl Cole (for example, but she would actually be perfect) her own weekly Saturday night show. She could bang out a couple of tunes and a duet with a passing chart act with something to promote, maybe do a sketch with a Corden or a Walliams (ok, maybe not a Walliams), with a stand-up routine from Michael McIntyre or John Bishop, and a few magicians/impressionists/ventriloquists and a dance routine thrown in for good measure.

What do you think? TV heaven or TV hell?

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American Idol: Casey leaves, still grinning

I got chills on several occasions watching American Idol this week, and it wasn’t just because I’d discovered a tub of Cherry Garcia frozen yogurt in the freezer (though that did help).

The Idol-related chills were thanks to Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze, who both sang their socks (or sox) off to prove that they were worthy Idol finalists. It was the week where the judges get to pick a song for the contestants, and Ellen’s choice of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ for Crystal was inspired. I love that song, and Crystal sang it with enormous passion.

I wasn’t so excited to hear that Simon had picked (yawn) ‘Hallelujah’ for Lee. For me, it had already been done perfectly on Idol by Jason Castro and done to death on the X Factor by Alexandra Burke. Lee, who seems like a really modest, sweet man, grabbed it by both hands and did a fantastic job. He said afterwards that he’d been swept along by the song. He looked quite gobsmacked at the audience reaction.

So what was Casey James doing this week? Well, he was grinning a lot, and playing his guitar and doing his Casey thing, and that’s why we won’t be seeing him in the final next week. But he didn’t look too unhappy.

It’s obvious these days that actually winning Idol isn’t the important thing. When the list of “losers” includes names like Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert and Chris Daughtry, you can afford to bow out with a smile on your face.

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American Idol: Songs from the movies week

I think a few pages must have gone missing from the list of possible songs for this week’s Idol. The theme was “songs from the movies,” surely a rich category if ever there was one.

But our Idols opted for some very odd choices. Was Casey James really thinking of how much Kara fancies him when he plumped for ‘Mrs Robinson’? The judges certainly thought so. He’s so grinny and insipid that Anne Bancroft would have had him for breakfast and not paused to throw away the bones. Out of the four, I wondered whether he’d be in the most danger this week.

Michael Lynche’s choice was Michael Jackson’s ‘Will You Be There?’ I love that song totally and even the opening piano chords give me goosebumps, but it didn’t specially suit Lynche’s voice. And what film is it from anyway? Free Willy, apparently.

Crystal Bowersox did ‘I’m Alright’ from Caddieshack. I’d never heard it before, but it was the kind of song Crystal likes, a sort of Janis Joplin thing that she can really get her voice behind. Not the sort of thing I’d be buying, but definitely fit for the current purpose.

Lee De Wyze could have gone the ‘Iris’ route, which I would have loved, but he picked ‘Kiss From a Rose’ instead. Not a song you can do much with, so anyone who attempts it is going to come out sounding like a karaoke version of Seal.

So not a thrilling set of solo performances. Just as well, then, that this week the contestants also got to do duets. Crystal and Lee sang ‘Falling Slowly,’ which Kris Allen sang on Idol last year, and it was brilliant. Casey and Michael sang ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,’ which prompted the best judge comment of the night from Ellen De Generes. “Yes, I have loved a woman,” she deadpanned. The other judges (once they’d stopped laughing) agreed that Casey and Michael had done marvellously, though to me some of the harmonies sounded a bit off.

Results show tonight (in the UK at least – the US already knows who’s going home, and so do I because I peeked), and we’re promised guest turns from one of my all-time favourite Idol contestants, Fantasia. And Jon Bon Jovi. Hurrah!

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American Idol: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

Oh dear. Last week I was predicting that little lollipop-headed Aaron Kelly could possibly win American Idol. Then he goes and gets undone by Frank Sinatra week.

He looked the part (nice use of a side parting), and he sang in tune, but rhythm-wise, he just didn’t get it. ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ sung without swing ain’t going anywhere near the moon. And Aaron ain’t going any further in American Idol.

Casey and Crystal didn’t fare a great deal better, though at least ‘Blue Skies’ gave Casey’s ever-present grin an appropriate context for a change. Crystal once again had a less than brilliant week, but there wasn’t any danger she’d go this week.

I wasn’t as impressed as the judges were by Michael Lynche this week. I felt he was swamped by the arrangement a little bit, but he was still stronger than the others.

Then up stepped Lee De Wyze. He sang ‘That’s Life,’ and sounded (and looked) like he really got it. In the lower register of his voice he sounded like Georgie Fame, and in a jazzy song you can’t really ask for better than that. The judges all agreed it was the performance of the night, and Ellen and Kara even went as far as to say that, if it was the final, it would be a winning turn.

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American Idol: Never the Twain

I remember the good old days on American Idol when the themed weeks would be people like Abba, Queen, Motown, Michael Jackson. This week was Shania Twain week. I’m serious. Shania Twain. What’s it going to be next week? Justin Bieber week?

Admittedly, I am British, and as Simon Cowell usually mentions at least once, we don’t “get” country music. My dad has a Shania album (it fits in snugly next to The Best of Olivia Newton-John), but he doesn’t watch American Idol, so he’s no use either. So for the most part the songs this week were new to me, apart from the one Lee De Wyze sang. As such, it was harder than usual to work out who’d done well and who hadn’t. What was obvious is that Shania was a great mentor.

As to the performances, little Aaron Kelly with his head that’s too big for his body could prove to be the dark horse of this competition. He’s very good vocally, with astonishing maturity in his interpretation of the songs. One of the judges pointed out that this was especially impressive considering he’s only 16. “I’m 17 now,” he said. Bless – it just shows how young you are when you’re so keen to add the digits.

I’ve been saying for weeks that Michael Lynche has a Luther Vandross quality to his voice, and following his performance of ‘It Only Hurts When I’m Breathing’ (great title for an episode of Casualty), the judges have started saying it too.

Crystal Bowersox’s vocals were a bit sidelined by the arrangement and the band on her song, so it wasn’t one of her most memorable performances.  Casey James and Lee De Wyze were okay, but nothing special.

Bottom of the vote this week was Siobhan Magnus. I didn’t actually think she was too bad, though it seems the voting public don’t like it when a female contestant does feisty, as Katy Stevens found out a few weeks ago. Siobhan looked cute, but she ought to have retired her end-of-the-song screech a few weeks ago because it had definitely outstayed its welcome. In fact it outstayed its welcome by about 30 seconds last night and led Simon to comment that she sounded like she was giving birth.

Next week it’s Frank Sinatra week, and the mentor is Harry Connick Jr. At least I’ll know all the songs.

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