Friday 24 November 2017

Last Night's TV: The X Factor, ITV 1

Kelly Rowland and Misha B on stage with Janet Devlin after she was voted off the X Factor
Kelly Rowland and Misha B on stage with Janet Devlin after she was voted off the X Factor

Michael Hogan

It was quarter finals night on The X Factor (ITV1) and because five songs wouldn’t allow nearly enough ad breaks, the remaining quintet performed two songs each. Two thrived, one flopped and a judge annoyed. For once, however, it wasn’t professional irritant Louis Walsh.

The preposterously vague theme was “Guilty Pleasures and Heroes”. As one wag on Twitter observed this week, it might as well be “Will this do?”

Once again, star of the show was Marcus Collins, who followed up a slick gallop through I’m Your Man by Wham! with a stunning Stevie Wonder ballad. Lately is apparently his mother’s favourite song and he did it justice with strong, spine-tingling vocals.

Judge Tulisa Contostavlos, however, took it upon herself to make an unnecessary speech about how tough Collins’ upbringing had been – not the first time she’s been cynically manipulative this series. Collins himself, admirably, refuse to join in with this mawkish heartstring-tugging.

The only hopeful in the same league as Collins was Misha B. The Mancunian diva is the most musically talented but her chances have been stymied by a perceived lack of likeablilty, which can be traced back to allegations of backstage bullying by Contostavios (her again) and Walsh. In recent weeks, she seemed to be watering down her style in a desperate bid to stay in.

Wisely taking the advice of head judge Gary Barlow, she went back to what she’s best at with her first song, storming through an r’n’b remix of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, complete with mid-song rap. It was fresh, contemporary and made her second choice, Killing Me Softly, seem a little staid despite her soulful vocals. Still, Misha B definitely deserves to stay, despite a charmless habit of referring to herself in the third person. Whether that will translate into votes remains to be seen.

According to press reports this week, Contostavlos risks being banned from making her signature (and slightly annoying) forearm salute because it’s illegally promoting her perfume, whose name appears on said limb. Instead she cheekily flouted the rules, performing a double salute with “Vote Little Mix” inked on the other arm.

Her girlband, who she twice introduced as “my little muffins” (again, slightly annoyingly), opened the show with a mash-up of two songs spanning 46 years, by The Supremes and Justin Bieber. It wasn’t entirely successful but when Walsh dared criticise, Contostavios squawked “Sabotage! Sabotage!” Nonsensically too, as Walsh hasn’t got an act left in the competition to promote.

Little Mix bounced back with their second number: a stripped back, sat-down, over-emoting rendition of Christina Aguilera’s self-esteem anthem Beautiful that had them and judge Kelly Rowland in tears. They have a chance of becoming the first group to win in eight series.

At the other end of the scale, Amelia Lily could reappear in the bottom two. She belted out soft-rock anthem Since You’ve Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson, which was rousing but rather shouty. Her other song? A drippy version of T’Pau’s China In Your Hand, barefoot and white-frocked, which bafflingly, the judges seemed to love. Barlow made a random swipe at the vocals on the original, which prompted a none-too-polite Twitter backlash from the singer responsible, Carol Decker. Just when this series couldn't get any weirder, a feud starts over the nuances of a 24-year-old song.

The night’s big flop, however, was copper-topped teenager Janet Devlin. Rather unluckily, she spoke in her VT about “learning two songs inside out”, then seemed to have forgotten to do just that. Her first song, MmmBop by Hanson, was watch-through-your-fingers stuff as she forgot lyrics, missed cues and generally fluffed it. Blaming it on a combination of nerves and food poisoning didn’t convince.

Devlin’s second song, Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers, was an improvement but that’s about all. Unless the whole of Northern Ireland picks up the phone, she’ll be back there tomorrow night, stamping vengefully on her old Hanson CDs.

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