After last week’s auto-tune debacle, and the ensuing internet furore, this week’s X Factor promised not only a visit from the perennially straight-up Katy Perry, but also the threat of TROPICAL DISEASE. And with one contestant taken off the show due to worries about her mental health (Shirlena) and another’s veracity doubted (Katy allegedly has a record deal in the US, and has featured in a Sprite mini-series), this episode had to offer up the goods, and fast.
In Dublin, it’s not an auspicious start. A band of four mingers named Temple Fire promise they're "going to set this place alight" with their vocal prowess. Not only that, they claim that they can both sing and, *drops jaw on floor in shock* dance. TWIST! They lumber painfully through ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and all eyes turn to Louis, "It’s not my fault!" he exclaims, wisely apologising for an accusation that has yet to be aired.
A distinct drought of interesting (let alone talented) contestants is brought to a close by the appearance of one Mary Byrne in Dublin. A 50 year old Tesco checkout girl, dourly swathed in slimming black, Byrne stands side-stage, nervously mumbling that "my team are literally supporting me all the way". Striding onstage, she delivers a restrained, quality performance of Shirley Bassey’s ‘I Who Have Nothing’. The Ballyfermot Susan Boyle? Perhaps, perhaps not, but Byrne has brought the X Factor something which it is congenitally lacking - class.
It’s all downhill from there. No matter how much Simon Cowell rants on about looking for ‘originality’, ‘substance’ and ‘personality’, each act that is subsequently put through is a solid rehash of a recent trend. Painter Matt Cardle is Paolo-Nutini-lite, and treading in Olly Murs’ Boxfresh-footsteps with a reggae cover of ‘You Know I’m No Good’.
A spot of light relief comes in the form of the Michael Lewis. Although the criminally deluded are the X Factor’s stock and trade, poor old Mike takes it up a notch. A Boots staff member, Michael emulates his idol - yes, you’ve guessed it - Michael Jackson in every way except, well, most ways actually. He’s got a nifty jacket though, and a stubborn streak that must be a benefit when re-stacking No. 7 promotional gifts.
What everyone’s really thinking though, is when on earth Cheryl’s going to get malaria. Not in this episode, it would appear. Cheryl remains chipper and big-haired throughout the show. The only sign that the TROPICAL DISEASE may be affecting her brain is when two vocal harmony groups saunter through - one named ‘The Reason’, the other imaginatively named ‘Seven’. Each group smiles with their eyes, performs a Glee-jazz-hands version of a pop song and, well that’s about it.
Here’s the thing though. It’s stupid to expect the X Factor to encourage artistry and originality and all that guff. It’s even more stupid to expect the X Factor not to mock those who try and express such ‘individuality’. But when confronted with an over-sexualised zeitgeist-surfing girl group covering ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ (Hustle), and the same song being covered by an old-school Irish pub singer (complete with hieroglyphic dance-moves) (Michael McCarthy), I know which version I’d rather see. And for the record, it’s not the one wearing a neon jacket and a basque.