And in 90 minutes of heavily-sponsored prime time programming, a generation’s need to unfurl six months of pent up bitterness via Twitter was sated. The X Factor has returned, and even a genuine moment of punk political protest in the form of RATM’s victory show in Finsbury Park couldn’t dampen our glee at having it back. The show, in its seventh season, is now so serious that Konnie Huq FROM BLUE PETER is presenting the ITV2 show.
But this year was always going to be all over the place. Watching Cheryl, all dainty and pre-malarial, was vaguely uncomfortable - like watching a horror movie you already know the ending to - and feelings of sympathy for the poor pet made us forgive her noncommittal platitudes even more than usual. And with Dannii off babymama-ing, we're going to get a succession of guest judges, starting with tonight's Geri Halliwell. And as is her wont, she brought along added value through being infinitely more cringe-worthy than even those three who did ‘Bad Romance’.
Back rocking her ‘It’s Raining Men’-era anaemic teenage schoolboy look, Geri took delight in claiming to have discovered Cheryl on
Popstars: The Rivals before committing self-awareness fails at every juncture, her demand to a luckless wannabe to “show me some Girl Power” bested only by her request to “hear something from Glasgow” (in Glasgow). Possibly for the first time in his life, Simon didn’t know what to do with himself.
Geri was on such awe-inspiring form that she may even have succeeded in destroying X Factor’s USP by negating the auditionees almost completely. Especially now they’ve largely done away with the sob stories. You never expect to hear anyone who can go all the way until show three at least, so it was a little surprising to witness Gamu so early, a gawky sunshine soul girl who made a convincing stab of (of all things) ‘Walking On Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves – she was genuinely charming and full of potential, if only so Simon can have another go at creating ‘someone a bit different’ after losing his grip on Diana Vickers. Shame the producers needed to tweak her voice with auto-tune though.
On far more familiar ground were Gay And Straight, on first viewing a typically delusional Scottish Burger King fag hag and her GBBF. But when their rendition of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ lurched into life something remarkable (in that Susan Boyle 'remarkable' kind of way) happened – she was actually pretty good. The ‘can-you-come-back-on-your own?’ manoeuvre is a classic X Factor shit-stir technique, but rather than go postal at his rejection, Gay cheered Straight on with genuinely touching gusto as she sailed through ‘Get Here’, prompting even pre-malarial Cheryl to gush “I wish I had a friend like that” - as if she even has any hetero male friends anyway.
Elsewhere there was some hapless A&R from Simon as he stopped Katy, a frizzy-haired Londoner who thinks more of herself than she ought, from singing an Etta James song, eventually putting her through on the strength of it after a disastrous ‘We Are The Champions’. But tonight really belonged to yummy mummy Shirlena Johnson. As the show’s final turn we were expecting a single-mum-reveals-voice-of-angel moment. Instead she let rip with a Jedward-worthy ‘reimagining’ of Mercy by
Duffy, awash with Wyclef-style self-help ad libs. All over the place vocally, she writhed around the floor channelling the George Galloway cat sequence on Celebrity Big Brother, by way of the club singer from Shooting Stars. Obviously too entertaining to let go, Shirlena was through to Boot Camp. What she should really do, though, is replace Straight in Gay And Straight. Together they could even be good enough to enter Britain’s Got Talent.
What did you think of the return of The X Factor?