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The X Factor NZ: That summer feeling

Wednesday 1st April 2015

Improvements have been made, true contenders are emerging and Dominic Bowden only grows in power.

 

X Factor NZ judges Shelton Woolwright, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Stan Walker and Melanie Blatt.

Photo: The X Factor NZ

Coming in the wake of the sad cricket game and following a lot of very public turmoil on the show, the stakes were high this week for things to get back on track.

While in previous weeks the theme has either been mysteriously obscured or too non-specific to register, ‘Fruttare Songs of Summer’ was well and truly foregrounded to glorious effect.  And what better way to celebrate the fourth week of autumn? The show seemed absolutely determined to force the summer fun upon us from the moment Dominic Bowden rode on stage astride a beach buggy in nautical co-ords.

A huge boost to the momentum of the show came from the overall production as it finally went some way to matching the earnestness of our sweet starry eyed contestants. If they are still to believe in the X Factor, how can the X Factor show it believes in them???

So much happened in just two short nights: Steve took Mel to the zoo to play with red pandas; there was a Bachelor crossover with Arthur making an appearance on the show; and Ricky Martin and Jason Kerrison were there to perform.

Most significantly for the competition, eerie sibling trio Fare Thee Well were finally voted off in the results show, unable to save themselves with even a pure corn version of ‘Hallelujah’.

Down now to just 10 acts, the performances of Monday night’s show indicate that while there are some pretty wild variations in quality and potential, the greatest crime is blandness. As such here are my attempts to categorise and thus make sense of this mess...

X Factor contestant Lili Bayliss.

Photo: The X Factor NZ

Bad:

Lorde/Lana Del Rey simulacrum Lili once again pulled out the low tempo shtick and ended up in the bottom two, this time butchering Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ on Monday night and then Beyoncé’s ‘Naughty Girl’ on the results show. The best part of Lili is trying to figure out which artists she is unsuccessfully knocking off, and I myself find her most reminiscent of Iggy Azalea with her weirdly artificial deep voice. For once, the judges seemed to actually watch her performance and appropriate adjectives such as “overproduced”, “monotonous” and “repetitive” were applied.

Beau had easily the best set design of the night for his version Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita’, capturing the REAL New Zealand summer with flaming rubbish bins, a million dancers and backup singers and a tiki bar that they apparently couldn’t subsequently shift as it remained on stage for the remainder of the night. Beau is super cute and super good at dancing but he only really sang the verses and let the backup singers do a pretty significant amount of the work. Maybe they should just let him beatbox? Why not?

Good:

The best performance, I controversially contend, came from beautiful, humble, underrated golden god Steve Broad who combined my two favourite things (Steve Broad and Lana Del Rey) and killed it with a haunting performance of ‘Summertime Sadness’. With his collar popped, Steve sat in a wicker chair flanked by oversize screens showing giant blinking eyes and I, along with Mel, died.

Stevie “#hatbeard” Tonks was bloody incredible as usual and I hope he doesn’t win because the winners never do well and he deserves to become a national treasure à la Benny Tipene. Though I am not sure how Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ is a ‘song of summer’.

Brendon Thomas and the Vibes got some very correct positive feedback on their Jack White cover and had the best outfits of the night, but do they know they’re on the X Factor? Are they high? Are they really interested in “shifting units” as Shelton prophesied? It doesn’t actually matter because they’re just so good and adorable, and the drummer kept drumming even though his glasses fell off because he is a TRUE PROFESSIONAL.

X Factor's Brendon Thomas and the Vibes.

Photo: The X Factor NZ

The Rest:

Joe, poor sweet Joe, continued to be almost unwatchabley emotional with an actually pretty good performance of ‘Summer of 69’, hilariously prefaced by a clip of him hanging out with his sassy mum in which she told him to shut up three separate times. I have a theory that Joe is actually bitterly cynical and playing for the pity vote, and God I hope so because even though he’s making some good technical improvements I pretty much dread his performances in case he cries or something. He and Mel seemed rightly confident he would be staying, repeatedly alluding to some great thing he’s going to do next week, so we can only wait and see.

Finlay did Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande and Jessie J’s ‘Bang Bang’, which was her least bland performance to date, although she still seems a little awkward on stage. Natalie advised “fire in the eyes, fire in the belly,” which I think is good advice for us all. 

Mae Valley did a Keith Urban song and having never heard a Keith Urban song I cannot say whether they did it justice, but it was about as unmemorable as I would have guessed. Mae Valley seem like nice girls with nice hair and happy faces and pretty good voices. One Mae Valley definitely needs to go Zayn Malik on the other Mae Valley, but there is plenty of time for that later.

Nyssa got some mad praise from the judges doing ‘How Will I Know’ by Whitney Houston, and indeed she looked good and sounded good. Yet after a series of pretty wacky set pieces the whole thing felt a little too low concept and I kind of phased out, but she’s clearly a solid contender.

One Mae Valley definitely needs to go Zayn Malik on the other Mae Valley, but there is plenty of time for that later.

Sarah Spicer closed the show with a basically good version of that ‘Summertime’ song that everyone does and it was fine but it felt very much like just a cover song. Perhaps she was just mad they wouldn’t let her do a Spicer original yet as was hinted (threatened?) in her intro. It was probably lucky that this was the final act because at this point the judges started getting a little loose with Stan addressing not Sarah but God, Natalie throwing vague shade about how it must be hard being away from the kids, and Shelton and Mel squabbling about where she fits in the genre spectrum between Katy Perry and Michael Jackson.  

Overall it was a good week. After Moon-Killsgate it was looking like the judges were going to be pretty benign going forward and so far they have been, yet as with all children I crave structure and stability and it was comforting to finally have live shows unmarred by chaos and change.

Improvements have been made, true contenders are emerging and Dominic Bowden only grows in power. Questions, however, remain. What diabolical plan does Joe have for next week? When are we going to be subjected to a Sarah Spicer original? When are Mel and Steve going to announce their undying love for each other?



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