Welcome to Boot Camp.
After a week in which the show made multiple headlines for a singular act of either naïveté, editorial laziness or capitalistic cynicism, depending on your reading, it was no surprise that last night’s episode of The X Factor opened with a reasonably downcast to-camera expression of contrition. Given the breadth and depth of comment already made on the issues of Shae Brider, his prior acts and the show’s treatment of both, I won’t go bother going into further detail, but if you’re interested then I highly recommend perusing Duncan Greive’s excellent and objective revelatory piece at The Spinoff and Megan Whelan’s similarly very good feature for this site.
In a strange way, and without wanting to minimise its very real repercussions, the aforementioned controversy served as an effective bookend to the show’s overwrought, underwhelming first six volumes. We’ve now a clear milestone, telling us that we’re past the stifling quick-fire mediocrity that comes with squeezing dozens of disparate performances and a handful of soppy backstory vignettes per episode, and that we’re moving ever closer to the joyful racket that is the live rounds; we’re now at Boot Camp.
This week’s first show began with some beautiful scene-setting and some seamless product-placing, the four judges and their various Mazdas reconvening after a brief post-auditions adjournment to live, laugh, love and talk to Simon Cowell both on an officially sanctioned 2degrees network tablet and, for some reason, an old timey desk telephone. I’m assuming Cisco Systems are on the take here.
As we probably should have expected, The Cantankerous Mister Cowell doesn’t take trans-global toll calls for nothing – he’s actually here to tell us which of our judges is going to be applying their entire being to the development, friendship and general mentoring of which categories. Mel is the only judge prepared to show anything less than absolute joy when their category is announced, though given that hers (over-25s) is largely a cesspool of weird pub karaoke savants and a guy who already didn’t win New Zealand Idol, her reaction is slightly less than surprising.
From here, the show took us briefly through a confusing and mercifully quick-cut sequence in which acts were, uh, quickly cut from the competition, separating the wheat from the chaff and then separating both from the kind of vomit your cat does after it eats grass, and preparing us for the SIX SEAT CHALLENGE. The SIX SEAT CHALLENGE (emphasis is entirely theirs, but I plan to honour it at least until my subeditor takes that privilege out of my hands) is a kind of long-form passive-aggressive musical chairs analog in which each act performs for the right to move onto the next round / sit silently on the side of the stage for two hours, and in which earlier-approved acts can be removed from the SIX SEATS should a subsequent performer do better than they did. It’s exactly as convoluted as that sounds, I’m actually really good at explaining things.
Anyway, in a thrilling and somewhat unexpected twist, this episode actually revealed a couple of genuine contenders. Honestly, I came into this episode with a first-round hangover, steeling myself for another 90 minutes including ads of sub-Tipene acoustic balladeering and general trash, but I saw more than a few things that now have me feeling recklessly optimistic about how this could go. Handsome dynast Beau Monga started his own performance well, but his quick segue into deeply, hauntingly sub-Rahzel sing-beatboxing saw him start the performances as a whole on a very ominous note. I’m glad to say that things got better.
Though the song choices and performances did skew talent show tropey, young guns Micah Heath and Reiki Ruawai showed both character and considerable charisma with their performances of ‘Pompeii’ and ‘Change is Gonna Come’ respectively, while Noko Lameko adequately sang ‘Let’s Get it On’ and Stevie Tonks delivered a manic, bewildering and reasonably controversial version of Nick Jonas’ incredible ‘Jealous’, a performance which somehow saw him take the seat of the clearly very popular Kalsey Goodall.
Seriously the whole thing was like that. I think I fell asleep or at least went into a very deep conscious fugue during Kalsey’s rendition of ‘Wearing a White T-Shirt with These Superfluous Suspenders’, but it must have been beyond awful for him to be replaced by ol’ Woody Hat-relson. Jokes, it was probably actually good, now they’ll get to bring him back as a wildcard. This isn’t my first rodeo, X Factor producers.
After the boys were all done and their top six determined (Archie Hill the other notable inclusion, Johnny Searle the most notable exclusion), a few bands performed too. The bands, weirdly enough, were still not at all good, and I would like to go on record and say that I desperately hope that no band makes the finals and also that maybe all bands (X Factor or otherwise) should break up as a sign of good faith.
Instead of racking my brains to think of funny and cool ways to shoot fish in a barrel by talking about STUSS and THE KICKS and URBAN LEGACY (actually Urban Legacy are cool, I take it all back for Urban Legacy), I’ve decided to talk briefly about something that excites me 1000 per cent more than the prospect of listening to soggy kick drums and sub-3rd Wave of Britpop guitar jangle for the next few months: Cross Promotion.
It’s no secret, at this point, that Mediaworks LOVES cross-branding their properties, and it’s quite sincerely one of my favourite things about their TV shows. Whether the form taken is a cameo appearance by a contestant or judge on the Jono and Ben Variety Half-Hour (there’ll be at least one of these every week from live shows onward), a confused and confusing appearance by a radio personality on-screen (see: hosts and in-studio talent for MW stations Mai FM, The Edge and, weirdly, The Rock all auditioning in this X Factor season’s first round; that one episode of the block where like 100 radio hosts helped to mix concrete) or some glorious hybrid (the time that Damo from The Block went on The Rock with cross-platform Mediaworks meal tickets Jono and Ben to take part in their ‘Wind Up Your Wife Wednesday’ promotion – I have never enjoyed 10 minutes of television more in my entire life and I will never forget this beautiful occasion).
Mediaworks know explicitly that the value of their various stations and shows is predicated mainly on a combination of personality and saturation, so their strategy tends to boil down to putting familiar faces and voices in as many places as possible at as many times as possible - this is literally the entire premise of their new Paul Henry vehicle, but it’s something that they’ve been doing for a while with basically everything else that they make. It doesn’t always pay off in terms of positive reaction – my cursory and non-scientific research into The Rock’s forays into The X Factor seemed to suggest that their core audience of classic blokes and real hard cases was not impressed – but it does place core brands in the consciousness of as many people as possible, so it’s very unlikely that it’ll be going anywhere soon. I’m just really excited for the day that Willy Moon and Natalia Kills join Sean Plunket for a spirited RadioLIVE debate on the ethics of the motel industry, which I’m assuming is sometime this week.
Tonight’s episode presumably holds elimination, sadness and crushed dreams for a handful of covers bands, as we move ever closer to the rounds of this contest that hold true and real meaning. See you next week. I’m even more excited than Mel.