5 May 2015

The X Factor NZ: Hold back the tears

9:27 am on 5 May 2015

Why does The X Factor NZ seem infinitely more interested in what’s going on with the judges?

Steve Broad.

Steve Broad. Photo: The X Factor NZ

This week our dear X Factees performed New Zealand hits from the past 25 years, and while one might think “ah because it is May which is New Zealand Music month” one would be mistaken as that was never mentioned, and instead this week The X Factor celebrated 25 years of NZ On Air.  

Hanging over the week’s proceedings was the enjoyable scuffle between Tiki Taane and MediaWorks, in which a dispute over the use of his name in promotional material culminated in accusations that he had unsuccessfully auditioned to be a judge. (Which begs the question, if he was an option how the hell did we end up with Shelton?)

A few long winded Facebook and Instagram posts later, and having ruminated on the inherently artificial and exploitative nature of X Factor (“Be prepared to be surrounded by fake, ego blowing industry vampires that will suck your soul for all its worth”), Taane well and truly burned his bridge with MediaWorks in highly entertaining fashion. And to think just weeks ago it was strong enough for him to perform on their arguably much more exploitative show The Bachelor.  

In any case, poor Steve Broad was the only contestant this week who did not get the benefit of some personal mollycoddling from his chosen New Zealand artist. Set adrift unguided in the antipodean swamps, our tow headed hunk with a heart of gold was finally, mercifully, set free. It has been a while coming for sweet Steve Broad, though it was with bittersweet relief that I watched his departure, which came complete with faux Mel Blatt marriage proposal.

This week we finally reached the quarterfinals and with only five acts left the performance show was blissfully but peculiarly brief, and it feels like only yesterday this show was taking up hours and hours of our Sunday and Monday evenings. But time flies when you’re doing write ups and once more it is time to debrief, discuss and despair.

Nyssa Collins.

Nyssa Collins. Photo: The X Factor NZ

As Stevie Tonks did last week, Nyssa thankfully thwarted the opening act curse with her performance of Aaradhna’s ‘Wake Up’ in which she once again showed off her new found talent for traversing space. Somehow maintaining her dignity in a horrifically literal set design, I liked Nyssa’s song choice and her voice was as lovely as ever.

Shelton took Nyssa’s good performance as an opportunity to thank NZ on Air from whom he has “personally benefited”, chased by one of his weird signature fake outs: his only problem with Nyssa is… he doesn’t have her! It never gets old.

Mel’s “blonde bombshell” Steve Broad performed ‘Always on my Mind’ by MediaWorks frenemy Tiki Tane, and although his older sister told him to “pull up those big boy pants”, it was average as ever and dear dear Steve is no longer with us.

Steve Broad’s popularity was surely born of the undeniable catharsis of seeing him perpetually dominated by older, more powerful women and it really was beautiful while it lasted. Hunky, sensitive and submissive, Steve represented the modern utopian masculine ideal, and although I will not miss his bad falsetto, I will miss his spirit. Goodbye Steve, we won’t forget you.

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Photo: Unknown

Brendon Thomas and The Vibes are still here and I still hate them, but I guess they weren’t completely terrible this week. They performed ‘Bathe in the River’ by Hollie Smith who kindly spent time trying to engage with them.

Everyone is always weirdly hyperbolic and thrilled with Brendon Thomas and the Vibes and as I am somehow immune to their charms it is perhaps best if I just describe what went down: Brendon had little cows on his shirt. Mikey played the flute. Tim wore a terrible hat and has new John Lennon glasses. There were “solos”. Natalie complimented Tim on his “nice dropping of the stick and nice picking it back up again.” Dom tried on Tim’s new glasses. Everyone agreed that Mikey playing the flute was the best thing to happen ever.

Stevie “Tonkmeister” Tonks chose ‘Oh My God’ by Gin Wigmore, and since she was on the show last week I guess someone had to. As I feared last week, the opening night curse cannot be lifted and only outrun, and once again Stevie was in the bottom two. While the Wigmore song was as uncompelling as you’d expect, his elimination performance of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ was ok, and I hope he stays even if dread endlessly pursues him, It Follows style.

Beau closed the show with ‘Fade Away’ by Che Fu and while it was a good performance my poor heart continues to be deeply troubled by Beau. He’s sweet and good looking and the judges are acting like he’s already won. But how? He’s never been in the bottom two, but he’s done like two good performances in this whole competition and I feel like every moment he is there is doing him more harm than good.

Beau Monga.

Beau Monga. Photo: The X Factor NZ

This week, as with several other weeks, it hasn’t been entirely clear how much of the credit should go to Beau and how much should go to his numerous backup singers and musicians. The performance as a whole sounded good, but he didn’t really sing the choruses and isn’t that kind of cheating? Beau is clearly talented at any number of things but as neither singing nor flute playing seem to be included in his repertoire I can’t help but feel The X Factor is not the place for him.

With only five songs this week, it was striking how brief and rushed it all still felt. You might think that given this newfound time and space, now might be a good time to start the rigorous marketing campaigns and personal brand building that will be vital for the contestants’ survival post X Factor. God knows I could do with a little more human interest.

However, apart from weird and heavily contrived mini-narratives like Mel seducing Steve and Joe Irvine’s amateur home repairs, there has been minimal effort to give these people any depth. Instead the show seems infinitely more interested in what’s going on with the judges, and this week we spent more time than ever was necessary watching Shelton and Natalie go up the Sky Tower for some reason.

A huge mistake, in my opinion, has been to so drastically redistribute content across various extra-diegetic off-shoots such as online video diaries, X Factor Raw and The Xtra Factor (the hosts of which make Dominic Bowden look like a model of professionalism and style). I don’t want to spend my spare time watching video diaries, nor do I want to watch insipid people harass and exploit the vulnerable. Considering the overall quality of actual talent (low), it seems odd that the producers would outsource almost all instances of personality, intrigue or drama. What is left is an hour of average singing punctuated by that charisma black hole Bowden.  

Nyssa and Beau are sweet and I wish them well, but I feel no long term attachment to them. I mean, I still think about Tom Batchelor and his lovely bare feet from last season every single day, but I can barely remember these dweebs week to week. At the very least, with so few of them, maybe they should sing two songs each? I mean if they love singing so much it shouldn’t be too hard? Should it???