Weaver's Week 2016-12-04

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Good news last week for all music fans. New albums and tours in the new year from Lucy Spraggan, Amy MacDonald, and Reg "Reg" Snipton. We cannot wait.

Meanwhile, our tour of talent shows comes to a conclusion.


The X Factor

Thames (part of FremantleMedia UK) in association with Syco Entertainment for ITV. Review based on the shows of 19-20 November

Shall we begin with an opening montage? It's a sensible place to put one. Some highlights from the series so far, intercut as movie trailer & reviews. This section has got high production values, it's entertaining, and it tells a story in two minutes.

The X Factor It's time to face the movies...

Only now do we see the opening titles. They've taken away the X falling through the air, the title sequence is now a spin through the X itself. From this, we see the show's very limited horizons. Eurovision Song Contest takes us on a tour around the continent, previous series fell from space into the studio, and now we're just rattling around a small enclosed space.

We've reviewed The X Factor before. In 2005, we looked at the show on 19 November, when the panel was Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne, a glass of water, and Simon Cowell. In 2011, we looked at the show on 19 November, when the theme was "movies" and Dermot O'Leary came in as James Bond.

The X Factor It's time to light the lights...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The opening few minutes haven't altered in five years. Hero shot of the contestants, Dermot entering as the second-best spy at the ministry. (He's good, but he's no Danger Moth.) And – how original! It's movie week again! What are the chances, eh?

Voting opens before we've heard anyone sing a note. Is this actually a singing contest, or one where we're judging the contestants' personality, or their ability to spot talent.

The X Factor It's time to meet the judges on the factor show tonight.

Yes, we insist that the "contestants" on The X Factor are sat behind the desk: Louis, Sharon, Nicole Scherzinger, and Simon. Their photos appear on the voting captions, they "manage" (or otherwise) their charges. While the singers will sell records in the short term, everything is done to make the contestants stars in the long term. They are pop's elite, they are the 1% who will do anything to shore up their own position. They guard long-term success with their lives.

Nicole Scherzinger is the first contestant up, and she has two pawns left in the game. Ryan Lawrie is the first, and she's selected "Jailhouse rock" from the movie Jailhouse.

The X Factor Ryan is on the wrong side of a lock-in.

At this point, we wonder what Flick Colby's Book of Literal Choreography and Staging says. Exactly what we saw: Ryan begins behind bars, but breaks open the cell door before the first chorus. He delivers a high-grade vocal performance, in the style of Elvis Presley, but he's completely overshadowed by the backing dancers. And by the backing images: he's one of many bodies on screen.

Then comes criticism from the other contestants. It's not constructive advice to Ryan, but destruction targeted at the others behind the desk. It also serves to knock Ryan's confidence. Compare and contrast against Jedward, who have moved from performers (2009) to expert jurists (2016), and spent last weekend giving constructive criticism to the next generation of performers.

The X Factor Cowell got confused when he wasn't on the far right.

"This would fit right on the radio today," claims Scherzinger. Really?! Even if she gave a bung of all ze money in ze world to title song co-writer Ashley Trebor, he wouldn't play this on his radio station. It's not "rhythm", it's not "dance", it's not "contemporary". It's selling Ryan to the grannies.

Onwards and outwards. The break bumper just says "X", we're meant to know what the show's called. After thirteen years, we know the name.

Louis Walsh and his many faces are up next, his last group are Five After Midnight. They're singing "Try a little tenderness" from The Commitments, the performance built from a quiet start to a loud finish. That's was actually poor, the vocal performance was lacking, and the backing track really shoddy. It's good to know the Top of the Pops Orchestra has found new employment.

The X Factor They might sing, they can dance a little.

Five After Midnight have a little talent. In the present climate, they could easily have a hit album, perhaps two. Is there a gap in the market for another boy band (probably) and is Five After Midnight that band (don't think so).

Before the performances, there are clips on how the pawns have spent their week. Ryan's was full of gratuitous product placement (the PP logo was just visible while we were wooshing around the X), and went long on how he might lose to Nicole's other chip.

This week's films have a thread of "in touch with family". Five After Midnight took fried chicken with one of their mothers; some conspiracy theorists read this as dog-whistle for "hey, these are black guys". In touch with family is difficult for Sharon Osbourne's first pawn, Saara Alto, whose family are in Finland. We got a clear homesickness vibe out of this clip.

The X Factor Granny and grandpa.

When was the last time we had Finnish spoken on primetime ITV? And when was the last time we had Finnish accurately translated on primetime ITV? Didn't happen tonight. As any fool knows, "koko Britannia" literally translates to "whole of Britain", but wonkily subtitled "whole of Great Britain."

Sharon has selected "My heart will go on" from Titanic. All the clichés are present: a single spotlight on an otherwise darkened stage, the string section lying in the lifeboats. The wind machine blows, there is pyro, there's Emmelie de Forest's pyro curtain, and the only thing that could make this more Eurovision-cliche is a presenter who can't speak English well. "Singing that song from Titanic, what's it called?" Oh, Sharon.

The X Factor Saara Alto (left) and her violinists.

It was a different arrangement from Céline's familiar work, and we think Saara wasn't allowed to put any power in her vocals. The other contestants didn't spot this, and we go to an appeal for next year's pawns, then an ad break.

The X Factor Nothing can put Nicole off her task.

During the interval, Dermot's nipped out to get some popcorn. Much of it ends up poured over Nicole's head. She introduces her second and final pawn Matt Terry, who is performing "Writing's on the wall" from the recent Dermot O'Leary film.

In his film, Matt doesn't mention his family, but does discuss how he came to choose the song and much of the backstage workings. Biggest rivals are Five After Midnight, apparently. Ryan who? Setting up Five After for a fall?

Technically, Matt has a really difficult song, flipping between falsetto and chest voice throughout. He gets that down perfectly. We still think the song is rubbish – it never conveys any emotion at the best of times, and certainly not in this arrangement.

The X Factor An iconic image.

The performance ends with an iconic shot: a blood red stage with a single shaft of gold light over the place where Matt stands. That is the shot they can use to say "Matt's a winner". Or "Matt's in a bloodbath".

The contestants loved it, "You have just taken first place" shrieks Sharon, "This is what we've been waiting for" claims Simon. Are they trying to influence the vote in a very subtle and understated way? Did two-fifths of naff all for us. Dermot gives him the remaining X Factor popcorn.

Sharon's last pawn is Honey G, who has the most obvious brand – massive gold shades. A very interesting start to the performance, Honey's stepping onto a tube train on video, the train arrives on the massive video wall – which opens with the doors aligned. Great attention to visual detail.

The X Factor Honey to the G, like you for me.

It's all downhill from here. Honey is straight outta Neasden, one stop on the Fleet line. The performance is a visual mess – all horizontal movement (which looks rubbish on these modern television screens) and vapid intercutting. See also: BRTC's entry to Junior Eurovision, too much going on in the background (and the hoverboards) and the song got lost. Honey G is a backing singer in her own performance – most of the attention is on Menagerie, the X Factor dancers.

The song is a mash-up of "It's like that" (from Keith Lemon The Movie) and "Gettin' jiggy with it" (from The Last Days of Disco). The comparisons to Keith Lemon don't end there – Honey G is another fabricated character, a very smart person playing a dim person.

The best comparison is with Ali G from the turn of the century. Honey G – Anna Gilford to her mother – is a Jewish woman riffing off black culture, playing a gauche and out-of-place character. Some might call it appropriation.

Like Ali G, and like Keith Lemon, Honey G is entertaining in small doses. There's a late-90s visual overload vibe to the performance, and the character has an arresting visual appearance. We could recognise her in a crowd, in a way we wouldn't tell Ryan apart from Matt. Even the other contestants feel resigned to Honey remaining for one more week, they've accepted the narrative of 2016. So has Dermot, offering a sing-and-dance-off against Ed Balls.

Plug for the call-and-lose competition, and then another break.

The X Factor Emily is called to the headmaster's study.

One contestant left, and it's Simon Cowell. His remaining token is Emily Middlemas. The narrative is continuing, growing from last week's on-air criticism. The song is "It must have been love" from Pretty Woman, in a minimalist orchestration. Literally piano, strings, and vocal throughout. Emily's sat on the plinth, alone on the stage. She finds the camera whenever it's on her, and that had more emotional impact than the singing.

No dancing, just singing, and stagecraft. "A young, hip Sarah MacLachlan," says Sharon Osbourne. As if the original Sarah isn't hip. Hmph.

The X Factor Sitting on a small podium.

So, what have people been saying on social media? Let's look at a few reactions.

"Sara Aalto is SO good!!! Her voice is incredible", said stars-and-mars.
Trash-intensifies agrees. "If Saara Aalto doesn't win The X Factor I am going to scream. She is probably the best singer i've ever heard. You go Saara"
ThrowSherbert contributed, "Ahhh Matt Terry was so good on X Factor tonight. I’m so torn cause i want him to do well but at the same time i want him to be as far away from the clutches of Simon as possible"

And those are all the live reactions from genuine viewers on Tumblr while the show aired. All three of them.

The X Factor There's also a picture of a tortoise, for no obvious reason.

Sunday's results show

And so to the results show. Another long recap of the last show, in a montage voiced by Peter Dickson. The first guest performance is from the School of Rock theatre show. Sheesh, that was not very good.

This year's novelty is "the jukebox", a method by which the producers confirm next week's theme. "Movies" have gone out, and replaced on the list of possibilities by "Christmas". (Can we use the C-word? Not when reporting the week before Advent.)

The X Factor Each contestant had their own billboard made up.

There's a longer recap – with voting details – from last week's show. Comments that the producers want to bring to people's attention, and they've buried comments that go against the story they want. "Conversations" between the contestants that advance the chosen story. Family and friends cheering the contestants. Lots of love for Five After Midnight, who must be in trouble after a shoddy performance.

Who's next? Good grief, it's Craig David, who was briefly popular in the year 2000. Since then, not much has changed, but we live under water. No! Craig came back around this time last year, playing third wheel to X Fac runners-up Reggie and Bollie. He's had a minor career renaissance, selling almost some albums.

The problem with Craig in 2000 was that he wasn't convincing, it never quite felt that he had lived the experiences he's singing about. Does he sound more convincing these days? Not on this evidence, we're still getting a slight vibe of insincerity. But compared to Honey G...

The X Factor The contestants wait backstage.

The active voting window closed at 8.18, it had been open for 24 hours and ten minutes. Afterwards, the pawns are asked who they see as their biggest rivals. Look, everyone knows the story of 2016. Lemmy dies, and unleashes a year of chaos. Black is white, up is down, Leicester and Eastern Michigan win their football games, Red and Black lifts the Grey Cup, and just wait for the finale.

After the break, the contestants walk on stage, accompanied by their pawns. The results are given with the maximum of fuss; this is The X Factor and they invented "giving the results with the maximum fuss". Five After Midnight are through. So is Saara. So is Matt. And so is Emily.

Just as it was five years ago, this was a very short segment, it lasted about five minutes before we go over to the call-and-lose contest.

The X Factor Dermot and Alicia mull over the world.

After the break, another chat with the contestants, and how they think their pawns are doing. Then some proper stars, Alicia Keys performs her new single "Blended family" and has a chat with Dermot. That started to go down an off-message track, but Dermot is a professional presenter who can silence Alicia with nothing more than a few kicked shins.

After the break, Ryan performs his spotlight song. It's one of Ed Sheeran's more tedious numbers, but with the welcome addition of a beat and some orchestration. Lots of close-ups of Emily Middlemas during this performance, anyone would believe that they're dating. As, indeed, the papers and gossip columns would have us believe.

The X Factor Ryan and his guitar.

Then Honey G performs her spotlight rap, a montage of "Get yer freak on" and "Worth it", both written by Missy Elliot. G prowls around the contestants' table, leering at Simon Cowell. So much leering that she forgets her lyrics.

"The most bizarre I've ever seen," says Dermot. Simon Cowell sums up the performances, and chooses to ditch Ryan. Sharon also wants to ditch Ryan, because Honey G is her chip. Nicole wants to ditch Honey G, because Ryan is on her team. Louis doesn't have a stake in this, and chooses to oust Ryan.

The X Factor Honey G shouts down Simon Cowell's ear.

Which means we're at deadlock. Hang on, 3-1, no. We're not at deadlock! We have a clear result! This never happens!! Ryan's gone, we have the inevitable best bits montage, and some quick words with Nicole. A throw to Xtra Factor on ITV2, and credits.

Nope, there's one item of business remaining. What's the theme for next week? Eighties, Christmas, or Louis Loves. It's the last, songs picked by contestant Louis Walsh.

We're thankful to have missed it.


Last week, we looked at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Producers of JESC put the differences front-and-centre. Contestants are known by their countries, juries cannot vote for their own song. It's a celebration of diversity.

In comparison, The X Factor did little things to undermine diversity. Speaking foreign on primetime ITV continues the narrative of foreigners coming over here, winning "our" talent shows. The "fried chicken" sets up a narrative of black culture, as different from white culture. Then, perhaps, undermining black culture by laughing at it.

Simon Cowell is a master of giving the people what they already want. He's never pushed the artistic boundaries, he prefers the familiar to the fabulous. Has Simon worked out the narrative of 2016, that enough of the people want faintly racist product?

Or are we seeing things that aren't there, joining random dots into a grotesque pattern?

One thing is certain: The X Factor was bland. None of the performances left us wanting to cheer, still less make a televote. But that's not a problem for The X Factor: ITV has signed the show until 2019, so we're assured three more autumns of this. Great.

Hive Minds

Hive Minds had its second final, pitting Prime against Cruciverbalists. Cruciverbalists took first blood, knowing that Linus refers to Pauling and Peanuts. Three of the first four questions were missed by both sides, as were two of the two-parters that followed. Neither team knew the capital of Saxony, neither knew Downton Abbey.

Hive Minds Questions this year are much larger on screen.

6-1 to the Crucis gave them first look at the next round, and their choice of Literature. Cats from Cats proved unhelpful, Macavity lived up to 2016's motif and was there. Languages scored two for Prime – cases of Latin noun is almost deliberately BBC4. Crucis took Board Games, and Risk territories earned one for Kamchatka. Prime were left with Fashion, and scored one on designers of royal wedding dresses.

Superhives came next. Crucis picked languages, messed up their work on the board and lost a couple of points for "Danishamharic". Had they got it right, they'd have scored the perfect ten, but they only got six. That's got to be four points lost. US state capitals for Prime, and they wrapped up all those in a minute. Good job they didn't have to frame their response as a question.

Hive Minds Ooh, that's a bad miss.

Which leaves us at 14-14 going into the Multihives. Prime took the lead on the first question, after the first hive, Prime led 17-16. After the second, Crucis had taken their first lead of the round, 20-19. Prime had the edge, Crucis had the edge, and it all came down to a national park in Tanzania.

Prime took the Serengetti, and the win by 23-22, and the trophy. We like the ideas behind Hive Minds, and we like how they've made the hive easy to see this year. But there's still something not quite right about this show, it doesn't kick above third gear until the closing round, and even then Fiona has an uncanny ability to puncture the tension. To be honest, and as much as we like it, we'd be surprised if Hive Minds came back for a third series.

Hive Minds For this series, Prime are champions.

This Week and Next

Release the balls! After 22 years, the Lottery Corp's draws are leaving Saturday night television. From the start of next year, the commercials will only be shown on the BBC's website.

The adverts themselves are only about ten minutes long, but are often wrapped into great game shows. Who Dares Wins, Secret Fortune, Winning Lines, all have taken breaks for lottery inserts.

What happens now? The BBC is entitled to make big money game shows. We could argue that the BBC has a duty to make big money game shows, it's a universal broadcaster and need not cede these shows to other channels.

There will be changes and opportunities. The shows won't need to have breaks (artificial or otherwise) for lottery adverts. Some of the weaker shows (cough, 5-Star Family Reunion) might well be discontinued.

Secret Fortune And can we have Secret Fortune back?

There's a chance for the BBC to refresh its big money shows. They won't have to run for 50 minutes, or be studio quizzes. Who knows, we might even get shows hosted by people who aren't Nick Knowles!

During its 22 years on telly, the lottery draw shows have changed many lives. Not all of them were millionaires. Some didn't even buy a ticket, as Dirty Feed explains.

How Quizzing Got Cool (BBC4) told stories from television and radio quizzes. Many quiz legends took part – Kevin Ashman, Judith Keppell, Mark Labbett, Lisa Thiel, and quiz-setter Paddy Duffy. There were plenty of archive clips, and we enjoyed the hour. We fear the documentary begged its core question – it presumed that quizzes were at one point uncool and are now cool, but never offered evidence to support this position.

195-130 on University Challenge as Emmanuel Cambridge beat SOAS. Four matches, four winning scores of 195, that's odd. SOAS had the stronger start, but Emmanuel won enough buzzer races to book their place in the last eight. The milk yield of a dairy cow is, apparently, 7717 litres per year; since this show was recorded, the yield has increased to 7912 litres. That's a lot of milk, but it'll take a herd to fill even the smallest swimming pool.

Only Connect concluded section A, with the losers' match. Verbivores and Taverners clashed, and the Connections round yielded five correct answers and seven points. A good three-point spot for the Taverners on mixed-up Harry Potter book titles, a lovely two points for Verbivores on football teams playing in colours.

Verbivores failed to scale their wall, scoring just one point (and that from the works of U2); Taverners were perfect, thanks to Skins characters. (Wow, haven't thought about that in years.) Six ahead, the Taverners still needed a few answers as the Verbivores rock this round. Two for the Taverners, but the Verbivores got seven of the last eight questions, dropping only Rod Jane and Freddy. 19-18 the final score, and the Verbivores will be back.

Mastermind heat 21 was won by Lee Holmes. 23 (3 passes) after taking the Emperor Hadrian, and – on this evidence – it's difficult to see the contender qualifying for the final. But every year, there's an easy semi-final, and he could just scrape through that.

The others scored in the teens: Robert Fenner (Damon Runyon), Abhimanyu Chatterjee (Tintin), Sally Budd (Eric Clapton).

BARB ratings in the week to 20 November.

  1. Strictly Come Dancing returns to the top – 12.25m comfortably beat Planet Earth II with 11.6m.
  2. I'm a Celebrity scored 10.85m on Monday, but fell a little as the week progressed. Losing Tuesday to football seems to have hurt. We were amongst 6.9m to see The X Factor.
  3. Pointless Celebrities was on a repeat, still got 4.2m viewers. The Chase improved to 3.5m (SD+HD, but not +1), it's clearly aided by Pointless being on interminable repeats.
  4. Good week for University Challenge, 3.3m puts it ahead of Masterchef The Professionals (3.25m). Only Connect had 2.65m.
  5. On the digital channels, 805,000 for Celebrity Extra Camp on ITV2, 350,000 for 8 Out of 10 Cats on More4 and for A League of Their Own on The Satellite Channel. CBBC's Junior Bake Off stabilised at 310,000.

A quiet week looms. The Choir finishes (BBC2, Tue), and Christmas special season begins with Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu).

Photo credits: Thames / Syco, Green Inc / Saltbeef, Wild Rover

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