Notes on The X Factor

This Saturday’s X Factor live heat threw up two interesting and equally indigestible examples of the power of, respectively, the wrong attitude and the wrong approach.

 

Firstly, Rachel Hylton‘s performance of the Nina Simone standard Feelin’ Good  (above) was billed as an expected return to form for the reformed drug addict and convict. A difficult first two weeks saw her tackle, with muted results, somewhat unsuitable songs, with Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana being of particular note for its mistake-covering excess. With the show’s ‘Big Band Week’ in the offing, however, Hylton was expected to do well. Sadly, so did she.

It begins in perfectly acceptable style, credible and strong, and remains in that fashion until the final phrase. It is natural to labour a pause in a song with such conflict and focus on the creation of tension, but Hylton’s bravado and overconfidence led to her to labour it so much as to utterly spoil the effect of the performance. At the song’s climax, the band’s accompaniment stops to leave the soloist with a simple enough continuation of the tonic, but Hylton holds the silence before beginning for a full seven seconds. She looks one way and then the other, as if to say “You know this is good. I know this is good.” She comes back in nearly a quarter of a tone sharp, a distinctly amateurish mistake considering the atmosphere of self-valorisation she attempted to conjure.

Other elements of the performance grated, from the put-on hip-holding, the tired improvisations and the unforgivable decision to warble, Carey-esque, after the band had stopped playing. This, in particular, signifies that Hylton knew she has fluffed the last note and was desperate compensate and make it appear effortless. Hers is a terrible attitude that bears the mark of a singer with delusions of her own brilliance.

Later, in the results show, Daniel Evans‘ performance of Josh Groban’s To Where You Are (above) was transparently manipulative in securing his survival in the series. It has been laboured throughout the series that Evans’ late wife was the reason for his entering the competition, and his participation has been billed as a sort of tribute to her. Though he personally has not been overly vocal, this performance (part of the final sing-off round) shows that even he is not above using this situation as a way of guaranteeing votes.

The sincerity of the performance is not in question (though it could be argued that it is tastelessly over-wrought), but the reasons for it most certainly are. The lyrics speak of someone who is “gone”, of joining that person on another plain and the sadness of missing them. Evans’ delivery relies heavily on whispers and vibrato, and he can clearly be seen to be crying at the end of the song. Scott Bruton, the opponent in the sing-off had nothing in the way of an emotional back-story, save for a stock rags-to-riches tale that was never completed, and so Evans’ progression to the following week was never in any doubt. Had these singers performed two songs without any contextual factors, the result may have shifted in the other direction.

The point here is that, now he’s sung an emotional song that clearly references his late wife, Daniel Evans now has nothing left to offer the series. When he undoubtedly sings in next week’s sing-off, which song will he perform? Anything in an even slightly similar vein will be criticised for looking even more like taking advantage of his own misfortune, and performing a more upbeat song might not allow him to play to his technical strengths. Because of this position whereby artistic and performance progress is not possible, it’s a safe bet that he will be leaving the show come next week.

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