The X Factor Live
The good, the bad and Rylan perform at the Odyssey, but James Arthur shows why he was 2012's deserved winner
The Simon Cowell-created pop juggernaut that is The X Factor rolls into the Odyssey, Belfast for its yearly installment of camp karaoke and reaffirms in front of a sold out crowd that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Regardless of whether ITV’s reality show leaves your legs all a quiver, or if the mere mention of the words stirs in you a Bruce Banner-like rage, The X Factor is nothing short of a phenomenon, which has provided a platform for pop wannabes to leap onto the global pop scene.
Over the last ten series (and counting) the Cowell-helmed tears and tantrums talent show has had a huge cultural impact on the masses. The likes of Leona Lewis and One Direction have captured the charts and hearts of two generations' worth of tweens, and with the show returning to our television screens once more in August, it looks like it will be around for a long time to come, despite ratings dips.
Tonight, it’s the class of 2012’s turn to try and win us over in a live setting, and series winner James Arthur – along with Jahmene Douglas, Christopher Maloney, Union J, Rylan Clark, Ella Henderson and District 3 – are all in the building ready to belt out the ballads to what seems like a sold out venue. The kids lose their collective mind every time an Olly Murs video airs on the big screens onstage.
With the omnipresent booming voice of Peter Dickson signaling the start of the show, first up is Celebrity Big Brother winner Rylan, who is greeted with a rapturous response from the glow-stick waving masses, despite huffing and puffing his way through ‘Gangnam Style’ like a 60-a-day smoker. As expected, his voice has more holes in it than a string vest, but his charisma helps patch up any inconsistencies, and he seems destined to carry on from where Jedward left off.
Pretenders to One Direction’s throne, Union J, on the other hand each have a surprisingly strong set of pipes and keep their female fan-base happy with choreographed waves to the punters below, plucking one (admittedly mortified) gig-goer from the throng to sing ‘Call Me Maybe’ to onstage.
Yorkshire teen Ella Henderson proves she’s got real potential with a sterling rendition of ‘You Got The Love’, as paper hearts are spewed out into the arena. While there are moments when the 17-year-old struggles to control that big, booming voice of hers, in time she will learn how to handle the key changes and more subtle song structures, and hopefully mature into a considerable talent.
District 3 deliver a decidedly dull set that’s cheesier than a Wotsit factory, and sees them strip every ounce of emotion out of the original versions (‘Tears In Heaven’ is a particularly plastic affair). To make things worse they shamelessly tick off every boyband cliché in the book, including pocketing various fans’ under-garments which have been flung stage-wards.
Then the Odyssey is transformed into a giant cruise ship with controversial Scouse singer, Christopher Maloney, serving as her captain, as he serenades the thousands in attendance with some classic cuts from yester-year.
At least, that’s how it probably seems in his head, anyway. In reality, Maloney is merely a decent karaoke singer who can turn in a good attempt at ‘All By Myself’, but since the crowd lap him up and his infamous nerves are suspiciously absent tonight, it’s arguably a win for the warbler.
Speaking of wins, former shelf stacker turned soul superstar in the making, Jahmene Douglas, really impresses tonight thanks to his silky smooth vocals, which seem effortless on the likes of ‘At Last’ and ‘Tears Dry On Their Own'. Success in America seems a certainty for the crooner.
Sadly there’s no sign of Lucy Spraggan this evening, which is a shame as her “'ovechild of Pam Ayres and Alex from the Arctic Monkeys' schtick added some much needed credibility to the show, but series winner James Arthur tries his best to prove that he really does mean it, maaaan regardless.
Initially performing on a small stage at the back of the venue (a trick which is as old as arena tours themselves) the singer battles his sore throat admirably and treats us to the likes of ‘Hometown Glory’ and ‘Feeling Good', which are delivered with his trademark passion.
Definitely one of the more cerebral acts in X Factor history, his million-selling single ‘Impossible’ and acoustic reworking of ‘Sexy And I Know It’ marks him out as a musician with considerable chops. While we’re dubious that Cowell’s Syco company will allow him creative freedom in the future, Arthur has shown that he can certainly pull it off live, and that’s half the battle.