Jamie Archer performing a blistering ‘Hurt’ on The X Factor.

Yes, I know everyone mocks them and half the world seems convinced that Simon Cowell is the devil incarnate,[1] but in the past, TV talent shows, flawed as they may be, have thrown up some undeniably awe-inspiring performances.

Naturally and inevitably, they generate an awful lot of dross as well.[2] Nowadays, The X Factor may be making the news more for the way it’s haemorrhaging viewers than for its showcasing of potential stars. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Generally but not always, these terrific individual performances have come from people who unfortunately didn’t last the distance rather than the ultimate victors, but I believe we should celebrate these great moments from the also-rans on The X Factor, American Idol and their ilk nevertheless.


Joe McElderry, 2009 winner.

I get fed up of folk moaning that it’s not real music and the contestants aren’t real musicians. They are still just people trying to get a break. Why knock that?[3] What I find perpetually amusing is that the people voicing these complaints and whose antipathy to Simon Cowell is the most virulent are always those in whom I’ve never really discerned an interest in any type of music, ‘real’ or otherwise.

They rejoiced in 2009 when a pointless-seeming, sour-grapes campaign to make something else other than an X Factor winner number 1 at Christmas, succeeded, even though the chosen contender, Rage against the Machine, was at the time signed to Epic, under the same umbrella of Sony Music Entertainment, as Cowell’s label, Syco. All the push did was generate more sales for both Sony companies.

These easily led clones mistakenly believe they are rebelling when they’re just jumping on board a different bandwagon. One of the lyrics to the RAM song ‘Killing in the Name’ is ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.’ Which ironically seems to me to be exactly what the sheep downloading it did, at the instigation of some spoilsport nay-sayers on Facebook.

I also have to wonder if much of the hatred directed at Cowell stems in fact from pure jealousy simply because he’s cornered the market in family entertainment and is making a mint out of it.


Rylan Clark was a gracious loser.

I have to concede that I don’t particularly rate the winners who have gone on to build impressive careers, with the sole exception of Will Young (see below).  I can’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the winsome Leona Lewis, for instance. And it was criminal that Alexandra Burke’s Christmas 2008 in-yer-face rendition of ‘Hallelujah’ beat Jeff Buckley’s to number 1 that year.[4] Also couldn’t stand the mealy-mouthed and rather too much up-himself James Arthur from last year. But, on the other hand, 2012 did introduce us to the magnificent manifestation that is Rylan Clark, subsequent (and deserved) winner of Celebrity Big Brother this year. I’m sure he earned himself a whole raft more fans with his wit and personality.

But let’s try to illustrate what I mean about those outstandingly standout standards. See Jamie Archer’s rendition of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Hurt’ on The X Factor above.[5] He knows he nailed it.

Since the show Jamie has played gigs with fellow contestant Danyl Johnson. Charismatic Danyl was rather bitchily ‘outed’ as gay on the show one week by Dannii Minogue. Cheryl Cole seemed to turn against him once she knew she no longer had a chance with the young stud (see his first audition when she’s saucily winking at him at about a minute in, hoping maybe to line up a successor to Ashley Cole – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uav9H407-lk) and led the public backlash like a modern-day Boadicea[6] taking up arms against the Romans. At the beginning, she declares ‘I would take you in my category right now’ while Simon Cowell declares Danyl’s performance ‘the best first audition I have ever heard’. But soon she is denouncing the poor guy as ‘cocky’, while Louis Walsh disingenuously berates him for lacking the ‘likeability’ factor in his best self-fulfilling prophecy fashion.

Here Danyl is on the actual show, performing Jennifer Hudson’s ‘And I’m Telling You’ with the utmost commitment and panache.

Danyl Johnson’s delivery of  ‘And I’m Telling You’.


Aiden Grimshaw with Matt Cardle in their celebrated bromance.

My all-time favourite performance from the show so far comes courtesy of Aiden Grimshaw, perhaps most famous for his well-publicised ‘bromance’ with eventual 2010 winner Matt Cardle.[7] He has since had moderate success with his album Misty Eye, released in 2012, but seems to have lost his attractive Blackpool accent in favour of the now ubiquitous faux London one favoured by artists like Kate Nash.

A shock early casualty in 2010, the tongue-tied adolescent had a certain deer-in-the-headlights quality – stunned, wide-eyed and usually speechless – an endearing vulnerability you would have thought certain to send most teenage girls (and one in ten boys) running to their mobiles. His vocal style was at times self-indulgent (on ‘Rocket Man’, for instance, in the week of his downfall) but he’d also shown genuine promise with some mesmerising performances. And after his first audition Simon had pronounced ‘Now that’s what I call a popstar.’

The first week he appeared tricked out in something that looked a bit like a straitjacket for ‘Mad World’, the slightly deranged persona persisting into the following weeks’ ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (my favourite, below), in which he came across as a dangerous stalker on the edge of paranoia. Intensity and conviction his bywords, ‘Thriller’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dRLRFcfXjs) saw him tapping into his dark side yet again while ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ continued the theme of the spurned, inconsolable and psychologically unhinged lover.

Aiden Grimshaw’s so committed he should be committed ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.

A.J. Tabaldo’s American Idol rendition of the much-attempted ‘Feeling Good’ is just a sonic representation of pure joy. Watch his fellow contenders openly weeping during his amazingly self-possessed final elimination performance, which starts about 1.20 in.

A. J. Tabaldo’s ‘Feeling Good’ though he’s been eliminated.

Oh, and don’t forget humble binman Andy Abraham’s heart-wrenching performance of ‘The Greatest Love of All’, another highlight. You believed every word. Also loved Mary Byrne’s 2010 audition, singing Tom Jones’s torch song, ‘I, Who Have Nothing’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hoDWyWsxFc).

The argument of course is that these people wouldn’t go on to develop recording careers because they are the wrong age or body shape, aren’t sufficiently trendy and don’t conform to the current singing style, the notable exception being the amazing Susan Boyle. She bucked the trend after losing on Britain’s Got Talent. Here she is at her first audition before transformation, someone who deserves a break despite not immediately looking like what people expect a megastar to look like.

Susan Boyle’s breakout audition performance on Britain’s Got Talent.

I don’t think we should see a recording career as the aim of the shows, although that’s what the judges profess it to be. Instead I view their results as a validation of the British public and its championing of the underdog, together with an instant appreciation for the talent of a performer without regard to their likely longevity in a cut-throat and fickle business. Sometimes we get behind an artist simply because the industry views them as less marketable for one of these superficial reasons. The absolute crap that’s in the charts these days is a testament to how easy it is to be popular if you’re mediocre but mainstream.


Will Young forged a career after winning Pop Idol.

But I’ve also grown to love some winners whom I initially didn’t much care for, such as Will Young, the first winner of the UK’s Pop Idol. Will has carved himself out a stellar career, on stage, in music and film. His ‘Leave Right Now’ was a perfect little once-bitten number; and he’s cornered the market in those trenchant, hard-done-by lover songs, such as ‘Grace’.

I don’t much like Girls Aloud or the national treasure that is Cheryl Cole.[8] But I can’t deny that the group’s first single ‘Sound of the Underground’[9] (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Wv4SCBiTE) was an absolutely brilliant pop song. The video is also dangerously cool – it’s pretty hard to take your eyes off the girls and equally difficult not to get up and dance.

So I know it’s nice to feel some TV solidarity and we love to hate the same things as everyone else. On top of that, the talent has undoubtedly declined in recent years[10] but let’s take a moment to applaud the real stars, the early losers, the runners-up, those who gave it their all and lost out in the long run.

Find out more about these artists at www.jamieafro.com/, danyljohnson.com, www.aidengrimshaw.com/, http://www.willyoung.co.uk/global/home.

[1] Seriously, mention his name in company and people do all but cross themselves and spit on the floor in disgust.

[2] The supposed Essex everyman and dull-as-ditchwater Olly Murs, Diana Vickers, Rebecca Ferguson, the strangely mystifying phenomenon that is One Direction.

[3] Does anyone remember Journey South? You couldn’t get more real than those guys. They’d been struggling to get a foothold in the business for years, gigging in pubs and clubs. The likeable, down-to-earth Pemberton brothers from Middlesbrough made the last three of The X Factor in 2005, subsequently touring and recording an album that went to number 1. All right, nothing much happened for them after that. But who could begrudge them the short-lived success they did enjoy, which they wouldn’t have had without the show?

[4] Plus, I thought JLS should have won, after consistently enjoyable performances throughout. Loved their first single ‘Beat Again’ but since then the music’s been a bit too generic and ‘in-the-club-put-your-hands-up-JLS-in-the-house’ for me. I think they’re better than that.

[5] Sadly, the actual 2009 winner Joe McElderry didn’t enjoy much of a follow-up career, despite his beautiful voice and pleasant personality.

[6] I’m not changing to Boudicca; Boadicea’s so much more poetic.


Cheryl and Ashley Cole.

[7] Simon Cowell has apparently banned Matt from ever appearing on The X Factor again, after the singer’s fallout with Cowell’s Syco label. See http://fuckyeahmattandaiden.tumblr.com/ for more on the bromance.

[8] Her popularity seems unshakable, even recovering from a nightclub scandal involving allegedly racial abuse of a black bathroom attendant. She was cleared of the ‘racially aggravated’ attack but found guilty of assault, having punched the poor woman after an altercation about lollipops.

[9] Written by Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins and Niara Scarlett.

[10] Something it’s easy to tell by the number of times the judges insist that it’s the best season ever and that the talent’s way outstripped that of previous years. Methinks they doth protest too much.


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