The X Factor NZ: Power Rankings #8

moorhouse

This was just too bleak. Seven weeks into their debut run of live shows, you’d expect the local producers of the X Factor to be hitting some sort of rhythm, gaining momentum towards a climatic finale, but… nothing. This was undoubtedly the show’s nadir week, notable especially for the fact that Sunday’s live and Monday’s elimination episodes were rivaled only by each other as the series’ worst to date, the earlier slightly-unpolished unpredictability now replaced by tepid attempts at playing to type and seemingly thorough disinterest from everyone involved. Before I go too deep, though, a moment of silence for our fallen sisters.

They started so strong! Taking on Gwen Stefani to great effect in the first episode, and Lorde (via J. Farnham) to exponentially greater in the second, there was genuinely a time when Gap 5 seemed untouchable. Over the following five outings, though, they gradually became less a threat, more the personification of the show’s diminishing returns. Whether the blame for their steep decline can be leveled mainly at their coaches’ mismanagement, their own bruised confidence after weeks of criticism or the fickle voting public (hint: though the fickleness is undeniable, it’s not that), I think it’s fair to say that, no matter the reason, it’s disappointing as hell. In the second installment of this column, after their first live appearance, Duncan Greive inferred that Gap 5 had the potential to be better than hugely popular British alumnae Little Mix. It never quite happened, and I can’t help but feel like it’ll fade from memory just slightly slower than the interminable plateau of Anna Wilson’s tenure, but for a brief while they really felt special. Let’s focus on the good times.

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Imagine this happening for anyone else now. Man fuck this competition

Not for too long though, because there was plenty terrible about this week’s episodes. Sunday’s was unremarkable, indisputable mediocrity-by-numbers that saw whoever’s actually responsible for picking songs collapse under the emotional weight of a theme as stupid broad as, “Uh, Iuno, America?” but it was Monday’s episode that actually got me close to mad at this bullshit. The embarrassing-for-everyone dadgasm that was the Manic Street Preachers’ performance was inexplicable enough, but having to endure a two-minute advertorial for some bad-meaning-bad sub-Dreamworks animated film sequel to get there was something else entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that product placement plays a very important role in financing shows like this one, and so can tolerate an entire episode loosely dedicated to the Coca-Cola Corporation, or regular scripted shoutouts to South Korea’s finest consumer electronics franchise, or poorly conceptualised and produced ads for some kind of station wagon, but this was pathetic. If you actually can only manage to script 40 minutes of the 42ish necessary for an hour long episode of television, just admit it and broadcast some terrible Dom Bowden soliloquy, don’t give me this augmented movie trailer shit and expect me to thank you for it. Great that the Ridges liked it, though, glowing endorsement. Big stars. Congratulations.

Power Rankings:

1. Moorhouse (Groups, 3) – performing ‘O.M.G.’ by Usher ft. will.i.am

So, given the depth and breadth of American pop music to peruse, Moorhouse dug deep and came up with their second will.i.am song in three weeks. To be completely honest, they’re mainly at number one because to rank them anywhere else would just be disingenuous, but even though this performance was weak as hell, it was probably close to the best this week. It started great, an impressive setting and suitably fucking stupid outfits complemented by their best harmonies to date, but after about a minute of slow rotation they appeared to be struggling with both pitch and general balance. The short burst of choreography towards the end picked things up again, and allowing themselves to be surrounded and touched by their adoring horde probably sent their stock high enough to ensure they win this, New Zealand’s Got Talent and any other variations on the format for the next 5~ years, but overall it just wasn’t a great showing. They’ll definitely be in the final, they’ll probably win it, but if they can’t get their performance to at least the level of their personality, they’ll struggle outside of Skycity.

2. Jackie Thomas (Girls, 4) – performing ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears

Three viewings later, I’m still quite conflicted about this performance. The first two thirds were verging on great, Jackie’s tendency to clip syllables and strict avoidance of oversinging making a bad cabaret version of a genius pop song sound somewhere between those two poles, almost like Bjork with less ideas (NB: this isn’t a burn, Bjork has way too many ideas). At the last chorus, though, everything fell apart. The guitars, the bombast, the mad unnecessary syncopation, everything that somehow worked about the performance to that point replaced with something entirely different and much, much worse. Which is a shame, because prior to that she sounded pretty good. She’s an obvious favourite of the judges and producers, and this return to type will definitely improve her longevity in the contest, but as the competition thins she’s going to need more than just your dad voting for her.

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Very hard to capture, but Jackie’s throwing shade heavier than Mel’s eyebrows right here

3. Whenua Patuwai (Boys, 2) – performing ‘ Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys

I can’t help but feel bad for Ruby and her remaining boys after this week. I’m not sure whether it was a poor conceptual choice on their part, or just an unfortunate misunderstanding of the theme, but limiting Whenua and Benny to songs not only from America but about specific American locations seriously hampered their chances. Where Whenua could’ve been taking on something like Miguel’s ‘Adorn’, a song outside his usual parameters but on-theme and entirely suited to his style, instead he tackled one of the cornier extremes of the ‘boring songs about New York’ canon. To his credit, he did well with what he had, sounding surprisingly not-unconvincing during the Jay-Z section of the song, but it’s scientifically impossible to make that chorus sound better than a dreary turd. If that’s representative of New York, I’m starting a petition to shut down Sal’s Pizza for good. Whenua does still seem to have a considerable following, and he’s managed to largely keep his head above water, but he needs better material than this. “Not actually that bad” doesn’t sell records, apparently.

4. Benny Tipene (Boys, 5) – performing ‘California’ by Phantom Planet

Hampered not only by Ruby’s aforementioned strict adherence to what she believed to be the theme, but also by an unnecessarily cluttered arrangement, this was not a banner week for Benny Tipene. It was interesting to hear him essentially confirm that he’s not that into this whole thing at the moment, but excluding his Monday night performance last week, it’s been difficult not to see his last few weeks as a half-hearted attempt at self-sabotage. This was more of what we’ve come to expect from Benny, adequate but never more than that, as he seems to be growing increasingly (and probably justifiably) wary of what may be in store for him in terms of direction and management should he actually take this thing out. Basically, he just doesn’t seem to care anymore. On talent, and on form, he absolutely deserves to be in the top 5, but I think he’ll be less upset than almost anyone else if he ends up watching the final from Palmerston North. If I’m wrong, he needs to step up drastically.

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Oh, California. I get it. Blimp.

5. Cassie Henderson (Girls, 1) – performing ‘Love Story’ by Taylor Swift

Cassie was always going to revisit Taylor Swift, but it’s unfortunate that this was the result. The complaints regarding her occasional tendency to slip out of key have never been as justified as this week, and the decision to perform the song in its original country arrangement (rather than the more recognisable and markedly more interesting pop version) saw that which could’ve been fun and uplifting instead crawling to an atonal, uneventful conclusion. Cassie finally seemed out of her depth, her obvious discomfort in both this and her elimination night tilt at Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’ made even more jarring for their contrast with her precise, self-assured performance last week. Cassie’s unfortunately been dealt a terrible hand with her potential songs in the Coke Choice episode – all three of her options inexplicably chosen from the canon of 1997, before she or her fan base were even alive – but there’s no baptism like a baptism of fire. If she can endure this week, she’ll be well placed for a run at the title.

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Advice for Cassie’s renaissance: Deport Reece “No. 85 in Australia” Mastin

And so concludes my assessment of the worst week in this competition’s short life. I’d like to imagine that it was entirely an anomaly, a blemish in a flawless run that’ll no doubt be scrubbed from our memory by next Tuesday morning, but it’s getting harder to be optimistic. The contestants are vastly more seasoned than when they began, but for the most part they also seem much more jaded. Minor missteps become tragic tailspins (see: Gap 5) and every two minute performance seems more fraught with expectation, more likely to contain a tragic low than a transcendental high. Or maybe I’m just paying too much attention. I’m not giving up yet, and I still believe in the ability of these acts, I’m just struggling to believe quite as much in the show that begat them.

Am I being too negative? Was there anything great about this week that I missed? Do you just want to launch some ad hominem attacks to take me down a peg? Hit the comments and let us know, and remember to follow @_thecorner for all the live commentary your heart could desire.

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24 Comments

  1. Hussein says:

    Just got a press release to say that Ginny Blackmore will be performing “Bones” on the July 15 episode

    http://thecorner.co.nz/2013/06/10/great-sounds-great-bad-sounds-bad-ginny-blackmore-bones/

  2. Julian Blade says:

    “Coke Choice episode – all three of (Cassie’s) options inexplicably chosen from the canon of 1997”

    The idea is that they sing a song from their year of birth.

  3. I get the feeling that the only thing that kept Benny out of the bottom two was that his song made people think happy thoughts about The OC, so he got votes from people who were thinking about S Cohen, not B Tipene.

    Bloody hell. That was such a mundane week. It’s going to be even trickier this week with all the songs being from the contestants’ years of birth voted by viewer choice. So what, mundane hits o’ the ’90s?

    I wish, like the UK X Factor’s annual Halloween week, there was an excuse to have an over-the-top campstravaganza week. Because all this nice, humble-as New Zealandness is getting dull.

  4. Maurice says:

    The rubbers hit the road. I am not sure what The Corner was expecting when they decided to follow this dreadful talent/popularity contest?

    TV3 terrible production, overbearing commerciality in addition to a government subsidy, a Simon Cowell concept, some third rate has-been judges and the great New Zealand voting public!

    Why doesn’t NZ on Air invest in real talent – the Smoke Free Rockquest competition taken to another level. Look at their track record and alumni in encouraging NZ talent.

    • matthew says:

      there’s already a serialised broadcast of the rockquest, you probably don’t watch it because 95% of rockquest bands sound the same (bad).
      I write this because this show is fundamentally about finding and developing local musical talents, and that’s an endeavour that this site is and always will be deeply interested in. it’s way easy to sit back and say “ooh no but it’s commercialised and it’s manufactured and it’s not representative of our REAL culture” but frankly I think that’s cynicism on a level that even I can’t get into. if you’d rather listen to a thousand versions of white birds and lemons forever then all power to you, but I happen to like pop music and so am very into a show ostensibly about finding a local pop act capable of achieving internationally. I didn’t like this week’s episode largely because it seemed like progress towards this end had been completely arrested. this doesn’t mean I don’t still theoretically love it, because I do.
      hope this clears things up.

      • Maurice says:

        The TV serialisation and resources put into SFRQ are very low key.

        I’d say at least 5% of the SFRQ finalists are generally pretty good. Thats the x factor in anything.

        Nothing against commercial pop. I even find parts of the show entertaining which you’d expect for prime time. I do however hate the overt commercialisation of the X – factor – product placements, ads every 5 minutes etc .

        I also can’t see how singing a bunch of covers will lead to sustainable x factor for any of them.

      • You might be interested to know that X Factor finalists Eden, Fletcher and Nicole from Gap5 had all previously performed at various SFRQ finals, with Eden and Fletcher both winning major prizes.

  5. Do some more gifs

  6. Talia says:

    It was def a pretty boring week. I think my interest is waning because all of the people that I could really bitch about are now gone and there is no one really that exciting left (ok wait I love whenua and benny forev but their performances this week were booooring), there needs to be some life breathed into these final few weeks!!

    What annoys me and what does often happen with singing comps is that the sings well, safe, kind of boring people will glide through and end up winning (jackie) and the really super talented people (when/ben) will probably not win…I don’t really know why this happens but The Voice US is a perfect example of this – constant amazing people get eliminated and safe, mainstream radio people stay. I guess it’s the people watching the show and vote who are generally mainstream radio listening people. I dunno. I’m just real mad. lol

    So wow I went on a bit of a rant there but this week has left me feeling bored and the moral of the story is GET BETTER/MORE INTERESTING GUYS BECAUSE IT’S NEAR THE END AND I WANT TO BE EXCITED. The end.

    • Moorhouse are definitely going to win.

    • matthew says:

      honestly, i think moorhouse will probably take it out, and given that they’re definitely the closest thing (post gap 5) to a british x factor act, that’s probably a good thing. whenua will definitely get a career out of this, and benny will do something, but i’m not sure what. he’s obviously had mad exposure from this, and i’m sure he’ll capitalise on that, but i’m not sure that being a popstar hunk is really in his long-term plan.
      fwiw, i actually like the top 5. aside from the omission of gap 5 – and after the past few weeks this was unfortunately pretty justified – and the inclusion of jackie, i genuinely think these are the best and most marketable acts of the contest. it’s a shame that the last few weeks have been so mad dreary, and i’m pretty concerned that this weekend could be more of the same (jackie potentially singing blue velvet = harikiri), but things could be MUCH worse.

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