Friday, July 18, 2014

An American's Guide to the X Factor: Part II

Katy Perry understands why we are all into the X Factor. We see the judges which include such divas as Dannii Minogue, Nicole Scherzinger, and her majesty Queen Cheryl Cole and our obsessions cause us to watch the show just to see how pop deities interact with each other. Along the way, we see some fights, some embarrassment, and occasionally some real talent and we gain new obsessions (calm down 1D fans, I'm getting to it). And with that, I bring you the second installment of the American's Guide to the X Factor. This time I will be covering the basics about the major musicians we have gained through the last five seasons of the X Factor and hopefully, we will all learn that music ends up being the real winner at the end of the day.


That's right ladies and gentlemen, we have twins! Not only that, but adorable, blonde, high-haired, baby-faced, leather-wearing, Britney-loving, Titanic-homaging, pop-loving Irish twins!!!!!! John and Edward auditioned for the Factor in Season 6 and, if you can't tell by the amazing clip above, they aren't exactly musical prodigies, which led to many people saying, "HOW THE HELL DID THEY MAKE IT TO THE TOP 12 LOUIS?!?!" However, they made for an entertaining act and most people eventually grew to love Jedward's enthusiasm.

After finishing in a respectable 6th place, the twins decided to go all out on the media brigade, adding actors, models, and reality show stars to their resumes (I wonder if they have one or two?). They also drastically improved their singing and came up with the ingenious idea of mashing up "Ice Ice Baby" with "Under Pressure", making their debut single a top ten hit in Ireland and the UK. But let's be clear, their career highlight is surely Eurovision. Another singing competition which I will be sure to make a guide once it comes around again, Eurovision was a competition built for the high energy performances that Jedward excelled at. If nothing else, "Waterline" was amazing, this live performance from Eurovision 2012 was amazing, therefore, Jedward is amazing.

Olly Murs

Another X Factor alum that managed to gain some notoriety over the pond, king of the X Factor wiggle Olly Murs was certainly enigmatic during his time on the show. A solid performer, Olly had the voice and attitude to be a proper, if not slightly boring, popstar since his audition, which led to Simon Cowell offering him a record deal despite being runner up of Series 6. Nonetheless, Olly proved everyone right when his debut single "Please Don't Let Me Go" managed to make it to number one and he became something of a goofy sweetheart on the UK music scene.

Over the course of 3 albums, 2 of which hit number one on the UK charts, Olly Murs has been responsible for classics like "Heart Skips A Beat," "Dear Darlin'" and his only American hit to date "Troublemaker," which would be 10x more amazing if he had gotten rid of the Flo Rida bits. Not much else to say with this one.  He clearly has the talent to make the hits and understands how to be a popstar that doesn't take the reputation too seriously. Hopefully, we all wake up one day to find out he decided to take a risk and release a disco reggae song or something of the sort that blows us all away.

Joe McElderry

I have to preface this popstar with this image.

Are you in love yet? Because I am.

Joe McElderry should be an international treasure and why he isn't is a crime against humanity. I mean JUST LOOK AT HIM! After auditioning in 2007 and quitting because he felt too young, this X Factor stud slowly worked his way into our hearts in Series 6 and established himself as the heartthrob most likely to take over Glee if there was ever a London episode (here's hoping that happens this year). With the voice of an angel and the mentorship of Cheryl Cole (she is really good at this isn't she?), Joe managed to become the winner of the X Factor and released his amazing cover of pre-twerking Miley Cyrus's "The Climb."

Unfortunately, Joe hasn't had the roaring success other winners of the Factor have enjoyed. This is a shame since his singing game is sooooooo on point. It's so on point that he not only won the X Factor, but also another singing competition Popstar to Operastar. That's right, he won TWO TV reality singing competitions Among other things, he has excellent taste in music with his most popular songs being covers of the aforementioned Miley song, "Telephone" by Lady Gaga, and "Last Christmas" by Wham! (his George Michael duet in the finals slayed). But sorry girls, because McElderry also happens to be the first gay winner of the Factor (YAY!!!!!), which makes me wish that his career was just a little bit more successful. But let's be real: his cover of Donkeyboy's 2010 single "Ambitions" is magical and perfect and hopefully he can put some of that into his upcoming album which just might be the winner's album we have all been waiting for!

Aiden Grimshaw

Another pretty boy, Aiden Grimshaw came onto the X Factor in Series 7 with this really spectacular performance of "Gold Digger" and led him to becoming a strong fan favorite throughout his time on the show. With Dannii Minogue's coaching, Aiden had a really good pop sensibility despite having not the best choices for performances. In one of the most shocking eliminations, the public had decided to keep competitor Katie Waissel over him, which meant he had finished in ninth place. Some people just don't get it, do they?

After taking a rather extended break from music since 2012, Aiden released his first album Misty Eye in 2012, which contained the almost amazing singles "Is This Love" and "Curtain Call." Unfortunately for him, this songs barely made a dent on the charts and he decided to go away again. Thankfully, he decided to return to us with a whole new image and sound. Now known mononymously as Aiden (how very Cheryl of you Mr. Grimshaw), this alum has decided to become a dark pop prince, which can easily be heard on his free self-titled EP, whose highlight "Better Man" I've put here. If Aiden keeps this up, we may have just found a one man Hurts or a male version of Charli XCX, and isn't that just good for everyone?

Cher Lloyd

Yeah it's getting good now huh? Do you believe in the X Factor syndrome now? Symptoms include: becoming an international music sensation that slowly works their way up to multiple hits based on a certain personality that can only be displayed through the media of reality TV. The best case study: Cher Lloyd. After auditioning with the classic ballad strategy, Cher realized that she could steal the show if she positioned herself as a rapping pop princess. And once again, her mentor Cheryl [insert last name here] sprinkled some magic dust on Cher and succeeded in helping her reach 4th place in Series 7 (our last season with Chezza!).

Since then, Cher Lloyd has become one of the most successful X Factor contestants in years, thank god. Her debut single, the extremely ridiculous "Swagger Jagger" captured everything we love about the young singer: a catchy rap in each verse, a stupid chorus you can't stop singing, and of course that added swagger only Cher can give. It hit number one in the UK, although people knew she could do better. She proved them right after she dropped her debut album Sticks and Stones, an underrated slice of rebellious tween pop that every 12 year old should be required to listen to. But let's cut to the chase: Cher decided to release the amazing "Want U Back" and grunted her way to a top ten position in the US, something that no alum could really accomplish since Leona. That grunt is still my text tone for those who are curious. Currently, Cher is touring with her BFF Demi Lovato and just dropped her skillfully titled sophomore album Sorry I'm Late, a possible 2014 album of the year contestant. More on this later, but let's just check out the lead single "I Wish" quickly shall we?

One Direction

QUIET DOWN GIRLS!!! Yes, one of the least known pop culture facts is that the biggest boy band in the world right now One Direction got their start on the X Factor, In fact, they were created by the X Factor. When Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, and Niall Horan all auditioned for the 7th series of the Factor, Simon Cowell (though I think guest judge Nicole Scherzinger came up with the idea first) decided to put them in a band together and create the pop sensation that is One Direction. Honestly, they were my favorite this season since their acoustic rendition of Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn." Somewhat surprisingly, they only managed to come in 3rd place. But as we all know, they didn't really need to win.

After recording their debut album in London, Los Angeles and Stockholm (the three best places music is born), the boys dropped the instant classic that was "What Makes You Beautiful" and became worldwide sensations that I haven't seen since the Jonas Brothers came onto the scene. Doing a proper tour of US radio stations and reaching fans by opening for Big Time Rush (who are 10x hotter, Directioners), the boys sealed their fate as teen pop idols and have milked it for all it was worth. 3 albums, 12 singles, 5 tours, 1 concert film, and 1 biopic later the boys are still going strong and I don't see them stopping anytime soon, though I much prefer their early stuff to this "Story of My Life" crap on their new album. Oh well, here's a dance remix of "Best Song Ever," which still has a thoroughly enjoyable video.

Rebecca Ferguson

Referred to by some unfairly as Diet Leona. But guess what, even Diet Leona packs a vocal can of whoop ass, you idiots. Rebecca Ferguson came in as Cheryl's last hope in Series 7 and was soooooo nervous. And she was so adorable. No one really expected the shy, quiet girl to have a Adele sized voice that could make a psychopath feel real emotions for the first time. Her rendition of "Sweet Dreams" is still stuff legends couldn't pull off. She also dated Zayn for a good 4 months (you go girl). So it was extremely disappointing when she came in second place to the already forgettable Matt Cardle. This girl deserved some recognition and I still think she was cheated.

Regardless, Rebecca decided to be properly amazing after the competition by dropping the fantastic debut single "Nothing's Real But Love" and dropping her first album Heaven, that includes writing and production from Eg White, Brian Higgins, and Xenomania. That's how you do it ladies and gentlemen. Her second single "Too Good To Lose" is one of those rare songs that sounds classic and futuristic at the same time. Her 3rd single "Glitter & Gold" brought all the drama that we loved from the X Factor. Basically, her first album was really good. So it's really annoying that she can't seem to break the modern market very well. But Rebecca's nothing if not persistent. Without taking a break, she dropped her second album Freedom in 2013 and has already released 3 singles. Keep it up Ferguson, the mega career-defining song is coming I'm sure.

Frankie Cocozza (but mainly Tulisa)

Series 8 of the X Factor was a pretty big experiment. The only judge from previous seasons to stay was  Louis Walsh, and with his track record, there wasn't much of a chance he could provide a popstar. So it was up to the new judges to help out. Gary Barlow, the other good singer in international boy band Take That (ask your parents about them, kids), replaced Simon and was certainly better to look at, not to mention a pretty good mentor and gave good constructive criticism to everyone. Then we have Destiny's Child alum and cousin of Beyonce, Kelendria "Kelly" Rowland. Probably the best mentor of the series, Kelly brought all the wisdom of Cheryl with the much needed attitude and American insight.  And then we have Tulisa. Tulisa Contostavlos, N-Dubz member and certifiable "bad bitch" joined the judges and somehow became the voice of reason and righteous supporter of most acts. I guess the drugs and sex tape can actually make a person pleasant.

Anyway, onto the music then. First up, we have Frankie Cocozza. Basically a nobody in the annals of X Factor history, I only mention because he was kicked off the show for doing drugs, although he says he left because the competition was too much for him blah blah blah. Now he has some band and making horrible music so that's that. There are two positives to this situation: 1) He taught us a valuable lesson that the asshole druggie never wins. 2) His departure meant a contestant could come back after being eliminated, which will be examined further down the list. So thanks for everything Frankie.

Misha B

Here's what we in the biz call "a diva MOMENT." Misha Bryan, now known as Misha B, came storming onto the scene in Series 8 as the confident vocalist that succeeded in performing such classics as "Respect" and "Rolling In The Deep." Her influences include Grace Jones and Lady Gaga, so she basically had all the ingredients of a popstar going in. But as with any diva, there is always some controversy. Misha was caught in a death trap when Tulisa and Louis accused her of bullying other contestants backstage, something which was later proved as false. Ultimately, that wasn't a good look on anyone and Misha ended up in a solid 4th place. It's too bad because she wasn't your typical X Factor contestant and would have made the competition a lot more credible had she won.

After doing the Factor tour, Misha did the opposite of what a regular X Factor contestant might do. SHE DROPPED A MIXTAPE! Granted it was only just covers of old songs, but still. As with any mixtape, Misha B managed to gain a lot of new fans, which allowed her pop career to move forward pretty quickly. Her debut single "Home Run" was co-written by pop prodigy MNEK and her follow-up "Do You Think Of Me" sealed the deal on this new talent. "Home Run" should be what every pop song strives to have: rapping, not annoying dub step wobbles, confident vocals with just the right amount of attitude, and rave horns. Gotta have the rave horns. A Misha B album is sure to hit us harder than Sharkeisha but until then, Miss B is releasing an EP at some point this year. Hopefully it's a "Home Run" !!!!

Amelia Lily

Amelia Lily probably ties with Diana Vickers for being my favorite contestant on the Factor. At just 16 years old, Amelia killed the competition with ambitious songs like the classic "Since U Been Gone." There are many reasons to like Amelia. First off, her seems to switch from blonde to light pink randomly, which makes you curious. She has the vocal and performance qualities that give her an edge over the rest of the competition, which makes you excited to watch her. And she reminds me of Kelly Clarkson, a normal girl with extraordinary talent that deserves to live her dream. And if she can reach her dreams, than so can I. Yes, Amelia was something special. It was such a shock that she was the FIRST contestant eliminated then. And it was an added slap to the face that her mentor Kelly Rowland made the decision to eliminate her (DAMMIT KELLY!). So now you're wondering why she is considered an X Factor alum after just one performance. You remember that asshole Frankie? Well after he was booted from the show, the public got the chance to pick an axed contestant to bring back to the show. And for once, the public made the correct choice to bring Amelia back. So take that Kelly.

After being one of the most popular contestants ever to have been on the show, Amelia finished in a commendable 3rd place. Then, she made the most surprising and best career decision of her life. SHE SIGNED ON TO XENOMANIA. That's right, the Xenomania responsible for Cher's "Believe", a shit ton of records for the Sugababes, Kylie Minogue and Pet Shop Boys, but most importantly EVERY GIRLS ALOUD SONG! Basically, Amelia signed up to be the world's greatest popstar and everyone should have gotten excited. Her debut single "You Bring Me Joy" was the Cher comeback single we never got, but that's ok because it was so amazing to have Amelia do it and reach number 2 on the charts. Follow up singles "Shut Up (And Give Me Whatever You Got" and the extremely underrated "Party Over" fared far worse despite being absolutely brilliant. Her first album Be A Fighter suffered numerous delays and was ultimately shelved due to poor single sales. Amelia got dropped from Xenomania and it was all really sad. But there is some light on the horizon. Amelia has just signed with Warner Records and released her new single "California", which admittedly is less amazing than her other songs. But there's still a chance we'll get another Party Over, right? God I hope so.

Little Mix

That's right. It's a girl group. And a very good one at that. Little Mix started off very much like One Direction, when Jesy, Leigh-Anne, Jade, and Perrie were put together in a group (RIP Rhythmix) after auditioning as soloists. They then consistently brought out the hits and showed impeccable taste in pop that ultimately made me believe they had what it takes to finally give the X Factor a credible girl group to it's name. But most importantly, Tulisa had lost her other acts within the first four weeks, which meant Little Mix were her only group that could possibly make it. Good thing they were brilliant from start to finish. The best part about these girls is that they seem to really like each other, sticking together even when the judges thought Perrie should pull a Nicole Scherzinger and be the lead singer. And the cherry on top of the musical sundae is that these girls won the 8th series. A GIRL GROUP WON THE X FACTOR FINALLY!!!!!

After winning, the girls wasted no time in bringing on the hits. Their debut single "Wings" was the perfect song to introduce the girl group. A slice of bouncy feel-good pop that showed the girls were heralding a new age of girl group greatness. Their first album DNA (which included songwriting from Girl Group Graduate NICOLA ROBERTS) was ridiculously amazing and their singles "DNA" and "How Ya Doin' (feat. Missy Elliott!!!)" continued their record of nonstop on top pop. And like their male counterparts 1D, the girls managed to break into America and become the most successful girl group in the world since the Spice Girls. As all good popstars do, Little Mix didn't take a break and already completed their second album Salute which includes more songwriting from Nicola Roberts and has made me believe that these girls are on the path to becoming a spunkier version of Girls Aloud. Now working on their third album (so reliable those Little Mix) and hopefully a future duet with One Direction for Perrie and Zayn, the girls are sure to keep their takeover going. Let's listen to the Aloudian "Move" now, shall we?

Ella Henderson

Ella Henderson, a 16 year old with immense talent and the first contestant younger than I am. That audition was breathtaking, in every way. Ella was the first contestant to make me cry (Thanks for feeling me Nicole) during an audition. Clearly, she deserved to win Series 9. Then, in the greatest upset I have ever witnessed on reality television, Ella was pitted in the bottom with eventual winner and talentless hack James Arthur. And she was booted by the public in 6th place. THE FOOLISH PUBLIC. Her departure signaled a turn for the worst for the television show as she clearly had more talent than the top 3 acts combined and other singers like Adele, Lily Allen, and Cher would agree with me.

After taking some time away, Miss Henderson is back to make 2014 her bitch. She started with some piano ballads that are up on youtube now and boy can this girl SAAANG. Growing up has done wonders for Ella as she looks ten times more confident and her new image suits the type of stomping folk pop she is creating. Her debut single "Ghost" has already gone to number one and is definitely within the top 5 of best songs this year. Co-penned by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, the song perfectly captures how a powerful vocalist can still create rousing music without singing a boring ballad. Adele should take some notes from this girl because Ella Henderson's album is due to drop later this year and she may just be the new soul singing popstrel America needs right now.

Rylan Clark

Calling all gays, we got a live one here! Rylan Clark was already used to show biz before he auditioned for the Factor in 2012. First off, he was Rupert Grint's body double in the Harry Potter films, so that gives him a lot of street cred. He also worked as a part time model and was even a part of a small Spanish boy band at some point. Rylan came to the X Factor and gave it the glitz, glam, and epic pop performances that only a flamboyant gay man in zebra pants and glitter can do. Though his vocal talents were questionable to say the least, his performances were consistent high energy fun and it was nice to see his mentor Nicole Scherzinger support him through and through. It paid off in the end as he managed to secure 5th place and be one of the most memorable contestants the X Factor has ever had. 

Since the Factor, Rylan has put music on the back burner, focusing instead on presenting and hosting. He also happened to win a season of Celebrity Big Brother so go Rylan! Maybe one day we'll get the one man Alcazar album we've all wanted from this guy but until then, YOU BETTER WORK RYLAN!

Union J

That GIF above is enough to introduce you to the newest boy band in town Union J. Starting out as Triple J since its members Josh, JJ, and Jaymi all met at some point, the judges decided that they really needed George to round out the group and ruin the name. Nonetheless, the group was very popular as one would expect from young cute boys. Though their repertoire consists of mainly acoustic songs, they brought the fun and naive attitude only 20 year old boys have and their pop sensibility set them apart from the rest of the annoying groups this season. All in all, their 4th place finish was well-deserved and things looked promising.

After the show, the boys got to work and created their first album in record time, with their debut single "Carry You" out in June of 2013. A strong start to their career, Carry You captured the breezy lightheartedness that made What Makes You Beautiful so successful but with a much more mature outlook that was refreshing for such a young boy band. Despite the smart move of partnering up with Pokemon, Union J's self-titled debut album was mostly forgettable and the band went away for a bit. But now, they're back with a brand new single "Tonight (We Live Forever) that sounds like it belongs in an updated version of the Lion King and a new album on the way. And for your information, Josh, the sassy one, is clearly the best member and was almost part of the now dead The Wanted.

James Arthur, Tamera Foster, Sam Bailey, and X Factor's Future

I'll make this quick. James Arthur won the 9th series of the X Factor despite Ella, Rylan, and Union J being much better options. I only mention him because his Twitter account was ridiculous and one of the highlights of 2013. Then, he started to become a homophobic asshole and the fun was over. Seriously, not a good winner this one.

Then Series 10 of the Factor came around and from the start, you could tell it was gonna be rough. There was really no star power to be seen this year, except for possibly Tamera Foster who has signed with Syco and might redeem this season just a little. The winner was Sam Bailey, a mother of two who used those kids to reel in as many votes as possible. Her cover of Demi Lovato's "Skyscraper" hit number one but her album (which has the worst artwork I have ever seen) was mostly pop drivel. Series 10 was best left forgotten.

And now it's July of 2014 and a new series of the Factor is on the horizon. Firstly, we'll see the return of Simon Cowell and Cheryl Tweedy Cole Fernandez-Versini which means we can enter the Golden Age of the X Factor once again. And Mel "Scary Spice" B is gonna be a new judge, hopefully bringing some wisdom and possibly creating another amazing girl group. So get ready to tune in and see how The X Factor UK can really change the face of pop music and possibly bring some talent to the States as well.

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