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They've found gold... but how long will it glitter for those X Factor finalists?

By Jan Moir

One winner: 'Painter and decorator' Matt Cardle triumphed in X Factor 2010

When you stop to think about it, it really is a journey. Yes, really. I mean it. The X Factor is an expedition into the showbiz unknown for all of us.

The journey begins across the entire country with hundreds of thousands of auditioning contenders, marching battalions of wannabes, squadrons of low-flying loony tunes, hopeless hopefuls, twits, show-offs, the clearly certifiable and, yes, the occasional person who can actually sing.

From that unprepossessing fungus of human rubble, the judges must sift and muse as they pan, month after month, for grains of gold.

And this weekend, there were three nuggets left. Matt Cardle, Rebecca Ferguson and One Direction.

With his usual chirpy prescience and talent for stating the obvious, host Dermot O’Leary noted that there could ‘only be one winner’ in the grand finale. And last night it was Matt Cardle who ultimately triumphed.

Cardle, from Colchester, has been the bookies’ favourite almost since day one; his big soulful voice and rufty tufty good looks striking a chord with the show’s key voters.

He might be slightly posher than he pretends to be, but in this day and age posh is not necessarily rich – even if it was annoying that right to the end, Cardle’s mentor Dannii Minogue was still introducing him as a ‘painter and decorator’.

'Meep meep': Finalist Rebecca Ferguson sung her heart out and shyly responded to predictable praise

Come on. If Matt knows one end of a screw fit pole sander from another, then my name’s Madonna.

And speaking of the inappropriate and the scantily clad, what happened on Saturday night’s show?

Special guests Christina Aguilera and Rihanna, indisputably two of the biggest female pop stars on the planet, wasted no time in stripping down to their undies during their performances.

Aguilera led her troupe of half-naked burlesque dancers through a Bob Fosse pastiche to promote her latest film, while Rihanna skipped about in a strapless bra and a pair of knickers for absolutely no good reason at all.

'The biggest weekend of their lives'... but One Direction came third in the final

Please. This is a popular entertainment show watched by millions of children. It is not just that the crotch flashing and pseudo sexual grinding provided by both global stars was out of place before the watershed – it’s more that the message it sends out to a young and impressionable audience is so debasing and depressing.

Which is that you can be one of the biggest female stars in the world, but you’ve still got to skip about in your pants and wiggle your cleavage and bottom at the cameras like some sex-crazed nymph at every opportunity.

The boys don’t have to trade on their sexuality, yet even if they sell millions of records every year, the girls still do. How dismal.

Perhaps it even gave the female X Factor contestants themselves pause for thought, as they watched Rihanna and Christina bend over to touch their toes or shake their booty one more time. This could be their future, too – and it is not a very pretty one.

Bad comparison: Superstar Rihanna towered over winner Matt and eventually stripped down to her pants for a solo performance

Still, no surprises that this X Factor has managed to remain mired in controversy, right up until its dying gasp.

What a season it has been, from Wagner to Gamu, autotune to Katie Waissel, Tesco Mary’s tears to Cher the rapper’s snarls.

Not to mention the growing public perception that the entire X Factor is just one big oily fix – an awareness that is going to be hard to shake off in the coming years.

However, even cynics must admit that it was still great fun and record audiences tuned in to watch the proceedings.

No restraint: Christina Aguilera bellowed out lyrics in her duet with Rebecca

And from a show that exists on an operatic level of intensity throughout the 12 weeks of live performances, both nights of the weekend finals still managed to rise to new heights of lunacy and greatness.

There was the usual high quotient of utter nonsense spoken by everyone involved. Apparently, Cher ‘brought a new dimension’ to the X Factor, said Cheryl the Peril.

This is ‘the biggest weekend of their lives’, said Dermot, while predictable old Louis told Rebecca that she still had the ‘likeability factor’ and was an ‘absolute beauty’.

‘Meep meep,’ said Rebecca in reply, shyly mumbling into the microphone like a bashful kitten – a style she has made all her own. Then her own mentor Cheryl was oh-so-overcome with emotion when trying to praise her shy star.

Unfazed: Cher Lloyd maintained her cool during her performance with Will.I.Am

‘Oh Rebecca, honestly, I find it hard to find the words,’ cried Cheryl. Well look down on the desk in front of you, darling. That’s where your script is.

Even the normally restrained Simon Cowell was caught up in the moment, thrilled that Robbie Williams was duetting on Saturday night with his act, boy band One Direction.
Ah yes, those celebrity duets. Oh my ears.

Some of them were not so much an entertainment car crash as a pile-up on the highway to hell.

Rihanna towered over Matt Cardle, who looked as if he was gnawing his fingernails in terror at one point, and out-screamed him at every opportunity.

Overwhelmed: Cheryl Cole was typically emotional and even Simon Cowell was lost for words after seeing One Direction perform with Robbie Williams

Cher was completely unfazed by Will.i.am, but perhaps that is because, like most of the country, she didn’t have a clue who he was.

In the end, Robbie Williams couldn’t resist showboating in front of One Direction, but Christina Aguilera was worst of all.

During her duet with Rebecca, Aguilera had the flinty detachment of someone who had just been dragged by the hair out of a nightclub and forced into an irritating contractual obligation.

Showboat: Williams made sure everyone knew he was the star during the duet

It might have been tactful of her, not to say humane, to tone down her overblown vocal histrionics when paired with an amateur in a talent contest, but that’s not Aguilera’s style. In fact, she has no style.

As she bellowed like a hormonal she-frog with hiccups, Rebecca cowered under the onslaught as if she was Cinderella being given a sound thrashing by an Ugly Sister. Which in a way, she was.

It was hardly an edifying lesson in showbiz ethics, even if it was an honest one – which is that under the spotlight, in your underwear or otherwise, it is every girl for herself.

Winners and losers: But will anyone care for long enough to make X Factor's contestants genuine stars

Yet the best bit of both the Saturday and Sunday night finals was when all the contestants got together once more to sing.

My all-time favourite Wagner was there, complete with a fresh eyebrow dye, trying out the Flying Black Seagull look pioneered so bravely by Cher.

And among the wannabes and never weres, many of us searched desperately for a glimpse of Nicolo and Diva Fever and all the others who disappeared way back in the mists at the beginning of this series. You know. Thingummy and Wotsisname. The one with the nose.

We forget them all so quickly, don’t we? And perhaps that is the hardest X Factor lesson of all to learn.


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