X Factor NZ
put us out of our misery, crowning the phenomenally talented but appallingly coached beatboxing singer Beau Monga its second and likely final winner. In a show whose whittling away process is driven by the popular vote, he was the only contestant to have never faced elimination, so in some ways the result was fitting.
In others it was the final steaming insult of a season which delivered them by the wheelbarrow, fresh to your lounge on multiple nights a week for months on end. Monga was the most naturally gifted performer, the son of members of funk band Ardijah, able to dance, sing, rap, compose and create drums and instrumentation with his voice alone. I picked him as the winner from the outset, as did most who'd watched his performances at auditions.
The 12 weeks of live shows should have provided a steady blossoming and refining of the man's talent. Instead we witnessed a descent into chaotic incoherence, with Monga forced to do songs with which he had no relationship, in styles which rendered him a sad caricature. This culminated in disastrous performance of Finnish dance-rap single Freestyler, during which he fell over while dressed as a bumblebee.
Opposing him in the final were Brendon Thomas and the Vibes, a '60s covers band, and Nyssa Collins, a regal Samoan singer from Mangere who came in with a magical voice and left with the confidence to harness and project it. The Vibes were rightly eliminated early in the final, leaving Collins and Monga to battle it out.
She had steadily improved, week upon week, and delivered a mighty final performance, yet was beaten in the final by Monga, whose performance of Hit the Road Jack was gussied up from its raw audition and mostly terrible.
There was some consolation in the show's dying minutes, during which Collins and Monga each performed their debut singles. Collins sang a song penned by Stan Walker, her once-charming mentor, with shatteringly inane lyrics that culminated in this chorus: "throw my hands in the air/ I'm going to party like I'm 18 yeah".
Monga played King and Queen, an original R&B song whose performance on the retreats was the shows musical highlight. Last night's version suffered for having its intimacy punctured by the big stage and occasion, but nonetheless showed the breadth of his skill set, a reminder of all the things he can do as a performer.
It doesn't change the fact that a show meant to find and nurture those with the 'x factor' found that someone and proceeded to debase them for weeks on end, and nearly destroy them in the process.
The result was one thing - a final moment of illogic in a season strewn with them, and to be fair it was beyond the producers' control to a large extent. The far bigger crime was the couple of dozen episodes and near-on 50 hours of television which preceded it. Because ever since Natalia Kills' and Willy Moon's famously unhinged outburst and subsequent ejection, the show has plummeted into an abyss.
When casting contestants and mentors for a show like this you need heroes and villains. With the departure of those pompous egomaniacs so went any spark for the remainder of the show. In their place came Natalie Bassingthwaite and Shelton Woolright. Each was unspeakably bland. Worse, they were essentially washed out duplicates of the remaining judges, Mel Blatt and Walker. After every performance - good, bad or awful - we watched, with increasingly heavy hearts, as the contestants would be praised as if the judges had just seen Prince in 1983.
The show never aspired to be art, so it would be unfair to demand moments of grace or insight. But it did aspire to be popular entertainment, and was neither popular - ratings for the final were down over 200,000 on their equivalent episodes from 2013 - nor entertaining.
This should not have been so. It is a very simple show, composed of three main elements: an introduction shedding light on the contestant; the contestant's song; and the judge's comments on that performance. The contestants were a nice picture of modern New Zealand - Maori, Samoan and South African amongst them. The songs were mostly fine - the staging, costuming and arrangements were often inspired - but the introductions gave us no reason to care for the subject, and the judge's comments were almost entirely vacuous. They seemed to only care about the feelings of the contestant, and not at all about the poor audience at home.
Calling out failings is the very core of a judge's role, as a signal to both the contestants and the audience. We're not professionals - we need to be told what to look for, and ultimately how to vote. We lost great performers early on because superlatives were distributed equally, like a primary school soccer game where no one kept score.
That tolerance for mediocrity seemed to seep into the whole show by its close. The final was a mess - for two aching hours we watched overlong highlights packages, a disjointed group performance, and plumbed new depths with a hammy duet between Walker and Bassingthwaite, watched approvingly (how?) by Woolright's quaalude stare. It closed out with Monga performing his winning song twice in a matter of minutes.
It was a fitting but grim way to close a show which had been so electrifying in its early weeks, but fell apart so desperately by its close. Such a shambles. Such a shame.
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