The more agreeable of Simon Cowell’s twin headed ITV behemoth is guaranteed to deliver on entertainment value. This year’s competition continued the trend of including both more professional performers and more non British talent moving further from the concept of homespun acts cooked up in someone’s living room. The appeal of the show lies partly in its instant rewards with the live shows running across just a week rather than the drawn out X Factor routine. Even the prize- £250,000 and a slot on the Royal Variety Performance is done and dusted well before the following series whereas X Factor victors have to wait a year by which time interest has palled. What appeals to the voting audience is someone’s story which explains why 89 year old Chelsea pensioner Colin Thackery triumphed with 25% of the final’s votes over slicker, riskier and more entertaining acts in this year’s finale.
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This year’s final was dominated by very visual performances - three magic acts plus Jonathan Goodwin who buried himself in gravel while chained up and suspended in mid- air. Do not try this at home we were warned no doubt infuriating those viewers who had their gravel sacks and hoists at the ready on the other side of the room! I couldn’t watch this because he might have died and the judges winced though it while the audience gasped as medics hovered nearby. I wonder if he had died or been seriously injured whether he would have won?
Of the surprisingly high number of magic acts that made the final this year, the four piece 3MG were the least experienced which showed at times. Ben Hart, resembling the next Doctor Who, was lyrically mystical managing to do just one albeit impressive shrinking card trick that perhaps wasn’t striking enough for an audience that wanted gravel tanks and choirs but he still finished third.
Arguably the illusionists’ vote was split by having both him and the mysterious X who had hitherto been silent and masked, his neither male nor female voice floating though the ether. It was if a robot had entered the contest which will probably happen one day. X’s act revolved around the word Hope which spookily seemed to be everywhere yet it was the revelation as to who he was- 2018 contestant Marc Spellmann - that probably corralled enough votes for a second place. I did wonder though what would he then have done had he won? His act basically ended here and he would have taken to the Royal Variety stage as just Marc Spellmann presumably?. Unless he’s been planting notes saying Hope around Buckingham Palace… I felt sorry for Ben who didn’t have a dramatic unmasking or wartime nostalgia to help, just a whimsical story. Annoying Twitter twerps have been tweeting `explanations` at how the magic acts did their tricks which is rather missing the point. Of course they’re illusions but there seem to be people gleefully `revealing` how they were done as if they somehow expect the performers to have genuine special powers.
Elsewhere the act I thought might clinch it was Flakefleet primary school (they finished sixth) whose performance of `Rule the World` was a delightfully charming pot -pourri of homemade planets, stars and even a jellyfish like some grand school play. It is the essence of what the show was created for- variety in the old fashioned way. As for the winner I suppose nobody else really stood a chance against the heady nostalgia and red coats and it puts you in two minds. On the one hand you can’t help but feel massive respect for someone of that age even entering the show and it is probably something the Royals will prefer to the illusionists. Yet for me it was more like karaoke. Still I was grateful the tambourine hitting bloke had not made it this far.
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Along with Ben Hart and Flakefleet Primary the most impressive act for me came during the voting interval when Diversity returned to the scene of their triumph a decade ago to deliver another startlingly co-ordinated routine. Watching them I realised how many dance acts have been inspired by their style. Susan Boyle also performed (not with Diversity though that would have been weird) a reminder that you don’t necessarily need to win to endure as a result of the show.
BGT remains a watchable and sometimes eccentric event in the calendar and this year’s 8.2 million overnight viewing figures show it is still a must see fixture for many. As Simon Cowell annually tinkers with the X Factor format he should remember why BGT works far better.