AS a 27-year-old single male, my sporadic viewing of X-Factor is thankfully of my own choosing and is probably fairly typical; watch the auditions to see a parade of hopeless jesters having their dreams shattered by Simon Cowell, then stop before the serious crying begins in the live shows.
An equally unenthused Smudge Jones was in tow – imagine Adam Ant clothed exclusively by Topman – for perhaps the least rock and roll Saturday night of our lives: we had a glass of Ribena each before heading to the Manchester Apollo for Alexandra Burke’s All Night Long Tour.
Our fears that we would stand out like a sore thumb in the crowd were verified when we arrived, with pretty much every other demographic except ours out in full force.
We took to our seats. Smudge took this moment to tell me he feared being out of his comfort zone amid the razzmatazz of a pop concert and might have an embarrassment panic attack. I wasn’t sure if he was joking.
Previous X Factor winners have suffered mixed fortunes over the years, for every Leona Lewis (currently fresh from ‘breaking’ America, apparently), there’s a handful of Steve Brooksteins (I just had to Google ‘X Factor winner man’ to find his name).
Aside from the underrated Beverley Knight, Britain has been lacking a soul diva for years and its clear this is where Burke’s record company have identified the role they want for her. Perhaps that’s cynical. It may well have been Alexandra’s own choice but in the back of my mind I can’t help picture Cowell, sat on his throne made from pulped money, stroking the head of Louis Walsh curled up on his lap like Blofeld’s cat. “Yes, the girls very ‘urban’ and ‘current’, perfect for the MTV Base market”, he cries, before sending a pantomime cackle around the velvet-clad walls of his homoerotic volcano lair.
The first couple of songs were exactly that. Bassy, racy and dancy soul songs with Alexandra joined on stage with a fleet of muscle-bound man-cubines dressed in alarming costumes (two camp centurions, two very merry-men from Sherwood Forest) gyrating around amid a hypnotic lightshow. It was definitely quite an entrance and one I may choose to adopt in the future.
We weren’t clapping and mum-dancing around like everyone else, but the performance was entertaining enough. She’s got a great voice and amongst the big production of a nationwide tour, she looked like a pop star, rather than a talent show winner clinging to stardom. I’m under no illusions that Smudge and I don’t really have the capacity to provide any knowledgeable critique of RnB/Pop. We’re far too gritty for that. Ahem.
Then came the Destiny’s Child megamix; this was not good. “She couldn’t want to be Beyonce any more if she tried,” was Smudge’s view and I had to agree. I do recall Alexandra hysterically crying when performing with Beyonce on X Factor. I knew how she felt.
It’s no crime wanting to emulate someone like Beyonce, but I would have thought that the main challenge facing Alexandra and her management is to cast off the shackles of being ‘the talent show winner’ and established as a pop star in her own right. It seemed counterproductive to perform no fewer than four Destiny’s Child songs.
There were a couple of dutiful ballads, one with acoustic accompaniment and beautifully sung. The other, a clumsy, wailing cover of Hallelujah sent shivers down my spine but not in a good way.
This is a song which should never have been covered by the winner of a reality television programme. This is not Alexandra’s fault, however, so we chose this moment to go out to get a beer.
Halfway through her set, we were left shell-shocked as a dizzying cloud of oestrogen and screaming enveloped the whole audience as Alexandra’s dancers performed a clothes shedding ‘street dance’ routine. This went down an absolute storm with the crowd but left me and Smudge momentarily sinking into our seats.
The tour comes off the back of the delayed release of her album, with Cowell confirming the hold-up was ‘to allow Burke to polish her skills and find the right songs for the album’ (thanks Google, again). She certainly seems to be a good performer, a great singer and suitably marketable to the pseudo-urban pop market, so good on her I suppose.
I may even contact her a couple of years down the line, for a collaboration when I am Smudge’s manager during his career as an unlikely Grime MC. I’m currently giving him some time to polish his skills and find a suitably marketable angle for a skinny-jeaned indie rapper from Failsworth on the grime scene.