We just have to be in awe of it

Ella Henderson and a 5 minute story arc

Ella Henderson’s X Factor Bootcamp performance

I like to think that I have decent music taste and a passion that is undimmed by the passing years.

And part of that is a pleasure watching the early stages of the X Factor. While I would never pay to listen to Olly Murs, his audition clip lives long in the memory.  And I could say the same for Rebecca Ferguson, Gamu, Lucie Jones, Stacey Solomon, Cher Lloyd, Jamie Archer… and a few from Britain’s Got talent such as Olivia Archbold and Ryan O’Shaughnessy.  And Fouad Djaoublia will always bring a smile.

Ella Henderson: Damn she’s good

Music on TV was struggling enough without the revelations about Jimmy Savile, a person so closely associated with Top of the Pops. The longest running current music show on the BBC went out last Friday at 11.50 and music barely features in prime time during the week.  So for many people it’s been left to X Factor to provide the weekly musical highlights on television.

The clip above with Ella Henderson has it all.  It’s not her first audition, that’s true (I’d have used that… lovely song, but Mel B clomps all over it in horrible style), but her bootcamp performance.  Her story illustrates the power of television in turning music into a story.

Many years ago. Nick Hornby wrote about how odd pop concerts are.  Historically music has accompanied an audience. They haven’t sat or stood staring at a performer on stage.  They’ve danced along with it, or listened as part of a theatrical performance, or a religious ceremony.  He compared unfavourably the concert experience of staring at a distant performer to a club, where the ‘audience’ enjoys the physical intimacy of dancing with someone they love, or someone they’ve never met (but perhaps love anyway).  And that’s the problem of music on TV in a nutshell.  It doesn’t work as a concert experience… there’s no atmosphere, and little sense of an audience along side you.  It can give you better views of the performance, but it doesn’t really work.

So, to Ella Henderson.  First, we have a wonderful young singer taking a song we all hated and making it good. She look different from the previous week and sounds different too.  Then we get to see the responses from the judges and the audience.  Nicole’s reaction to her is fascinating, is it not.  It can get a little clichéd, judges getting emotional, but it’s done very well here, building up… a judge utterly entranced by a contestant. She can’t take her eyes off her…  And neither are we – we are all nodding along like the audience member at 4’08”.  Hornby’s idea of live music being, at its best, a communal experience in which the audience looks at each other happens when we watch Nicole watching Ella… she’s channelling how we feel.

There’s a moment (at 4’20”) where Ella walks through the crowd, like a star.

The voice-coach Patsy Rodenburg has tried to understand why it is that some performers have a ‘presence’ and others don’t, and believes that it comes down to what she calls ‘the Second Circle’ of energy.  So the First Circle is the way we channel energy from others and to ourselves – it’s about being absorbed in what we are doing.  The Third Circle is the opposite – it’s the way we project to the world as a whole: speaking loudly or doing something expansive may provide this.  Real presence comes from the Second Circle. It’s about being with the other person, the audience, and moving gently between taking in and giving out… it’s very intimate. It requires an openness.  It’s another word for the factor they call X.

A performer operating in the first circle would be Rebecca Ferguson in her audition: and Nicole and Simon explains it very well in their comments after her performance.  (A Third Circle performer would be Jedward… no clip available).  Ella Henderson manages the Second Circle.. it’s about confidence, and connection.  Clothes that don’t distract.  A song that surprises us. A voice of quality and tone that feels its way through the song and brings the audience with it, and words that appeal to our emotional side. A pleasing face.. that helps too.  And the whole set-up – the real jeopardy for the contestants of possible elimination, or rejection.  Having a young and inexperienced singer too – the artists on Later are really getting on in years at the moment – brings out our protective instincts.

Nick Hornby was right.  Just watching a performer from a distance doesn’t really work.  Television can make it worse, but it can also make it better – bringing it right into our own space, at a time on a Saturday night when we are vulnerable  – and turning a performance into a story.

And then there’s this:

 

 

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