Remembering the cursed X Factor group performances that felt like a fever dream

They haunted the opening of every live show


An oft forgotten relic of The X Factor heyday were the group numbers. And no, I’m not talking about One Direction getting up as vampires bleeding from the eyes and singing Natalie Imbruglia. I’m not talking Little Mix performing ET by Katy Perry with their faces shoddily drawn as haunted dolls. I’m talking those strange, shouty group numbers where Simon Cowell would force about 40 people to all sing along to a popular song of the moment despite the fact the style suited about five of them at most. It was a strange little tradition of a few seasons of The X Factor that most of us blocked from memory if you had any sense. I, unfortunately, do not have any sense. And I think about these evil X Factor group performances every waking moment of my silly little life.

When The X Factor finally lay down in its coffin in the reality telly graveyard this year, it wasn’t news that felt like a shock to anyone’s system. The majority of us already thought it had been cancelled years earlier, and those that didn’t must have been residing in a particularly naive bubble. In the landscape of 2020s television, exploitative and calculated relics of telly like The X Factor just had no place any longer. Cowell’s predictable judging delivery, music swelling exactly where you know it’s going to (“… It’s four yeses!” “I just wanna be part of your symphonyyyy!”) and sob stories and narratives that feel like they’ve been crafted by the Coronation Street writers room. But it’s a show I will always hold close to my heart, and it’s ridiculous messy nonsense like the group numbers that keep me trawling YouTube for nostalgic laughs to this day.

Chaos reigned with these performances

Let’s say hello to this trip down memory lane aptly with the 2011 group performance of Hello by Martin Solveig (erm? a 2011 relic). Firstly, important to note that all of the group performances had prerecorded vocals and not a single finalist sung live in them. X Factor has stated this was due to complications with that many microphones for a performance and to avoid the technical difficulties on live TV. Fair play.

You can probably name about half of the icons on display here. The most obvious, of course, being Little Mix. At this point they were still going by their original name of Rhythmix and they look like they’ve been styled by a school drama department’s costume cupboard. Frankie Cocozza and Janet Devlin, billed as the 2011 cool finalists because he had drug scandals and she was a timid shrew who didn’t wear shoes, croak out some cursive vocals that would make today’s TikTokkers livid. There are various boybands nobody today knows the name of, Marcus Collins giving it Butlins and Jonny Robinson as the X factor 2011’s essential joke act for them to exploit on the national stage. The crowning jewel of it is Misha B – who is radiating star quality and deserved to be the biggest pop star in the UK but of course was done absolutely dirty. What else you got?

Okay this one is elite

2010 X Factor was god tier. You know how we all look back on the Gemma Collins / Tiffany Pollard season of Celebrity Big Brother as the perfect lineup? Literally every single artist in this final 12 is iconic. All memorable. But, indeed, all chaos. For this harrowing rendition of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé’s Telephone, the clashing styles makes listening to it and watching it feel like you’re watching somebody bang on the keyboard sound effects in GCSE music. Every line is a different musical journey, and one that quickly and permanently descends into horror.

The jarring nature of listening to Aiden Grimshaw’s sensual vocals transition into Wagner’s squawks is one that gives me whiplash every time. Katie Waissel isn’t even attempting to make it look live, and then John Adeleye does his bit and literally isn’t even holding his mic to his mouth as his vocals play. Chaos. Mary “Tesco” Byrne is bringing the Gaga vibes in her big red cardigan and One Direction are shuffling about awkwardly trying to look like pop stars and not just five lads you might have sat next to in school assembly. Matt Cardle is wearing about eight layers like he’s going on an arctic expedition and not about to sing a pop song. Cher Lloyd looks like the Artful Dodger. Everyone looks like somebody has pressed randomise Sim. Chaotic X Factor group performances feed my soul.

This monstrosity

Excuse me, but what is television presenting extraordinaire and national treasure Rylan Clark doing pretending to be a pop star? Very, very, very bizarre to look back on. Whoever was involved in putting this one together should be hanging their heads in shame. Not only was The X Factor 2012’s lineup a pretty bleak state of affairs, but the producers also decided to force the men to use electric scooters to have a white knuckle ride through the Manchester Arena whilst lip syncing to Payphone. Poor Union J look like they’re about to have a heart attack.

We’re then treated to a flimsy and strained vocal from national nemesis Lucy Spraggan, who croaks her way through Titanium for some reason when it’s completely out of her range. By the time we get to Ella Henderson we finally get some sweet relief of star power and great vocals. But then you sit and think… Hang on a minute. How did Ella Henderson not win? Who could possibly have come higher? The doors slide open. Out shamble James Arthur, Jahmene Douglas and Christopher pigging Maloney. The true X Factor group performances horror movie begins right here.

It was a different time!

I look back on these performances as some bizarre form of theatre. Every act wants to be a success story so bad that when the producers ask them to lip sync along to a chart bop they do it, even if they look painfully uncomfortable about it all. It’s the kind of thing that will probably never happen in reality telly ever again – and that’s for the best. But it’s strange to reflect on how this TV endures with our memories, and as much as we feast on Love Island I struggle to believe we’ll be reflecting on anything that happened in the villa the way we do with chaotic X Factor group performances. A soon to be cultural fossil.

Recommended stories by this writer:

• RIP X Factor, these 13 iconic live shows performances will live on forever

• The 64 most genuinely insane things that actually happened on The X Factor

 From Misha B to Diana Vickers: Where are X Factor’s most iconic finalists now?