Following the X Factor's significantly lower viewership in 2012, questions were raised about the reality series' ability to keep up the pace and continue to dominate television ratings and the UK charts as it has since 2004. However, yet another Christmas number 1 in James Arthur's ''Impossible'' and another sell out live tour would suggest that the Simon Cowell machine is still a booming business, and so The 02 was full to the brim last night with a cast of screaming teenagers and younger children accompanied by their parents, all of whom making a serious amount of noise even before the show began.
And while this is a far cry my typical type of gig, I must admit that The X Factor know how to put on a hell of a show. The stage set-up was magnificant and acts were introduced in the same format as throughtout the show, providing an atomsphere to rival or even better the live Saturday night sing-off. First to the stage was Rylan Clark, a controversial figure this year and notorious pain in the backside of Gary Barlow for his weak vocal skills, going as far as to label the singer ''talentless'' and a ''joke act''. Putting that aside, Rylan is undoubtedly a gifted showman and got the crowd going early on with his own rendition of ''Gangnam Style'' and later spicing it up with nineties classic ''Wannabe''.
Next up were the boybands in Union J and District3 respectively, two very different acts in terms of talent as the four piece of Union J far outshined their counterparts with a memorable version of Taylor Swift's ''Love Story'' before calling up a delighted young audience member for ''Call Me Maybe'', a nice touch that was received well by the Irish crowd. The less said about District3 the better as the trio belted out tuneless versions of ''Beggin'' and ''Tears In Heaven'' that sounded much the same, and just as bad on the original show.
Another unattractive aspect of the show was the eternally dislikable Christopher Maloney, a frequent victim of criticism on the show yet a contender for the crown all the way simply due to his Liverpool heritage, and his family's excessive voting strategy, rumoured to be in excess of £25,000 individually for his grandmother and close friends. The scousers mainipulative and fake personality shone through as he spoke to the crowd, gushing praise toward everyone present, before delivering a string of tunes that would truthfully sound more at home on a cruise ship than on stage, and it won't be long before the Liverpool native finds himself on the ferry performing to passengers rather than sold out audiences.
The cripplingly shy Jahmene Douglas was a welcome improvement, kicking off with ''Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' and finishing with a cover of Bealtes' classic ''Let It Be''. While I'm usually disgusted by X Factor attempts at these legendary songs (''Hallejulah'' in 2010 being by far the worst offender), even I have to admit Douglas' take was respectful to the original and by no means a disaster.
In a year that saw the weakest set of finalists to date, I honestly believe that the show struck gold in two artists that have very real potential for legimate solo careers in the form of their winner (moore on him later) and the exceptional Ella Henderson. Henderson is a level beyond the X Factor in my opinion, and has demonstated it several times with her outstanding vocal and musical ability. Her decision to audition with an original song was impressive and she performed the emotionally charged ''Missed'' in Dublin which silenced the crowd for the only time of the night. Another excellent feature of her set was a unique cover of Cher's ''Believe'', which Henderson performed on piano in accomplished style, yet again convincing me that her path as an artist lies far beyond this tour.
The final act of the night was James Arthur, the winner of the series and in my eyes the best X Factor contestant of all time. Arthur convinced me of this following his incredible survival performance in week 7 with a passionate, stunning rendition of Alicia Keys' ''Fallin'' and ever since he proved himself a worthy winner with his original approach. His extended song set included ''Sexy And I Know It'', ''Hometown Glory'' and ''Let's Get It On'', all memorable performances from the show, before finishing with first single and number 1 hit ''Impossible''. If Arthur sticks to his instincts and remains true to his own vision then he could very easily find himself one of the shows most successful and acclaimed products, and he demonstrated that very clearly with his closing performance.
The entire ensemble ended the night with a version of U2's ''Beautiful Day'' and no doubt the Irish audience will go home feeling they got their moneys worth, but in truth the night belonged to Ella Henderson and James Arthur. If The X Factors relevance has been called into question recently due to slipping ratings, we need only to look toward these well executed, sell-out performances to confirm the fact that the reality series is very much still a successful business, but even more importanty if Cowell and co. can handle these two gifted young artists in the proper manner, they may just have found their most credible recording artists yet, and if The X Factor continues to provide a stage for young talent such as this to be recognised, then I fully support the cause.