"How can they drag the final of 2 people out for 2 hours", asked Lord Sugar on Twitter, shortly after The X Factor final results live broadcast began, "Do they take [the] public for idiots?" There are those who might think that this is a bit rich coming from the man who took the Amstrad Emailer to the market. Others might point out that Lord Sugar has his own final tonight, and was possibly feeling a little piqued at the scale of the Wembley final, which looked like a Nuremberg rally crossed with a Las Vegas televangelist's fundraiser. But, idiots or not, two long hours it was – a painfully extended labour which eventually gave birth, with a squeak of anticlimax, to the series' first girl-band winners, Little Mix.
The answer to Lord Sugar's question, incidentally, turned out to be astonishing amounts of padding. Both finalists came back to reprise their favourite performance of the series so that the judges could solemnly report that they'd "really pulled it out of the bag" or "nailed it". Then they took it in turns to torture a Christmas classic, with Marcus setting back George Michael's recovery from pneumonia with an underpowered version of "Last Christmas" and Little Mix proving by destruction testing that "Silent Night" really doesn't respond to yodelling R&B melisma. The X Factor stylist, whose design choices for Little Mix could be explained only by some appalling backstage cat-fight, mutely commented by giving one of the singers a pair of feather earrings printed with the letters "OK".
Out in the audience Caroline Flack and Olly Murs were showing the finalists what they might be doing in two years' time – back-up presentation work trying to squeeze interesting remarks out of the contestants' relatives. It was a pretty thankless task. "How long has he been singing for?" Murs asked one of Marcus's friends. "Quite a while," she replied. "Why should Marcus win The X Factor?" Flack asked another. "Because he deserves to win The X Factor," she replied. Down on the judge's bench the time for analysis had long passed. You would have thought both performers were about to be taken off for a lethal injection, so gushing were the expressions of love and admiration.
Finally, both contestants got a crack at the X Factor single. "I felt every lyric," Marcus said tearfully after his performance. We did too, Marcus, and every line left a bruise, but by now, as Dermot O'Leary reassured us, we were "in the home straight". "Every vote is crucial," he said beseechingly, before Coldplay came on to stretch things out for another eight minutes. All night long the judges had been hammering away at viewers to vote in a way that would have led a cynical man to wonder whether there might be more at stake here than the future careers of their beloved protégés. Unfortunately the one number they didn't give you was one you could call to make the damn thing stop.
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