On Monday the 5th of December, around ten thousand people descended on Senate Square in Helsinki, the site of the Helsinki cathedral and the ongoing December Christmas market, to welcome home one of their very own, Saara Alto, the Finnish top three finalist in this years English version of the X Factor.
Now, I couldn’t normally care less about the X Factor, any of its contestants, any of its adjoining content or any of the other pointless TV talent shows that have bombarded television screens in the U.K. For years, that on the outside appear to be centred around music, but never are and never really have been. But, considering all that, if I’m only around the corner from the setting of this triumphant homecoming, why would I not attend?
So there we stood, in freezing temperatures to bare witness to the return of a girl I’ve never heard of, promoting a show I don’t watch. Still, with an open mind and a view to enjoy the event, we continued to wait. Bless the hype man whoever he was, he made the crowd do about 38 Mexican waves and a groan in Finnish sounds exactly the same as one in England, and there were plenty of them flying around. Finally, like a beacon of joy, Dermot O’ Leary made his way down the cathedral steps and addressed the waiting crowd. Then he introduced Saara. She spoke entirely in Finnish to the crowd, and rightfully so, before diving into her first song, the stereotypical and predictable ‘Let it go’ from Disneys Frozen… well she is Scandinavian so it’s a no-brainer isn’t it? Now, I hated the sentiment and I also can’t stand the idea of Frozen (never seen it, happily) but one thing can be said, Saara Alto has a wonderful voice. She nailed the performance and with the Helsinki cathedral as a backdrop, made even more magnificent by a slurry of pyrotechnics, it was actually pretty awesome.
She followed this with her rendition of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ which came as a much more stripped and down tempo version. It could be said that she didn’t contend with Sia’s power and delivery because she can’t, but the version was beautiful and therefore, why should she? It’s a great cover and she stuck to what she does best, rather than matching the unique style of a global megastar and potentially not delivering.
After some more patter with the crowd she announced her next song as ‘No Fear’ and the crowd reaction was the loudest so far. I’d never heard of it and with both ears on the performance, I had both eyes on my phone as I tried to research this unknown track. Just so turns out that it was a song she’d released earlier in the year and used in her bid to represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest, although she placed second. Either way, it was a great song and held a blend of European pop and a hint of Bollywood too. Always learning.
Then came the main event, the final blow, her last campaign to show the crowd how much she deserved to win the X Factor, and it came in the form of Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’. I genuinely feel like I’m the only one offended by these Scandinavian stereotypes and so I just got on with it. With a crystal clear voice and larger than life presence, upon the steps of the cathedral she sang more powerfully than I’ve ever seen live and actually at one point hit me so hard with her vocals I was shocked.
Despite all this, I couldn’t care less about The X Factor, but what I do care about is music, talent, artistry and in a lot of ways entertainment. Saara Alto has all of these and deserves success. So, good luck to her and I’ll admit it, right here, we will be watching the finals next week, hoping that real talent wins… for a change.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)