X Factor 2016: Matt’s Journey – From Jilted Lover to Jilted Favourite

Matt’s journey feels like a mirror image of Saara’s in that he started out with nothing but praise and producer favour, yet approaches the final having endured some rough recent criticism, and a singoff save. It’s been a series of two halves for the Bromley lad. Picking himself up from a failed relationship, the first half saw him portrayed as a newly-available heart-throb with a glittering future.

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But he goes into the final weekend wounded by Simon’s description of him as “bland” and “like a sandwich without butter”, that helped him drop into the bottom two for the first time last Sunday. Was this merely intended to make the final look as open as possible before returning the presumptive crown to his head, or a sign that he’s not so attractive to producers’ eyes any more? For the first time since the live shows began, the betting market dumped him as their favourite, replacing him with Saara.

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X Factor 2016: Saara’s Journey – From “Abroad” To Adored

There’s an archetype of auditions on shows like this, in which an auditionee is initially portrayed as self-deluded or otherwise weird, but turns out to be vocally brilliant and wins everyone over. Saara did this not only in her audition, but over and over and over again. It’s been one of the most remarkable journeys in X Factor history for an act currently celebrating Finland’s Independence Day and planning to make the UK her adopted home.

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And it’s all there, in microcosm, the first time we meet her. Our introduction to Saara initially portrays her as some kind of yokel from the Finnish boondocks with an annoying laugh, who is blissfully unaware of how she’s coming across to others. ‘Sleigh Ride’ strikes up in the background as she makes animated small talk about Santa Claus with awkward-looking fellow auditionees. Louis and Nicole frown uncomprehendingly as she says her name in a Finnish accent.

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X Factor 2016 Week 9 Post-Mortem: Middle Missed

I met Emily in the run-up to week 6, when Ryan’s VT was filmed in a pub near where I live. I didn’t tell her who I was, or apologise for jinxing her by tipping her to win in our speculative 1-12 prediction. Sorry, Emily!

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I did ask her whether she was going to go uptempo for disco week, and her pained expression was an immediate answer. We’ve wondered, since then, whether Simon resisting the constant calls from the other judges for Emily to be allowed out of her box was part of some master plan that would eventually get a payoff. Nope – they were just slowly suffocating her.

Matt went through to the final by majority vote, Dermot having carefully reminded Sharon that she had to say who she was sending through. Now we have the first ever final where every act has been in the bottom two. It’s the most open final I can remember, not least in terms of uncertainty about producers’ intentions. They’ve blown hot and cold on all three of the finalists, to a greater degree than usual, at various points of the series.

We’ll be back during the week with our now-traditional pieces assessing the journeys each act has taken to the final. The title of Emily’s, had she made it, would have recalled the damning epithet Sharon bestowed on her after that Disco week dirge: “from Sassy Scot to ‘Debbie Downer’”.

As ever, do keep the conversation going below.

X Factor 2016 Week 9: Weapons of Middlemas Destruction?

We were uncertain how tonight’s show would pan out: the market’s initial reaction points towards a consensus that Saara is now the chosen one for the win (the odds imply about a 60% chance she wins), and that Emily is a goner (an 80% chance that she leaves tomorrow).

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But we should also consider some other possibilities. For instance: 5AM were given every possible help tonight, which they will have needed to have any chance of getting into the top two of the phone vote. It still seems entirely possible they’ll fall short. If that happens, would producers still drag them to the final, or might they be tempted to cut them loose?

Conversely, suppose 5AM do clear the singoff, and Emily and Matt fight it out. Might producers then be tempted to try to push 5AM towards an unlikely victory? And would they be willing to lose Matt to help clear the demographic path? There are many permutations to consider.

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X Factor 2016 Week 9 Elimination: Semi-final Uncertainties

I’m reluctant to rush to judgements before tonight’s live show, having pondered a Ryan / Emily bottom two in week 7, and a difficult week 8 for Saara. Whatever producers reasons for not following either path, it’s worth bearing in mind that they seem happy with how the competition is progressing. There’s been no Maloney-style takedown or Faustini-esque doughnut deramp.

Song choices this week seems to be keeping the four remaining acts to their respective paths. Let’s start with the much-discussed Saara, easily the most popular competitor in our comments section. It seems likely that she’ll get a big production for ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ followed by a chance to shine vocally by reprising audition number, ‘Chandelier’.

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Fleur East covered the former at the same stage in 2014, opening the show with a workmanlike performance before her memorable ‘Uptown Funk’. Meanwhile, the biggest danger with ‘Chandelier’ is the potential for producers to create an end-of-journey feel by returning full circle to her first song. But this is a great song, and Nicole was particularly bowled over by her excellent rendition. It was also seen in 2014 when covered by Andrea Faustini, another entertaining foreigner with a great set of pipes.

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X Factor 2016 Week 8 Review: The Curious Case of Saara Aalto

Fudd: “I still think there were enough signs during yesterday’s show to say that producers aren’t fully behind Saara.”

The previously discussed yo-yo treatment of Saara Aalto went into overdrive last Saturday. We learnt at the start of the show that she was drawn #2 in the running order, an unpromising slot from which 5 of the last 6 quarter-finalists have ended up in the singoff. But her VT did have one gent in the focus group say, “She’s my winner,” to which Saara gasped for joy and commented, “now I can dream about being in the final”, the first time such possibilities had been mentioned. Sharon would repeat the idea, “you belong in the final”, in the second VT.

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X Factor 2016 Week 8 Post-Mortem: Sprint Finnish

It couldn’t happen… could it? After the hugely positive response to Saara’s first song last night, Sofabet commenters have spent the day wondering if producers might be tempted to run with the Finn as the ultimate comeback winner. It would certainly be a story – and, let’s face it, she streaks ahead of the other acts both vocally and performance-wise, without breaking sweat.

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During the day 5 After Midnight were the big movers in the bottom two market, and duly found themselves being saved despite some seriously ropey vocals in the singoff. Honey G’s run came to a thankfully dignified end, with a much better singoff performance presumably reflecting that she was mentally prepared for it this week. Producers have done incredibly to get her this far and we’re already looking forward to the album of rap classics accompanied by Mummy G on the grand piano.

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X Factor 2016 Week 8: Honey Dip

Sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and admit you read the runes completely wrong. From the song choices and various other clues, we’d been anticipating that producers would come to bury Saara tonight – instead, they came to praise her. It’s a salutary reminder of the show’s unpredictability, especially when there are two songs to get through.

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Now it looks very much like producers have decided Honey G has run her course. Who will join her in the singoff looks a very open question. On Betfair, at the time of writing, Emily shades 5AM, with Saara considered almost as unlikely as Matt.

It wasn’t the greatest of nights for odds-on favourite Matt, who opened both rounds.

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