What are we to make of Kitty Brucknell’s ability to bounce out of the bottom two this week? She’s a one-off by X Factor standards: too fragile to be as much of a hate figure as Katie Waissel was last year, despite the obvious comparisons between the two, but clearly not likeable enough to escape a poor showing despite the show’s best attempts to pimp her.
Still, Frankie Cocozza managed to bounce despite a highly unsympathetic portrayal last Saturday, giving an overall X Factor stat that 80% (24 out of 32) of acts escape the bottom two the week after surviving their first sing-off. Can Kitty join the club?
There are reasons to suggest she will. Like Frankie last week, Kitty is a big character in a relatively weak field, with a theme that should suit (Halloween). She generates tabloid headlines, is compulsive viewing and thus good for the show; therefore it would be a surprise if producers didn’t do their best to try to keep her clear of the sing-off this week with another big production and kind draw. Katie Waissel got them consistently.
Unlike Frankie, she also has the advantage of being a relatively talented vocalist who can impress on stage. She can certainly belt out the big notes, as she most notably indicated in her performance of ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, which felt like it stole the show in week 2. It displayed how riveting she can be as a performer.
That was also the case in the final two-thirds of her rendition of ‘Live and Let Die’. As fire raged around her, it was hard to take one’s eyes off the TV, which certainly wasn’t the case for many of the performances last Saturday.
Although I thought she was nasally and off-key during the lower register of the first verse, there is a sense that her performance didn’t deserve to put her in the bottom two. And this is surely what the concept of a sympathy bounce is all about: motivating people to vote for someone whose merits have been unfairly under-appreciated.
But there are nagging doubts. She might possibly need quite a big bounce to clear the danger zone. Fiveleaves pointed to a story in the Daily Star, who surprisingly enough do have some form of being accurate in this area, alleging that despite her pimp slot performance of ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ in week 2 she was above the bottom two by only 0.5%. We don’t know for a fact if this is accurate, but it would be oh so worrying if true – and it certainly became believable last Sunday when Kitty’s mostly solid vocals, another big production and a kind draw didn’t help her escape the sing-off, even in a mediocre live show. From the fact that Louis saved her over Sami rather than going to deadlock, it seems a fair bet that Kitty finished plum last.
This may have had something to do with the thunder-stealing performance of fellow overs contestant Johnny Robinson. As fiveleaves mentioned, he may have “taken some of her ‘entertainment’ votes”. Clearly, if you were going to support an off-the-wall character last week, the fabulous Johnny was the only game in town.
But it may also be to do with the way Kitty’s personality comes across, and this is the deeper problem. Louis Walsh summed it up when he said, “she’s clearly not connecting with the public”. But why?
There is something about Kitty, or at least the way she has been portrayed, that is hard to warm to. Last year Katie Waissel played the pantomime villain role with aplomb, her apparently monstrous ambition and self-regard allied to only the merest modicum of talent. We never felt too bad about her being in the bottom two, because we knew she’d bounce back next week with another unabashed self-reinvention in her relentless quest for attention. Kitty is different. She is more talented than Katie, but also appears to be much more fragile and needy.
In the week 2 VT, for example, we saw Kitty expressing her hurt at being booed when saved by Louis in the big twist, then entirely unconvincingly claiming that it “doesn’t matter” to her what the “haters” think, because she cares only about the opinions of “the people who write to me, telling me what an inspiration I am to them”. She then made a point of reading out something nice she’d found about herself on the internet, looking rather dishevelled as if she’d been up all night typing her name into Google and swinging between elation and despair with every click. It all made for rather uncomfortable viewing.
Week 3’s VT featured Kitty on a high after her survival of the first vote, saying that she loves the public “right now” (with the unwise implication that she hated them before and would do so again as soon as they stop voting for her). We saw her firing off a series of madcap ideas at a bewildered Louis, who in comments said that she was on the phone to him “night and day”.
All in all, Kitty seems like the kind of person you would hate to get stuck with at a party, because she would regale you with a torrent of self-pitying insecurity and/or hyperactive overenthusiasm while you patiently nodded and smiled. At the same time, she seems like a perfectly nice girl who you would be completely mortified if she found out you were trying to avoid her at a party. This is a worst-of-all-worlds combination for a talent show contestant. She doesn’t work as a contestant we can love, like Johnny Robinson. And nor does she really work as one we can love-to-hate, like Katie Waissel. She’s not robust enough for that.
How can producers turn it around for her?
Given her apparent fragility and neediness, her narrative trajectory has to be a variant of the self-confidence one – a journey towards greater self-esteem. The difficulty with this is that Kitty has to start to appear like she no longer needs the validation of others… on a reality show where validation from others is what it’s all about. It’s not easy, but nor is it impossible. There are precedents within the goldfish bowl of reality TV – Jade Goody and Kerry Katona spring to mind – though their journeys took years and several incredibly traumatic experiences played out all over the press.
The smart thing to do with her this week would be to show a brave face in her VT footage: “Of course I was hurt to be in the bottom two, but someone has to be. I’ll just enjoy every moment on that stage for as long as it lasts, and if the public think it’s worth keeping me in for next week, that’ll be a bonus.” Stories of her dressing provocatively on a night out in Soho with Johnny suggest, however, that the show may instead be intending to double-down on the outrageous vixen persona it has created for her, just as it doubled-down on Frankie’s bad boy image in his post-singoff VT.
These stories also remind us that she’s a more interesting and headline-grabbing character than most still in this series. This, and the fact that producers should be on her side, are Kitty’s best hopes for achieving a sympathy bounce. But being Kitty, we can’t be sure what she will bring to the show this week – who knows how she will come across in her post-performance interview, for example. Probably best to wait and see.
Do you think Kitty will avoid the bottom two this week, and how long do you see her lasting? Do share your opinions with us below.