Oh dear. Can there ever have been a worse standard in an X Factor semi-final? As Sofabet commenter PG says, “the final could be classic car crash tv if they perform like they did tonight in a huge stadium arena”; Rob concurs and adds “tbh it’s the only interest i have now – to see if this develops into a real train wreck”.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that producers have misplayed their hand this series. Malcolm puts it well: “the semi final; and still not a single act producing anything like a wow moment… The x factor isn’t all about the record deal, it’s about entertainment week in week out as the live shows progress to the final. The Leona, Alexandra, Joe and Matt years all had lots of it, but this years show has only had one blow you away moment in the live finals and that was when Craig chose his own song.” Lux Lisbon sums it up: “this has been a dog’s dinner of a series”.
Indeed it has. We can debate how much better it might have been if certain other acts had got past bootcamp, judges’ houses or the twist; or if they’d taken more initial care to get The Risk and Nu Vibe right; or if they’d worked with the apparent popularity of Janet Devlin or even Johnny Robinson, whose ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ is arguably the closest thing we’ve had to a show-stopper since Craig’s ‘Jar of Hearts’, rather than panicking and hunting them down.
But for now let’s focus on how Misha B, who arguably had the most raw talent of any of the final 16, has also been allowed to depart before the big final.
For those who need reminding, it was in week 3 that the defining moment of Misha’s X Factor experience occurred. Having sung ‘Purple Rain’ from the pimp slot, she could only stand and gawp as Tulisa and Louis set about a character assassination that gets no less astonishingly inappropriate with the passage of time.
For reasons we explained after week 1, we think Misha would have faced an uphill struggle to win even without bullygate. But at least her first encounter with the bottom two might have been postponed by a couple of weeks, and that might have enabled her to get to the final – and without looking like irredeemably damaged goods.
This topic came up in the Sofabet comments box last week, with Highlighted asking: “why in week 3 did Tulisa and Louis accuse her of bullying… Was this just a production error thinking the reaction may have been different”?
Lolhart says in reply: “The bullygate accusations still make no sense. At first I thought that Misha was causing trouble behind the scenes for the producers and it was a deliberate attempt to damage her… The only alternatives I can think of are that firstly this was a rare incidence of the judges not following the script… More disturbing is that it was possibly an ill-advised attempt to create some controversy in an otherwise dull series.”
In our initial review of the week 3 show, we went with the latter explanation, given there had been reported panic about falling ratings. Like lolhart, we generally assume that judges’ comments exist to advance the show’s agenda more than their personal ones.
So, for example, when Gary said to Misha on Saturday: “You have been wrongfully accused of being someone that you’re not… even if you are lucky enough to get through tomorrow night, I don’t think you can win because of that, and that’s a shame”, our instinctive reaction was to wonder how we might parse these comments: An attempt to get votes for Misha by provoking sympathy? An attempt to suppress votes for Misha by suggesting there’s no point? An attempt to repair some of Misha’s reputation with a view to 2012?
But perhaps the least cynical explanation here is the correct one after all – that Gary is a human being who has the human quality of empathy, and is having a dig at Tulisa and Louis and/or the producers for how their mishandling of the week 3 situation has had such an undeservedly negative effect on a talented performer.
In that thread last week, Kate suggests: “My (entirely speculative) take on Bullygate is that maybe there was some tension behind the scenes, it hadn’t been resolved through normal channels, and Tulisa took it on herself to issue a coded warning on the live show. Ill-advised though this was I don’t think Tulisa would have said it without producers’ approval.”
If you re-watch the bullygate exchange in the light of Kate’s take on it and that straightforward explanation for Gary’s comments on Saturday, we think it starts to make more sense. Our best guess with hindsight is that there might have been an argument pre-show among judges and production team about how to handle complaints about Misha’s behaviour, which had not been satisfactorily resolved by the time cameras had to start rolling.
Notice how Louis ends his comments on a barbed and cryptic note – “you’re a very confident performer. I hope you’re not too over-confident” – that seems designed to tee up Tulisa for having a pop. Tulisa’s initial comments are actually not the most damaging ones: “You being so feisty can come across quite mean… there’s been a few mean comments… just put aside the attitude.”
Gary then issues what might well, understandably, have been a genuine rebuke rather than the kind of pre-cooked bickering we usually expect from the panel: “I don’t care what goes on backstage, and we shouldn’t be getting involved in that”. Kelly follows up with “we leave things backstage backstage”.
There it might have rested, and the damage to Misha might have been just about recoverable with some smart VT work – or, at least, less terminal than it became thirty seconds later. For having finished her comments, Kelly turns to Louis and says “confident? You’re supposed to be confident when you go on stage”.
What had escaped us first time around, but stands out on repeat viewing, is that Dermot can now be heard in the background trying to cut it off with a “thank you judges, thank you judges”. One assumes from this that producers are not feeling in control of where this conversation might be going, and that what follows from here on in was certainly not in any script.
Louis keeps his cool in his first response. But then Kelly then comes back with another dig: “some of your category should get some confidence”. It is at this point that Louis appears to lose it a little and unleashes the nuclear b-word: “one of my contestants has complained to me about Misha bullying her”.
Dermot can now be heard in the background saying “thank you judges, thank you judges” with increasing desperation – and presumably with producers yelling “kill it, kill it now!” in his earpiece – as Louis continues “she told me, I did not make it up”.
The format of the X Factor, of course, has always invited the viewing public to believe that the mentors are at loggerheads – and as a punter, of course, it has usually paid to assume this rivalry is faux and pantomime. In an article after week 4, we wondered if there might be any possibility of one of the new judges going rogue in a singoff decision. It hasn’t happened – all the singoff decisions have been just what the treatment of the acts in the Saturday show woud have led you to expect.
But maybe the show we have been watching this series has been, to a greater degree than we’d realised, the show the public have always been supposed to think they are watching. Perhaps we have been guilty of underestimating the importance of ego; while it’s never wise to believe everything one reads in the Daily Mail, this behind the scenes piece pointed out by Uncle Si on a previous thread does make the three new members of the panel look like dicks – breezing in with their personal entourages and skulking in their private dressing rooms.
The question is, how far might judges have escaped the leash? Our initial reaction to Gary’s suggestion to Little Mix that Perrie should be first among equals on Saturday was, as Richard at Betsfactor puts it, “if it is true that he’s off at the end of this series, then he will be demob happy and will do whatever he likes”.
However, second thoughts set in when we saw on Sunday’s show that producers decided to remind us of these comments during the reprise. If Gary had in fact gone rogue, they might have preferred to ignore them.
We floated one alternative explanation in yesterday’s article: a planned dampening of Little Mix, if producer support is shifting to Amelia. But EM points out another possible explanation, which is well worth considering: “Gary has often led the calls for acts to do something different next week which has duly materialised, stripped back songs, more uptempo songs and so on.” Malcolm adds: “Going forward from Saturday, Little Mix might see that as their only chance. Perrie v Amelia”.
Could this particular comment of Gary’s, then, have been on-script after all? One of the often-rehearsed reasons for why groups struggle in this show is that the voting public find it easier to identify with an individual. So maybe it would make a lot of sense for Little Mix’s chances if on Saturday we see a major inidividual focus on Perrie, who we reckon would more than hold her own in a head-to-head vocal comparison with her fellow blonde north-easterner.
It all adds to the intrigue, and there is plenty for punters to chew over in the next few days – as the varied views in the comments to our last post showed, it is possible to make a plausible case for all three of the finalists.
What’s your view of bullygate in retrospect, and how on-message do you now believe the judges are? Are you inclining more towards the “Amelia is the new Plan A” theory or the “spotlight shines on Perrie” theory? As always, do please let us know in the comments below.