An official press conference has just confirmed Saturday’s X Factor Final duets. As suggested off-handedly as a piece of wild speculation on Sofabet last week, the three finalists will perform with their mentors. Marcus Collins and Gary Barlow will sing Billy Joel’s ‘Always A Woman’, Little Mix and Tulisa will do a mash-up of Alicia Keys’ ‘I Ain’t Got You’ and ‘Empire State of Mind’, whilst Amelia Lily and Kelly Rowland will perform ‘River Deep, Mountain High’
We’re planning to post our main preview of the final on Saturday morning, once we see what the Saturday newspaper coverage is like. In the meantime, there is clearly plenty to say about the news just released. What are our first thoughts?
On the surface, news that Marcus Collins will be performing with Gary Barlow seems like a big net plus for him. Gary is easily the most popular of the mentors as artists, with his huge Take That fanbase, which fits nicely into the demographic where Marcus is likely to be most popular – women over 30.
Beyond this, there’s potential for a story that is incredibly powerful. Last week’s VT hinted at a Surrogate Dad plotline for the pair – Marcus was brought up by his single parent mother, and explained that Gary has become a father figure for him. The sight of the once-bullied oversized boy from Runcorn turned pop star guiding the little gay black kid from Liverpool could be dynamite. There might not be a dry eye in the house, including Marcus and Gary.
But then there’s the song – Billy Joel’s ‘She’s Always A Woman’. It’s a song I love, but it’s wrong on so many levels for this duet.
Firstly, it’s strange for two men to be singing a song which is clearly about an individual woman, rather than women in general. If there’s a surrogate dad thing going on, then maybe they could dedicate it to Marcus’s mum… but it’s hardly appropriate. We’ve seen photos of Marcus in his mum’s graduation photo, so “she’s earned her degree” would be lyrically appropriate – but then there’s “she steals like a thief”, “casual lies”, “suddenly cruel”. This one’s for you, mum? Hardly.
Secondly, the song works as a heartfelt ode about the difficulties of loving someone of the female sex, and Marcus is – of course – an out gay man. Admittedly this was an incongruity with ‘My Girl’, too, but less so because that’s far more bubblegum and hence sexless as a pop song. Still, if Marcus does manage to emote like he means it, that should at least stand him in good stead for the West End career most are predicting for him.
Thirdly, and most worryingly, it’s a song in which the verses are set a lot lower than the chorus. We have noted Marcus’s troubles with his lower register during ‘Lately’ and ‘Can You Feel It’, and it seems quite possible that we may have another shaky start in the offing.
Why not choose one of Take That’s back catalogue, which would be better recognised and emphasise Gary’s blessing? It feels to us as if, having chosen to run with the concept of mentor duets, producers then set out to minimise the in-built advantage it looked likely to give Marcus.
Nonetheless, the news saw Marcus overtake Amelia as second favourite in the Betfair win market.
Amelia Lily and Kelly Rowland don’t immediately seem like an ideal fit, and there are those who will point out that the storyline between the pair cannot be as strong because Kelly rejected Amelia in the week 1 twist. Kelly showcased a cute line in good-naturedly shrugging off this problem during the press conference, though: “Dude, ain’t that over?”
And there’s no reason for this Saturday’s song not to work on the night. As Dug points out, Kelly has plenty of star quality, and the song is a real belter, which could suit the Middlesbrough lass. In fact, it’s a very big number indeed, and Amelia’s chances may hinge on whether she can nail it or not.
Finally, whilst some Little Mix fans are very happy at the prospect of them duetting with Tulisa, the reaction on Betfair was negative, with the girlband drifting in the win market once the news was announced. Tulisa’s abilities as a live singer are open to debate, and she’s certainly not as well known as an artist than either Gary or Kelly.
There are some interesting questions posed by their song choice, a mash-up of Alicia Keys’ ‘I Ain’t Got You’ and ‘Empire State of Mind’. They are huge tunes, both of which I love, but they’re also two songs that are very much based around one voice. The debate over Perrie’s role as a lead singer was to the fore last weekend, and we will see whether the result feels more like the chance for her fantastic vocals to shine or if it feels like the group are rather one-sided in their talents. It could go either way.
Of course, in all three cases, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Don’t forget that last year, Rebecca Ferguson looked the net gainer when the duets were announced – she got Christina Aguilera – but she fluffed her lines and the opportunity it offered.
A couple of other notes on the news stories of the week. The headlines of yesterday were dominated by the story that Amelia’s recording of the winner’s single had been ready to sell on the HMV website. In our view this is probably unlikely to do her any harm this Saturday, and might even do her some good. It got her photo splashed all over the papers, after all; the negativity surrounding what happened is virtually forgotten already; and the more lasting effect might be to have subliminally associated the words “Amelia” and “winner” in the public’s mind.
Secondly, we’re intrigued by the story that text voting will be unavailable in the final. You can read the explanation why on the X Factor’s website, and it certainly sounds like something they were forced into and would rather not have done if they could have avoided it. On the face of it this seems like good news for Marcus, whose supporters we suspect are most likely to skew towards older landline-users.
The question is, what proportion of votes are by text? We haven’t been able to find any intelligence on this – if you know, please let us know in the comments box below. And, of course, let us know below your reaction to the duets.