With just the one audition weekend remaining, it’s starting to look like Britain’s Got Talent hit us with their best shot in week one. Charlotte and Jonathan remain out in front at the head of the market at a top price of 7/2, with their closest challengers available at almost three times those odds.
It makes sense. This series of BGT surely has to be viewed in the light of competition with The Voice. ITV brought the show forward by several weeks from its customary position in the year so that it could open on the same night as the BBC’s putative new answer to the X Factor. It seems fair to assume that The Voice must have been on producers’ minds as they made other decisions, too.
Put yourself in their shoes. What better way to take on The Voice than implicitly rendering it conceptually redundant by showing you can do the same thing just as well? The big gimmick of The Voice, with its blind auditions, was supposed to be focusing on “the voice” – implicitly opposed, we assume, to other characteristics such as looks and charisma. To put it more bluntly, one might say they were offering hope to an ugly, shy person with a terrific voice. Someone like, ooh, Paul Potts or Susan Boyle? BGT producers must have been tempted to sock it to The Voice by unearthing another unlikely-looking vocal powerhouse.
Step forward Jonathan Antoine.
If you haven’t seen Jonathan and Charlotte’s audition – even if you’ve never watched BGT, and have no intention of getting into it – it’s well worth checking out because it is an absolute masterclass in the dark arts of emotional manipulation in reality shows. It’s a near-perfect example, a salutary reminder of the genius of which Simon Cowell and his crew are capable when on top form.
We start with Cowell stage-whispering “just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse” (helpfully subtitled, to make sure we got it) as the elephantine teen shambles on stage, smiling gamely, accompanied by a beautiful young girl. We get cutaway shots to audience members sitting forward with the kind of looks of relish that must have flashed across Colosseum spectators’ faces as a particularly juicy-looking Christian was dragged towards the lions. Charlotte handles Cowell’s weary-sounding questions, as Jonathan looks awkward and confesses to being shy.
Then the mood music changes, as we cut to Jonathan VTing backstage about how he was bullied at school and every unkind comment about his appearance “took a little piece out of me”. Charlotte lays a consoling hand on his shoulder and says nice things about him; Jonathan VTs that Charlotte gives him confidence and he wouldn’t be going on stage without her by his side. Aah, bless. Instantly we are rooting for them.
Back to stage, and Cowell issues a dismissive “good luck” as audience cutaways show bored and repulsed looking girls. Jonathan at first appears to miss his cue and is then, of course, fabulous. Cowell puts on his best surprise-and-delight face. The audience rise. Ant or Dec voices what we are feeling, with a “go on, son”.
So far, so Paul Potts or Susan Boyle. That’s not nothing, but it’s what follows that really reminds us how brilliant Cowell and his people are at this stuff. Calling Charlotte “good” and Jonathan “unbelievable”, he concludes with: “I worry, Charlotte, whether you’re going to hold him back”. There is an agonising pause as the implication of this statement sinks in. Charlotte gulps bravely. Jonathan responds with “we’ve come on here as a duo, and we’re going to stay as a duo”. The audience erupt again and we cut to a shot of a spectator blubbing.
As Sofabet commenter eurovicious rightly says, “Without Charlotte, Jonathan’s just another example of the oh-so-reliable “awkward fat man sings Nessun Dorma” trope.” Charlotte creates what R calls “the classic “beauty & the beast” storyline”. It’s Cowell’s perfectly-judged and edited contributions, though – first setting up Charlotte to show kindness, then Jonathan to show loyalty – that elevate an impressive vocal duet into a heartwarming parable about friendship. Even I felt a lump forming in my throat, and such is my cynicism about these shows it wouldn’t entirely surprise me to learn that the two had been introduced by BGT producers.
So, were this pair intended merely to steal The Voice’s thunder on its opening night, or are they also being lined up as our winners? One reason to suspect the latter is that it’s so easy to imagine the twosome having a shelf life after the show, at least for long enough to flog an album. The “we’re just good friends” profiles in OK! magazine, and “Jonathan’s heartbreak” headlines in the Sun above a paparazzi pic of Charlotte holding hands with a better-looking boy, practically write themselves.
If not Charlotte and Jonathan, then who might be Plan A? Let’s run down the other acts towards the head of bookies’ lists.
Nervous nine-year-old Malaki Paul was the headline act last weekend, and another textbook study in making viewers well up. But will producers really want to place all their chips on a tearful preteen, bearing in mind what happened with Hollie Steel in the 2009 live shows?
In Ashley and Pudsey, we have this year’s obligatory dancing dog act. Despite Cowell’s well-publicised love for the genre, it seems likely that this is the kind of act producers will want providing variety in the final but not representing the brand as a winner.
Twist and Pulse Dance Company, set up by the series 4 runners-up, also seem like finalists not winners. Having them in the final says “look, our alumni have set up a successful dance company”. Having them win says “we’ve run out of ideas”.
It has been reported that Cowell intends to send this year’s BGT winners into space with Virgin Galactic. Presumably tickets don’t come cheap, which could be another reason to think producers won’t be too keen on a winning act featuring as large a number of people as the Twist and Pulse Dance Company. (Similarly, it would be a shame for Pudsey to have to travel in a crate in the cargo hold).
A similar thought applies to Cascade, a stunt group who would also seem unlikely to be pushed for the win given that they’re French; hip-hop troupe United We Stand, perhaps too similar to recent winners Diversity and Spelbound; and – especially – Welsh choir Only Boys Aloud.
One assumes the space prize might just slip by the wayside if a mischievous voting public propels the 200-strong choir to the win. Less facetiously, as we try to second-guess producers’ intentions, it does seem logical that they might want to extend the ratings battle with The Voice into a record-selling battle with the rival show’s winner.
If they want a singer as a winner, producers have given themselves plenty of choice in the young girl bracket: the top dozen or so in the market includes 11-year-old Molly Rainford, 12-year-old Lauren Thalia, 14-year-old Paige Turley, 16-year-old Hope Murphy and 18-year-old Chelsea Redfern.
It seems to me that any of these musical acts could be propelled towards the stratosphere (perhaps literally) with a pimp slot, or grounded with an early slot – and we’ll revisit the key question of the running order in the next post ahead of the live shows (which, incidentally, start on Sunday this time around – a day earlier than usual). But I don’t at this stage see especially compelling evidence of producer favour for one over the others.
Indeed, I’m finding it hard to see why producers would want to look beyond Charlotte and Jonathan. A touching backstory, an audition that’s been viewed 12 million times on YouTube, something a bit different from previous winners, post-show commercial potential – what more can they ask for? And if producers do indeed set out to whip up public support for the likeable and talented teenage friends, it seems likely they will be pushing at an open door.
So should we be taking the 7/2? There’s a case for it. It’s easy enough to imagine this Saturday’s auditions show – like the last five – failing to throw up a comparable showstopper; Charlotte and Jonathan getting a semi-final pimp slot; and Cowell saying something like “Jonathan, at your audition, I wondered if Charlotte might hold you back, and you insisted on sticking with her. Let me tell you something. You were right. That was sen-sational“. And before you know it, they’re 6/4.
On the other hand, there are still more auditions to come, and in BGT producer favour – or lack of it – counts for so much (but perhaps not everything). Are you taking a chance on the favourites, seeing some value in any of the longer-priced acts, or leaving well alone for now? As ever, do let us know below.