They could have let Louis have an act like Poisonous Twin – did we really need two identikit boybands? They could have lumbered Gary with the entertaining Nicola Marie. Instead they let Rylan shoulder the novelty burden alone, and now they have a problem.
Novelty acts are supposed to stick around until just gone halfway, providing fodder for the tabloids and the wild outer reaches of Brian Friedman’s imagination, before clearing the stage just in time for the serious business of selecting a winner. If the X Factor loses Rylan this early, it’s going to be a long old series of unremittingly tiresome credibility.
Which is why they reluctantly had to cut Carolynne loose last Sunday. Unfortunately, Louis overdid the dramatic indecision thing, after viewers saw somebody having a surreptitious word in his ear (the press tell us it was Richard Holloway “telling Louis the order the judges would vote in”. Seriously, there is no discreet technological way to do this?)
And this makes it difficult to maintain the fiction, so cleverly nurtured regarding Wagner, that a vote for the joke act is a mischievous poke in the eye for the show. So how do they keep Rylan around now?
Sofabet commenter Panos sums up what several commenters have been observing: “all of Jedward, Wagner, Waissel and Kitty had at least one trait which gave a reason to at least one group of tv viewers to vote for them. Rylan maybe doesn’t.” We think that’s a tiny bit harsh. For us, Rylan has provided some of the moments of the series so far, notably his “when in Doobai” explanation for the judges’ houses outfit he appeared to have borrowed from a stewardess on the Emirates flight over.
But we reckon the show have made a couple of grave mis-steps in how they’ve set Rylan up for the live shows. They let him emphasise to Gary that, behind the fun, it’s serious for him. But it wasn’t serious to Wagner or Johnny Robinson, was it? They were simply seen as having fun, in a happy-to-be-here, take-each-week-as-it-comes kind of way.
Relatedly, when calling out the names at bootcamp who’d made it to judges’ houses, they left his name till last and dwelt on Joe Whelan’s reaction. This cemented the impression that Rylan had taken the place of someone more deserving.
Of course, this happens to all novelty acts as soon as they hit a singoff, and it’s a great source of controversy for the show – think Jedward and Lucie Jones, Katie Waissel and Treyc Cohen. But it possibly wasn’t wise to do it before even the live shows had started, and to someone in whom they’d invested quite that much screentime (if you haven’t read it, this unrealitytv interview with Joe Whelan provides some interesting behind-the-scenes snippets).
Ultimately, these two problems come back to the fact that Rylan – unusually for a solo joke act – isn’t in the overs. As Daniel told the Express on Tuesday, if Rylan was ten years older nobody would care as much. There’s a very good reason the joke acts are usually in the overs – it’s hard to get too het up about a joke act taking the place of a more deserving candidate, because there’s always a feeling that all the overs should be grateful to be getting another chance in the first place.
There is a precedent for a novelty act being in one of the younger categories, in the shape of Katie Waissel. But with Gamu Nhengu’s well-publicised visa issues and the reinstatement of Treyc Cohen as a wildcard, there was never quite as much sense that Katie had unfairly deprived someone else. Katie was also a better singer than Rylan.
We can see why producers might have felt the need to reinject a bit of credibility into the overs, having failed to provide any at all last year. But they pushed the needle too far in allowing the category to be so thoroughly Borelowed – especially when they sent Louis through with three serious acts, too. Nobody would have begrudged Louis a joke group.
And Rylan might actually have been more likely to capture public support in a group. His other series highlight, for us, was the bootcamp group performance with Gaythan and Ottavio. Was it too late at that stage for producers to have ripped up the script for Rylan and put those three into a group called Diva Hoedown?
Still, we are where we are. And we can surely expect a concerted effort this Saturday to save Rylan. So how could they do it? Sofabet commenter Nugg has some suggestions:
VT- A humble Rylan acknowledging that he should have been sent home last week and it was unfair on Carolynne. Vocal coach to be shown working with Rylan and saying no one in the competition has put more work in this week and Rylan is improving. Clips on Rylan practising 12 hours a day and everyone saying how much effort he has made.
SLOT – give him a half decent slot.
PERFORMANCE- put on a song that he can pull of reasonably well, use plenty of backing vocals if necessary and decent staging. Performance a clear improvement on last week fun and vocally quite acceptable.
JUDGES- All totally unfairly lay into and attack Rylan, including Louis. Comments like you should have gone last week, I see no improvement, I regret keeping you in, you don’t deserve to be here, you will definately be in the bottom 2 tomorrow , no one will be voting for you after that perfomance etc. Even Nicole,luke warm comments, saying that although he has worked so hard this week she has to admit that he is not upto level of the others and it may be time to go.
RYLAN on stage with Dermot, dramatically breaking down in tears and saying he has tried so hard to get it right after last weeks bottom 2 result and he is sorry if he has let everyone down and understands why no one will vote for him.
This might work, but it would be a high-risk strategy – if he didn’t clear the bottom two, and assuming he doesn’t have it in him to pull out a Ruth Lorenzo ‘Purple Rain’ style singoff performance, it would make it look even more ridiculous for the judges to save him. To keep that option open, they need Louis and Tulisa to talk about him being entertaining.
Perhaps there is scope for a sympathy vote if Gary is unfair enough. But are the nation’s voters motivated to annoy Gary Barlow to the same extent as they enjoyed the idea of annoying Simon Cowell?
The fact that Rylan landed up in the bottom two after a death threat VT doesn’t exactly suggest that there’s much scope to go the sympathy route, so we’re not sure if it would be wise to show Rylan in floods of tears. Maybe a better route would be to have him VT about how he’s having a huge amount of fun on stage and all he wants to do is entertain people, but if people don’t find him entertaining then of course he doesn’t want to stay around. Then we can have Nicole testifying that he’s putting on a brave face but of course it means a lot to him, he’s working so hard to be worthy of his place, and so on.
And as tpfkar wisely cautions, “Before we get carried away with how Rylan won’t bounce, remember we had exactly the same discussion about Frankie last year. He never hit the bottom 2 again.”
We have one last small observation and suggestion for the show. With the next-up performers being shown waiting in the wings before the ad break, we got an advance glimpse of Rylan’s gold outfit, which took away the “look what he’s wearing!” moment at the beginning of his performance. It may be only a minor thing, but why not keep the moment of surprise for the performance? Either don’t show him at all before the ad break, or have him in some kind of boxer’s gown.
What else can producers do this week to save Private Rylan? Do share your ideas below.