We’ve speculated a lot about whether “early is the new late” now that the lines are open from the start of the show. But in a way this felt like a very traditional running order, with the first two acts appearing to be ones the show is happiest to see the back of – especially as they were immediately followed by one of the most affecting VTs ever seen on the show.
Chris Maloney was given the old Johnny Robinson 2-1 punch from last year – sent out second to soften him up, then first the following week when going in for the kill. This was a clear indication that producers think it can still be a disadvantage to go at the start of the show.
Chris’s treatment was noticeably less full-on than last week. His VT didn’t mention the numerous tabloid attacks on him from during the week, instead focusing on his struggle to master some dance moves. Those dance moves, incidentally, caused him to miss a few notes. We suspect this was not accidental.
He was sent out in a dated and shiny suit, and the judges seemed to be competing for how many times they could say “cheese”. But the tone was noticeably more lukewarm this week – Nicole, oozing smiley insincerity, said she was embracing it. Louis called it “cheesy but fun” and said “you did very well”.
As Boki and Curtis astutely noted in the comments, Gary carefully phrased his Liverpool reference this week to be a complacency-inducing “all of Liverpool is behind you”, rather than an exhortative “I want all of Liverpool to get behind you”.
This all suggested to us that producers were keen not to stir up a sympathy vote for Chris, and that they think they might be able to get him out this week.
MK1 appear to be being offered up as backup sacrificial lambs. Tulisa and Gary both sounded like Sven Goran-Eriksson – “first half good, second half not so good”. But in this circumstance, it seems likely that viewers will remember only the criticism.
We’re still thinking they’d likely be saved over Maloney, if it came to that. But it looks like they’re considered expendable if need be.
Both Chris and MK1 were immediately rammed down the memory hole by an extraordinarily powerful VT focusing on Jahmene’s troubled family background, as told to The Sun. This was in the same class as the “Insecure Jesy” VT that set Little Mix on their way last year, although it is interesting that the show has chosen to deploy this boost for Jahmene at a relatively early stage of the competition.
That’s a debate for another day. Back to the elimination market, and Jade Ellis’s VT treated us to an endoscopy of her inflamed vocal chords – the most medical detail we can remember in a VT since The Voice metaphorically rammed Jazz Ellington’s functional sperm down viewers’ throats.
Her performance was understandably a bit meh, so her safety this week probably comes down to whether sympathy drives enough viewers to pick up the phone. We’re not quite as confident as commenters Curtis and Jack that it will – unfortunately for Jade, a sore throat does rather pale in comparison to the story of surviving child abuse that immediately preceded it.
Does an anxiety attack trump a sore throat? With James’s VT focusing on his post-show collapse, you could have been forgiven for thinking the X Factor had morphed into Casualty.
Those with an open mind to Betsfactor’s theory that red and black lighting is intended to be unhelpful will have been intrigued by James’s set. Was this a gentle deramping? Nope – Louis hit the “record deal” button again, followed by Gary’s “performance of the series”. James has the self-deprecating charm to pull off ‘Sexy And I Know It’, and the song choice allowed both Gary to reference James’s musicianship and Nicole to dwell on his attractiveness to the opposite sex.
Union J got red-and-blacked as well, and as AnnaC noted their VT failed to mention the event during the week that had to be cancelled because there were too many fans to guarantee their safety, instead showing them being followed around a shop by a smaller posse of admirers. But rather than a Sophie Habibis nobble, this may have been intended merely to make sure they don’t peak too soon with the female hysteria thing. In other ways their treatment once again followed the One Direction playbook – “next big thing”, hard work, humility, helpful backing track, “next massive band”, rinse and repeat.
To our surprise, operation Saving Private Rylan felt like it had been allowed to step down a gear with a performance that was less fun than the previous week, in a register too low for Rylan’s anyway-weak vocals, with a VT that risked him coming across as arrogantly rather than amusingly vain, and not immediately followed by an ad break to allow for more immediate voting time.
On the other hand, comments from both Louis (“we need you in the competition”) and Tulisa (“I always want to see you again”) seemed crafted to set up their reasons for saving Rylan in a sing-off. But if it’s a girl or group Rylan faces, thus taking one of those two mentors out of the equation, it’s hard to see how they could pull off saving Rylan unless through deadlock – which of course relies on him not being bottom of the vote.
Lucy had her strongest week so far, showing that she can do covers with an enjoyable take on ‘Titanium’. The positivity of judges’ comments left little doubt that producers want to keep her in the competition for a while yet.
Signals were altogether more mixed for Kye. His VT went to great lengths to remind us how bad he had been the previous week, Gary calling him out on “32 flat notes” and telling us he is “going downhill”. This week’s performance was vocally much better, but it was noticeable that he was – in the words of Chatterbox5200 in the comments – “on top of a bonfire with post-apocolyptic scenes being played on screens around him”.
The judges gave him a Chris Martin comparison and told us that the old Kye was back. Then again, the old Kye was anonymous and forgettable, so it’s debateable how much help this will be for him.
Perhaps the main thing to take from Kye’s far from universally helpful treatment is that it forms a counter-argument to the idea that producers will be reluctant to leave Gary with one act left so early in the competition. If that was playing on producers’ minds, we would have expected more boosterism for Kye.
Producers worked with the grain of the sympathy bounce for District 3, giving them as much help as they could have expected. They got a good song choice that worked noticeably better with the theme than Kye’s had, and got their name up in big letters in the backdrop as Union J had in the first week. Perhaps producers treated them well because they are as interested as we are to isolate the effects of performing late in the running order? At any rate, this didn’t feel like an attempt to get them into the bottom two.
Ella finished the show, and coped as well with the club classics theme as Frankel had with heavy ground at Ascot.
All in all, we think Boki has it right: “I can only think of tonight as back to the old track. One clear target in death slot, ones in danger close to the end and pimped with last slot to Ella who will survive no mather what. I think they expect Rylan in bot2 and want to take Chris with him. If Chris doesn’t end up in bot2 I will be surprised in the GBP.”
We reckon Shakey Maloney would go in a singoff against any of the acts he might reasonably find himself up against, and we’re happy to tip him to be the next elimination at best odds of 5/2 with Betfred and Ladbrokes at the time of writing. We have to give three caveats – we got the singoff hideously wrong last week; we’re not at all sure what’s going on behind the scenes with Gary; and they still haven’t confirmed for sure that it’s a single not a double elimination this week. But those odds look pretty juicy to us, considering Chris’s treatment tonight.
Agree or disagree? Do let us know in the comments below.