The competition stepped up a gear last Saturday. How so? The judges started name-checking the finalists. This was their attempt to guide viewers towards those acts they want us to put there.
Richard Betsfactor’s guest article on the site last week noted that for this series’s focus on greater credibility, the acts being pimped towards the final were, in order: Jahmene, James and Ella. Of the remaining outsiders, Chris was taking on the role of potential script spoiler. The weekend’s events seemed to bear him out. This is what Tulisa said when asked on Saturday’s Xtra Factor who would be in the final:
“My hope is…in the people who deserve it and talent-wise and as people would be Ella, Jahmene and James.” When Olly Murs asked the audience if they agreed, there were loud cheers. Tulisa went on to add: “My fear is that Christopher would take one of those spots.”
The continued pimping of Jahmene was the biggest marker of the night.
Opinions vary widely about his performance of Beyonce’s ‘Listen’, but whatever your point of view it’s fair to say the judges reached for hyperbole in their response. It certainly wasn’t sung as well as Beyonce or better than anyone else, as Tulisa suggested. She’s lucky Alexandra Burke wasn’t making a guest appearance on the panel.
Tulisa commented after Jahmene’s performance, “I guess I will see you in Mani at the finals.” Louis similarly said, “you’re gonna be in the final” as well as adding he was a “world-class recording artist” which is his shorthand for saying he deserves to be in the final (on which more later).
Richard focused on the show’s search for credibility. Jahmene offers something else as well: he’s the feel-good contestant of the series. Firstly, he’s overcome great adversity. We learnt about childhood abuse in the incredibly moving week 3 VT, now articles are referring to racist bullies who made his life hell. Secondly, the show is transforming his life, as Saturday’s Asda VT so effectively reminded us. What’s the overall message? Nicole’s post-performance comment summed it up: “You inspire so many people to stand up and fight.”
We thought that Jahmene’s mannerisms, which were treated slightly mockingly at his first audition, would be a hindrance. No more. The nervous giggle, the tendency to well up with emotion, these things now have a heartwarming explanation that can’t help but win you over. He’s the closest thing to TV gold this series has, and producers may feel happy with a feel-good winner even if he’s arguably not as commercially viable as Ella or James.
Stage school-trained Ella can’t compete with Jahmene in terms of backstory. In this realm, there have been a few attempts to suggest she has been getting stick over her weight, but in reality the only thing the show has is to constantly remind us that “she’s only 16”. Nonetheless, the continuation of the “little star” mentions (two on Saturday) and Louis reminding us that she’s a recording star (check!), indicate the continued determination to get the original Plan A into the final.
In the last two weeks, however, judges have not given her a free pass. She could get away with some bum notes in week 1, but Nicole felt the need to call her out on this in week 5, having also said that she enjoyed least Ella’s week 4 performance. Of course ten weeks of continued praise would start to get boring, so we shouldn’t overplay this; there’s no doubt producers still want her in the final. But even if she’s still Plan A, producers have now moved at least one Plan A- into place.
James has been treated kindly throughout, most notably with Gary’s “performance of the series” comment in week 3. As Chatterbox noted, it seems that every celebrity guest has endorsed him, Rita Ora being the latest last night. He got to appear on stage with Labrinth in his week 4 VT, and not only received No Doubt’s benediction this time but got to sing their song too. As he does every week, Louis said James should get a “record deal”.
However, when arguing against Chris Maloney, Louis made the point of name-checking Ella and Jahmene as international recording artists. No mention of James. This was repeated in Sunday’s Xtra Factor, when Louis felt the frontrunners were Ella and Jahmene. That makes me suspect that producers have Jahmene as their alpha boy, whereas a few weeks ago I thought it was James.
Does this mean that James is the most vulnerable of these three projected finalists? Maybe, maybe not. As Stoney pointed out, there was a rush of money for a possible bottom two appearance last night, although that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything. However, I do think Jahmene is currently the safest of the three based on their recent treatment. I would not have expected to say that a few weeks ago.
Chris is the only other person not to hit the bottom two yet, giving credibility to the judges’ arguments about how far he can go. This does serve a couple of purposes for the show. It makes the final seem less predictable and allows the Liverpudlian to be a more potent figure of division among the panel. Hence the discussion in which Louis was insistent about him not being a star or an international recording artist (ie not deserving of being in the final, as Tulisa also implied).
There was plenty of motivation for his supporters to stay on board based on his treatment this week, as we pointed out in our review after Saturday’s show. This is a plot line producers are running with, although they would surely prefer to see Chris in the bottom two before any of the ‘big 3’ so it has to come to an end at some point.
Everyone else has been tarnished by a bottom two appearance. Union J look to be the only other potential finalists. Louis reiterated the idea that they were the “next big boyband” on Saturday, and though that falls short of James, Ella and Jahmene in the credibility stakes, they are a commercially viable outfit.
If one of the big three is falling short in the votes and cannot be rescued effectively, Union J are the obvious alternative finalists (although no act has ever won the show after appearing in the bottom 2, there are precedents for second-place finishes after a bottom 2 appearance in the shape of JLS, Olly Murs and Ray Quinn). At this moment in time, however, I think producers don’t feel the need to push Union J into the final. The continued presence of District 3 won’t help them, either.
What do you think of the lie of the land as the path clears towards the final? Which of Jahmene, James and Ella do you think is most vulnerable, and to whom? Do let us know in the comments section below.