We didn’t see it coming. At all. But then it’s probably fair to say that producers didn’t either. Following his victorious return as the wildcard-winning ‘Hero’ in week 1, Christopher Maloney has now survived five weeks of vindictive tabloid stories (here’s today’s), judges’ disdain and generally unhelpful productions without dropping into the bottom two.
When the Daily Star revealed that he had easily topped the first two weeks’ votes, we were initially sceptical despite the tabloid’s good record with voting leaks. Now that he’s shaken off all that’s been thrown at him since, it seems far more likely. The same paper claimed yesterday that he is still winning every week’s phone vote, whilst Plan A Ella is barely avoiding the bottom two. Which leads us to ask, can this second claim be true, and what are the implications either way?
The reaction from our commenters has been mixed. Some are atheists, such as Maccafan who explained: “I don’t believe all this hype.” Some believe, such as Jack who reminded us: “The Star is the newspaper with credible voting leaks. Considering Chris has been predicted as B2 almost every week since his re-introduction and he has been safe every week, I find the leaks credible.”
Most seem rather agnostic, prepared to consider it just in case but not quite willing to take the leap of faith. This majority line was nicely summed up by Curtis who said: “I still am sceptical, but as each week goes by where Chris isn’t in the bottom two it does give some amount of credibility to the Star’s reports, particularly as they said this was happening weeks ago.”
The evidence presented to us could be read either way. Let’s take the constant attacks in the tabloids, unprecedented now in terms of their length and frequency in the shows’s history. These may suggest that the Star is correct. Why bother going to such lengths to slur a contestant if the powers that be aren’t a little scared? Even those champions against bullying, Little Mix, got involved at the weekend.
But on the other hand, these stories could just be a way of building him up to be a pantomime villain of the piece. It’s something the show does every year. Just look at Katie Waissel. With the other divisive figure of the live shows, Rylan Clark, apparently proving popular in his general backstage conduct, who else could they target? And with ratings falling to lows not seen since the first ever series in 2004, how else to best keep the show in the headlines?
Maloney’s treatment in the shows themselves can also be seen in two different ways. In certain live shows, producers looked like they were running scared and going all-out to sink him. Week 2’s cruiseship bar backdrop, week 3’s ‘Seaside Special’ shiny suit moment and week 6’s skittles routine included many of the tactics we have come to expect from producers looking to dampen a vote. Distracting dancers were a feature of all three, for example.
There was something about weeks 4 and 5 which felt different, however. They gave Chris a demo-pleasing look featuring a wintry pea coat (not cruiseship cheap but naval chic), and they gave him songs and a production that allowed his vocals to shine. In particular, his pimp slot performance of ‘All By Myself’ gave us a big note that was always going to delight his supporters and neutrals.
Perhaps these two weeks showed incompetence on the part of producers, who thought that lyrically they were burying him with titles such as ‘I Just Died (In Your Arms Tonight)’, but the effect wasn’t as intended. It wouldn’t be the first time. They must surely regret giving him the winner’s walk towards the audience in his week 1 rendition of ‘Hero’ instead of forcing him to stand in isolation on a very high plinth.
But I can’t help but feel that the show was going with the idea of Chris having a longer run in the competition than previously envisaged. He may have still been topping the votes, of course. But whether he was or not, producers seemed more at ease with the idea that they could bring him down – eventually. The heavenly pimping of Jahmene, the one act who arguably appeals to a similar demographic, from this period onwards (week 4 was the first time he was referred to as a ‘recording artist’ after that highly effective week 3 VT) makes sense as part of this long game, as Jake Kl pointed out this weekend.
So, we can’t know for sure and the evidence gives us mixed signals. No wonder our commenters are divided and wary.
However, there was more unanimity that this latest live show saw a return to a more attacking mode on Chris. JScouser pointed out how damaging the VT was, going to great lengths to show us that his natural singing ability, previously seen as a strength, wasn’t that great. As KaraokeSauron explained, all the dancing going on around him made him look very uncomfortable.
Added to that, I thought his styling returned to pretty ropey. The pea coat was replaced with something less distinctive, and the whole coat-wearing thing was mocked when Dermot hilariously asked Chris in his post-performance chat “are you a cold guy?” (What’s the betting Chris had been consistently dressed in a coat just to enable Dermot to ask that?)
But even then, we can hardly call this a full-frontal assault as there are some things they could have done but haven’t. As Alen and other commenters have noted, an obvious way to dampen Chris’s support would be to give him a modern song. ‘I’m Still Standing’ played right into the mid-1980s vibe that delights what we assume is Chris’s target demographic. Has it just not occurred to producers to give him a bit of Flo Rida?
They haven’t had his mentor say to him “we’re going to the final”, which helped dispatch Wagner and Johnny Robinson. But then, that was Louis – would Gary not play ball?
And they haven’t tried the tactic of suggesting that he has achieved what he came for and his journey is complete, which worked with Johnny (who VTed about feeling popular for the first time in his life) and Mary Byrne (whose fans were reassured that she wasn’t ever going back to those Tesco tills). Would it be too hard to get Chris to say things like “I was so nervous at my first audition” and “singing on the X Factor has helped me believe in myself”?
These are, of course, all tactics which we may see producers reach for in the next week or two.
This leads me to my last point about just how far Chris can go in this competition. A continual lead in the polls up to Week 5, even if true, may still not get him to the final. Last year Janet Devlin won the first four weeks of public votes, but after a similar if slightly more subtle drip-drip of negative treatment was dispatched before the semi-final. She didn’t help herself by forgetting her words (and props to Maccafan for spotting Maloney’s mistakes this week). But they got her in the end.
Admittedly, if the Daily Star’s first leak is true, Maloney was leading the early shows by a greater distance but there’s an analogy here too. Eoghan Quigg was as far ahead at certain points in 2008, even in Week 7. He could eventually manage only third, and if producers had been desperate not to have him in the final, they could have managed it with a singoff in the semi-final – an option still open to them this year, as Boki has already noted.
This would repeat the precedent of 2010 when a surprise semi-final singoff enabled Cher Lloyd to get into the final instead of Mary Byrne, that other trooper in the Overs category who producers didn’t want hanging around for the climactic weekend.
There was no singoff in last year’s semi-final, and I’m not discounting Maloney making it all the way to the final, especially if this is repeated. Do expect plenty more of the kind of talk that we first heard last week about who ‘deserves’ a place in the final, however.
And even if he does get there I can predict part of the script now: “You’re a nice guy Chris, despite what some people have been saying, and you’ve now got a great future ahead of you. But in Ella/Jahmene/James we have an international recording artist who can represent this country on the world stage.” It’s worth remembering that, even if the Star is correct, Chris will have been polling at around 30-40% – enough to storm the early weeks, but nowhere near enough to win unless he can pick up floating votes among fans of departed acts and the significant (we assume) numbers of viewers who vote only in the final.
So they haven’t got him yet, but they will in the end. Won’t they?!
Let us know your thoughts on the Christopher Maloney phenomenon below.