How aware are the X Factor acts themselves of the kind of producer tactics that we analyse on this site? It’s a question that frequently comes up in the comments. Recently we heard, on condition of anonymity, from a Sofabet reader saying they had the opportunity to ask that very question directly to one of this year’s finalists.
The answer, according to our source? They are absolutely aware of it, and there is little they can do about it. Our source had expected the acts to have twigged that producers had their favourites, but reports being surprised by how keenly aware they seemed to be of the various ways in which viewers’ perceptions of them are steered.
One of the tactics mentioned would have escaped even the keenest of outside eyes.
Our source passes on the following anecdote (we should point out, naturally, that we are not in a position to verify this story): An act is filmed discussing their coming performance with their mentor. The mentor makes a suggestion for something the act should try to achieve in their performance. Following a discussion in which the act expresses discomfort with the idea, the mentor agrees to drop the suggestion. The VT is edited to show the original suggestion, but not the ensuing discussion. Thus, in the performance it looks like the act simply failed to deliver on what the mentor asked of them.
Our source says two other aspects of the show are especially keenly discussed among the acts as signalling to them who’s “in” and who’s “out”: camera angles and lighting.
Camera angles is a topic that gets touched on occasionally here, but we tend to focus rather more on factors such as VTs and comments. Perhaps we should write about it a lot more than we have been – it’s interesting to hear that it apparently plays a more central role in the acts’ thinking. Our source says the acts have deduced, and we’d agree, that lots of long and wide shots mean producers aren’t interested in you, lots of close-ups mean they want you to go further.
There’s obvious logic behind this – close-ups give an act more of a chance to forge a direct emotional connection with the viewer. It’s the same reason why, as AlisonR observed apropos Jade’s and District 3’s eye makeup in Hallowe’en week (and we’d discussed re Nicolo Festa’s sunglasses and Katie Waissel’s Hallowe’en garb in 2010), obscuring an act’s face seems to be hinder their audience connection. Edie further observed: “This is something I have noted with the Australian version of XF, the less favoured acts get really limited face time when singing, masks, long-range shots, focus on dancers etc”.
The point on lighting that was made by the act, according to our source, is also intriguing. The acts, we’re told, have deduced that it’s a sign of favour to get a small amount of lighting focused on you, and a sign of disfavour to get a load of lighting scattered all over the stage. Presumably the subliminal effect at work here is that lighting can direct viewers’ attention – either focusing their attention squarely on the act, or scattering their attention to the winds.
This insight reminded us of this image of Melanie Masson, which we had used in our piece discussing possible subliminal messages in staging. We used it there to raise the theory that a plinth is bad news as it distances an act from the audience, but it also seems to illustrate rather nicely what our source says the act was talking about (the examples that follow, we should emphasise, are ours alone):
We also remembered there being beams of light dancing all over the place in Christopher Maloney’s performance in week 5:
In week 4, you may recall, they’d sent Maloney on stage with a bunch of hooded dancers shining flashlights anywhere but at him:
(And while Daniel rightly noted in his article on the Christopher Maloney phenomenon that weeks 4 and 5 sent mixed messages about producers’ intentions, there was certainly plenty of other subtly unhelpful imagery to enjoy in this staging, as noted in the comments at the time. This included the images of a shipwreck and of giant waves rolling towards him, visually suggesting perhaps that he is out of his depth).
Here’s a still from District 3’s performance on Saturday – they’re on stage somewhere, in amongst all that light:
How about what is generally considered on Sofabet to have been producers’ one clear successful assassination this year, the Hallowe’en performance that presaged Jade’s exit? The image doesn’t do this segment jutice, as the beams of light you can see shining away from her are part of a distractingly rapid-fire flashing sequence. Another lighting effect appears to have her trapped in a kind of pincer electrocution:
So, what might “good” lighting look like? One effect that immediately jumped to mind is one Daniel had commented on from week 5; the intended connotations of Jahmene’s halo effect seem pretty obvious:
Staying with Jahmene, here’s another still from last Saturday’s show, just before further lights reveal his angelic backing choir. The effect is in obvious contrast to the District 3 still shown above:
Let’s revisit how the lighting looked in another performance from this series which I think we can probably all agree was intended to be positively received – Ella’s week 1 ‘Rule The World’. Here’s the opening shot, with Ella bathed in a soft glow:
It’s not all close-ups for Ella. But the lighting effects on her wide-angles do seem to have the effect of focusing our attention on her:
This one may, at a push, be a visual attempt to play into the effort we’ve remarked on to associate the word “star” with Ella:
We’re sure there are counterexamples, and stage lighting is an area with significant scope for debate about what the effects on viewers’ perceptions will be. Nonetheless, we found it intriguing to be told that the acts allegedly notice and remark on it, and it all seems completely plausible to us. It’s something we’ll be paying increased attention to in coming weeks.
Your thoughts on the above, and your continuing thoughts on the competition in general? As ever, do keep the conversation going below.