And so we returned to the sausagefest that has become X Factor 2012. A pointed recap saw Shaky Maloney’s triumph swiftly edited into a shot of Ella weeping dramatically, aiding the implication that it is Shaky, not Rylan, who is the thief of space intended for talent.
The judges arrived in their usual barf-worthy splendour and Nicole had exchanged her swanxedo for the languid puce of a dead flamingo. Credit where it’s due, Nicole is now the only judge in X Factor history to mentor 3 out of a final 5 acts without a loose clue as to where she even is. As such, she was duty bound to open the show and it was Rylan up first to face the baying crowd.
Jahmene was initially absent from an endearing VT in which Rylan and James gutted a turkey in honour of Nicole’s national holiday (insert fisting joke here). Nicole appeared to make an effort with a pilgrim-style bonnet but I’m choosing to imagine that she’s simply Amish behind closed doors.
The big shock for Rylan was the lack of medley in his opening number. Mamma Mia was surprisingly tuneful for the Ibiza chanteur and the chess set staging was positively Friedmanesque but overall treatment was lukewarm. Louis called Rylan “people’s champion” whilst Gary declared “check mate.” There was no motivation for the public to vote.
Union J’s first VT focused on Jaymi coming out in the press. I found the treatment a little patronising and apologetic but, from a middle England voter perspective, the “We’re still proud of him” spiel couldn’t have been handled better (unless, as we suspect producers would have preferred, the issue had never arisen at all).
Union J’s performance began from plinths. PLINTHS! Do we love them? Do we hate them? Do they unify or divide? Do they distance or celebrate? PLINTHS! And red and black, of course. It looked grim at first.
Then again, The Winner Takes It All was not long ago voted Britain’s favourite ABBA song by ITV viewers and the selection can’t have been without that knowledge. The vocal was solid enough, if set against a badly timed arrangement. Gary had a “good feeling” about the boys and praise was split beyond Jaymi (no surprises considering the demo and the pink week in PR). By the end of the segment it looked like a fair amount of pimping from where we were sat on the Sofabet sofa.
Jahmene (or, as Frankie Boyle has called him, Lewis Hamilton with his head in a vacuum jar) took his mum to the Empowering Wimminz Awards in a shiny new suit and concreted the notion that he is a GOOD AND LOVELY CARING LAD. Performance-wise, he had a gold plinth, a keychange, a cathedral backdrop and plenty of references to dreams and angels. Comments were positive but not overreaching. Vocals were “not on point” but ultimately, Jahmene continued to the receive the benediction of all four judges.
James was up next and his VT focused on Ella’s elimination. James was not portrayed as the act that pushed her out in the singoff but rather her fellow terror victim left with the crippling responsibility of carrying her candle onwards through the Shaky night. We were reminded of James’ ‘roots’ and the fact that he was “not your typical contestant.”
The dubstep beat from James’ Hometown Glory was present, although subtly, in his rendition of S.O.S. The same track was chosen for Ben Mills in 2006 when struggling to find an appropriately ‘credible’ number. James was the only act, discounting the dancey Union J, to perform what Gazza Borelow would call an ‘original interpretation’ on the Abba theme. The lyrics “when you’re gone / how can I even try to go on” nicely echoed the idea that James was ‘doing it for Ella’ and by association for talent and passion and ‘the people’ in general.
Judges were expectedly happy. Louis was surprised to hear that angst and ABBA could work together, which leads me to question whether Louis had a) ever listened to any ABBA lyrics or b) yet been fully assembled in the technologically primitive 1970s. Louis should watch Muriel’s Wedding.
Perfunctory reference to Borelow’s OBE preceded Shaky Maloney’s VT. To Camera, Chris commented, “the public are keeping me in… I’m working the hardest… Ella’s fans should have picked up the phone.” The juxtaposition with James Arthur’s ostensible humility couldn’t have been any starker.
Chris performed in front of a homoerotic writhing of manflesh – surely the best way to alienate the nans and the scousers who are supposedly keeping him in week by week. Lyrically, “if I had to do it all again, I would my friend,” enforced the ‘it’s not my fault I’m still here’ story. Judges slated the staging as “creepy” and all in all the attack felt way too full on. Then again, ITV were never ones to choose subtlety over a backlash.
Speaking of full-on attacks, commenter EM shared the front page of tomorrow’s Mirror in the comments during tonight’s show. It occurs to us that if Chris really is getting a lot of Liverpool votes, it might be smart to drop such a nuclear story in The Mirror and not The Sun – the latter is still not popular on Merseyside.
A slight change in order saw Union J opening the second half of the show. VT focused on the turmoil of having hit the bottom two on two occasions and attempted a phoenix from the ashes sentiment built around the idea that the group had finally gelled and found its true identity. Work ethic was a major focus too.
I’ll Be There, as with week 2’s Bleeding Love, was another echo of Leona Lewis. There was a mild curtain of flame (in XF territory, anything less than Armageddon is mild in pyrotechnic terms). The ‘little girls’ comments from judges may have been a little condescending towards the demo, but, all in all, we felt I’ll Be There constituted a solid boyband moment from Union J.
It’s worth noting that some astute commenters feel very differently about Union J’s treatment tonight. Cath, Sarah and tpfkar were among those who felt the show was out to deramp them – as was our friend Richard Betsfactor, whose thoughts are up on Betsfactor.com.
Next up, Nicole got the wrong camera AND the wrong act but Rylan appeared regardless. After some barrel-scraping product placement in VT form, he appeared on stage in the much-beloved medley. Minajesque clowns in a flurry of Technicolor made it a watchable, if not game-changing set.
Only then (that’s right, Nicole) was it time to reconvene with James Arthur. Let’s Get It On is a big, big song and we were all a tad concerned that the lovechild of Ed Sheeran and Plan B (damn you Borelow for stealing my joke in advance – I’m using it anyway) might not pull it off.
If you had suggested after James’ audition that he would be pulling out Marvin Gaye in week 8, we might have said pffft! But James was shockingly solid on the soul number. There was a bit of a moment on the big falsetto note, but in comparison to some of the flat yelps on high notes by ‘big voices’ like Ella and Jahmene thus far, it was hardly noticeable.
After this standout performance, James is challenging Jahmene for favouritism and is looking like he has a real chance of breaking the hoodoo that nobody in the bottom two has yet won. The suited and booted soul number seemed like a nice ploy to pick up floating votes that Jahmene might otherwise have inherited from Ella. By this point in the evening’s proceedings, Rylan and Maloney were both noticeably shortening in the elimination market with James and Union J doing the same for the win.
Motown should have been Jahmene’s easiest week but as was the case with Rylan in guilty pleasures week, it is often hard for an act to stand out in a week where they are essentially unable to do anything unexpected. Stand out Jahmene did however, on a giant plinth carved into his own name. Astute viewers and those prone to conspiracy theories about associating Jahmene with religion might have noticed the giant ‘AHMEN’ that filled the screen for much of the performance, with cameras cutting off the end letters.
The celestial associations of Jahmene with halos, angels and heaven throughout the weeks might have done well to suggest that he is pure and wholesome (and above us mere mortals) but it wouldn’t take too much for programme-makers to push the theme over the edge and leave us with a Marcus Collins-style crucifixion image. My personal feeling at this stage is that producers would like to keep Jahmene steady, avoid a backlash-risking deramp and pip him at the post with whom I assume is their favoured winner, James. It looks quite possible, but then again this has been a bizarre year.
Chris, who has admitted before that he can’t really dance, was forced to close the show with a song about dancing. Dancing On The Ceiling is a karaoke classic but hardly a quintessential Motown number. I think they did it just to confuse viewers with that upside-down camera shot which was shown again in the reprise.
Still, it fitted well with the cruiser’s 80s repertoire, albeit far too up-tempo for his sharp, vibrato vocals. Commenter Nicky made an interesting point re the Abba round – Chris was put on last with a not-so-well-loved number after some real classics. The same happened with the Motown songs. Judges comments were damning as ever with references to Benidorm and karaoke aplenty. Again, it felt a little like overkill to us.
And so we are exactly where we thought we were last week. If producers have gauged it right then the much-loathed Shaky’s time is up and he’ll be sent packing. If they’ve overcooked their treatment of him again, the tepidly-treated Rylan is backup evictee and I’m moving to Canada. Our sense of Union J’s treatment tonight is that producers are hoping to rebuild some excitement about them in the hopes of completing an all-J final, and hoping to avoid a third bottom 2 appearance.
At time of writing, Rylan is favourite to go, shortly followed by Chris. Our feeling is that producers will attempt to cut Chris loose in any sing-off, and it wouldn’t be against the grain for both Tulisa and Louis to side with Rylan should the latter be bottom of the public vote.
Agree? Disagree? We don’t mind, we just want you to FEEL! Let us know how you do, as ever, below.