It seems like every week the key question after each Saturday show is the same – so, do they think they can get Christopher out this week, or are they merely trying to drag him off a commanding position at the top of the votes with a longer-term eye on making sure he loses in the final?
The show opened with confirmation from Dermot that there would be no singoff. We have always viewed this as being likely to indicate that producers expected Christopher to be in the top two of the voting – because if that’s the case, why subject either James or Jahmene to the ignominy of being saved in a singoff the week before the final?
But they certainly seemed to change tack with Christopher this week, wheeling out a couple of tactics we’ve been waiting to see for a while – one with each performance.
One of the tried and tested tactics for deflating the support of an act that’s been raking in sympathy and mischief votes is to suggest that they’ve already achieved everything they need to and their journey is thus over. Tonight – as Jack noted in the comments – we got our first plays from that playbook from the judges, with Nicole and – especially significantly – Tulisa offering nothing that could motivate anybody to reach for their phones.
Louis, bless him, generally seems the purest indicator of producer thinking and his lines after Chris’s first performance – “you’ve done enough to change your life, you never have to go back to your old job” – were practically word for word what did for Mary Byrne at this stage of the competition two years ago. The implication is “if you’re voting for Christopher to help him change his life, there’s no need any more! Really, stop now!”
On the other hand, ‘You Raise Me Up’ – dedicated to “me nan”, with whom we saw him share some moments – was sure to delight his voters. It felt to us like producers were keen to take the steam out of sympathy votes, without minding the song choice motivating votes from fans of Chris’s vocals.
That all changed with song two, though. Another thing we’ve been wondering about for weeks is whether the show would ever lumber him with an unsuitable, modern song choice. Bingo! Chris proved himself to be no Michael Buble, against a backdrop of red-and-black clocks, which – as Nicky hypothesised in the comments – might have been intended to suggest subliminally the idea of his time running out.
The show indulged in a bit of cheeky revisionist history in the VT, suggesting that all the bad comments Chris has had over the weeks were nothing to do with him personally and all to do with the fact that he was singing 80s power ballads week after week. Comments from judges continued the pigeonholing of Chris as an old-timey one-trick pony, with Nicole telling him “it’s not your fault” and Louis saying “you are what you are and I love you doing the old songs”.
It was Gary who delivered perhaps the most damaging comment, saying “we’re pointing out the kind of artist he’s going to be”. Are fans of Chris’s vocals going to vote to propel him towards an album that sounds like that?
In all, it felt like a “serious go” at Christopher, as Donald put it in the comments – and more focused and likely to be successful than the previous weeks over-the-top efforts. But is it really intended to get him out tonight? We still very much doubt it, given the lack of singoff. It’s asking a lot for him to fall from never having been in the bottom two to underneath an act that’s been there three times.
Jahmene started his evening with an emotion-packed segment dedicated to his late brother, who had committed suicide. Once again there was plenty of religious imagery around him – he sang on what looked like a staircase to heaven, got the backing of a choir, and in a tearful response Nicole managed to reference the “baby Jesus” as well as calling him a “little angel”.
He kicked off the second round of proceedings with another “little angel” in his introduction from Nicole. We were reminded of Jahmene’s “wow” moment at his first audition, and it all felt like it should be comfortably enough to get him safely through to the final.
The judges’ comments could hardly have been more positive. Not only did they leave viewers in no doubt that James is the true musician in the competition, Tulisa interestingly chose to confront head-on the sentiment that James doesn’t need to win as he’ll get a deal anyway.
This idea of avoiding complacency about his future prospects was laid on with a spade in James’s second VT, as he told us “I have to win” and thanked people who’d been voting for him, saying he hoped they understood how much he wanted to go all the way. The styling for ‘The Power Of Love’, was questionable – a red-and-black broken heart? Then again, it plays into the show’s portrayal of James as a ladykiller, and hearts are traditionally red.
Certainly the reaction felt like a good old-fashioned pimping. He got the first multi-judge standing ovation that we can remember of this series, with a “performance of the series” from Gary and Tulisa saying how “proud” she would be if he were to be announced as the winner. After both performances, we got a “representing Britain” line from one of the judges, something the show often uses to try to pimp a favoured act over the line.
Nonetheless, the fact that James shortened slightly in the next elimination market reflects that such positive treatment raises a nagging question – was all this intended to set James up as the AntiChris, or does it suggest he’s in trouble and needs all that help just to try to get him through safely to next week?
It’s hard to disagree that Union J deserve to be odds on after a “very unmemorable” evening, in EM’s words. They were always going to struggle to follow the emotion of Chris’s and Jahmene’s opening VTs, but it still felt a little flat when they dedicated their first performance to their fans. That would be the fans who’d let them fall into the bottom two three times in eight weeks, then.
The performance of ‘Beneath You’re Beautiful’ felt like it will have delighted their demo, but probably not been a gamechanger with any floating voters – in other words, perhaps a performance with an eye on flogging some records after the show as opposed to getting them to the final. It’s amusing that Louis is no longer able to keep a straight face when delivering the “next big boyband” line.
For their next trick, Union J tried to persuade us that covering a Westlife classic was their idea, not Louis’s. The onesie skit was fun, but the whole “Uncle Louis” thing didn’t do a great deal to help MK1, as tpfkar noted. Their lighting was all over the place, and lyrically, “I’m Already There” doesn’t exactly motivate people to vote to get them further. There were plenty of references to them having been in the bottom two a lot already, which felt more likely to convey a sense that they’re just not that popular than a sense that they desperately needed votes.
All in all, then, we felt the headlines of tonight look something like this: Jahmene likely sailing through; Chris most probably through as well, but a more successful deramp this time with a view to next week; a debateable night for James; and Union J likely heading home.
How did you read it? As ever, do let us know below.