Let’s play a little game. Imagine that you’d started watching the X Factor only in week 2. You remember week 2 – back when only one wheel had fallen off Project Credible Overs, the market still considered Kye Sones and Melanie Masson as more likely to be Gary’s last act standing, and in response to Christopher Maloney’s rendition of ‘Alone’, the judges used the word “cheese” more often than a children’s photographer.
Since then all you’d have heard about Christopher from the judges is that he is too embarrassingly karaoke to deserve to progress through the competition, while a drip-drip-drip of stories in the tabloids have alleged that he’s a diva, rude, arrogant, intimidating, two-faced, a fake, a phoney, a love cheat, disliked by backstage staff and his fellow acts, and – most startlingly – that he once attempted to strangle someone on a cruiseship.
Now watch his original audition. It’s like stepping into a parallel universe.
Talking about how he’s filled in the application form then ripped it up for five years in a row, Chris says “people have discouraged me and said I’m not good enough. They’ve really knocked my confidence”. Who would have guessed, at that point, that Christopher’s narrative on the X Factor would become one of the judges repeatedly saying he’s not good enough?
In stark contrast to the cutaways to a bored-looking panel that have come to mark Chris’s performances on the live shows – most notoriously a sniggering Louis in week 8 – in the audition, cutaways to Louis, Tulisa, Gary and guest judge
Rita Ora Geri Halliwell all show them looking rapt. We see audience members moved to tears. The audience, and all four judges, rise to give Chris a standing ovation.
Tulisa and Louis then insist on “me nan” coming out on stage. As Chris explains that people have said “don’t come on here because you’re going to embarrass yourself”, Louis and Tulisa look outraged on Chris’s behalf. Ha! The irony. Louis sends him on his way with a “million percent yes”.
Oh, Christopher. Where did it all go wrong?
As it happens, we can pretty confidently answer that question. Although we don’t know exactly when and where it was, there will have been a precise moment at which a meeting of the production team decided it would be a good idea to have a wildcard – inviting the public to vote through one of the judges’ houses rejects to join the live shows as a 13th act.
We speculated at the time that this whole twist idea might have been conceived purely and simply to wring some extra televisual entertainment out of Christopher’s nervous shakes – they had, after all, cruelly left his name till last to be called safe in the bootcamp cull. If so, this now looks like the reality show equivalent of Dr Frankenstein breathing life into his Creature.
We’d put good money on producers’ thinking at the time going something like this: “We’ll let the public vote Maloney back in, give them a feelgood moment in show 1, spend two or three weeks gently taking the wind out of his sails, and get shot of him by mid-series”.
And they must have felt they had good reason to think this was do-able. After all, they had experience with a rapidly-deflating wildcard in the shape of Amelia Lily. In her return week in 2011, she topped the vote after singing from the pimp slot; just one week later, she was in the bottom two.
Producers’ treatment of Chris in week 1 suggested that they were already worried about the possibility of him building up too much of a head of steam; it will be interesting to see how convincingly he won the wildcard vote when the show release the statistics after the final. Televisually, it makes sense to treat a wildcard return as they did Amelia Lily – keep the tension going through the show, and announce the wildcard winner as the final performer at the end. Instead, they slotted Chris in 6th of the 13 acts.
(As it happens, the new voting system lessened the effect of singing from the pimp slot in early weeks, but producers weren’t to know that at the time.)
Not only did they give him no help with the running order, Louis unleashed the word “cruiseship” after that week 1 performance. Producers ran with the theme in week 2, when Christopher’s backdrop couldn’t have looked any more cruiseship unless they’d made the stage sway slightly:
This kind of thing despatched Sami Brookes pretty quickly in 2011, so when Christopher survived week 2 but got more of the same in week 3, we reckoned he looked a reasonable price to be eliminated at 5/2 after the Saturday show.
No sooner had we pressed publish on that article, the Star published a leak claiming that Christopher had topped the first two votes. This would happen twice more, after week 6’s and week 8’s live shows. We were sceptical at first, despite the Star’s track record of being accurate with their leaks. But the departure of Ella in week 7, the week following the Star had claimed she was struggling to avoid the bottom two, effectively made doubt impossible.
At some point, producers appear to have decided that if they couldn’t drag Maloney down, they might as well get some fun out of him. They may have been influenced by the way Rylan was unexpectedly winning people over on a personal level. As well as rewatching Chris’s audition, it’s well worth reminding yourself of Rylan’s. If you’d been told before the live shows that backstage reports would claim one of these acts was universally regarded as genuinely lovely and the other widely disliked for vanity and diva-ish behaviour, which would you have guessed was which? Unable to shoehorn Rylan into that role, the show needed a pantomime villain.
It’s worth quoting in full the wonderful analogy drawn by Heisenberg after Nicole had compared Rylan to Babybel and Christopher to Stilton in week 3:
I’m sensing complex flavours developing for Cheesy Maloney, please indulge my analogy for a moment…
“Cheese improves over time. Different cheeses require different treatments. For example, most goat cheeses are aged for less than three weeks, and require regular turning and patting down.”
[Note: We are 3 weeks in and Maloney has been thoroughly turned and patted down – but without success – producers now realise that he’s not made of goat cheese as originally suspected]
“Sheep and cow’s milk cheeses can be aged for longer and many of them develop more complex flavours as a result.”
[Note: The next few weeks will likely reveal that Maloney is indeed made of sheep and cow’s milk cheese, with his performances embodying such complex flavour and appeal that a ‘people’s champion’ phenomenon begins to emerge.]
“That said there is also such a thing as a “dead” cheese. The cheese probably sat on the shelf for a little too long, and has started to lose some of its spark. It may still taste OK, but it quickly becomes forgettable.”
[Note: Following the peak of the sheep & cow’s milk cheese phase, with mutterings of making the final beginning to circulate – the producers decide that gloves are off and operation “dead cheese” begins – quick, painless, and lethal. Thankfully the duration of most cruises doesn’t surpass sheep & cow’s milk cheese phase and Christopher sails off happily into the sunset never having to succumb to “dead cheese” treatment again (probably with his nan).]
As it happens, Operation Dead Cheese took longer to materialise than we had expected. As Daniel described in his article on the Christopher Maloney phenomenon after week 6, every week it was possible to see some help for Christopher amid the attacks – indeed, in the form of the attacks, as over-the-top criticism risked motivating a sympathy vote, or was designed to do so.
Week 7 saw arguably the most hilarious sight in X Factor history – in the week after we published an article on how stage lighting may be used to help or hinder acts, the show decided to shine beams of light from the eyes of a creepy, devilish, meltingly pixellated portrayal of Christopher’s face:
But then the judges, and Dermot, chose to draw attention to it afterwards, allowing Gary and Chris to make clear that it had nothing to do with them. We can just about believe that this may have been an oversight in the case of the judging panel, but that’s more of a stretch in the case of Dermot, who is invariably a well-briefed model professional. The decision to point out to viewers how the backstage team appeared to be undermining Chris was an odd one if they were serious about dragging him down.
Next week it was more of the same. As Dug described it in his review of the show, “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.”
And yet again, the comments afterwards drew attention to it, thus giving the nans and Scousers reason to vote for Chris in sympathy at having been surrounded by all that homoerotic writhing manflesh.
We’ll admit it – we wondered if the show had lost their touch. With all the reports about how much Christopher is disliked backstage, were they just unable to rein in their antipathy with the result that they kept misjudging and pushing things too far? But week 9 put us right on that score. Of course they hadn’t overlooked that the best way to undermine Chris would be through lukewarm validation from the judges and an unsuitably modern song. They were just biding their time.
In our devil’s advocate moments, it had occurred to us to wonder if producers might actually want Chris to win. Racking our brains to see if we could come up with a plausible-seeming rationale for this, we came up with this one: supposing that Simon Cowell has already decided to return to rescue the show in 2013, could it be that the rescue attempt would be more headlineworthy if a Christopher win had plunged the show into the deepest of nadirs?
But week 9 reassures us that this isn’t the thinking. We’d got a taster that the tactics might be changing in The Sun earlier in the week:
Insiders have been briefing against the ex-cruise ship singer for weeks and Rylan Clark has told TV Biz he planned to blast Christopher when he got chucked out.
But last night ditched Rylan kept schtum and trotted out a bland line that sounded as if it was fed to him by the show’s powerful press office.
Asked what he thought of Christopher — dubbed Christopher Baloney after he hid his cruise ship past — he simply muttered: “Chris is a great performer and has a fantastic voice. I wish him all the best.”
Rylan’s hatred of Christopher is well known to show staff and his pals.
A source said: “The backlash is working for Christopher.
“The more people say nasty things about him, the more votes he gets.
“The feeling now is the less said about him the better.”
(Is it just us, incidentally, or has the show felt a lot more meta this year? From reports like this to the fun-poking at Louis’s “next big boyband” tic last weekend, it sometimes feels like they’re merrily taking the piss out of themselves).
Sure enough, Chris’s treatment on Saturday studiously avoided stirring up any sympathy votes. Louis’s “you’ve already done enough to change your life” tone after Chris’s first number was indicative of lethal assaults on overs who have overstayed their welcome in previous years. Then there was Chris’s second number, a Michael Buble cover that exposed his vocal limitations.
Completing the coup de grace, Gary assured Chris’s fans that this is what his album would sound like.
Producers will welcome the fact that Chris’s presence in the final will generate far more column inches this week than Union J’s would have done. But based on his semi-final treatment, we’re fairly sure they will be dreaming up every tactic they can think of to ensure he doesn’t take the prize this weekend. It should be fun to see what they come up with. Primarily, we expect them to push the idea that Louis introduced last Saturday – that Christopher has done enough to guarantee a career on the West End stage and doesn’t need the win. They will simultaneously push the idea that only if James/Jahmene get the win will they have the recording career they deserve. It will be one big attempt to guilt-trip the voting public.
Whether you think Chris is worth backing or opposing at current odds of 7/2 largely depends, then, on how much you trust that producers have the situation in hand. Week 9 went a long way towards restoring our confidence that they know what they’re doing. Could it be that Chris’s backdrop of clock faces and gears for his Buble song was not just intended to suggest that his time is running out, but that their treatment of him is going like clockwork?
What have you made of Christopher’s journey from the nervous wreck of auditions to the alleged Cruiseship Strangler? Do you trust producers to be able to stop him from winning? As ever, do let us know below. Later in the week we’ll be covering the journeys of James and Jahmene.