In retrospect, Jahmene Douglas was a casting dream for producers. The diffident Swindon lad with more tragic backstories than a veteran soap character has a narrative that fulfils two classic X Factor plots: overcoming adversity and the journey to confidence.
With so many sob stories to choose from, producers started off his first audition not on childhood abuse, domestic violence or his brother’s suicide but with a Subo-esque focus on his lack of self-belief, strange mannerisms and humble background. He nervously giggled five times in the first 20 seconds of VT, then explained “I’m the biggest worrier” and “I feel like I’m going to wee myself”. All this gave viewers the requisite “shock factor” as Tulisa put it after he had finished ‘At Last’.
“You were like this timid little soul and you couldn’t actually express yourself, until you started singing,” Tulisa also said, as the incidental music to ‘Forrest Gump’ started up. Jahmene, dressed in a rather Gumpesque grey suit and buttoned-up white shirt, was last seen shuffling into the distance arm-in-arm with his Sally Fields-like mother.
Was Jahmene seen by producers as a potential finalist at this point? At Sofabet we have given some credence to the idea that he only emerged as one because he was an effective ‘sink Chris’ candidate. After all, the gospel singer has never looked particularly marketable. But re-watching Jahmene’s audition there’s a significant clue that we failed to register at the time. Take a look yourself and pay attention to the judges’ comments. Can you find it?
Nicole reckons Jahmene is “world class” and could sell records everywhere. World class is shorthand on the show for ‘deserving finalist’. “We’re looking for a worldwide recording artist,” is how Louis usually puts it. Ella got this tag repeatedly. Jahmene was given it at the very beginning. Not picking up on this, and without the benefit of hindsight, we had Jahmene down as a shock earlyish exit during the live shows in our 1-13 prediction. We weren’t alone – in the comments section to that article, plenty (though by no means all) of those sharing their estimates agreed.
Before he could reach that point, Jahmene had to go on a journey of self-belief. They stuck him with the unsuitable ‘Moves Like Jagger’ on the first day of bootcamp, which he messed up. “I should have stood up for myself,” Jahmene said on negotiating which song he and the two other contestants had to perform. He was shown having a panic attack on the second day of bootcamp before two judges went backstage to comfort him, Nicole giving him a maternal hug and Louis playing the surrogate Dad with the words, “We believe in you so much.”
Ma Scherzinger gave him some home truths at judges’ houses by telling him to “grow some balls”, which she could claim he’d done after his week 1 rendition of ‘Imagine’. His VT that week was all about overcoming nerves. “I’m feeling a lot more confident,” he explained. To reinforce what with hindsight should have been a growing suspicion that Jahmene was an intended finalist from the off, he was given the first live show’s pimp slot, winner’s lighting and the winner’s walk to the audience.
The last we saw of Jahmene that Saturday night he was again being mothered, this time by Dermot ruffling his hair.
This became a running joke when referenced in week 2. The second live show was all about boosting Jahmene’s ‘awwwwww’ appeal. The VT revealed he had never had a girlfriend, he was then styled in a white suit which Dermot and Tulisa said made him look “confident” and “dapper”. But if his appeal to maternal instincts across the country wasn’t sealed yet, it certainly would be.
Week 3 witnessed an incredibly moving VT about domestic abuse suffered by his mother during Jahmene’s childhood. He explained that singing had become his sanctuary and broke down after his rendition of ‘Say A Little Prayer’. This was the context in which two judges explained he was “here for a reason”. It would be week 5 before Nicole explicitly said, “you inspire so many other people”. In the meantime, Jahmene had been campaigning against domestic violence. He had become a champion of downtrodden women. From there he has moved onto helping children and young people.
Judges’ comments remained incredibly positive but stepped up a gear after his week 4 rendition of ‘Killing Me Softly’. Louis’s remarks that Jahmene was “his favourite singer in the competition by far”, “a-mazing”, “world class”, “only 20” (he’s not but when did the facts stop Louis?) and the classic “you remind me of …*insert soul singer’s name here*” became interchangeable at this point, like a set of cue cards shuffled for each performance.
Tulisa lost it in a most bizarre manner after the week 5 interpretation of ‘Listen’, with Louis choosing “world class” among his stock phrases. Both said he deserved to be in the final, because subtext is usually not enough on X Factor.
The religious references were also being ramped up. Jahmene is a devout Christian with a background in gospel singing. In week 4 he got a church backdrop:
By week 8, that had been pimped into a golden cathedral:
Nicole’s Biblical comments got similarly more grandiose. In week 5, Jahmene was “a little slice of heaven” and by week 9 it was as if Baby Jesus was present on stage whilst Douglas was singing. The ever-helpful lighting (usually in blue, gold or purple) also conveyed religious imagery at times, giving him a halo effect in week 5:
There were religious nods in song choices such as in week 6, when Jahmene sang ‘Angels’; Nicole referred to him twice as a “little angel” last weekend, when he sang on a stairway to heaven:
He got a choir for that performance, as he had in weeks 1 and 6. So thoroughly had Jahmene been transformed from Forrest Gump into the Angel Gabriel, your Sofabet team even started seeing religious subliminals where they may well have been coincidental (and here endeth this series of images; ah-men):
At this rate, they should give Jahmene the full Nativity for the final. The Christmas song gives the show every opportunity to go to town (Bethlehem) with ‘Away in a Manger’ or something similar. I want shepherds, the three wise men, Mary, Joseph, the crib, hay on the floor, animals – the works.
Meanwhile, reminders of the confidence journey continued. He was hard on himself in the week 6 VT over his rendition of ‘Listen’ (he was far more honest about it than the judges had been). His week 7 VT during the EuroDisney trip was about what good friends he had made with the other contestants. This was the lad who had admitted in his audition VT that “I’m a stay at home kind of guy. I don’t mingle very well.” No more, thanks to the caring bosom of the X Factor family. Family was the subject of another incredibly moving VT in week 9, focusing on his brother’s death at a young age.
The journey from workaday obscurity carried on as well, notably in the hilarious and inspired week 5 VT when Nicole discovered that good food costs less at Asda. Incidentally, Nicole’s star turn here and in many other moments has done nothing but help Jahmene. It will be fascinating to see how their duet comes off in the final.
We were reminded in week 9 that success on the show meant that Jahmene would never be stacking shelves again. The semi-final was a return to the full-on pimping Jahmene had received for most of the live shows. I did speculate beforehand why weeks 7 and 8 were not so overwhelmingly great for him. They followed just after a story suggested Jahmene had refused to sing a group number that glorified drinking, Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’. This was one of the only articles about him which seemed less than totally positive.
But in week 9 as well as the emotional VT, the choir returned and most importantly he got to perform his feted audition song. He was also recoupled in the running order with Christopher. It was operation ‘get Jahmene to the final’, as several of our commenters noted.
All in all, Jahmene’s journey has been a highly coherent one, and – although different in degree, given just how much he has overcome – a very conventional one by X Factor standards. As we have stated before, he is this year’s feelgood contestant. Which again makes me wonder that, amused by the initial Forrest Gump references, we may have been guilty of missing the signs that he was meant for the final from the very start.
But what of his prospects in that final? Counting against him, we have to return to the idea that commercially speaking, Jahmene seems less Jah-mazing and more Leon Jah-ckson. But producers would probably prefer his feelgood victory to a Maloney one. So much depends on whether he is the most effective AntiChris in the final. If he convincingly beat James in the semi, producers will probably feel like a Jah-motional victory is their best option. If not, they’ll look to the lad from Saltburn instead.
What’s your opinion on this and Jahmene’s journey in general? Do let us know below.