It was the X Factor reboot that wasn’t. Saturday night’s programme, featuring the return of closed-room auditions, seemed to herald the return to a lighter, more positive tone. But the Sunday night arena tryouts felt little different from those of recent years, just more redundant in the circumstances. A pre-bootcamp bootcamp.
It’s as if producers knew that the format had to change but didn’t have the guts to go the whole way, creating instead this halfway house: old-school X-Factor on Saturday, new-school X-Factor on Sunday. The overall effect was to show us how much the franchise has deteriorated over the years into overly sentimental and manipulative guff.
That aside, what about the singers?
I have to start with Sam Bailey as she was the only one to get a long segment on both the Saturday and Sunday, and her second arena audition shown on Xtra Factor. She also received the only four-judge standing ovation for her performance of ‘Who’s Loving You’, which was the most impressive of her three pieces, even moreso than a rendition of ‘Listen’ that eurovicious thought showed “colour, a rocky edge, good control and real strength to her voice, particularly in the upper register”.
The plucky, hard-working everywoman trope is not new to X Factor. The question is, can the 36-year-old prison officer break the semi-final glass ceiling where Mary Bryne and Niki Evans failed?
Let’s not forget that Mary Byrne was the only contestant to outpoll Matt Cardle in a live show (Week 1) and was the studio audience favourite in the first two weeks, riding a wave of goodwill. As Dan points out, Sam – like Mary – should appeal to a demographic that appears happy to vote from the beginning, as they did for Chris and Jahmene last year.
But the later experience of Mary Byrne does instil caution.
Producers proceeded to give Mary a succession of frumpier-looking outfits and unsuitable song choices, before culling her in week 9 at the expense of the younger and less popular Cher Lloyd, who was presumably deemed to be more commercially viable. Sam may be vulnerable to the same treatment that finished off Mary – a vote-dampening suggestion that “whatever happens” she’s already done enough to change her life.
So will Sam be Tesco-Maried or not? Pimpin4rizeal “can’t see the producers pushing for her”, while stoney thinks “the fact that no one like her has won it before means they are more likely to push her”.
Given her starring role in the all-important first weekend auditions, we have to consider: might producers want Sam as a winner, and why? With an eye on the “how long can the X Factor continue after 10 years” conversation, might they think it would rejuvenate the franchise to have a winner who comes across as walked-in-off-the-steet rather than scouted-and-groomed? Producers made sure to show us that she’s not just an everywoman, she’s an everywoman with an everyman husband and an everyfamily with two everykids and an everydog. Might they think that a winner reflecting the average ITV viewer’s household back to themselves would buy the show some goodwill?
It’s also interesting that the reported list of judges’ houses candidates includes last year’s controversial bootcamp eliminee, Joe Whelan. If that list is correct then he appears to be the only male in the overs category at judges’ houses, which would suggest he may be on course for the lives in the name of gender balance, and he is an obvious natural fit for Sharon, who mentors the category. So anyone backing Sam needs to bear in mind the real possibility that she may not even enter the live shows as our Alpha Over.
Time will tell.
Otherwise, producers mixed it up in the girls category – Hannah Barrett getting the love on Saturday night but given much shorter shrift the following evening, when the pimp slot went to Tamera Foster. It was a mother of a pimp slot too, covering almost a quarter of Sunday’s show; a third if you include her joint segment with Jerrie Dila, with whom she had auditioned as a duo the previous night.
I thought the storyline on each occasion – the improvised pairing and forgotten words – seemed a little forced. Given that Silver Rock had been together for only a week, it’s hardly stretching the boundaries of cynicism to wonder if someone backstage may have put them up to a joint audition with a view to the judges then being able to split them up again.
Producers were clearly concerned that viewers would be thinking that the arena auditions were a waste of space, given that they included a clunkily expositive “that’s why we need the arena!” conversation between Nicole and Gary half an hour into the show. And this was another highly convenient storyline – see, here’s someone who impressed in the room but freaked out in front of an audience! This additional arena stage does have a point, honest!
But if these storylines struck us as forced, they weren’t half as forced as Tamera’s vocals for ‘I Have Nothing’. Editors did their best to cover up some of the worst moments by cutting away to the audience reaction, and ramping up their applause, but eurovicious summed up her problems: “she’s just all over the place”.
Still, as Shoulders remarked, there is plenty of room for a “journey” – and not only that, but the classic young female journey on this show, the journey to self-confidence. She had this year’s Ella slot, alongside the repeated Ella-esque refrain, “she’s only 16 by the way”. And there’s her fantastic Rihanna-esque looks, also noted by our commenter, R.
I’m not sure whether Tamera has the Middle England appeal that producers were confident of getting for Ella, and she’s already had some unfortunate drugs press, as Ben Cook alerted us to. Gavster observes “that’s usually terminal”. It will certainly be a test of how keen producers are on her.
Overall, while the edit suggested that Tamera has the green light from producers, at this stage at least, there are some clear red flags for punters. Similarly priced alongside Sam Bailey at 8-1, this is another one I’m happy to wait on.
Currently third in bookmakers’ lists at 12-1, Hannah Barrett’s perfunctory Sunday night treatment could either be an indication that producers are not as interested as they seemed on Saturday night, or that they don’t want to prematurely over-egg the pudding of her moving backstory.
Like Tamera, there was an untrained rawness about the vocals she displayed for ‘One Night Only’. In the comments section, R, pimpin4rizeal and eurovicious were rightly not blown away. Something of both Tamera’s and Hannah’s fortunes may depend on how much polish can be added in a short space of time.
Still, I found Hannah to be a highly sympathetic character. Should producers give her a chance in the live shows, you can expect the lessons from Misha B’s ‘bullygate’ to be learnt. There is also the potential for an emotional reconciliation VT with her mother, for which I’d put the spread at about weeks 2-3.
Elsewhere, we believe we may have got a view of another auditionee who appears on the judges’ houses spoilers in the girls catergory, in the shape of Rielle Carrington. She got only a brief slot on Saturday, and if she is indeed the “Riely” in that list linked to above – which was compiled by Digital Spy forumites who attended bootcamp – then she may be fishing in similar waters to Hannah and Tamera. Her top price of 40/1 reflects the brevity of her screentime thus far.
With old stalwarts Jade Richards and Melanie McCabe also reported to have made judges’ houses, that leaves only one of the six girls on the Digital Spy list who we’ve yet to meet.
The only other act we saw this weekend who appears on those spoiler lists is Luke Friend, who opened the very first show. As reflected by his availability at 25/1, the Devon teenager with the acoustic guitar and the unwashed hair didn’t make much of an impression. It’s worth remembering that being chosen to open the first show was a sign that plans were in store for Frankie Cocozza a couple of years ago, and while producers chose not to showcase Luke again on Sunday, he did pop up in the “next week” montage at the end.
We should therefore wait till next week’s show before forming a view on whether Luke is earmarked as anything more than an intended bit-part player. If nothing else, as Steve put it at The Bitch Factor, Luke might at least “get a very nice Garnier Fructis sponsorship deal out of this”.
I don’t hold out much hope for the others who made it through to bootcamp this weekend. Whilst one shouldn’t rely solely on spoilers, the likes of Alejandro Fernandez didn’t seem vocally strong enough to me anyway.
What do you think on these points? Please continue the debate below.