Producers continued to scrabble for ways to make the arena auditions feel like less of a fifth wheel. Following last week’s build-him-up-to-knock-him-down routine with Bieber-a-like Luke Britnell, this week they went the sow-doubts-so-she-can-wow-us route with Abi Alton – her Sunday pimp slot having been anticipated in the Sofabet comments after Saturday’s show by Gavster, R, Highlighted and Nugg, who saw her live at auditions and bootcamp and assures us her performance in the latter is comparably impactful.
The likeable Guisborough lass is bidding for a third podium finish in a row for the emerging X Factor powerhouse of Teesside, following Middlesbrough’s Amelia Lily in 2011 and Saltburn’s James Arthur last year. Just like Amelia Lily (as Stu noted in the comments), she has a Supportive Dad. Bravo, fathers of the north-east.
The Sofabet community was generally highly enthusiastic about Abi, with several commenters reaching for comparisons with surmised producer Plan As of the last two years (at this stage of the competition, at least), Janet Devlin and Ella Henderson. Boki, eurovicious and Annie mentioned the comparison that came to our mind on Saturday and was reinforced by her original composition on Sunday – Lucy Spraggan.
Lucy’s girl-with-guitar schtick won plaudits and iTunes success with ‘Last Night’ and ‘Tea and Toast’ last year, but didn’t set the phone lines alight, the Yorkshire songstress polling below average in each of her three weeks on the show. Along with the pleasant but less-than-powerhouse vocals, that makes us join stoney in being cautious about Abi.
That said, as many in the comments have argued, you could easily see Abi as producers’ attempt to have another go where they messed up (for different reasons, as Curtis notes), with Ella and Janet before her. She had her second arena song shown on Xtra Factor, and it was arguably the better one. Abi was also chosen to close the second week’s auditions, as James Arthur did last year. So is Abi our Plan A? We just worry that producers might be thinking of her as a nice-to-have credibility-booster for the artistic integrity of the show more than, necessarily, as someone they want or expect to go all the way.
What does seem highly significant, in terms of determining Plan A, is the extraordinary extent to which the girls have been frontloaded. Two shows in and we’ve seen all six of the girls in the Digital Spy forum list of acts rumoured by those in the audience at bootcamp to have got through to judges’ houses, only two of the boys, one [edit: or two, see below] over[s], and no groups.
Last week we wrongly thought that Rielle might be the “Riely” referred to in that list. Nope – turns out this week’s Relley was the spelling variant we were looking for. The Brummie housekeeper with the mint humbug hairstyle made a favourable impression in the likeability stakes on Saturday, but the brevity of her screentime and ouchiness of her vocals in the arena hardly looked like the stuff of planned trajectories to superstardom.
In the interests of ethnic balance within the category, there is surely space for only a maximum of two out of Tamera, Hannah and Relley. Indeed, only one if we’re to get Abi plus one of the two serial rejects.
On which subject, since seeing that Digital Spy list, Daniel and I have surmised that the interests of televisual drama demand an edit pitting thrice-rejected Melanie McCabe against twice-spurned Jade Richards in the final pairing to learn their fate on Nicole’s sofa. Which of the bridesmaids is finally to become a bride? Unless producers are pulling the mother of all headfakes, it surely has to be Melanie now, doesn’t it?
The treatment of the two couldn’t have been more different this weekend. Melanie got the pimp slot on Saturday and had Louis shedding tears, then she got a highly sympathetic VT and much pimping in the arena. Jade’s re-introduction felt like producers were distinctly less invested in her (to the eloquent displeasure of eurovicious) – and, as Gavster observes in the comments, Scotland has been nation non grata in Sycoland since the Jai McDowell fiasco. (As noted by Richard Betsfactor, not one of the 45 semi-finalists in this year’s BGT was from north of the border).
Dermot summed up the vibe after Melanie emerged from the room on Saturday: “Something feels different this year”.
The concern about Melanie has always been that she comes across as a bit bland, vanilla, uninteresting. However, these are also attributes one can cast in a positive light: nice, normal, girl-next-door. And she does have a set of pipes on her. There was a welcome lightness of touch in the show’s introduction of her danger-of-reposession sob story, with Louis blubbing on Saturday about “I know how much your family need it” – and Melanie’s VT encouragingly showed that she’s aware of the value of self-deprecation and self-awareness (immediately following “we don’t have a lot of money” with “as a lot of families don’t”).
The show’s producers themselves, with their three rejections, have done much to furnish Melanie with a backstory that she’d otherwise be missing, one referenced in her arena song choice lyrics: “You shoot me down but I won’t fall”. As Andy puts it, “the public will surely warm to her for her perserverance and persistance”.
It was interesting, too, that the same trick was used to introduce Melanie in the arena show as with Tamera the previous week – interspersing backstage VT footage with footage of the act preceding her on stage being rejected. Presumably this is the contrast principle at work: by immediately preceding Tamera and Melanie with brief footage of a weak and rejected act, it serves to accentuate their strength and significance in the viewers’ minds.
So could Melanie be our plan A? There are a couple of nagging worries here, too – it’s been made so ridiculously obvious that Melanie is favoured over Jade, we can’t rule out the possibility that producers are messing with us. And there is a risk that Melanie could end up as our Jade Ellis or Sophie Habibis, the reliable but dispensable girl kept as backup in case of Plan A malfunction.
Tamera as Plan A, then? Saturday’s show opened with a shot of her sitting at home watching her audition air, but we’d have been much more interested in seeing her reaction at the breakfast table opening the next day’s papers. She certainly did her job of keeping the show in the news, with revelations about drugs and violence.
Sofabet commenters have been debating if producers will have known these revelations were in the pipeline when choosing to give her the first weekend’s pimp slot, and whether they portend a headline-grabbing journey in the lives or being dropped like a hot potato at judges’ houses. We retain an open mind on both counts. While still needing vocal polish, Tamera oozes commercial appeal; could producers hold out hopes of getting her across the line despite her bad press? It would be fun to watch them try.
Moving away from the girls, on Saturday’s show we saw one more of the boys rumoured to have made it to judges’ houses in the shape of Ryan “bin juice” Mathie from ‘Ull. Ryan seemed likeable enough and had a pleasant enough tone to his voice.
He wasn’t shown on the Sunday show, but may pop up next week, as was the case with Luke Friend. Introduced in last week’s room auditions, Luke got only brief screentime in this week’s arena audition show, which hardly portends well – although Ron reports from Ireland that “Louis hinted in an interview with TV3 yesterday (recorded at Judges House) that Luke Friend is his favourite singer in the Boys category”.
White van driver Shelley Smith performed a remarkable feat in actually making a cover of ‘Feeling Good’ sound interesting, and has a very cute daughter, but is not among those rumoured to be at judges’ houses, no doubt because her ecological niche was already occupied by Sam Bailey. [Edit: many thanks to Rob and Ben for pointing out in the comments below reports that Shelley Smith may in fact be the Shelley Lewis who appears in those spoiler lists]. Also rumoured to miss the cut at bootcamp is the entertaining yodeller Barclay, who – like Shelley – would likely be trading significantly shorter than 66/1 otherwise.
Two weeks in, then, and we have three girls vying for market leadership: Tamera, Abi and Melanie. Stu predicted those three as the picks for the lives, and they are certainly the ones who’ve received most producer love in the edits thus far. We’re happy to keep our powder dry at current odds. What are you thinking?