Bootcamp confirmed it: those Digital Spy spoilers were bang on the money.
The weekend heralded another change in format as acts within each category competed for one of six seats. In a twist, judges could continue to select acts once the seats were full, provided they reneged on a previous selectee.
It was a Kafkaesque game of musical chairs and public opinion seems divided on the set-up. Personally, I thought the added anguish made for great, tense telly and it’s nothing that doesn’t happen to young talent in ‘the real world’ every day. Promises are broken, deals are voided and dreams are crushed. Soz babes, hashtag showbiz, hashtag that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Up first were the girls. As commenter tpfkar notes it was unexpected to have the most competitive category up first but it does mean after all that it’s easier to close on the girls next week at judges houses (an answer also offered by JScouser2002).
Tamera Foster is still holding on to the top spot in odds tables, despite some negative press in past weeks. Styled as Rihanna whilst singing Rihanna, Tamera may not be setting herself apart as well as she could. However, at only 16 years old she is raw, unpolished and endearing with a versatility to her tone that could see her tackling theme after theme in live shows. Gavster sees her as one of the only “credible acts capable of delivering a worthy chart topping and possible international career” whilst Natasha warns that her perceived arrogance could be her downfall.
Poor Relley Clarke was once again swept over but managed to win and hold on to her seat. With such a strong category competing for three live spots and stories abound of Relley the malcontent, it’s no wonder to see her odds evaporate into certain exclusion from the competition.
Almost exactly the same can be said for third-time chancer Jade Richards. If indeed Melanie were to be the wildcard in live shows, programme makers would have to pass on a great opportunity for a Jade/Melanie final edit at Nicole’s house with only one of the two last-chance-salooners making the grade. Without this narrative, the cruelty of dumping Jade yet again serves little purpose even in telly-gold terms.
For me (and commenter Natasha) 17-year-old Hannah Barrett was the revelation of the weekend. After a classic dead parent set-up and a compelling powerhouse performance of I’d Rather Go Blind, Hannah is now trading in single figures for the win. She has a rich soulful voice that eclipses most of the reedier, stagey tones in Nicole’s category but ultimately she may be too ferociously soulful for middle England. If this were Dream Girls, Hannah would be played by Jennifer Hudson whilst Beyonce would take the role of Tamera Foster.
If you’re not familiar with that reference, it has to do with the kind of black voices that appeal to white audiences. We’ve seen it before with Dionne Mitchell, Rachels Hylton and Adedeji, TreyC Cohen and Misha B. An even better comparison might come from BBC’s The Voice in which babyfaced powerhouse Ruth Brown failed to live up to expectations. Previous XF winners Leona and Alexandra blended soul and technical skill with Wonder Bread sweetness and mainstream pop stylings. Similarly (and tragically) this is much more Tamera’s type of competition than it is Hannah’s.
This year’s obligatory Devlinesque John Lewis cupcake-botherer is presumed beta-girl Abi Alton. Hailing from Guisborough, a mere stone’s throw from previous voting hotbeds Saltburn and Middlesborough, Abi means great potential for regional support. With a not unpleasant voice in the mould of Birdie or Gabrielle Aplin, there’s no reason she couldn’t succeed for producers where Ella Henderson failed and Janet Devlin lost favour. She’s not for me but there’s no reason not to suspect that producers are still waiting to gauge the public response before settling on their plan A.
And finally it was time for Melanie McCabe, who has been a pain in the punters’ arse for four years now. Were it not for Melanie we could surely cast Tamera, Abi and Hannah as alpha, beta and gamma girls respectively. The wildcard question mark casts doubt on everything. Why bring Melanie back yet again if you don’t have astronomical plans for her? Why all the fuss for a girl who, frankly, isn’t an exceptional singer? Are producers simply frontloading Nicole’s category in the hopes of finally birthing another female win? With four young women in single figure odds the firms certainly seem to think so.
Such strong emphasis on the girls’ category left almost no screen time to the poor overs, who were skimmed over like pebbles on a waning tide. Up first was prisoner officer Sam (whom Highlighted ingeniously dubs ‘Old’) Bailey. I Normally I have little time for the overs, especially when they are of the pointedly unglamorous with secret cabaret past ilk. However, there’s just something a little rock ‘n’ roll about Sam and her vocal prowess is undeniably incredible in a way that few cruise ship singers could boast.
Falling sharply behind Sam in the odds is Joseph Whelan. Daniel put me on to out a couple of hints at a Whelan stitch-up in Sharon’s “wimp” comment and Gary’s suggestion that Sharon drop him for Zoe, which prompted a slightly embarrassing “you can’t do this to me” routine. Sending a doubly put-upon Whelan into the lives could run the risk of a classic people’s champion syndrome. Along with his montage treatment in the arena auditions, the factors are congruent with a rumour of him missing out. Let’s not, however, count our chickens. He’s not out of the race quite yet.
But if not Joe, which candidates seem likely to join Old Bailey in Mrs O’s overs army? The rumours point to Andrea Magee and Zoe Devlin. If correct, this will be a pity for raging firecracker Shelley Smith who adds a touch of hen-night spice to a final 24 devastatingly short on novelty. It will also be tough on belting Lorna Simpson whom Gary called ‘sensational’ and ‘the surprise performance of the night.’ Of all categories and their potential finalists, the overs seem the least transparent at this point.
In the groups category, Brick City have a sort of Black Eyed Peas via Sister Act 2 charm about them but are currently at the longest odds of the three acts rumoured to make it to live shows. Rough Copy may have overcome the challenge of losing a member but it’s hard to imagine the remaining two-piece having much clout in the finals.
Kingsland, the blaringly obvious alpha group, bring a lot of manic fun to the competition and I for one look forward to seeing them give it a good go each week in the finals. The very fact that boy bands typically fare much better than girl bands and mixed groups is good reason to expect Kingsland to make top group, if not the final. With Gary’s pride at the helm, it’s hard to imagine producers won’t want at least one band to do relatively well out of this year.
If Kingsland turn out to be a flop with the public, then the last hope for the groups rests on the heads of this year’s frankenband, known by us for now (courtesy again of Highlighted) as Miss Manufactured. The trio boast a triple threat of vocal ability but strike me as slightly more Miss Frank than Little Mix. Even in reference to the latter it seems far too soon for the show to push for another alpha girl group.
First up in the boys’ category was this year’s presumed heartthrob in the shape of baby-faced Ryan Gosling lookalike Sam Callahan. Sam is rumoured to make it through to live shows but as Andrew and Highlighted point out, he has been continually montaged and underexposed.
Paul Akister is currently peaking at single figure odds and certainly has the range to justify them. However, rumours point to his exclusion from live shows to the advantage of comparative outsider Luke Friend. Luke certainly has the John Lewis folksy appeal but his hair is bound to annoy. Could Paul/Luke be the major upset to the reliability of the final 12 rumours?
Little Giles Potter definitely lacks something in the experience or vocal confidence department but assuming he doesn’t make the lives, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a returning candidate (providing of course that the show has another year in it). I was more than a little pleased to see Tom Mann fail to find a seat – this has been a year joyfully short of cringe-worthy vocal affectations and I wouldn’t wish the public subject to Tom’s yelping week after week.
Finally, how do you solve a problem like Nicholas McDonald? Wee Nicky received the pimp slot of bootcamp weekend, turfing the impossibly handsome Alejandro from his chair. I’m struggling to agree with a portion of commenters that see Nicholas storming a ‘teenybopper’ or ‘teenage girl’ vote but I think the combined regional and older-voter appeal make him a serious threat to producers should they not desire a win for him. Gavster points out the rather top-heavy girls category may split the vote to the advantage of Nicholas whose category peers are yet to make an impact.
The Scots have been conspicuous by their absence for many years – presumably because the powers that be have learned lessons from chart-flops Michelle McManus (Pop Idol) and X Factor’s own Leon Jackson. Lest anyone get touchy, my point here is not that the Scots are lacking in decent talent (Annie Lennox anyone?) but simply that they are such loyal voters that they threaten the election of a universally commercial performer-product.
Are we to assume therefore that producers would be OK with a McDonald win? Or simply that they have honed their sniping skills to such a degree that they feel confident scooping up the Scottish phone revenue and still pipping Nick to the post? After Maloney-gate perhaps programme makers are looking for still yet more outrageous challenges to set themselves. Perhaps the fun will be in trying to push through a female superstar in the face of a nation who quite clearly want to elect a portly choirboy. Who knows what crackpot schemes erupt behind the closed doors of X Factor HQ and within the cash-addled brain of Simon & Co.
Finally, what about our top 12 spoilers? Are you fairly confident we already know our finalists? What of Melanie McCabe – can they feasibly bring her back for a fifth year? Is this really the end of the line for Souli Roots? How long is a piece of string? Who is your favourite in Kingsland? I like the really thick-as-a-plank looking one with curly hair.
May you answer all these questions and more in our comments section below. Judges Houses here we come.