When one hears a conspiracy theory, it can be hard to be sure which is more naive and which more worldly-wise: to entertain the possibility that there may be something in it, or to dismiss it out of hand. Indeed, believers in conspiracy theories can sometimes think they are being worldly-wise while in fact being the most naive of all.
Heisenberg posted an example of this in the comments recently. Having discovered that “illuminati” is one of the most popular autocomplete suggestions for Tamera on Google, he linked to this rather astonishing YouTube video – with 56,000 views – in which someone makes the case, apparently seriously, that Tamera has progressed so far in the competition because she wore “all seeing eye” earrings to the audition to “get the attention” of the “illuminati puppet master” judges.
Call us gullible, but we reckon she’s got so far in the competition because talent scouts in Syco believe she could be commercially successful and asked the show’s production team to do their best to build her profile ahead of a 2014 career launch.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t exactly been going to plan. And that’s where the less ridiculous conspiracy theories come in.
You’ll recall that Tamera’s trouble with words started in her arena audition. At the time, we thought that on balance of probabilities this was quite likely staged. Maybe not. But it helpfully created some televisual drama, made her stick in viewers’ minds, and set up a potential narrative for the live shows – a variant of the tried-and-trusted arc of nervous act journeying towards self-assurance.
We thought this in part because our cynicism sensors had already been tickled by Tamera’s room audition, in which she came in as part of a duo whom the judges rent asunder. Again, while one can never be sure, this struck us as likely to have been a stunt to create a more emotionally memorable introduction to viewers than if she’d wandered in as just a great-looking teenage soloist with a reasonable voice.
When Tamera’s word-forgetting troubles popped up again in live show 6, we had an open mind about whether it might have been staged. She was due to be coming down from a bounce after her week 4 singoff save, putting her in danger of the bottom two – and producers will have been keen to avoid this.
Her VT finished with her worrying about whether she’d forget the words. And she forgot the words. At the time, it seemed to us that there were two reasonable interpretations here. Perhaps her VT focused on the risk of forgetting the words because, well, she’d been forgetting the words in rehearsals, and they were genuinely worried about it.
Or perhaps it was intended to make sure that viewers were thinking about the possibility of word-forgetting, so that they would be sure to notice when it happened, and more likely to feel sympathy for her, which could motivate them to vote. Sharon’s comment, about “if you hadn’t gone errrrrr, we might not have noticed”, made us wonder if Tamera might possibly have been advised to go errrrrr at the requisite moment.
Week 7 changed our minds. Tamera’s not that good an actress.
Because she looks about 28, it’s easy to forget that Tamera is only 16 – and on stage last Saturday, she looked like a child. Specifically, she looked like the kind of put-upon child reluctantly ferried around beauty pageants by overly pushy parents. She looked fragile enough in her VT, as Olly Murs prodded her to admit that, yes, this could be the week for the game-changing moment Gary had demanded of her in last week’s comments. She looked terrified on stage, barely able to put one leg in front of the other. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that the pressure of having to produce this big moment had gotten too much for her.
On rewatching, her flubs weren’t forgotten lyrics so much as timing issues. Check for yourself:
She starts after four beats instead of after eight beats, so she’s a line ahead of the music. The first flub at 0:38 before “effortlessly” is the first outward indication that she knows something’s wrong. The second flub at 0:47 is whilst she waits for the backing track to catch her up. The third flub at 0:55 is to check she’s now in the right place.
This opened the door to a new Tamera conspiracy theory: had producers sabotaged her?
Sofabet commenter Shoulders posted text from an excitable thread on Digital Spy, which started “they deliberately messed with the track… X Factor did that on purpose”. Kahdoosh theorised along similar lines: “If I was stage directing Tamara I would already know that I had to find a way to cue her, That would come out in stage rehearsal, They focus on the problem in the VT’s so they are aware of it. In other words, the help she is given is not the help she needs… It’s a subtle assassination, IMO.”
In response, Jessica commented, “It’s the age old question… cock-up or conspiracy. I favour cock-up.” We agree with Jessica. And with EM, who summed it up neatly: “No doubt what was planned here. She came on right after the Doctor Who event show had finished, had a ready-to-steal-the-show VT, a great song and simple staging all the focus on her. So it couldn’t be clearer she stuffed it.”
There is just one tiny, annoying, nagging doubt about the cock-up explanation, and it’s one that Jessica gives voice to: “Surely a more obvious problem for Tamera is that the song was in the wrong key and she could hardly reach the low notes in the verses. You can’t tell me no-one noticed that in a week of rehearsals. It is an extraordinary error.”
Indeed it is. And, like Nissl, we were surprised that Gary pointed it out in his comments – another indication, perhaps, that he’s veering off-piste with his critiques as he gets demob-happy?
But we just can’t buy the idea that the show is deliberately undermining the act with the most obvious commercial potential. While her travails have got people talking – and enough sympathy votes to keep her safe – surely her post-show positioning would be better served by taking the traditional route of helping her to put on good performances. What seems far more likely is the obvious explanation that they were doing everything they could to tee up Tamera for a knockout performance – and it went wrong on the night, as live television sometimes does.
The prime evidence, if you need convincing, is Louis’s reaction immediately afterwards. As Richard posted in his analysis on Betsfactor.com, “If you want a good idea of the minds of the producers and Cowell – watch Louis. He gets it – and he’s annoyed.”
He certainly was. Louis’s reaction was that of an angry parent: “Why, you ungrateful…! After everything we’ve done for you! All the sacrifices we’ve made! And all we ask is that you remember some words! That’s all you had to do! Just remember the words!” He was still seething about it in his comments to Sam Bailey ten minutes later.
Here at Sofabet we feel for Tamera, especially after the snarkiness from the panel about the “travesty” of her not being in the singoff. She’s just a kid, and a kid with obvious issues given her litany of bad press about drugs, violence and shoplifting. If she’s struggling to get it right with just one song a week – which shouldn’t be a difficult ask – then surely the show must bear a hefty chunk of the responsibility for failing to find a way to put her in mentally the right place.
And while we don’t believe they would take an executive decision to undermine Tamera, we will say that – very speculatively – it has occurred to us to wonder if people backstage like Hannah more than Tamera, and if there might be a degree of resentment about orders from on high to push Tamera at Hannah’s expense. In the last two weeks, it has been puzzling that Hannah has had bad slots in the running order (and Tamera good) while other elements of her treatment have been positive: the whipping up of audience participation in week 6; the lovely VT with Alexandra and styling reminiscent of the latter’s winning performance; judges’ comments that have seemed suffused with genuine warmth.
Judges and production staff are humans, and it sometimes seems to shine through that they like or dislike contestants on a personal level (compare the snide tone of comments when sending home 2011’s week 8 eliminee, Janet Devlin, with the warm tone when sending home 2012’s week 8 eliminee, Rylan Clark). If there’s been any kind of vibe backstage of accepting but resenting the need to show favouritism to Tamera, perhaps she’s picked up on it and that might account for why she’s evidently been feeling unhappy, under pressure, and messing things up.
That speculation aside, where now for Tamera? Despite exasperation expressed by the judges at the singoff, producers will surely be happy she survived – more viewers will be tuning in to see how the next episode of the Tamera car crash unfolds than would have been tuning in if Hannah had still been around instead.
Consensus in the Sofabet comments seems to be that they will now have decided they can’t trust her, and will have lost interest in getting her to the final. We’re not so sure, for a couple of reasons. First, within the context of the show itself, in a series that’s sorely missed a decent novelty act or villain she’s their last best talking point. And the lower she falls, the more amazing the story of redemption – if they can get her to pull it off.
Second, we don’t know how much overlap there is between the people charged with handling these acts during their time on the show, and the people lined up to manage them commercially afterwards. Is it conceivable that the former group’s struggles with her on the show might not make too much of a dent in the latter group’s assessments of their ability to relaunch her commercially? If so, there might still be interest in having her shepherded to the final, if at all possible.
Where do you stand on the Tamera conspiracy theories? Don your tinfoil hats in the comments below.