Two songs each, a game of two halves – punters had a lot to assimilate tonight. As did we here at Sofabet. It was one of those curveball shows that overturned a lot of our assumptions. Here’s how we saw it as it unfolded.
The show seemed to start with further confirmation that producers would rather see Sam Bailey win this than Nicholas McDonald. For the second week in succession, Nicholas came on first. The VT set up the narrative about his lack of individuality, and the judges’ comments tried to claim that he still lacked it, despite a solid vocal performance for ‘Just The Way You Are’. Was that Gary Barlow claiming he was “too middle of the road”? Gary Barlow?!
To be fair to Nicholas, he still got gold lighting and gushing praise from Nicole who talked about his album and concert. However, it wasn’t so good for him that Sam Bailey followed, getting the slot for the Strictly crowd as they were switching over.
Her VT made her out to be a star (though a humble one) as opposed to a young boy looking for clues on how to perform. Just after Nicholas was told to use the stage more, we had Sam Bailey strutting her stuff around it for ‘How Will I Know’. The staging and styling was a little reminiscent of her ‘Enough Is Enough’ performance. Still the post-week 3 Plan A then.
Except Nicole threw a spanner in the works with her “cruiseship” reference. Perhaps it was setting up Sharon for her joke about the cruiseship being the O2 arena. The comment only referenced the staging. But… but… mentioning the ‘C word’ as late as week 8 still seemed like a surprising thing to do to the heir-apparent. As with Nicholas, I hoped comments after the second song would clear the muddied waters.
Colour vomit, a backdrop of crashed cars, distracting dancers, fire, messy spotlights. Tamera’s staging for ‘We Found Love’ was a encyclopaedia of dampening tactics. Did I miss anything? Oh yes, some anodyne judges’ comments that seemed unlikely to motivate any voters (she did get called a “popstar” by Louis and Nicole). It was the kind of treatment that seemed likely to put Tamera in the bottom two.
Louis admitted that he “hated” Luke’s first song, ‘Skinny Love’, but it got much better from there on in. There was a little bit of red in his staging but plenty of gold too. The audience reaction was huge, and so was that from the judges: Gary ticked the “individuality” and “identity” box (an implicit contrast with Nick), and also called him “one of the frontrunners”; Sharon said, “I can hear you singing that at Glastonbury”; Nicole called him a “dark horse” and a “rare breed”.
That was not a deramp – Boki said, “It looked like Luke has just become the alpha boy”. Again, I was waiting on the second performance.
Rough Copy had the first round’s pimp slot but not the pimp treatment as far as I was concerned. There was plenty of red, distracting dancers, stony-faced judges and some ropey vocals. The song title ‘Vibe’ was writ large on the backdrop as it had been in the weeks that Abi Alton and Sam Callahan exited. Overall, the effect wasn’t Middle England friendly. Judges comments didn’t seem helpful either. Louis pointed out the “good but not great vocals”, Sharon mocked the backpack and other aspects of the performance, whilst Nicole was the outlier again in saying they should be in the final.
Nicholas was shown struggling with ‘Greatest Day’ in his VT. But the staging couldn’t have been more helpful. It was goldtastic, he energetically jumped off his big plinth, he got some sparky fireworks. His vocal was adequate, though no more; he showed some nice movement and Gary gave him an understated, respectful seal of approval.
The market didn’t think it was enough – he shortened in the elimination betting through the rest of the show and is now generally 3/1 third favourite.
Sam Bailey reprised her bootcamp number ‘Clown’, and got an even better example of “winner’s staging”. The lighting, mood, Nicole’s tears, the (three?) judges’ stading ovation. She clearly still is producers’ hoped-for winner.
Louis reminded us that she’s a “world-class act” who gave us “the vocal performance of the night”. He also told us, “The competition is all about helping somebody like you.” Trust Louis to tick all the necessary boxes. Dermot rounded things off by telling us, “you could feel the electricity in the room”. Nicole’s one word was “astounding”. The ‘C-word’ seemed long forgotten.
Luke got the songwriter / musician shoutout in his VT. There was lots of gold lighting, though it was going everywhere. The judges looked like they were enjoying ‘I Will Wait’, and reinforced it with another huge pimping: Gary ticked the “identity” box again, as well as saying he was “current” and would “sell records”. Nicole said, “This is your week, my friend.” Louis called him a “Breath of fresh air,” also mentioning “relevant” and “charts”.
We always try to hold our hands up when we get a call wrong, and we got Luke wrong. Before the show we thought he looked too big at 13/8 for elimination – he’s now fourth favourite for elimination, and second favourite to win the show. Louis called Luke his favourite on the Xtra Factor.
Things got much better for Tamera in the second round. The VT reminded us of her church roots and she was wearing white and a gold crucifix belt. The staging and performance for ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ was Tamera’s big moment, take two – and this time she remembered the script. Sharon told us that “it was the first time she had connected with the song”. Gary predicted, “big things for the future”.
But Gary’s further remark that “I don’t know what happens from here on in the competition,” before telling her she would be the most successful in five years time seemed to open the door for her to leave this week. Dermot also planted a “whatever happens tomorrow night” thought. Was that valedictory? I’m certainly not as sure producers would save her in any singoff as I was before the show.
Rough Copy got some winner’s staging for the pimp slot rendition of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. Despite some camerawork mistakes, they got a huge backing track, some church references and some great comments from the judges – Sharon called it “the best performance they have done so far”. Mentor Gary Barlow pleaded for votes.
Will it be enough? Beyond feeling that Tamera is the most likely of all to hit the bottom two, I’m not immediately sure what to make of tonight – it’s a show I’m looking forward to viewing again with fresh eyes tomorrow. The market seems similarly confused – it’s not often an act that’s due a sympathy bounce and concludes the show with a pimp slot pimping and pleading for votes ends up being favourite for elimination.
Did you see things more clearly? Please elucidate for us below.