Nicholas’s journey has been remarkably static. In week 1 of the live shows, we were told that Nicholas was 16 and had never heard of Spandau Ballet; in week 2, we were told he was 16 and had never fallen in love; in week 3, we were told he was 16 and had never used a washing machine. I could go on.
You wouldn’t exactly call it a twist, but the wee lad turned 17 in week 7. We were reminded of this in weeks 8 and 9 – no doubt we’ll get further confirmation in this weekend’s final. The most interesting moment in Nick’s personal story has thus been…. a birthday. As plot developments go, it isn’t much.
A more interestingly debatable storyline is just how much producers have been out to get him. Stoney suggested in our comments section that Nick has been treated worse than Christopher Maloney from week 7; Fudd disagreed. What does rewatching his footage tell us?
Firstly, producers have played up his natural appeal to the Scots and mum/nans. You could say that there was no point fighting the tide, but his regional and demographic support was allowed to flourish from the start.
Nicholas’s Scottishness has been a constant – mentor Louis Walsh has outdone even his own penchant for repetition. “Everybody in Scotland is going to be proud of you tonight,” he said in week 1. “All of Scotland is behind you,” he said in week 5. “Scotland’s finest”, got to sing at Hampden Park in his week 7 VT. By week 8, Louis was using the “flower of Scotland” tag, and in week 9, he had honed it to, “You’re a role model for every young person in Scotland.” Nick was wearing tartan on his shirt.
The pitch to mums and nans was also unflagging. Nicole first spoke of his “baby blue eyes” in week 1 after Gary admitted “she wants to adopt you”. Week 2’s VT saw Nicole taking this further by flirtatiously visiting Nick as he rehearsed for ‘She’s The One’.
His performance of the Robbie Williams number included a love interest who was obviously older, prompting Sharon to jealously wonder who the “paed-io-phile” was. Nicole repeated the “baby blue eyes” line in weeks 4, 6 and 7. The “baby Buble” description was used in weeks 2, 3 and 5 – he was styled accordingly.
So, we’ve been told again and again that Nicholas is sixteen/seventeen, Scottish and just a “baby”. Not so much a journey, more a series of memes. By repeatedly pushing these buttons to the point of boredom, there’s a case for the idea that producers have deliberately limited his appeal elsewhere. If you’re not Scottish, and don’t want to mother Nicholas, you may have found this barrage annoying.
At this point, it’s worth reminding readers we’re assuming producers don’t want Nicholas taking the crown, given that he fits the mould of previous winners Joe McElderry and Leon Jackson, who turned out to be commercial flops. It’s why we could only place him second in our pre-lives 1-12 prediction.
Nonetheless, beyond the pitch to his natural fanbase, there have been other positive aspects to Nick’s treatment. The staging has generally been helpful, if at times a little cheesy: he got starry backdrops in week 1 for ‘True’ and week 4 for ‘Rock With You’; lighting has also been sympathetic – occasionally golden, as it was in week 5 for ‘Dream a Little Dream’.
Week 2’s high-concept staging, with a parade of women walking past him, was rather bizarre. But according to the usually accurate Daily Star spoilers, it didn’t stop him winning that week’s phone vote with the demo-delighting ‘She’s The One’.
There are a few reasons for thinking that his vote in the next few weeks was less impressive. As stoney suggests, he probably didn’t do that well in week 3 if producers are happy for him to reprise ‘Angel’ in the final; whilst his following Disco Week performance was underwhelming.
Otherwise, why would producers feel comfortable enough to let Nick have a big moment in week 6? It’s worth noting that they will probably have felt the need to give him a pimp slot at some point. It would’ve looked pretty obvious otherwise to his motivated fanbase. (Producers haven’t been so worried about Luke, who hasn’t yet performed last and will probably never have the honour.)
Still, it wasn’t just a pimp slot they allowed him, it was a pimp slot pimping. His VT then had him being stalked by enthusiastic teenage fans, responding to lots of fanmail and telling us he was single. He was allowed to perform the hugely popular ‘Someone Like You’, pretty much the most iconic pop song of the last few years. The rest of the show was lacklustre by comparison. It was no surprise when the Daily Star leaked that he had topped the public vote.
The brakes have been applied more firmly since then. Firstly, Nick’s running order positions have become even more unfair. Before that pimping – 2, 3, 4, 7, 3; after it – 1, 1/1, 2/1.
Secondly, song choices have increasingly stretched his vocal range, for week 8’s ‘Greatest Day’ and especially week 9’s ‘Halo’. The latter prompted his worst moment of all – Nick’s voice cracked and the camera cut to mentor Louis and fellow judge Sharon laughing uproariously.
Nick also faced indirect but unfavourable comparisons to his rivals. In week 7, producers couldn’t have made it clearer which of the two market leaders they preferred. Sam Bailey got the pimp slot singing the global hit ‘Bleeding Love’, whilst Nick had to perform Xmas Number 2 ‘The Climb’ from the graveyard slot.
It carried on into week 8. Nick was criticised for not being “a lion” and failing to own the stage for ‘Just The Way You Are’, just before Sam was introduced as “a lioness” and proceeded to dominate the stage for ‘How Will I Know’.
In the same week, Gary questioned Nick’s “individuality” whilst admiring Luke Friend for having a “lane of his own”. Even mentor Louis, having named Nicholas for the win in a radio interview, indicated that it was now Luke he favoured most. Andrew has suggested that the pendulum swings in Luke’s treatment have reflected prodcuers’ feelings on the need to provide a spoiler to Nicholas, maybe motivating the decision to save the Devon lad last weekend.
Nick’s plinths got bigger, week 7 being one notable example. Combined with his styling, the overall effect was to make Wee Nick look even more wee. In some of his earlier performances, the dancers when present had been relatively discreet. They were more distracting for ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ in week 9, to the disapproval of Sharon Osborne. The “baby Buble” description has been put to bed.
But it’s not been all bad since the week 6 high point. There’s been talk of what would be on his album. He’s been given gold lighting every week. ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’ was demo-pleasing and suited Nicholas perfectly, as the panel noted. There were also two references to “the little boy from Glasgow” last weekend. Nick is actually from Wishaw, just outside Motherwell, just outside Glasgow – and considerably smaller.
It seems likely that the deramping tactics will crank up a gear for the final, when as our commenters have mentioned, Motherwell or even tiny Wishaw – not Glasgow – will be the hometown of focus. The duet with former Westlifer Shane Filan and separate song choice of Robbie Williams’ ‘Candy’ seem far less promising than what Luke and Sam have been given.
Overall then, I think there have been surprisingly few signs of panic on the part of producers. They allowed Nick his moment in week 6, and whilst the deramping has become more obvious since then, it hasn’t been a full-on assault. To do so may only have been counter-productive anyway. Instead we have had a series of slow punctures that the general public weren’t likely to pick up on.
The reason to have a semi-final singoff will never likely be known. But if the idea behind it was to get Nicholas out, why the suitable, demo-delighting second song and the two Glasgow references? Why was Luke not pimped if he was more likely to overhaul Wee Nick than Rough Copy? What this suggests to me is that producers are happy to have him in the final and feel that his vote is under control, even with the Scottish behind him.
This may not be a position that some of you agree with. Feel free to post your thoughts on this and Nick’s journey in general below.