That’s it for the room auditions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but of the rumoured acts who make judges’ houses, I think we’ve seen four of the boys (no sign of Danny Dearden or Jordan Morris), five of the girls (Steph from BGT’s The Luminites is still to be introduced), five of the overs (missing Fleur East) and five of the groups (not a single member of the manufactured girlband has crossed our screens, in stark contrast to five of the mooted eight-piece manufactured boyband having enjoyed some screentime in the first two weekends).
On a tangent, is this not looking like the whitest set of contenders we’ve ever had? Of those we’ve seen so far who reportedly make it past bootcamp, two-fifths of the boyband Concept are the only exceptions. A quick google suggests we can add to that list one-fifth of the manufactured girlband, plus Fleur and of course Steph. If we can assume that Concept are passed over to clear the way for the eight-piece, and that the lack of screentime for the girlband tells its own story, that surely points to at least one of Steph and Fleur making the cut in their respective categories to avoid an embarrassing lack of diversity in the live shows.
Back to this weekend, and Lola Saunders got the alpha girl treatment in the Saturday-night pimp slot.
An extended segment started with Cheryl driving past where she grew up before assessing two local girls – one of whom, Chloe Headley, was the fall guy, there to build up suspense for what came afterwards. The unfortunate Chloe’s rejection being screened to the waiting auditionees allowed Lola to establish endearing humility right at the start, by fearing she’d be in for the same fate.
We saw that producers had sent a camera crew to film Lola gutting fish for her day job. We learned that she’s from South Shields. She has a nan. The klaxons were sounding: a backstory, telegenically lachrymose grandparents, and a local connection with Cheryl – the last time she mentored someone from her neck of the woods, of course, it was 2009 winner Joe McElderry. Having said that, it is also worth bearing in mind another possible precedent: the last time Cheryl mentored a 20-year-old northern brunette, it was Laura White, who was an early favourite in 2008 before exiting disappointingly early.
Lola came across as a likeable, pleasant-looking-yet-unthreatening girl who won’t steal your boyfriend – one wag on Twitter suggested it was Martine McCutcheon playing Kate Middleton. Her singing? It was highly competent, though there were no goosebumps this time. A bit breathy and not quite note-perfect, but nothing a bit of training and clever production can’t fix. She duly became the new favourite in outright lists at 7.0, and Cowell reportedly calls her a “potential winner” at the arena audition.
Emily Middlemas was the other girl introduced this weekend, but the fact that she got only just over a minute of screentime in a montage doesn’t bode well for her chances of being anything more than the gamma girl at best; and if we assume Chloe-Jasmine is destined for the long haul along with Lola, that leaves Emily scrapping with Steph and last week’s also briefly-sighted but vocally-impressive Lauren for the remaining berth on Cheryl’s category.
If Emily is let loose in the lives, it will be only the second time Scotland have had someone to root for here since Jai McDowell beat Ronan Parke in 2011’s BGT. Just by watching BGT and the X Factor live shows these last few years, you’d never guess that Scots comprise one in 12 of the UK population.
Wales is looking in better shape, with last week’s Jay James Picton appearing set fair for the live shows and Helen Fulthorpe joining him at judges’ houses. At Louis’s judges’ houses are Cardiff’s 15-year-old twins The Brooks, who featured in Saturday’s show. Discouragingly for them, so did three more “pieces of eight” – Jake Simms, Casey Johnson and James Graham joined Reece Bibby and Charlie Jones from last week in being introduced to the viewing public ahead of their reported formation into an as-yet-unnamed eight-piece boyband at bootcamp.
Added to those five, we were given plenty of exposure to two others last year – Tom Mann and Barclay Beales. This all speaks of some serious producer investment, and by boyband standards there’s a certain amount of credibility in what we’ve seen so far, initiated by Reece Bibby with his guitar. This week, James showed he has a very powerful voice, Jake Simms has a usefully alternative vibe (as well as a younger sister and a nice line in Cowell-pleasing: “I could learn to like animals”), whilst Casey Johnson has been blessed with Liam Payne-esque good looks.
It doesn’t bode well for The Brooks to be up against this behemoth. The 15-year-old twins weren’t really styled effectively either. There’s still no word about who is through Louis’s judges’ houses, but from what we’ve seen so far we’re expecting the eight-piece as alpha group, Only The Young as back-up and Blonde Electric as intended talking point.
Moving onto the boys category, the second biggest dent in the market came this weekend from Paul Akister, a controversial rejectee at judges’ houses last year. Having been the one who wielded the axe on that occasion, Louis now squirmed in his seat as a leaner but not meaner Paul showed off his undeniably powerful voice to the other judges, each pretending not to know of him.
The song was dedicated to an ex-girlfriend, which only gives Paul further sympathy with the viewing public, and he has plenty going for him if getting to the lives. He’s a best price 10.0. One word of warning, though: the heartbreak of a second judges’ houses rejection is good controversy for the show, which has pulled the trick on Jade Richards, Jon Wilding and Melanie McCabe.
What’s the betting the edit at Mel’s judges’ houses pits Paul against 2012 judges’ houses rejectee Jake Quickenden for one remaining place in the lives versus one brutally-final crushing of hopes? Jake got the Sunday-night pimp slot, with the drama of his return and the need for a second take, and the revelation that his younger brother had passed away since Jake last tried for the show.
Producers have clearly become nervous of being seen to flog a sob story egregiously, making sure to include footage of the judges remarking on how they admired Jake for not mentioning his brother until they asked. Unfortunately, this was rather undermined by the clunky way in which they teased this information out of him – Mel’s “have you had heartbreak in your life?” might have seemed a bit less artless if Simon hadn’t just drawn our attention to the briefing note in front of him by observing that Jake had also prepared ‘Say Something’, rather than innocently asking “have you got anything else you could sing?”
Incidentally, Saturday’s show had also featured a moment of Simon openly reading some background information about a contestant from his piece of paper. In the past we remember them being more careful not to undermine the impression that the judges don’t know who’s appearing in front of them next. Is Simon getting blasé about allowing peeks of the wizard behind the curtain?
Going back to Jake, there’s no doubt he has a less powerful voice than Paul and wouldn’t go into the lives with the same momentum if chosen, as reflected in his current best price of 13.0. Since last being on the show he’s carved out a modelling and TV career, and it’s interesting to wonder if producers see enough of a showbiz future for him to invest in making him an X Factor live shows alum.
The boys category is arguably looking the muddiest of all after the room auditions. One act we’re actually expecting to see in the lives is Andrea Faustini, as the eccentric Italian is that rare and precious commodity: a novelty act who doesn’t look like a novelty act because he can actually sing, and who isn’t in the traditional novelty act categories of the groups and overs. Dramatic tension perhaps suggests room for only one of Paul and Jake, while the non-appearance thus far of Danny and Jordan is hardly promising.
That may conceivably point towards a place in the lives for Jack Walton, who received an intriguing introduction on Saturday night. It was quite a surprise to see a decent 17-year-old male auditionee who doesn’t get dragooned into the eight-piece boyband but instead is reportedly at judges’ houses in the boys category. The Leeds lad has a geographical connection with mentor Mel B, and a decent set of pipes on him.
In the comments to the last post (all of which are, as ever, worth your time), Nissl comments of Jack that “His absence from the boyband makes me doubt it’s really their strong plan A this year”. We will see. If Jack does make the lives, and the eight-piece do get the producer backing their screentime so far suggests, then Jack will presumably somehow have to be steered into a niche that minimises the extent to which he fishes in the same pool of votes.
It’s interesting to look back at how the boys category shaped up in One Direction’s year. Aiden Grimshaw, Paije Richardson and Nicolo Festa (another eccentric Italian) all had niches that avoided too much overlap with the favoured boyband. However, the fourth member of the category – Matt Cardle – romped to victory.
We wondered if producers might have learned a lesson from that when Ben Haenow appeared with a strong audition on Saturday night. The camera followed Ben in his work as a van driver, giving him a cheeky-chappy persona, right down to the theme tune to ‘Minder’ playing in the background.
He played it with aplomb in front of the judges, and is a best price 10.0 in the outright market. Showcasing a slightly rockier vibe, he struck me as a useful alternative to Jay James in the overs category should Simon choose to take him to the lives. And if he does so, the slightly more mature male niche will be looking quite crowded. Jay James, Ben and Jake/Paul would all be vying for the Matt Cardle-esque post-teen everybloke vote in the live shows. One Direction never got close to Cardle in the phone vote; this year’s manufactured boyband may have more chance if the older guy vote is split three ways.
Rounding out the overs category, we saw a brief glimpse of Lizzy “Robert’s sister” Pattinson in Sunday’s show. She was montaged, implying a ceiling of being the potential gamma in her category, but she had an appealing line in sass which may just have endeared her to producers.
That’s our view of the lie of the land – we’re looking forward to seeing if the arena auditions, which start this coming weekend, overturn some of our assumptions. How are you reading the runes after the rooms? As ever, please let us know in the comments section below. It’s great to see the reappearance of old friends in the comments to the last post, and we’re always delighted to hear from lurkers.