We started the night with an introduction to the four wildcards. Lola and Stevi got personal surprise visits from Louis and Cheryl, while Jack and Overload got cursory phone calls from Simon and Mel. Now, which of those four do we think the show wants to stick around for the long term?
Paul kicked off the show with a VT setting up his journey-to-self-confidence trajectory and a performance of the latest big hit from an X Factor alum. His vocals were solid but he needs to learn to work the camera more. Next up was Lola, whose VT rushed through Louis’s visit and reminded us of her nerves (check), fishmongering (check) and grandparents (check). It was a case of solid vocals and ludicrous dress for Lola, which also plays into the trajectory of finding the confidence to be herself as the series progresses.
Overload Generation had their name changed, much as 2012’s beta boyband had in their first week, and were given a song producers had used in their 2009 takedown of Lloyd Daniels (the line “hope her boyfriend don’t mind it” sounds titillating from Katy Perry but sleazy when a boy sings it). Comments were hilarious: Mel B pointing out their lack of rhythm, Cheryl saying “there’s nothing fresh” about them (and what did she say when watching the eight-piece at bootcmap? “Fresh, fresh, fresh”), then Simon called one of them gormless. It was a classic hatchet job and their much-vaunted Twitter following will certainly be put to the test tonight.
Jay James put them in a big-hitter sandwich. He got a positive VT referencing his military background and family life. The song choice hadn’t seemed promising on paper (“This ain’t what I signed up to”), but the staging was befitting of a movie star (Kevin Costner?) and he sold it well enough. This wasn’t quite a return to the Plan A-esque hyperbole of the rooms and arena, but nor was it the under-the-bus treatment some had been anticipating after his unexpected trashing at judges’ houses.
Viewers had been told less about Steph Nala than any other act going into tonight, and her VT focused on her nerves about going on the stage without her erstwhile BGT bandmates. Was this a set up for her to smash it? No: it was a set up for Simon to tell her she doesn’t have the confidence to make it on her own. Cheryl’s defence of her was hardly ringing. Her staging will have had Betsfactor fans saying “colour vomit”. There was little here to suggest the show has any interest in keeping Steph around for long, and the debate now is whether her support on fan polls translates into enough votes to keep her clear of the singoff.
Jack has the WGWG niche to himself and Simon bestowed upon him not only a blessing but a Louis Tomlinson endorsement. There was nothing spectacular here, but it was a kind enough reintroduction and producers aren’t after him yet.
Chloe-Jasmine was timed to be the first act seen by viewers turning over from Strictly. A VT of tears over negative press coverage is in line with her Waisell/Brucknell trajectory, as was a production that looked like Brian Friedman had spent more time on than the previous six put together. Simon summed up the show’s ethos with his “bad publicity is better than no publicity” comment. It can’t be discounted that CJ will find herself in need of a save tomorrow, but it’s difficult to imagine her either finishing bottom or being jettisoned in a singoff.
Dermot’s attempt to inject suspense into the naming of Stereo Kicks was rather undermined by their name having been flashed up on the voting list at the start of the show. The VT hit the time-honoured One Direction themes of friendship and hard work, their lyrics proclaimed themselves as champions and they got their name up in gold lights and fireworks. While many questions have been raised about how an eight-piece will work, one advantage from the show’s perspective is that it makes it harder to tell when the backing track is being cranked up in support.
Overload’s intended function in the show became clear when Simon said Stereo Kicks had blown them out of the water, before continuing the One Direction nostalgia theme by telling them they’d “bonded”. Louis completed the bingo card by calling them the “next big boyband”.
Here at Sofabet we think the show needs a Stevi Ritchie. His intro set up the theme of Simon being jokey-annoyed at being lumbered with him by Cheryl, his VT reminded us about his cute daughter while last year’s John Lewis christmas ad music played, and the staging was straight out of the Wagner playbook. Bravo, Brian! Mel B appears to have been assigned the “judge who’s annoyed” pantomime role, another essential ingredient of the mix. “The public are going to love you,” said Simon – well, let’s hope so.
Lauren has enjoyed a fair amount of backing in our 1-16 predictions and those who got their money on before tonight will be delighted with her introduction, the newly-turned 17- year-old getting the very positive “little star” and “recording artist” in the comments. The status of alpha girl looks very much up for grabs between her and Lola.
American-accented Blonde Electra could have done with a sympathic VT explaining their extraordinary backstory, but all they got was Louis mentioning that they’re British. Meanwhile, Richard Betsfactor’s head will have exploded as Brian Friedman promised us vomiting glitter. In a fun but messy production, the colour vomit theme even extended to their distracting green eyebrows, reminding us of Nicolo Festa’s sunglasses when he was bottom of the vote in the first show four years ago. Comments seemed calculated to be non-motivating either positively or negatively, and concluded with an argument about the rules between Simon and Louis – a classic tactic to distract attention from the act in what should be their big moment.
They were then memory-holed by Ben Haenow having a moment. His staging – simple gold spotlights – couldn’t have been much more positive in its connotations, or more of a contrast with what had gone before. Cowell’s “Britain at its best” comment sounded significant, and Mel’s negativity will have motivated some votes for the likeable van driver.
There was plenty of gold also for Jake’s staging, though comments were more explicit than we would have expected in pointing out how much he owes his place on the show to his looks rather than his vocals.
Last time phone lines were open from the start of the show, in 2012, Carolynne Poole and Melanie Masson found themselves in trouble from late slots in early shows. By the time Fleur stepped on stage it was starting to feel like the Chloe-Jasmine to Ben Haenow section of the show had been its high water mark. With that in mind we can probably file Fleur under “given plenty of help but might still be in trouble”. In contrast to bootcamp in particular, Fleur’s styling seemed consciously aimed not to make her seem too sexually aggressive, and Simon’s comments couldn’t have been more positive. But the fact remains that confident black women do not, alas, have the best of records on this show.
Only The Young got a cheesy and high-energy mashup which should, aided by Mel’s criticism, motivate some votes for tonight, while not necessarily boding well for the direction the show is sending them down.
Finally, loveable Andrea got the first pimp slot of the series, as Jahmene did a couple of years ago and with similarly celestial lighting. There was a predictably big audience reaction for the breakout star of the audition stages, although the jury must remain out on producers’ long term plans; Simon made sure to call him the red-hot favourite, setting him up in people’s minds as the one to beat, while fans of subliminals may have noted that the backdrop featured London being hit by a meteor.
In sum, we marginally preferred Blonde Electra over Steph as the act most likely to go before the show, and we still do, despite a flip-flop in the market. Their staging was more off-putting and judges’ comments more non-motivating. We assume, incidentally, that the same format for double eliminations will be used as in previous years – the bottom act goes automatically, and the second- and third-bottom sing off – although it’s never been entirely clear to us why they don’t just save one from a three-way singoff.
What did you make of tonight’s show? As ever, do keep the conversation going below.