Unlike last week, when the 65-minute Strictly overlap represented something of a blunderbuss for producers, the 25-minute overlap this week gave them more of a chance to focus their fire. Those in the crosshairs were Jack and Steph.
Jack’s VT bestowed a Louis Tomlinson blessing, but after that positive start it was downhill from there. His staging put us in mind of Christopher Maloney’s cassette deck backdrop from the 2012 final, with roaming spotlights scattering viewers’ attention. Jack’s VT mentioned he’d never heard of the song, and it was one of the least known of the night. Judges’ comments were, to our ears, relatively lukewarm postives offering no motivation to vote; it was a negative that Cheryl bigged up Jack’s relationship with Mel, before Simon pointed out she hadn’t even bothered to pay him a visit in person. Both Simon and Cheryl casually implied he’d still be here in the coming weeks. Perhaps it’s confirmation bias, always a danger when the money’s down, but we were surprised to see consensus in the comments calling this as positive for Jack.
Still, given what came next, there’s no doubt we have a worthy favourite for third elimination.
Putting Steph on under the Strictly bus and about to be memoryholed by Andrea Faustini, producers could not have made it any clearer that they think they can stop her bouncing clear of the singoff. Far from featuring tears over Steph’s death threats on Twitter, which would have motivated sympathy votes, her VT showed her thanking Twitter fans for their support. Her staging was colour vomit. Again, comments were generally lukewarm positives, with the exception of Mel calling her boring (Steph, don’t nod in agreement!) and Simon calling her half-asleep.
There then followed another classic tactic, the distracting argument between the judges (Simon starting the running “Kermit” joke), and Dermot twisting the knife – as he does so smoothly – by picking up on Simon’s question about whether she really thinks she can win. “I believe I have it in myself to try”. Oh, Steph – you need a minor miracle to make week 3. Still, we can’t discount the sympathy bounce being enough to nudge her off the very bottom.
We got the Andrea-does-British VT we’d hoped for in our 1-16 prediction, just in time for the Strictly switchover, and Richard Betsfactor aficionados will have been amused by the prominent stars on his jacket as well as in the backdrop. There has been much debate in the comments about whether the show would embrace Andrea as a feelgood winner or embark on a gentle deramp, and Simon pointing out the gurning will have given Andrea layers a reason to hope – as will Simon’s pointed “hands down the best performance so far” for Lauren, who was next up.
“SOMEDAY I WILL BE PRESIDENT”, Lauren’s sweatshirt had promised, in a VT intended to sprinkle some stardust on her. Slowing down an upbeat song is never entirely without risks, as Ella’s shock exit showed in 2012, but this came across well and the white dress and angelic lighting were also highly positive signs. Unsurprisingly she shortened in the win market as Andrea drifted.
Next it was Ben’s turn to star in that hardy perennial of the X Factor, the throat infection VT. Ben was okay, we thought – no gamechanger here, but he did plenty enough to keep himself ticking over.
Simon told us Fleur is “turning into a star in front of our eyes” – and what a turnaround since just three weeks ago, after bootcamp, when it was looking like she should change her name to Fleurna Simpson. As with last week, there was a tightrope to be walked to make her sexy but unthteatening. She got plenty of staging and production help, with gold records in the backdrop and vocal support – as Mel pointed out – in the chorus. There remains the nagging question of how Middle England-friendly is a confident black woman rapping, and it will be interesting to see if Mel B’s accusation of cheating might motivate a few sympathy votes or have an adverse impact.
Week 2 of Project Stereo Kicks and there were some positives if you looked hard enough – an attempt to establish two individual characters, however brief; a VT showing them bonding, working hard and contributing opinions; a performance itself that was better than last week, not that this is saying much; a challenge from Mel B to sing acapella; a “beginning to believe” from Simon. But what’s with the negativity from Cheryl, for the second week in a row? Presumably intended to set up the “we are not One Direction” riposte and form part of their longer-term journey, as Cheryl is not usually off script, but still – calling out a lack of hysteria seems an odd way of going about it.
Next up: dark horse, dark horse, dark horse – from Lola in her VT, then from Louis and Simon. Louis made a selling records comment, and Simon referred to Lola still being only 80% of the way there, i.e. her journey has further to run. The lighting and production were intended to be as helpful as possible.
Jake’s rendition of ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ was actually better than we expected, but to be fair the average voter’s expectation levels probably weren’t as low as ours. Staging messages were mixed – gold spotlights, but red-and-black spider’s web-cum-shattered glass. Louis’s “after that you’re going to be safe” was a classic tactic in complacency inducing; Simon’s criticism of the vocals will likely have seemed fair to the average viewer, which we believe depresses votes (rather than unfair, which we believe motivates them). The market has Jake close behind Steph for next elimination, and it’s hard to disagree.
Comments after Chloe-Jasmine’s ‘Fame’, with fingers being pointed at Cheryl for a poor song choice, seemed to be setting up the rationale to save her in a singoff. The acts she most resembles from series past – Katie Waissel and Kitty Brucknell – hit the singoff in the first and second public votes respectively, so it would be no surprise if producers are expecting her there. But the fact they have called a double elimination presumably indicates confidence that they can keep at least one act beneath her. They won’t want to lose her just yet.
Paul got a helpful VT and great comments (“favourite of the entire series so far” from Louis, with a piano-playing challenge from Simon). Are producers pushing Paul this week to take votes away from Andrea, who is likely to be fishing in the same pool?
Stevi Ritchie continues to make us smile, as his VT showed the self-described child of the 80s demanding to change his song choice to something cheesier and Brian Friedman’s staging played into Simon’s “fast turning into a sex god” introduction. All of the judges made sure to let us know how lovely a personality Stevi is, with Louis and Simon both saying “the public like you” – calculated, we assume, to make people feel justfied in throwing some votes his way, rather than to make them think he’s safe. Dermot gave him the chance to show what a nice guy he is in a longer than usual interview, which he shrewdly used to promise a Hallowe’en performance if he’s here next week.
On paper, ‘Come on Eileen’ had looked like an enjoyably cheesy song choice for Only The Young, and they brought energy to the stage, but they were done no favours by the running order as a barrel of Stinking Bishop wouldn’t have been able to out-cheese Stevi Ritchie. By now, two hours into the show, there is a risk of fatigue setting in; staging was distractingly messy, and following Paul and Stevi it all felt a bit “after the Lord Mayor’s show”. Comments, as with Jake, were a mix of the non-motivationally positive (Mel, Simon) and the justified-seeming criticism (Kermit).
On paper, the idea of Jay James dirgifying ‘500 Miles’ sounded plausibly like it might portend a hatchet job, which just goes to show how differently the show can pan out – this was back to the hyping Jay James received before judges’ houses. With a recording studio VT, another film set backdrop, and a pimping from all but Cheryl, this was producers giving the Welsh navy veteran a chance to fly.
In sum, it seemed to us that producers are hoping to perm any two from four of Jack, Steph, Jake and Only The Young. It looks like they’re expecting Chloe-Jasmine may be in trouble, but hopeful that Stevi won’t be. Is that how you saw it? As ever, do let us know your take below.