It was Jake’s turn under the Strictly bus tonight. After a VT which should have delighted his presumed female demo, featuring as it did a playful chastising from Mel for getting his kit off for Cosmo, it all went downhill. Jake’s staging appeared to show him with crosshairs on his torso, and the cutaway shot to his mentor showed her supping a cup of tea. But it was the ouch moment in the key change that did the most damage and ensured that criticism of his vocals seemed justified. The criticism was relatively muted from Louis and Cheryl, and leavened with praise for his personality – as you would expect when the aim is to demotivate votes; although Simon may just have overcooked things very slightly by saying it was “unlikely” Jake would be here next week.
Dermot twisted the knife, as he does so smoothly, asking Jake “it is a singing contest, though, do you think you’re in danger after that?” Jake is very likeable, and that is presumably what has seen him through so far. But will that be enough for a third week running?
Only The Young’s VT had promised us an under-rehearsed performance, and it did feel flat. Judges staged a distracting argument, with Mel teasing Louis about his grasp of popular culture, and comments were lukewarm. It looked like Only The Young are one of the intended backups tonight if Jake’s fans ride to his rescue again.
Jay got an immensely positive VT, sounding the daughter klaxon and giving him the chance to talk about his military background. This was a memory-holing for the first two acts, and an intended major pimpage again for the Welshman – except for Cheryl, whose criticism of Jay for the second week running suggests that this is a “winning over Cheryl” journey.
‘Skyfall’ is the song that unexpectedly landed Hannah in the bottom two at this stage last year – also from trap three in the running order – after fire-heavy staging. Jay also had a fire theme, but it felt more appropriately Bond-y whereas Hannah’s camera angles had made it look like she was being burned at the stake.
Up next, Andrea’s barnstorming ‘Listen’ continued the memoryholing of Jake and Only The Young. As our commenters astutely noted, you could certainly make a case for there being subtle hints of unhelpfulness in his treatment – notably Simon choosing to praise him by means of an incomprehensible comment about donuts – but performance-wise at least, this would have delighted fans of the Italian bear.
Lola’s intended journey continued with a testimonial from her boyfriend, a makeover VT as ‘Pretty Woman’ played in the backround, and lyrical reinforcement from the song choice. The fire curtain confirmed that this was supposed to be her moment, and was the kind of staging you’d expect in the pimp slot not this early in the running order, but her nerves and vocals let her down badly, bringing back memories of the bootcamp fiasco. Simon made excuses for her and this could just about still be incorporated into her journey, but the show must be losing patience with her now. She can’t have many chances left.
Paul is also on a journey, in his case attempting to prove that he isn’t boring and can perform, with an uptempo number and big production. He continues to have both vocals and likeability on his side, and the suspicion remains that producers are treating him so positively as a way to draw votes away from Andrea.
Lauren’s VT couldn’t have been more positive, clearly setting her up to appeal to the preteen demographic. Comments were more mixed and a second viewing will help disentangle what this portends for the win market.
Mel’s comments to Jack, implying that he is a pain to work with, were very interesting; given that the show gives every impression of liking its acts to be compliant, they suggest he may not be long for this world. In his VT he continues to come across as personable but a little bit dull, and his voice wasn’t really big enough to do justice to ‘Eye of the Tiger’, as Louis called attention to with his “bored” comments. There wasn’t much motivation in the comments for Jack’s fans to vote, although he did survive being under the Strictly bus last week.
Mel’s comments were also front and centre for the next act, Fleur, as it became apparent that last week’s accusation of cheating was a ruse to get us sympathising with her this time around. She had her name up in lights, and belying the sexually suggestive nature of her lyrics, her outfit was a lot less slutty. How well she’s polling still has to be up for some debate but the positivity in judges’ comments shows that producers are doing their utmost for her, and she comes across as likeable and humble.
After two weeks of the judges being warmly in on the Stevi joke, this week comments seemed to suggest a shift in emphasis to setting up Stevi as the act the show wants out but the public is – annoyingly! – keeping in. Louis commented that the joke is wearing thin, Cheryl also referenced Stevi going home, and Simon pointedly told us “we don’t control the show, the public control the show”.
It’s a page from the well-worn Jedward/Wagner playbook, but is it going to work this time? Simon mentoring Stevi is a new ingredient in the mix, diluting the power of the “annoy Simon” vote, and the fact that they’re going down this route with Stevi – and put him on so late in the show, 10th of the 12 – suggests that he may be only just clearing the danger zone. Producers won’t want to lose their second big talking point of the season after Chloe-Jasmine’s departure last week, but if Stevi does hit the singoff, how can they go about justifying a save? If it’s against Jake they could just about say that both have less-than-great vocals and pull the “I’m going to vote for the act I think the public want to see again” line, but that may be harder against Jack or Only The Young.
Producers did all they could to give Operation Reboot Stereo Kicks a chance of success, hitting the theme of group togetherness, giving the audience Andrea’s lamps from ‘Earth Song’ to wave, and having Simon take their side against Louis. It should be enough to ensure they bounce this week, at least.
Ben closed the show with a VT that sailed close to the edge of making him look over-competitive, and never looked especially happy during a performance Simon accurately described as impressive yet soundalike. As with Lauren, and Andrea, a second viewing will be required here to read the runes for the win market.
The question for tonight, though, is who’s leaving tomorrow? Jake is clearly a worthy favourite, but plenty short enough at evens given that Only The Young and Jack – both trading around the 9/2 mark – also both appeared to have been in the crosshairs, and some suspicion that Stevi (7/1) may be skating on thin ice. The market goes 25/1 bar those four. It’s not one I’m tempted to get too involved in. How about you?