It’s a while since we’ve done an article-length cap-doffing to producers for an assassination well executed, so let’s put that right with a case study into the ways they ensured Hallowe’en would be a fright night for Jack Walton. It’s always interesting to pick over the bones of an unambiguous and successful attack, to see what we can learn for future reference.
To start with, a reminder of why punters had made Jack the pre-show favourite for elimination. Essentially, there were two reasons. Firstly, as a teenage boy, he was always going to be fishing in the same pool of voters as Stereo Kicks, so for as long as producers remained invested in the boyband, they were unlikely to want to give Jack much help – and that had showed in his treatment in the first three weeks.
Secondly, last week Jack had reportedly irked the powers that be by refusing to rip his shirt open at the end of ‘Eye of the Tiger’. It’s one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situations. Credit to the Leeds lad for believing, rightly in our view, that it would have made him look a bit daft, and for having the gumption to stand up for himself. But then, having a mind of your own doesn’t tend to be a path to success on this show (see Devlin, Janet).
With the twist of a double elimination, producers increased by 50% their chances of getting Jack into firing range. But they needed only the first bullet. How did they do it? Here’s what we spotted on a rewatch.
1. Dermot throws to Mel by saying the act she’s about to introduce is “hoping to survive the weekend”. Not to win the show, just to survive the weekend. Way to frame, Dermot.
2. Mel introduces him as “my northern boy”. For comparison, Simon had just introduced Fleur as “sensational”.
3. The VT starts by reminding us of last week’s comments. Louis was bored, Cheryl thinks he needs to work on his performance, Simon says it was like he didn’t want to be at the party. Cheryl, walking a backstage corridor, hits the performance theme again.
4. In make-up, Jack tells Ben he’s used to “small venues”. Hold that thought. He complains that people now expect him to “move around like flipping Beyonce”. So, having just been told he needs to work on his performance, we immediately see him complaining about the expectation and implying he’s incapable of it.
5. By happy coincidence, the act he is telling this to – Ben – had just a few songs earlier won praise for successfully working on his performance.
6. Mel and Jack remind us that he was good in his first audition. The strong implication: he’s been shit ever since.
7. Having been told by Mel to connect with the lyrics of ‘Bleeding Love’, Jack confides to Ben that he has experience of “being in love with someone and people not agreeing with it.” Ben gazes supportively into the middle distance.
8. In a mocking tone, Mel tells him: “You’ve given them the cutesy, the guitar, the little smile, happy”, effectively belittling and dismissing his entire schtick so far.
9. She instructs him to give viewers “pain”. Is that wise?
10. Mel tells Jack “I don’t want you to leave on Saturday”. We believe that VTs are often edited so that they close on a thought that producers want to plant in viewers’ minds (Abi Alton’s “I hope I don’t hit any bum notes” being a classic of the genre). The thought planted here: leave on Saturday, leave on Saturday, leave on Saturday.
11. Jack is shorn of his trademark guitar. He appears to be dressed as an 18th century fop.
12. The song is too big for his vocals. There’s no big production: just him, alone on stage. For the second consecutive week, he has red-and-black staging, with prominent red spotlights that look like a ‘Stop’ traffic light. It starts to rain blood on the big screen behind him, where Jack occasionally appears topless.
13. Now, hold on, mid-song there is someone else on stage! Sauntering nonchalantly towards him. How odd. Has she just evaded security?
14. Ah, she’s a vampire. Jack gamely ignores her as she takes a bite out of him. The message being visually communicated: “I know I’m being murdered here, but that’s fine, I don’t mind”. And we’ve been utterly distracted from his singing. It’s all about the vampire and the bite.
15. Louis: “Jack, it’s week four, things are getting serious now… I think you’re a small room performer. I can see you with your guitar, playing to small rooms… I think you get a little bit lost on the big stage”. Small room, small rooms. And it seems fair, because Jack’s “small venue” comment in his VT has mentally prepared people for it.
16. Cheryl: “Jack, you know I really like you… I don’t know what it is, but tonight something felt uncomfortable to watch”. Textbook non-vote-motivating criticism – preceded by praise, nonspecific so he can’t defend himself.
17. Simon: “From where you started, you know, cool, playing the guitar, you’re now dressed like that, being eaten like a vampire… I don’t think this is you”. Again, Jack’s VT – with the reminder of his audition – had prepared the ground for this. Simon continues: “I think you kind of compromised yourself along the way”. Ha! Week 3 – Jack reportedly earns the ire of producers for not selling out. Week 4 – Jack is criticised for selling out. You have to admire the chutzpah.
18. Mel: “I’m obviously going to disagree with everyone”. Translation: “I’m expressing this minority opinion only out of loyalty”.
19: Mel continues: “You gave me what I asked you, which was pain”. Again: is this a good thing?
20. Mel: “I want everybody northern to pick up the phone and vote for you”. Explicit vote shoutouts are usually a good thing, but there’s a longstanding debate about whether explicitly regional shoutouts are more of a help or a hindrance. Arguably, by implication Mel is saying she doesn’t want anyone southern to vote. Also, regional loyalty is a complex thing: while “northern” may be an accurate descriptor for a significant number of people, it’s nonetheless not an especially cohesive identity. How many people self-identify as “northern”, as opposed to Mancunian, Lancastrian, Geordie, Yorkshire, etc.?
21. Dermot: “It’s not his fault he’s dressed like Dick Turpin”. On top of adding to the general sense of ridicule, Dick Turpin was famously
a northerner who was hanged hanged in the north.
22. Jack: “When people suggest something to do, to wear, I go with it… but maybe I should have had a bigger voice in what I want to do”. Oh, Jack: damned when you did, damned when you didn’t.
Are we reading too much into any of these? And what did we miss? Do let us know below.