The outright win market is looking distinctly open after week 4’s show, with favourite Andrea as a gilded lily, neither Lauren nor Fleur making a compelling claim, Ben getting the first four-judge standing ovation of the series, Jay also continuing to be praised, and yet another Stereo mis-Kick. With all that in mind, here’s our weekly pivot off your conversations in the Sofabet comments.
1. Is the Faun-stini deramp working?
Lenny: “Anyone still doubt Andrea’s getting deramped?” EM: “They threw him under the bus and he sang his way out of it.” Jess: “Deramp ain’t working. People love him.” Eurovicious: “I really think people have taken Andrea to their hearts… he’s the one who stands out.” Tpfkar: “The trick is to prevent transfers… by the end of the series, he’ll be overtaken.” Caro: “he was portrayed as a faun, not a devil… So a Roman (Italian) type of strange creature.”
So how steeped do we think producers are in mythology? Were they intending simply to portray Andrea merely as some kind of generic golden imp, or were they – as Caro suggests – thinking faun, with its Italian connotations? Props if so. Either way, producers must have even more fun coming up with this stuff than we do trying to unpick it. No wonder Simon started corpsing when it was his turn to comment.
The Italian theme continued more explicitly elsewhere (for our theory on its significance, see last week’s piece). Mel introduced Andrea as “my favourite Italian”, and his VT saw him sampling the wares in an Italian deli. Then we discovered that he knows nothing about Hallowe’en because it’s not a thing in Italy. What a strange and foreign land Italy must be!
Andrea’s staging was heavy on fire.
A couple of times his face appeared on the giant screen and was sent up in flames. He also got female devils with tridents.
All in all, our jaws haven’t dropped this far during an X Factor performance since Chris Maloney’s laser eyes. Speaking of which, blink and you missed this in the intro to Sunday’s results show:
We can’t help wondering if there are allusions in the staging that we’re missing. Wikipedia tells us that a faun is a “manifestation of forest and animal spirits that would help or hinder humans at whim” – so, much like the X Factor producers. Any theories on whether the trident motif had significance other than its associations with hell, or the giant A, beyond obviously Andrea and possibly Alien?
Simon’s opening gambit – that it was like “the alien factor” – can be seen, like last week’s “six donuts”, as seemingly-innocuous yet loaded, given the word’s connotations of unwelcome immigrant. Simon then attempted to compare Andrea to a Christmas candle but struggled to get the words out amid the giggles. And as we’re into over-analysing possible subliminals in Simon’s comments to Andrea, what do we make of candle? Something that slowly melts away?
“Oh, Andrea,” said Cheryl. “What have they done to you?” She turned to Mel. “You can’t paint him gold”. It uncomfortably skirted the line between inviting us to laugh with Andrea and to laugh at him. So did Dermot’s question, about what Andrea’s mother would think.
But did it, after all, succeed in dampening Andrea’s support? To our eyes, Andrea – remarkably – emerged with his dignity intact. He didn’t look defensive or uncomfortable; he just looked like a good sport. He sang brilliantly. His pause then “I don’t know” to Dermot’s question was pitch-perfect comic timing, and elicited an audience laugh that felt very much with him and not at him.
That said, Andrea’s Facebook likes took a hit this week. Usually we’d put little-to-no stock in that, as evidence of previous seasons suggests an imperfect overlap between social media users and X Factor voters. But we can’t ignore that this year Facebook likes have suggested which acts would be in trouble, and app voting suggests an explanation for what might have changed.
We can’t wait to see the voting figures. And we can’t wait to see how producers play Andrea from here.
2. What’s going on with Lauren?
General Hogbuffer: “Lauren seems to have all the signs of being Plan A”. James: “Really unsure what to make of Lauren. Not a performance that lived up to the teary VT.” Jon: “My big bet is still on Lauren, but I am beginning to wonder if that break out performance will ever arrive.”
On the surface, it was a mixed weekend for Lauren. Her VT focused on her lack of confidence with dancing, and mentor Cheryl stepping in to show her how it was done. We saw her fluff moves during rehearsals, causing her tears. When the performance came, it turned out the fuss had been over a few bends of the knee followed by a small kick and simultaneous head flick the opposite way – repeated once. This was a departure from the “super-confident” Lauren we had been presented with over the first couple of weeks. Which may have been the idea.
Dean made the excellent point that the “lack of confidence” journey suddenly switched from Lola to Lauren in last Saturday’s show. It was during Lauren’s rather than Lola’s performance that we got more cutaways to mentor Cheryl, in one singing along to encourage her and in another jumping up as the chorus kicked in. The impression given from VT through to performance was of Cheryl teaching her inexperienced and doubtful charge how to be a popstar.
“Welcome to the pop world,” Cheryl had said in the VT. Simon continued the journey-to-stardom theme when he told Lauren, post-song, “You turned from somebody quite ordinary last week into a potential popstar this week.” (This was a misrepresentation of his comments the week before, which had ended with him speculating that Lauren was going to be top 10 in the iTunes charts.) “You’ve got so much more potential to give,” Cheryl reiterated.
So, whilst week 4 didn’t turn out to be a standout by any means for Lauren, it set her future path. A path of “potential” in which she is now Cheryl’s sole representative, the top and only girl following Lola’s demise. As such, a push to the final seems inevitable. In some ways she is being pushed most of all: there were two occasions on Saturday when other acts spoke about the strength of the competition – the only person to feature on both occasions was Lauren. Her performance saw gold styling and highly-focused gold lighting.
Whilst her iTunes chart positions have declined from a very high start, her Facebook likes held up well this weekend, despite it not being her best. Given her overall treatment, the presentation of a breakout performance can’t be far away. That’s how we read it anyway.
3. So just who is our Alpha Over?
AlisonR: “I’ve enjoyed Fleur’s previous two performances but the vocals were thin last night.” Curtis: “Poor Fleur. She’s not MJ. First week I don’t like her”. Martin: “there was nothing to suggest they want Jay to do anything but well”. David Cook: “no-one’s going to step up and win it – there is no outstanding act… Who is the compromise candidate, the act that‘ll be left standing when all the others have fallen away? At the moment I think that it’s looking like Ben.”
It’s at around this stage of proceedings that producers will usually have a pretty good idea of which acts they want in the final and believe they can get there. We usually start to see that reflected in Louis and Simon, in particular, ramping up the mentions of “recording artist”, “record deal” and so on. The treatment of the three non-Stevi overs on Saturday was intriguing in this respect.
Ben got “in the real world you would absolutely get a recording deal” from Louis, and “real deal” from both Simon and Louis. Jay got “developing artist” from Louis, while Simon said “that’s what great artists are all about”. Fleur, meanwhile, got “best performer in the competition” from Louis, while Simon called her an “all-round entertainer” and said “this competition would not be the same without you”.
Producers, as we know, try to keep around two kinds of acts – those they see as potential money-spinners after the show, and those who keep the show itself interesting for viewers. Those comments suggest they’re thinking of Ben and Jay in the first category, and Fleur in the second. And yet Fleur is shortest of the three in the win market. Should she be?
4. Stereo Kicks and social proof
In week 2, we talked about the principle of social proof and wondered why Cheryl had been allowed to tell Stereo Kicks that nobody liked them apart from their friends and family. This week, producers tried to put social proof to its traditional boyband use, their VT showing them surrounded by swooning teens at a shopping mall. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to repair the damage and help them clear the singoff.
There has been some suggestion in the comments that producers deliberately engineered Stereo Kicks into the singoff in week 2 as part of their narrative. We’re not buying that at all. The script for them would make so much more sense if we were all still in the dark about how they’re doing in the vote, as was the case with One Direction until the final. A singoff appearance makes it much harder to pull off the impression of popularity.
Before this second singoff appearance, evidence from Saturday’s show was that producers still believed they could get them back on track – it won’t be coincidental that not one but two of them stressed to Dermot in the post-performance interview that they were aiming to win. Producers clearly hoped that their week 3 Beatles number would be seen as a turning point that would allow the singoff appearance to be put behind them, as happened to James Arthur with his week 8 ‘Let’s Get It On’.
Now they need an even bigger and more unlikely-seeming game-changer. We still quite like the idea of a mentor swap: giving them to Simon now would allow their two singoffs to be blamed on Louis. But it’s worth doing only if they’re capable of a genuinely impressive breakout performance that could then be assigned to Simon’s influence. And sadly, it simply doesn’t look like they are.
Finally, a hat-tip to Heisenberg, who spotted this fantastic application of the principle of social proof from the end of their song. Girls! This is how you’re supposed to be reacting:
As ever, please let us know your continuing thoughts below.