At the start of his VT, Paul Akister found himself seated in the Jack Walton Memorial Make-Up-Chair-Next-To-Ben-Haenow Of Doom. If he departs on Sunday, as he is now odds-on to do, the other acts should start refusing to be filmed there.
Reaction in the comments to Paul’s treatment was mixed, some feeling it was the anticipated hatchet job, others seeing positivity and wondering if producers had done enough. We felt that it was intended to be a silent kill. The VT set up the question of whether he could put on a performance; he managed to smile and move around a bit, though Freddie Mercury-esque stage presence it was not; and he was duly praised for it. But there was no real motivation to vote in any of the judges’ praise. To us, it had a bit of an end-of-journey vibe: Paul had done what was asked of him, why would we bother voting to keep him here next week?
Then Simon compared him to a Dementor, and Dermot repeated it for good measure; we expect some thought will have gone into that one.
Next up was Jay NAVY REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY HELP FOR HEROES James, in a VT that seemed intended to help send Paul down the memory hole. Jay had a Frankie Cocozza-esque walk on from backstage; his throat problems showed when he tried to hit the high notes, but essentially he did what he does. The harshness of Mel’s criticism seemed pitched to drum up sympathy votes, while Simon urged everyone to “pick up their app” for him.
However, the act performing in trap two has been in the singoff for the last three weeks (admittedly, with no Strictly crossover this week, it may be less of a disadvantage). Some have questioned whether the show would dare to send a veteran home on Remembrance Sunday; well, of course they would. Although, that said, we had no real sense that Jay was in the crosshairs. It’s understandable that punters backed him down to clear second favouritism for elimination during the show, but that was more to do with other pre-show elimination contenders getting better treatment than expected. By the end of the show it was rather easy to forget that Jay had performed at all.
The ramping of Lauren continued apace, with a family and home support VT, gold-themed staging, Simon picking out for special praise the part of her vocals that had seemed shakiest to our ears, and “popstar” and “finalist” shoutouts from Louis. Praise for her uncomplaining attitude to tonsillitis did seem calculated to make Jay look bad by comparison.
There were plenty of mixed messages on Only The Young, who went into tonight only marginally behind Paul in the elimination betting. Their staging screamed colour vomit, with shades of Miss Dynamix in the graffiti and distracting rollerbladers behind them. But comments were highly positive, and both Louis and Simon explicitly called for votes.
It does have to be borne in mind that it generally takes something special to prolong a sympathy bounce for longer than a week. Was that special enough?
Ben Haenow’s staging, with the word CHANGE in large letters, sparked plenty of speculation in the comments. Change away from Ben? Change to Ben? Or just the result of a time-pressed production meeting in which they couldn’t decide what to put on the screens, and settled for some of the lyrics? Again there was motivational criticism from Mel, and Simon told us we were seeing a star being born.
Stevi served up exactly what we want our Saturday night entertainment to be about, and he drifted in the elimination betting on the basis that enough other viewers would feel the same. In his post-performance interview he said he hoped to be able to surprise us again, after which Dermot immediately mentioned it was big band week. It seems the show wants to keep him around, and if he hits the singoff against Paul they would just about be able to do so on the basis of choosing between performance skills and vocals.
The stage invader during Stereo Kicks provides a fascinating test of how scripted we think this show is. Was that staged to give them a talking point and allow them to be praised for their professionalism in carrying on? It certainly prompted some polished-seeming lines from the judges afterwards, but things can go wrong on live TV, so it’s one on which we’ll happily keep an open mind.
There was a four-judge standing ovation for the group, and explicit calls for voting to get them on the tour (although, of course, if they left tomorrow there’s no reason producers couldn’t take them anyway, if it was felt that they’d boost ticket sales). On a negative note, the VT of the boys playing football in an empty field felt slightly underwhelming to us, but perhaps that’s something their demographic would appreciate.
Fleur got her moment as expected, with praise for her vocals. She is now challenging Ben and Lauren for second-favouritism, with markets going 33/1 bar the four.
There were shades of Sam Bailey’s week 4 pimp slot about Andrea’s pimp slot and subsequent four-judge standing ovation – the moment it was commonly felt that producers had decided a deramp was pointless and they should run with the thought of her winning it. Against that, it would be possible to point out that there was – again – the hitting of the themes we’d identified might be “journey completed” warning signs: the reminders of his Italianness combined with assurance that Brits now love him, which came from both Cheryl and Simon.
But this felt to us like a good night for the Italian – not least because none of Ben, Lauren and Fleur really felt like they delivered a gamechanger – and it’s no surprise at all that he became an even hotter favourite.
If Paul appears in tomorrow’s singoff, we’d expect him to go – but beyond that, it feels fairly open to us after tonight’s show. What did you make of it? As ever, do let us know below.