Once again this week Andrea’s VT focused heavily on his Italian-ness. Introduced by Mel with “forget pizza and pasta, here’s Britain’s new favourite Italian dish”, we saw him learning some new English words from Fleur, baffling his family on Skype with “amazeballs”, then being dressed up in a Union Jack hat and sent around London on a double-decker bus having afternoon tea – on one level, embracing Britain; on another level, something which obviously only a foreigner would do.
That comes after last week’s Roman homecoming, week 4’s visit to the deli and implication that Italians know nothing about Hallowe’en… the list goes on. There’s been much discussion in the Sofabet comments about whether producers are trying to tap into some kind of UKIP sentiment among voters: bloody forriners, coming over here winning our talent shows, aren’t there enough British kids down the Job Centre with charming personalities and powerhouse vocals, eh?
Our theory is that the Italian emphasis may indeed be intended to be unhelpful for Andrea, but for the exact opposite reason. So let’s flesh out that theory and invite you to pick it apart.
While some xenophobic voters may be put off by Andrea’s birthplace, we suspect that many more – like us – have warmed to him, are happy to have him as part of our Saturday night entertainment, and hope that he feels welcomed and at home here. Likewise, and respectfully contra some in the comments, we didn’t feel that the extensive subtitling of Andrea’s emotional homecoming VT was intended to be offputting in any way – we just felt it straightforwardly reminded us he was Italian, and straightforwardly invited us to feel good about him and his proud and loving family.
How does that add up to a strategy to stop Andrea from winning? Potentially – and this is speculative – it involves the concept of acts having a journey, and producers’ power to suggest to voters what would be a narratively satisfying conclusion to it.
Sometimes you hear judges strongly imply, or explicitly say, about an act that winning the show – or getting to the final – will make all the difference to their careers. Obviously, that’s intended to communicate to people who have emotionally invested in the act that their votes are required for the act’s journey to have a happy ending.
Contrast the comments, say, Mary Byrne received from Simon in the 2010 semi-final: “‘I think whatever happens, and I genuinely mean this, you’re going to sell records, you’re going to have concerts. Let me tell you, Mary, you are not going back to the Tesco checkout.” Translation: “Mary voters, no need to vote any more. Her journey is over, she has reached her destination.”
The possibility we see with Andrea is to suggest that the emotionally satisfying end to his journey is not him winning, but him being embraced by the British public. The 2011 week 4 VT of Johnny Robinson is a masterclass in portraying an outsider’s acceptance by the public as a satisfying end to a journey – and once this is achieved, by implication, votes are no longer required from people who are emotionally invested in the act’s validation.
On this theory, the repeated references to Italianness are only one side of the coin – it has to be accompanied by repeated assurance that Brits love Andrea. Where this might ultimately lead, should producers wish, is comments in the final along the lines of “Andrea, you’ve come over from Italy, you’ve won over the British public. Let me tell you, whatever happens tonight, your place in the affections of this nation is secure.” No need to tap UKIP anti-immigrant sentiment – quite the opposite.
You could even imagine another act in the final – presumably Fleur or Ben – getting some seemingly-innocuous trademark Simon praise along the lines of “it makes me proud to be British that our country can produce a talent like you”. Or perhaps, if Andrea goes into the final as favourite, a variation for Fleur or Ben on Simon’s comments to Stevi on Saturday: “One thing I love about being British is that the British love an underdog”.
Having explained the theory, now to raise a couple of doubts.
First, would it work? The big difference this year is free app voting. In the Mary Byrne and Johnny Robinson examples, people had to pay to vote. It’s probably easier for a “journey completed” klaxon to dissuade an act’s fans from picking up the phone and parting with money than it is to persuade them to chuck some free app votes at someone else.
Second, do they even want to stop Andrea? Sofabet commenter HenryVIII has made the intriguing point that with the indigenous talent pool inevitably drying up as the franchise passes its eleventh year, its longevity may depend on being able to attract overseas talent by demonstrating a realistic possibility of winning.
It’s not a calculation we feel confident passing judgement on, given that we didn’t anticipate producers eggsterminating Richard and Adam to push Hungarian dance troupe Attraction to the Britain’s Got Talent title in 2013. After that, it would be dangerous to assume that producers won’t want Andrea just because he’s Italian (they may not want him to win for other reasons, such as because they’d prefer a winner they see as more commercially viable).
Producers have certainly been keeping punters on their toes by blowing hot and cold on Andrea. Week 1’s barnstorming pimp slot was followed by application of the brakes in weeks 2 (when Simon first mentioned the gurning), 3 (“six donuts“) and 4 (the astonishing gold paint job). Week 5’s pimp slot seemed plausibly to indicate that they might have resigned themselves to him winning. But the knives were out again this week.
The evidence? Well, per the speculative theory above, there was obviously plenty of Italian-ness in the VT and also more Brit love in the comments: Louis called him “the people’s diva”, and reliably on-message Dermot telling him “everywhere I go people are talking about you, what does the support of this country mean to you?”, before waving him off the stage by saying his name in an Italian accent.
Then there was the running order – he was first up, the only act to perform while Strictly was still on the other side; given that Jay turned out to be their elimination target, producers must have been tempted to stick him on in that slot. And Simon’s comments: criticising of lack of “gritty passion”, in an implicit comparison with Ben; calling attention to him “pulling terrible faces, not only during your singing but afterwards”; and telling us his version wasn’t as good as Leona’s.
More speculatively again, the staging. Red and black lighting and fire are two well-known danger signals. We also have a speculative theory that backdrops featuring clocks or clockwork may have been used in the past with negative intent, perhaps subliminally planting the idea of time passing an act by. Andrea’s dandelion clocks have the additional connotation of a flower that once was in bloom but is now nearly dead.
All that said, two facts remain: Andrea can sing, and he is likeable. That’s why he remains at the head of the market at odds of around 2.5. Are you an Andrea layer or backer at those odds? Do let us know below.