Lots of things to say this week in our regular pivot off your conversations in the comments.
1. Is there a Mel B situation?
Donald: “Mel B was certainly off script.” Fudd: “A big question for me: Has Mel B gone rogue or is she still following a script?… The comments towards Fleur especially yesterday were quite de-motivating”. Biffy Beans: “The judges deliberations looked for all the world like a last-second change of plan.” Eurovicious: “Simon’s decision was genuine and Mel B was told to vote for SK so the final decision was left in his hands.”
There were a couple of odd moments with Mel B this weekend. Her comments to Fleur after her second song were not what you would expect for an act being set up for the win – Mel pointed out that Fleur’s voice was “strained in the higher register”, then praised her for “committing” to the song before pointedly limiting her priase with a “for that, well done”.
Then there was the “don’t come to me next” to Dermot in the singoff. What was that about?
Our assumption is that before Sunday’s show, producers must gameplan with judges the likely bottom two combos and decide who’s saving who in each eventuality. Perhaps this time, with the Kicks at the bottom and second-bottom nip-and-tuck, the gameplan for a Lauren-SK singoff was “Simon will decide at the last moment”.
If that’s the case, what Mel was really telling Dermot was something like “look, I’ll save Stereo Kicks if I absolutely have to, but you know I’d rather not if it’s not necessary, so please go to Simon first so I can see what he’s decided”. Dermot – the voice of producers – somewhat testily came back with “I’ve decided to come to you”, which would translate as “you’re damn well doing the dirty work even if it does prove superfluous”.
That’s possibly an interesting insight into the backstage dynamics, something about which there’s a lot of speculation on Sofabet – it would portray Mel as willing to toe the line, but making it clear she’s not happy about it. And if that’s the case, could it suggest that Andrea’s kinder-than-many-expected treatment this weekend was the result of Mel making a fuss backstage and requesting at the very least a dignified exit?
2. So why were the Kicks kicked out?
Arthur: “I think it definitely was the plan for Lauren to leave tonight, but after the quality of the singoff – there was no way for the TPTB to save SK & save even a little bit of face. It would’ve been contemptible even by their standards.” HenryVIII: “Cowell has become responsible in his dotage. Gone are the days when Katie Waissel fell to the ground, said “you know what sod it”, and started laughing, all during her sing-off, and was then saved.”
Unlike many in the comments, we struggle to believe the singoff performance itself saved Lauren. As we saw earlier this series with Stevi and Jay, the judges can still be entertainingly shameless when it suits the overall plan. That said, we can still believe that it was a last-minute decision on Simon’s part to ditch the Kicks over Lauren.
Our guess is that it was based on knowledge of the final vote, and that the thinking went something like this: if the Kicks were a long way adrift at the bottom of the vote, producers may have calculated that they would likely also finish there in the semi and would need another 3:1 save over Andrea. To get them to the final, then, would have involved four singoff saves in all, the last two in a row.
If they have commercial plans for the Kicks, there comes a point where they have to worry about brand damage. Better, arguably, to cut them loose in week 8 with a modicum of dignity than to drag them to the final in a way that risks making them a laughing stock.
It seems plausible to us that at the time the show went on air, the state of the voting will have made it a borderline call whether it would be wise or unwise to save the Kicks, and that was the decision Simon was mulling over.
3. Oh we of excessive faith
Fudd: “The first VT was a mess, I cringed throughout it… The flirting towards one of the mother’s also took them away from their core demographic of teen girls.” Bob: “The SK VT was a particularly sloppy bit of production.” Donald: “SK never really got going properly, struggled through the live shows”.
In tipping Stereo Kicks to win the entire thing before the first live show, we wrote:
Arguably an even bigger worry is how One Direction went backwards during the lives: compare their judges’ houses version of ‘Torn’ (very good) with their grand final rendition of ‘Torn’ (not very good). We’re trusting producers to have got to the bottom of whatever went wrong there
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – for ‘Torn’, read ‘Run’. Actually, on a rewatch, we didn’t think ‘Run’ was that bad – but for some reason the boys looked distraught afterwards, and it was that more than the performance itself that created the sense of disconnect with the judges’ highly positive comments.
Similarly, on a rewatch, we still felt the mums VT was intended to be positive for them. Indeed, after Fleur’s ‘I’m Every Woman’ last week, it felt like an attempt to transfer some of the mature female demographic into the Kicks’ camp this time around. Presumably the tagging of Reece’s mum as a milf, reinforced when Dermot spoke to her in the audience later, was intended to be flattering to this demographic. But in retrospect perhaps it was misjudged.
We certainly struggled to see any evidence on a rewatch of the Saturday show that producers at that stage had any intention other than to favour the Kicks over Lauren. Indeed, it was noticeable in the first round that Lauren was the only act who didn’t get either to meet or to Skype her celebrity song-choosers, instead hearing Little Mix voices over the phone – and what little opportunity that created for Little Mix to bestow a winning aura on Lauren was immediately undercut by Stereo Kicks meeting Tulisa, who directly compared them to Little Mix and ended the VT by telling them to go on and win it.
A couple of things about the Kicks’ treatment on Saturday seemed careless, though. First, the camera angles in the second VT didn’t manage to disguise that there were almost more of Stereo Kicks than there were girls waiting to greet them; indeed, commenter Bob spotted the same girl seen twice in a different outfit. (Still, at least they were present in the flesh and fans of the act; Lauren was somewhat bizarrely taken to the Langham Hotel to talk on Skype to a fan of Cheryl).
Second, why was Cheryl allowed to criticise them for standing in a line after their first song, when the choreography for their second song was going to feature them… standing in a line again?
4. Why the dialling-down of effort on Fleur?
Stoney: “Fleurs treatment puzzled me. Especially off that back of the weekend that took her into hot favourite. Seemed like a definite deramp in there.”
Consider this. Two acts have a VT showing them walking the streets of their hometown with a sibling, and someone yelling support from a car. In Act A’s case, the car driver already knows the act (and his nan), and the rest of the walkabout includes hugs and/or selfies with five other people. In Act B’s case, the car driver has to confirm the act’s identity before offering their good wishes, and the only other person the act interacts with is an elderly priest who needs reminding when the show’s on.
If that’s all you knew, you would say Act A was the favoured act, right? And yet several Sofabet commenters felt that Act A’s (Ben’s) walkabout VT was a negative for him, but nobody in the comments suggested the same about Act B’s (Fleur’s).
Or consider this. Two acts have a VT showing them returning to school – one gets a full assembly of kids waving signs, the other gets just a single class, having apparently slipped unnoticed into the school as we first see them alone on a staircase. Sounds bad for the second act, right? But the first act was Lauren, who ended the show odds-on to leave, and the second act was then-favourite in the outright, Fleur.
What to make of these contrasts? On one level, it simply shows the power of pre-existing narrative, aka confirmation bias – because we are all primed with the frame of reference that producers favour Fleur, we instinctively tend to ignore any negatives that we might immediately pounce on if it featured in the VT of an act we had a prior expectation that producers would be targeting.
We’re not suggesting for a moment that these VTs were actually calculated to damage Fleur. Indeed, our interpretation of Lauren’s school visit was that it was supposed to convey to viewers the idea that Lauren belongs back at school; Cheryl had introduced her with there being a message in ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ (i.e. Lauren is still a child), and Lauren was shown expressing a desire to return.
But it did feel lazy to us that not one but both of Fleur’s VTs were based on her and Keshia aimlessly wandering the drizzly and deserted streets of Walthamstow in the fading grey light of a winter’s day, having been introduced eating a bag of chips on a damp park bench.
We’re surprised that producers didn’t go to more effort to maintain Fleur’s sense of momentum after the week 6 pimp slot and the inspired week 7 family-fest. A similar remark applies to song choice, staging – the first was a bit cabaret, the second too static – and (see above) judges’ comments.
We were also struck, on a rewatch, by another Ben-Fleur contrast. In both cases, Mel’s criticism was followed by a cutaway to a reaction shot of their sibling (plus, in Ben’s case, girlfriend) in the audience. Ben’s brother and girlfriend were giving it the full pantomime performance with both thumbs down, as the crowd booed lustily. Keshia was just seen scowling, as the audience remained relatively quiescent.
There has been much speculation in the comments about Fleur being the act Dermot said finished just 800 votes above Lauren. If that is the case – and it may not be – we can surely expect a return to full-on pimping mode if they want to keep her above Lauren in the semi-final.
5. Fire, suitcases and Ben’s sausage
Regular readers will know that fire is generally accepted as a staging negative, and Ben’s stage and backdrop for his first song was full of it.
There was plenty of raunch on display as Ben was surrounded by dancing girls, two of whom at the back of the stage made sparks fly by masturbating with angle grinders as Ben suggested they “come together, right now, over me”.
When we’ve speculated in the past about why fire seems to have been associated with lower public votes, the best theory we can come up with is that it pushes subliminal buttons of “don’t touch, stay away”. But did it have the same effect here? Context is everything and it seems possible that the fire might simply have fed into the pushing of a subliminal button that said “hot”.
There does seem to be quite the vibe of sexual innuendo over Ben recently. In week 7’s VT, he’d been telling Simon he was trying to be “gentle” with his song, to which Simon replied “don’t be, give it a slap”. In Ben’s second week 8 VT, it may or may not be coincidental that we saw fans testify that he was “hot” and “fit” immediately after we’d been invited to associate him with the idea of a sausage.
And let’s just pause for a moment to appreciate the line “I’ve got a sausage named after me in Beckenham”. Readers interested in Ben’s sausage might like to know that it contains “red chilli pepper, honey, garlic, coriander, sage and oregano”.
Moving on, the staging for Ben’s second song had him sitting on luggage with his name on.
Again, at first blush this would appear to be pushing negative buttons subliminally – “bags packed, time to go”. Against that, these were obviously the boxes musicians use to transport their instruments when on tour, so the subliminal buttons being pressed could have been “proper musician”. This would continue a theme from the VT that preceded this staging, in which Ben was shown giving an interview in a radio station, also an image associated with musical stars; and was reinforced by the guitarists and drummer on stage with him.
So while it certainly would be possible to regard either of these as negatives, we’re struggling to get too worked up over them. Do you agree? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
6. Celebrity endorsement watch
At around this stage of the series we always like to see who the celebrity special guests say is their favourite of the remaining acts. We suspect it’s no coincidence that practically everyone asked this question in 2011 said Little Mix, while in 2012 most of them seemed to be fans of James Arthur. We assume that, at the very least, producers will have determined what the answer to this question will be before they allow Dermot to ask it. On Sunday, both Ella and Union J nominated Ben.
7. A transfer of the Italophile vote?
Heisenberg: “what about the sudden appearance of Haenow’s Italian-ness? Andrea’s VT was Italy-light on Saturday (okay, I know he sang Italian) but I was fascinated to see this theme transferred to Ben with the introduction of ‘Nonna Rita’… with Louis Prima’s Angelina / Zooma Zooma playing in the background”. EM: “when they introduced her my jaw dropped, it surely had some significance.”
We also were fascinated that when Ben’s first VT honked the nan klaxon, it turned out to be the nonna klaxon. Nonna is Italian for nan. Did we already know that Ben had Italian heritage? Have producers decided the Italian deramp was so successful for Andrea, they’re going to apply it to Ben? Will next week’s VT see him salivating over a cake at the Italian embassy?
Or does the deployment of Nonna Rita suggest producers are preparing the ground to transfer the all-important Italophile vote from Andrea to Ben if the former leaves this weekend? Perhaps Andrea’s semi-final VT could feature him flying his nan over from Rome for some bonding with Ben’s nan. Maybe they could have tea? From a three-tier stand. While their respective grandsons get their make-up done.
8. The curse of Mel B’s daughter
EM: “At times like this it’s good to think of others, especially someone who has consistently backed the loser, someone who has declared love in a very public way, been proved foolish, bravely declares a new allegence and has once again been proved wrong. Someone who must now be feeling confused, humiliated and lonely. Pray for Mel B’s daughter.” Fudd: “The three horsemen of The X Factor apocalypse: 1) The Walton-Akister Memorial Makeup-Chair-Next-to-Ben-Haenow of Doom; 2) The Three-Tier Cake Tray of Incipient Surfeit; 3) The support of Mel B’s daughter/s”.
We’ve amused ourselves this season by postulating hexes – the makeup chair, the cake stand – and now we have Mel B’s daughter to add to the list. Mel informed us that her three kids loved Only The Young, and Only The Young departed. Then she noted how the 15 year old was in the audience going wild about Stereo Kicks, and Stereo Kicks departed. Watch out for the endorsement, Andrea!
What else did you spot this week? Do keep the conversation going below.