Many of us had expected Fleur in the pimp slot this week, so she was a surprising choice to open the show with Strictly still on the other side. Her VT featured a family homecoming, and some twerking. Dressed in a red PVC dress with a bow over her cleavage, she danced more suggestively with her backing dancers than we can remember her having done before. The reaction in the Sofabet comments was mixed.
Lauren’s VT hit some by now familiar themes – princessy, parental reconciliation, big sister Fleur. She had some lovely Christmas staging, but was rather drowned out by the backing track and the overall effect was somewhat underwhelming. Louis said she struggled, Mel said she’d been consistent without having a moment – an expectations build up for the second round, for better or worse; Simon (after calling her Fleur) said she was good but not great, and Dermot asked about her nerves. “Stay just one more day”, Lauren’s lyrics had said; is that her fate?
Ben’s family came round to the X Factor house. We got another view of Nonna Rita – she’d also be interviewed by Dermot after the break, just before Andrea – and his mum looked tearful as he expressed a hope to be able to afford a house like that for them. He got a backdrop of golden icicles and dancing girls in a sleigh, and a three-judge standing ovation. Louis appealed for votes, Mel praised his confidence and called him a rock star; Cheryl gave him a glowing character witness, and Simon expressed his pride.
We were back to the Italian and food themes in Andrea’s VT, as he and the other finalists and Dermot went to a pizzeria and Andrea expressed hs homesickness and made pig noises before being presented with a pug to cuddle. On a plinth and dressed in grey, Andrea appearred to be surrounded by giant rolls of Andrex (borrowed from Carly Rose Sonenclar). Judge cutaways were positive, and Simon joined Mel in giving him a standing ovation before pulling the “I didn’t like it, I loved it” line – and then returning to the ‘donut deramp’ theme of associating Andrea with excessive eating by checking that he hadn’t consumed the pug.
Switched to the first slot for the second round of songs, as with last week when she hit the singoff for the first time, Lauren’s staging had “end of journey” written all over it as we saw childhood photos projected on the big screen – reminiscent of the distracting home video projection that saw Luke Friend hit the singoff last year, and also of the “let’s have a look at your best bits” reel trope that gets played for contestants who’ve just been voted off. Mel helpfully noted that this wasn’t the breakout performance she’d been waiting for, while Simon credited her with “a bit of a moment” but noted that she tends to hold back.
She was immediately memoryholed by Simon’s promise of a song most of the audience had never heard before, and an emotional family VT for Fleur. The VT had Simon making clear that the fault would be all his if it didn’t work. In the same costuming as week 2, Fleur’s staging was full of gold and she delivered a sassy, sexy performance which showed off what a great dancer and performer she is. There had been much speculation in the comments beforehand about how well an as-yet unreleased song would connect with ITV-watching Middle England, but the reaction in the room sounded huge; Mel called her a superstar, Cheryl said she was more like a star guest than a contestant, and Simon repeated that this was the moment she turned from a contestant into a star.
Fleur popped up once again in Andrea’s VT, which featured more bonding with Mel’s family and Italian-speaking over Skype. The high-concept staging featured broken glass doors and what looked like shards of glass on his shirt as he sang about being a wrecking ball. Louis called him the “people’s diva” again, Simon praised him for taking a risk that paid off, and Mel forthrightly asked people to vote – twice.
Ben’s VT started with him tearfully visiting a hospice and sounded the mum klaxon, continuing the theme of Ben wanting to win it to give her a better life. This was far from a pimp slot coronation, however, as the theme of Ben not winning Mel over continued. Ben’s overall treatment suggests to us that producers are still holding out hope of building enough momentum for Fleur to win, but will be happy enough to embrace Ben if need be. Whether Mel is won over next week should tell us a lot.
Overall, it felt to us that Lauren was squarely in the crosshairs tonight and Ben should be safe; the question is whether you believe that Fleur was the act who cleared the singoff by 800 votes last week and – if so – whether her barnstorming second performance was enough to get her above Andrea, who was treated relatively kindly once again. Our suspicion is that, either way, Lauren goes; while some in the comments have suggested that producers would fear Andrea gaining enough floating one-off final viewers to win, if we were producers we’d rather have him than Lauren in the final for reasons of putting on a show, and if they’ve already got him in the bottom two twice, they should be confident about stopping him from winning.
But then, we thought Lauren was going last week. Do let us know your take below.