When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s Faustini. Here at Sofabet we’re often accused of overanalysing the X Factor, but actually we suspect there’s probably a lot we don’t spot. This year we think we’ve noticed a new tactic. We think producers have been subliminally associating Andrea with the idea of a sickly excess of food.
We first noticed it with Simon’s “listening to you makes me feel like I’ve eaten six donuts” comments in week 3. Its latest manifestation was Simon’s comment to Andrea last Saturday, picking up on the scene in his VT in which Dermot had handed Andrea a pug in a pizza restaurant. “You didn’t eat the pug, did you?”
[All illustrations courtesy of Sofabet commenter Heisenberg]
“Like pugs, definitely” was the phrase with which Andrea had first endeared himself to the British public in his room audition, as comedy Italian tune ‘That’s Amore’ – a recurring auditory motif in Andrea’s journey – played in the background. Brandishing a Mel B doll from his boyhood Spice Girls fan days, Andrea was portrayed as eccentric, setting up the staple payoff of astonished expressions from the judges when it turned out he could actually sing.
At this stage, Andrea’s intended role in the competition seemed clear enough: a novelty act with the added benefit of being able to hold a tune. Our suspicion is that producers were surprised by the warmth of the audience reaction he got in the arena auditions and moved him up the pecking order, relegating Paul Akister – described in the arena rounds by Louis as “the best boy we’ve got” – to the beta in his category.
The rest of the audition stages focused on his ability to elicit tears from the female judges. Cheryl and Mel were beside themselves at bootcamp during Andrea’s ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’, and the endearing Italian did exactly the same to Mel and Emma Bunton at judges’ houses with ‘And I Am Telling You’. Andrea had charmingly VTed at judges’ houses that in comparison to the handsome other boys, he felt like “the male version of Bridget Jones”.
Andrea was the breakout star and most talked about act when the live shows came around, at which point he had been propelled from double-figure odds to short-priced favouritism. This was a position he cemented with a pimp slot rendition of ‘Earth Song’ in the first live show.
We have to assume he topped the vote – the statistics are released after the final – as in week 2, producers began the task of dragging him down. One way of doing this was to pigeonhole him singing “diva” songs from the likes of Whitney Houston, and use that word liberally about his performances. But that was only one of the more obvious tactics.
Simon commented after ‘One Moment In Time’ that Andrea pulls funny faces while he sings, a theme that would be repeated in the weeks to come. Another recurring buzzword around Andrea in the live shows has been “bear”. The first time we remember him being called a “big Italian bear” is by Jake Quickenden at judges’ houses, and it was clearly meant entirely affectionately. But it’s interesting to wonder why it evidently made its way onto producers’ Andrea buzzword playlist – connotations, perhaps, around a certain kind of male sexuality, rotund physique and/or voracious appetite?
Andrea’s week 2 VT had shown him eating fish and chips, and jokingly comparing it negatively to pasta. If we’re right to think that producers have been using food as a subliminal message around Andrea, it’s interesting to wonder when the idea occurred to them.
Simon’s comments in week 3, after Andrea’s ‘Listen’, included this line: “the thing about you is, and I kind of mean this as a compliment, is that when I want to eat five donuts, after listening to you it’s like I’ve eaten six”. Here’s how we parsed that at the time:
On one level, the purpose of the obscure donuts comment is to puncture the mood without seeming harsh, by moving people from basking in Andrea’s performance to wondering what on earth Simon’s on about. You can read more into it if you’re so inclined. How would you feel after eating six donuts? A bit queasy. It’s too much; hard to digest. Donuts are sweet and tempting, but deep down we know they’re not good for us. We could go on, but suffice to say we suspect this wasn’t just something Simon blurted out as it popped into his head.
Sofabet commenter EM developed the theme, adding:
The doughnuts comment was more akin to aversion therapy. Part of hypnosis to stop smoking is to plant suggestions that cigarettes taste terrible. Next time you try a cig it makes you feel sick. Next time you hear Andrea theres every chance some people will feel queasy because the suggestion is planted that he’s like eating six doughnuts. Very clever, maybe even cruel.
Week 4’s VT showed Andrea visiting an Italian deli in London and shovelling pasta into his mouth (this was also the week they gave him horns and a pig’s tail and painted him gold). In week 5, he went home to Rome where his mum prepared a feast for him, as subtitles informed us “you’ve lost too much weight”; we also saw a shopkeeper handing him a plate of pizza with the words “this food is to support you”. Week 6 had him touring London on a double-decker with Mel as he tucked into a heavily-laden three-tier cake tray.
Is it fanciful to suggest that all this was intended to provoke this kind of reaction, from comments to an article about Andrea on the Daily Mail website between weeks 6 and 7?
It was between weeks 6 and 7 that we published an article calling attention to the food theme for Andrea – with a hat-tip to Sofabet commenter Jess, we christened it the “donut deramp”.
That week, we also posted a piece discussing what producers were trying to achieve in seemingly going out of their way to remind us of Andrea’s Italian-ness at every opportunity. Indeed, as Sofabet commenter Caro pointed out, the Italian references have fitted a broader theme of him being a bit exotic, “the other”, not quite one of us – you could look at the “bear” buzzword that way, too, and Simon’s “the alien factor” comment.
To sum up our argument on the Italian theme: we think the aim is to hammer home that Andrea is a foreigner, while assuring us that British people have taken him to their hearts. This will allow producers to suggest, in the final, that the emotionally-satisfying end to Andrea’s journey – the acceptance of an outsider in a new homeland – has already been achieved; his narrative does not demand that he win it, and thus there is no further need for his fans to vote.
With gloriously impeccable timing, the show brought the food and Italian themes together in week 7’s VT, as Andrea was sent to the Italian embassy and filmed salivating over a cake. That was the week Andrea landed in the bottom two for the first time – a remarkably brisk and effective takedown, considering just a few weeks previously the debate in the Sofabet comments had been about whether his likeable personality and vocal prowess made him bulletproof.
Week 8 saw Andrea kindly treated, as producers worked with the grain of the sympathy bounce that singoff survivors traditionally get in the following week’s vote. For the first time since week 1, his VTs did not feature him eating (unless you count just a little nibble from a bowl at Mel’s slumber party).
The donut deramp returned with a vengeance last week, however, as Andrea took his fellow finalists and Dermot to a Ristorante Pizzeria and helpfully VTed that “in Italy, we eat a lot of food”, as ‘That’s Amore’ played yet again. A female voice off-camera was heard asking him if he’d ever heard of the dish “pigs in blankets”, which prompted him to snort like a pig to clarify he’d understood correctly.
Andrea mentioned that he was feeling homesick at Christmas, and thanked the others for making him feel at home; Dermot pulled an “awww” face, and tapped his heart with his fist. Oh, Dermot – as if you aren’t complicit in how producers manipulate the public perception of acts they don’t want to win. Could you not have had the grace to look just a little bit embarrassed?
We love Dermot, so we’re going to cut him some slack and assume he wasn’t aware that when he handed Andrea a pug in the restaurant, he was setting up Simon’s line “just one question that was worrying me, you didn’t eat the pug did you?”. Andrea frowns, not understanding. Simon repeats the question, adding “it looked like it was going to be dinner”. Looking nonplussed, Andrea replies “oh, no, no”. As the camera shows all four judges, with Mel beginning her comments, we see Simon share a look with Louis, and smirk.
How have you read Andrea’s journey, and do you think he has a chance of finishing anything other than third? Do let us know below.