As the show opened, Ben was trading at 1.79 on Betfair, with Fleur available at 2.44. By the end of the opening group song with Take That, Fleur had come in to favourite. Announced in the pimp slot, with Ben in the coffin slot? Check. Standing in the middle of the three acts, the gold medal winner’s position on a podium? Check. Dressed in gold, flanked by Ben and Andrea both in black? Check. Singing with Gary Barlow while Ben got the one whose name nobody can remember? Check.
Ben’s first VT hilariously started with prominent shots of the VOTE FLEUR EAST bus. The rest of the VT, though, was as positive as homecomings get (with the possible fleeting exception of the “Ben’s other mate” caption, implying he has only two), with emotional family members and sizeable crowds. He started, worryingly, in a glass box but smashed his way out of it, Eric Saade style. You could see staging red flags in the raised platform and cage if you wanted to, but you could also see it as high concept stuff with gold aplenty. Comments were positive enough, focusing on Ben being what the X Factor is all about.
We didn’t have long to wait in Andrea’s VT to see him stuffing his face with cake surrounded by Italian flags, just after his sister had told him to come back home to Italy soon. Mel then told him singing at the Albert Hall would be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, which presumably Andrea would quite like not to be the case. The roulette theme allowed for red and black aplenty, and it was a diva-ish performance with vocal gymnastics: impressive, but nothing new. Louis told Andrea he’d have a great career, Simon told him he’d done brilliantly and Tulisa called him a brilliant singer. Appeals for votes were conspicuous by their absence; indeed, Tulisa’s “I want everyone to…” did not lead to a “vote”, but a “rewatch your first audition”. Okay, then. We then cut to audience members holding pizza and tiramasu in the colours of the Italian flag.
Subtly introduced by Simon with “this is the big one”, Fleur got a nice enough homecoming VT and a huge production designed to make her look like a star. Producers decided to mess with our figures of speech by decking the stage out in huge red flags but writing “CHAMPIONS” on them, making the literal red flags into metaphorical green flags. Or something. There was a four-judge standing ovation and a full-on pimping: Louis called her an “international star” and appealed for votes; Tulisa signed off with “you go girl, you’ve got this”; and Simon reminded us how she’d been pursuing her dream for ten years and demanded votes to get her through to tomorrow. We then cut to her local mayor (those of you playing X Factor final drinking games: drink). Not everyone in the comments was entirely convinced that it came off as intended, and nor were punters: at the end of round one, Ben was very marginally favourite on Bettfair again.
Ben was excited to be duetting with Ed Sheeran, in a beautifully staged performance that ended with a hug from Ed and a reminder that Fleur is not the only act who can get songs they cover to number one. Andrea was similarly excited to be duetting with 2012’s sixth-place finisher Ella Henderson, in a performance with noticeably colder lighting than Ben and Ed’s; it ended with Ella saying he’s an “Italian stallion, but we should embrace him”. Still, though, for both Ben and Andrea tonight any negatives were relatively gentle fare compared to some of the deramps we’ve witnessed in past finals (think ‘Candy’, ‘Hey Ya’, ‘Last Christmas’, ‘Move On Up’).
The ramping, though, reached new heights: in a reversal of the usual modus operandi, Fleur’s duet had the star introducing her after the opening stanza, none-too-subtly suggesting she was the bigger star of the two; “Fleur is in the building”. The market wasn’t impressed, however, as by the end of round two the Betfair odds were back to where they’d been at the start of the show.
Andrea was unsurprisingly announced as in third place. As for Ben and Fleur, in our view overall it was a case of “as you were”; we interpreted this show in much the same way as we have the previous three or four – clear preference for Fleur, with a sense that Ben is a perfectly acceptable winner if they can’t get her over the line. And so we return to the question we grappled with in our preview: are you inclined to believe or doubt the Daily Star’s claim that Ben topped the semi-final vote?
How did you read tonight? Do let us know below.