What show did we watch last night, then? Was it the show in which producers are desperately trying to get Fleur to the victory? Or was it the show in which producers, reconciled to a Ben win, did everything they could to position Fleur for a postshow career and make sure she stayed above Andrea? We’ll find out tonight. In the meantime, here are some things that struck us on a second watch.
1. Go hard or go home
MB79493: “Her staging looked more to me like Soviet-era propaganda”. EM: “Classic mistep by the show there. A Ms Dynamic-esque slice of staging followed by utterly supportive comments.” Eurovicious: “If she’s gonna come second regardless, there’s no point saddling her with safer material when they can use tonight and tomorrow to establish her brand really strongly”. JessikaK: “General consensus from everyone in my house is… What on earth was that all about!?”
How to make confident non-white acts palatable for an ITV-watching Middle England audience has been a question much debated by Sofabet commenters over the years, notably in relation to Rough Copy in 2013 and Misha B in 2011. We can’t remember anybody suggesting “give them a rap song with high-concept staging based around the theme of an inner city riot, to the repeated refrain of ‘the city can’t hold us’ and with a fire backdrop, then interview their grandad from Ghana to the sound of bongo drums”.
Removing our betting hats for a moment, it has always seemed depressing when a talented, edgy act like Misha B has had to be blandly styled and made to sing middle-of-the-road ballads to progress in the competition. If app voting has changed the voting demographic so much that this is the kind of performance that now wins the X Factor, you have to say it’s fantastic news for the franchise.
2. Buona fortuna, Andrea
HenryVIII: “But what strikes me is that it’s all this manipulation without having established a decent goal. Fleur has too weak a voice and Ben is Brookstein Mk V. I think they’d have been better off with Andrea winning, or Lauren, or even OTY. They’re a bit like a dying communist state with all the sinister machinery turning away but to no purpose.”
Keeping our betting hats off, let’s take a moment to bid farewell to Andrea. We always try hard to separate our analysis of the way an act is portrayed by the show from our reactions to the real person behind the portrayal, as far as this is possible to discern. And on a personal level, we’ve had a soft spot for Andrea since his room audition.
He’s been pretty shabbily treated – in HenryVIII’s words, they have portrayed him as a “gluttonous fool” – but at least he’s got plenty of exposure, which he can use as the basis for building a career. And ultimately, win or lose, this is all anyone can hope for when they enter the competition. More importantly, he appears to have a wonderful family. Good luck, Andrea!
3. Schoolboy errors?
“I can’t believe there are so many people here”, said Fleur as she arrived at Walthamstow Assembly Hall. Well, anything’s better than school, right? There were a couple of curious decisions in Fleur’s homecoming. It was noticeable that her audience seemed to consist entirely of uniformed kids, presumably bussed in from their classrooms.
Also, the size of the crowds. The establishing shot of Fleur’s crowd consisted largely of swathes of empty space – a rare apparent mis-step from producers who are usually highly alert to this kind of thing.
In contrast, there was never a moment in Ben’s VT when the crowds looked anything less than impressive – and they had evidently turned up of their own volition, not indoors but braving the winter cold.
Indeed, on a second watch we thought Ben’s homecoming VT was pretty much textbook. Taking his mum away from her work at Sainsbury’s tied into the theme of last week’s VTs, with Ben hoping to give his family a better life; and there were testimonials from a wide age range of female demographics, from girls to pensioners.
4. The warm, golden glow of…?
For all that Ben has been receiving mixed messages in comments of late, he has pretty consistently been bathed in golden light on stage. That continued, both in ‘Demons’ and in the “Sheeran-Haenow bromance”, as Dermot termed it.
Ben’s line of introduction that Ed was “the most incredible man in the world” may have been a step too far, but there was an ease about the duet which seemed genuine. To cap it all, their hug was nicely framed by cameras.
5. Who’s the star, again?
Fudd: “For the first time… I think ever… the ‘star’ sings before the contestant. And the ‘star’ introduces Fleur. I’m almost in tears laughing at the bias now.” Biffy Beans: “This is the new benchmark for obvious, blatant favouritism.” Donald: “If it was horse racing TPTB would be getting a lengthy ban for the use of the whip”.
We could have come up with a list of ways that Fleur was shown favouritism last night, but our commenters did the job for us. The example that amused us most was the turnaround of usual duet etiquette whereby it was the established singer, Labrinth, who introduced the contestant instead of the other way round. Inspired or too blatant?
We will reiterate that neither Ben nor even Andrea were treated as badly as the likes of Marcus or Jahmene. As we have said, there was a lot of positivity around Ben’s VTs and staging. His comments, too, seemed fine to us on a second listen – mentions of the X Factor being all about people like him; Tulisa saying he could go all the way; Cheryl saying “listen to the reaction you just got”; and Simon remarking on how he’d “grown” from his “shy, awkward” first audition but remained “genuine” and a “family guy”. The second VT, with Ben tearing up as Simon praised him, was a warmly feelgood moment, too.
In short, while surely nobody can doubt that producers have the higher hopes for Fleur’s post-show career and would much prefer her to win it, we couldn’t see anything in Ben’s treatment that would be franchise-damaging if he were to take the prize. The crucial question now is: will that continue on Sunday, now that it’s a two-horse race and producers know the current state of the vote?
6. The X Factor Final, starring Sofabet
Earlier in the week, Sofabet turned roving reporter as Fleur arrived at the MTV studios.
Sofabet on reconnaissance at MTV studios. Hi Fleur! pic.twitter.com/Sb4dVADqcQ
— Daniel Gould (@sofabet) December 10, 2014
And so, finally, to the highlight of Saturday night’s show! Frame-by-frame analysis revealed a starring role for Daniel in Fleur’s VT.