As last week, we’ll review this week’s shows based on the assumption that spoilers from the filming of the six chair challenges are accurate. If you want to remain in suspense about who’s evidently being set up for a fall at bootcamp, read no further.
That means we can fast-forward through the first half of Saturday’s show, including Jade McGuire, who had Rita gushing “I love it when a strong, independent woman takes control of her own destiny”. No matter how strong and independent you are, it’s somewhat difficult to take control of your own destiny on this show. But more of that, apropos the girls category, anon.
Our first sighting this weekend of acts reputed to be through to judges’ houses came in an unusual set-up featuring two groups drawn from the London gospel scene, all-male Bekln and all-female Silver Tone, with friendships and a brother-sister relationship connecting the two fivesomes.
In a turn of events that in no way seemed like it might conceivably have been pre-cooked, Silver Tone were told they couldn’t cut it as a pop outfit and advised to prepare something else that went back to their roots. Beklyn reassured them they were amazing singers, before going on to their own audition. Coming across as sweet and unthreatening, they had Simon telling them “there’s never been a better chance for a British R&B group to do something different, you are five very good singers who work well together”.
Meanwhile, off stage, we saw Silver Tone furiously racking their brains for what traditional black gospel song could showcase their roots. Following a pep talk from a triumphant Bekln, they returned to stage to have Simon remind us “we said go back to your roots, you haven’t had long to prepare that”. Long enough to source a grand piano and a pianist, evidently. With cutaways to Bekln cheering them on backstage, Silver Tone performed Bridge Over Troubled Water, by well-known black gospel duo Simon and Garfunkel. Cowell told them that having seen the “real you”, he was “really impressed”.
What to make of all this? There is surely room for no more than two girl groups, and Silver Tone look to be seriously up against it in competition with 4th Power and the much-pimped Alien.
As for Bekln, rival boyband The First Kings were both more polished and more pimped a fortnight ago; it may perhaps come down to how seriously Cowell believes his line that there’s a gap in the market for a group like Bekln. It is possible to see the whole Silver Tone storyline as a device to establish Bekln’s credentials as supportive nice guys. Conversely, it’s worth noting that if Jennifer Phillips makes it in the overs, the show has no particular need to tick a black gospel box among the groups.
It was hard to watch Monica Michael’s segment without being reminded of another girl with the same initials, Melanie McCabe, whom the show seemed to delight in bringing back to dangle hope in front of her eyes before cruelly snatching it away again. Nick and Rita made a point of saying they remembered her from last year as viewers, and she received a highly sympathetic VT, showing her in action as a youth worker. We’ve seen a lot of VTs of acts making their way towards the auditions, but is Monica the first time this year that we’ve been shown an auditionee in their daily life?
Monica came across as highly relatable; Simon told her she was “real” and they’d made a “big mistake” last year. There was, however, no standing ovation from the judges. Is this a narrative that ends in McCabe-ean agonising rejection at judges’ houses, or Akister-esque chance at redemption? Your guess is as good as ours.
In a highly competitive girls category, Havva Rebke currently appears to have the most ground to make up among the six rumoured to make it to judges’ houses. She opened Sunday’s show in a relatively perfunctory segment that didn’t give the impression producers were especially interested in investing in her – we didn’t get much of a backstory beyond that she’d auditioned in 2012, she works in her family’s shop and she doesn’t have many friends outside her family; and comments were positive without being overly effusive.
If Ben Clark is indeed the sixth boy reputed in the spoilers to make it through the six-chair challenge, his introduction didn’t do much to suggest that he’ll be making it much further – not only was he montaged, he was montaged as part of a segment that was focused less on the auditionees themselves than on the theme of Rita flirting with them.
We’ve now seen all six boys, and while it’s still early doors – the edits at bootcamp and six chair challenges could obviously change the picture considerably – our reading at this stage is that producers would be mad not to run with Seann Miley Moore; and casting logic would then suggest there’s likely to be space for one of the lookers, Josh Daniel or Simon Lynch, plus one of the more vocally interesting if less visually prepossessing candidates, Che Chesterman or Tom Bleasby.
With the Sunday pimp slot for Kiera Weathers, we’ve now seen all six of the girls, too (Monica and Havva, plus Louisa Johnson, Lauren Murray and Chloe Paige from week one). The only one of this weekend’s auditionees to make a serious dent in the markets, slotting in behind Louisa as second favourite, 18 year old Labour club bartender Kiera looks like she would be a very strong candidate for the win if producers run with her – but will they?
Kiera has a lot going for her. She’s likeable. Her accent is cute, and her singing voice is distinctive. The song she chose, ‘We don’t have to take our clothes off’, won Calum Scott the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year – and she sang it better than he did. She has strikingly Fleur-esque hair. She deftly deflected what could have become a mawkish sob-story about the untimely death of her mum by observing that she’s not doing it for her mum, because her mum would have wanted her to do it for herself. She has a nan. She has potentially one of the show’s strongest regional votes, if the show choose to emphasise Merseyside over St Helens.
She also has one thing against her. She didn’t get the first audition show pimp slot, which is historically a statement of producer intent. Louisa Johnson did.
On which point, we were intrigued by Simon and Cheryl both remarking in their comments that they would like to mentor her. That’s a line we heard a few times in the opening weekend, when the Twitter vote for who mentors which category was open, but don’t remember hearing since. Is it overthinking things to wonder if Kiera was originally intended to feature prominently in that first weekend but producers decided against it, perhaps because of Rita’s absence?
The show must be aware that it has a terrible recent record of selecting alpha girls: in the last four years Lola Saunders, Tamera Foster, Ella Henderson and Janet Devlin all proved, in their different ways, to have feet of clay. Now, in the shape of Louisa, producers have possibly chosen to try to flog someone arguably less relatable than her most likely beta rival, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far. With only seven live shows this year, there’s less margin of error than usual for changing the pecking order mid-series if the intended alpha fails to strike a chord with the public. Maybe they’ll run with both?
However, we also have the innovation of live judges’ houses this year – and it would be surprising if producers don’t view that as an opportunity to test the social media reaction to the acts before making their final decisions not only on who to put through, but on who to seriously get behind and who to throw to the wolves in the early weeks.
Anyway, isn’t it nice to see strong, independent women taking control of their own destiny? As always, do let us know your thoughts below.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA