Louisa looked stunning on Saturday night, with staging to match. The golden cosmic backdrop was textbook. We were particularly impressed with a panning overhead shot, with Louisa the star, light emanating from her. Way to go on the contrast principle too, putting her in between Reggie n Bollie and Bupsi.
But there’s still a sense of them not really knowing what to do with her in the VTs. Let’s remind ourselves that nerves have been portrayed as a problem throughout the audition stages, especially at her first arena tryout. Rita put that to bed in last Saturday’s VT by admitting, “I feel like you’re kinda more like confident than I thought you were going to be.”
Louisa explains she’s confident because of the song she has been given: “it’s me”. More on that in a second, because Rita is still busy mangling her sentences during their slightly confusing conversation on the sofa: “Though you are the baby, I think your soul is the baby of the show.” Louisa replies, “I mean, I’ve always felt like I was older.” So, in short: Louisa has nerves, but is confident; Louisa is only 17 and the baby, but is a wise head. Sorted.
We can also add: Louisa doesn’t know the song; the song is her. The VT tries to suggest it shows her professionalism to manage to learn the shortened version of a pretty simple number, an achievement later referenced by her mentor in comments (“I love that you learnt the song”). Plus doing something different with the arrangement; John Lewis-ing it, it turns out, which gave us flashbacks to Ella Henderson, a similarly short-priced favourite. Oh, and the VT then gives us some vocal rest drama to finish things off.
Overall, it felt like producers threw lots of storylines at Louisa’s VT in the hope that one of them would stick. In the process nothing did, partly because they contradicted themselves on more than one occasion. Then, in comments after the song, Simon tried a new tack with “you are competitive… you want to win”, something repeated by Grimmy. Are they sure this is going to endear her to the voting public?
Admittedly, normal viewers are not analysing it in this kind of detail. But we’ve been wondering how we’ll be persuaded to relate to Louisa, who as a 17 year old lacks the life experience to sell the lyrics of a song like ‘God Only Knows’ no matter how well she’s able to sing it, and week 1 didn’t make the picture any clearer.
Bupsi on Benefits Street
The moment that did for Bupsi came from her vocal coach early in her VT. “Seriously, you’ve got to show up to these sessions prepared”, Annabel says, after Bupsi has struggled with a note. What comes next is the crucial bit: “You thought you were on holiday, didn’t you? You got your pool, you got your gym, you got your big house.”
This ever so conveniently fits in with the earlier montage of Bupsi marvelling at the gym, the pool, and big house in separate shots. We don’t even see Annabel delivering this cutting tirade, which seems strangely detailed for a Monday afternoon rehearsal when the contestants only moved in that morning. Are we cynical enough to wonder if the audio might have been edited in later?
Whether it has or not, the implication is that Bupsi is living the Life of Riley. “I’ve not been here more than five minutes, I think I’m getting used to this. Just don’t tell my Mum.” An innocent remark from Bupsi, but in this context, she’s portrayed akin to an undeserving Lottery winner, or even worse, the kind of freeloader you see on those Channel 5 benefits documentaries.
Bupsi is shown being “disappointed in herself” after Annabel’s criticism, and her “rough start” is also referenced by Simon later in the VT. By the time Bupsi gets to the stage with her little-known song, she might as well cry out, “Et Tu Annabel?”
Cowell to Louisa: “A star is born”; Cowell to Ché: “Like a talking dog.” That’s quite the contrast in reactions to arguably the two standout vocal performances of the night. So what was Simon on about?
It reminded us of his infamous line to Andrea last year, “like eating six donuts”. On one level, we assume the intention is simply to puncture a high, to change the conversation from “wasn’t that great” to “what’s Simon smoking?” But we suspected last year that there was more to the donuts comment, playing to a running theme of associating Andrea with a sickly excess of food. So we feel like we should at least consider whether there could have been planned hidden layers in this latest episode of apparently off-the-cuff WTFery.
Here’s what Simon said: “The funny thing about you is, I’ve got two Yorkshire terriers called Squiddly and Diddly, and it was kind of like imagining them talking to me one day, that was the reaction I got when you just did that, I just didn’t expect it from you, because you don’t look like you sound”. Turning to the panel, he explains “my dogs talking to me would be surprising, that was surprising”.
Answers on a postcard, please, as to what murky subliminals might be at play here. Most obviously: Ché is a dog? (Chester-man… Chester is among the top 100 dogs names, according to Rover.com, just between Prince and Brutus). That could work either way in viewers’ subconscious. Some will associate dogs with concepts like low-status, slobbery, messy, lazy and annoyingly loud – and on that last point, we know from social media that Ché’s snoring is a running joke with the other boys; could this become the theme? For many others, however, the connotations will be things like loveable, loyal, eager-to-please, man’s best friend.
What else might it be? Talking dogs are against the natural order… and so is the idea of Ché beating Louisa? If your dog talks to you, you assume you must have imagined it and it wasn’t really real… so if you were impressed by Ché’s vocal, please doubt yourself now?
Before we disappear down the rabbit hole, we hasten to add that in general Ché’s treatment struck us as thoroughly positive. His VT portrayed him as humble, grateful, cheerful and likeable. The staging was great – his name up in gold, and a brighter spotlight on him than the backing singers. You could debate the “can’t dance” meme, but if anything it simply reminds viewers how good his vocals are.
It’s also worth rewatching Ché’s and Max’s VTs side-by-side to see how very differently they came across: where Max is shown exasperating the choreographers and earnestly wondering “do you think I should show them on my face that I’m enjoying it?”, Ché is shown being eager to learn from the choreographers and simply says “I want people to know I’m having fun”.
In context, then, Squiddly and Diddly were either planting a seed that may or may not be tended in future, or simply didn’t mean anything at all. But it’s fun to try on the tinfoil hats for size every now and then.
Takedown or setup for Anton?
Last week’s Popbitch contained a cryptic snippet about the X Factor producers having the “ammo” to “bring down” Anton Stephans if the immensely likeable backing singer proved popular enough in the phone vote to threaten the chosen one.
Was some of that ammo fired in Monday’s edition of The Sun? The paper is thought of as having a close relationship with the show and has previously reported claims such as Wagner’s alleged drug-taking and Johnny Robinson’s alleged benefits cheating when those acts were flying too close to, er, the sun.
Headlined “Anton isn’t adopted… he’s talking rubbish. EXCLUSIVE: Dad’s fury at fake sob story by X Factor fantasist”, Monday’s story paints Anton as a Walter Mitty figure, quoting “a source close to” his dad as denying Anton’s backstory that he was placed in foster care as a child.
Who knows what the truth is, but if there’s anything at all in the claims of factitious behaviour then it suggests Anton has deep-rooted issues that make us hope he’s getting the support he needs behind the scenes. And whatever those issues might be, it seems possible they’d actually increase public sympathy if they become known. But that’s without knowing what else is in the ammo store.
We should also consider the possibility that the story could be portending an emotional VT and a song choice picking up on last week’s ‘Dance With My Father’. Among the tracks in Anton’s YouTube catalogue? Not My Father’s Son.
Regional vote fillip?
Time was when being from Merseyside would practically guarantee you a place in the X Factor final: Chris Maloney, Marcus Collins, Rebecca Ferguson, Ray Quinn… while Craig Colton, of incredible shrinking hometown fame, is the exception that proves the rule. Kiera suggests those days are over. Is this to do with Kiera herself, or has free app voting reduced the power of regional votes?
Meanwhile it’s reported that Filipinos can vote on the app. Given that 4th Impact are suspiciously far ahead in the TellyMix poll, how seriously should punters take this? It’s worth bearing in mind, though our instinct is to be sceptical. Looking at the raw vote totals on TellyMix, a maximum of a couple of thousand votes could be from overseas; will there really be a significantly bigger pool of Filipinos who are voting by the app but not also bothering to express support in forums like TellyMix? And as EM points out in the comments, the show’s T&Cs allow them to disregard votes if there are “reasonable grounds to suspect” they come from abroad; the question is how easy it is to tell.
It’s also possible that this kind of story could be used to motivate votes for British acts. It surely wasn’t accidental that Alien Uncovered were called “British” twice by Cowell and “British, which we’re very proud of” by Cheryl, with a “you know where you’re from” thrown in by Rita, after a “more British” reference in their VT. Much good it did them, though they’re not exactly a natural act to motivate the UKIP vote for. Interestingly, Ché also elicited a “Britain has so much talent” from Cowell. Will such patriotic musings become a running theme?
As ever, do keep the conversation going below.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA