Who says the X Factor has become too predictable? Two of the three acts who had been shortest in the pre-show elimination betting for most of the week drifted to double-figure prices after surprisingly positive treatment in Saturday’s show, as punters concluded that the other of the three – Kiera Weathers – looks to be under the biggest cloud.
There’s plenty for us to digest, and it felt like a show that – even more than usual – demands a Sunday rewatch. But here are our first impressions.
Starting off the “reinvention” theme were 4th Impact with an anodyne VT of tourist activity in London followed by the kind of drama over song choice we’ve seen a thousand times before. Their staging was a disappointment – urban colour vomit, with the sisters isolated from each other far more than last week – and vocally they were poor.
Judges’ comments were positive – when they got round to talking about the performance, that is; for the most part they held distracting conversations, with Cowell and Cheryl referencing the VT by bickering over the song choice. This wasn’t an encouraging week for backers of the pre-lives second favourites in the win market, and it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world to see the Filipino foursome in trouble this week – especially with the extreme positivity that later surrounded Reggie N Bollie raising the surprising question of whether we may have a new alpha group on our hands.
Mason Noise followed, with a positive VT that featured him talking about the friends he was making in the house – he also later popped up bromantically in Che’s VT – and focused on his heart-throb status, as indeed did the post-song comments. I found the arrangement and staging not my cup of tea, with cheesy winks and gyrating hips – but it reminded me a little of Justin Bieber’s performance on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man, so perhaps I’m just falling behind the times.
Rita and Cheryl disagreed on the merits of the performance, with Cowell saying “the audience got behind you… there’s no-one like you in the competition and there’s a gap in the market for you”. Mason’s elimination odds shortened slightly, reflecting the sense that his overall treatment suggested producers seem hopeful of keeping him around but sending him out second in the running order hardly paints it as an overriding priority.
“Good luck” were the words with which Simon introduced Anton, and he’ll need it. The VT followed a pretty standard struggle against a change of direction, and so it proved. Anton had kitsch Vegas-style staging with throne and big staircase, and dancers dressed as speakers. He was overly louche at times, but there were moments of fun amid the mayhem and Anton remained as personally likeable as ever, apologising to Nick when the latter compared it to “a really bad musical”.
The overall vibe was reminiscent of when they gold-painted Andrea Faustini and stuck a pig’s tail on him, and we can only assume the intention – to dislodge Anton from the top of the votes, where Popbitch reported he finished last week – was the same. It would take quite the fall from grace to go from top of the pile to bottom three in one week, however, and Cowell’s “you’ve got guts and a sense of humour” should have motivated some sympathy.
Kiera wasn’t given a great deal of help with her bounce. There was nothing much wrong with her VT, which portrayed her as enthusiastic and hardworking, but song choice and styling felt like a Kiera that we didn’t know and didn’t particularly care for. The hair was even more strongly pulled back than last week, there were two significant dance interludes, and overall the choreography was off-putting. Nor did the song choice show off the tone of her voice, which is her USP.
Judges comments were lukewarm, as they typically are when the show isn’t looking to motivate votes – Cowell patronisingly gave her an “A for effort, at least you tried”. And having followed one of the big-name acts in Anton, she was promptly memoryholed by Che Chesterman and Louisa Johnson. As the only one of the pre-show likely-seeming eliminees to receive the expected unhelpful treatment, it was no surprise to see her elimination odds shorten.
After another positive VT, Che was given the first simple and effective moment of the night, with twinkly backdrop, lots of close-ups, and a four-judge standing ovation. Nick looked close to tears during the performance, and Rita said afterwards: “I wanted to cry. It was so beautiful.” Cheryl said: “You have a place in the market right now.” Simon continued the high praise by saying: “You’ve turned this competition upside down.” It was a pimping for Che, that reinforced the idea of him as a possible backup winner should Louisa prove impossible to get over the line.
Louisa’s VT started with her wearing glasses and being consulted for her ideas, then showed her chatting to friends and living the pop star dream at a photoshoot. “Louisa has personality”, appears to have been the intended message. The staging and song choice was an interesting departure from last week, with choreography and a rockier look. The powerful voice was still in evidence.
It was Nick who revealed most about what producers hope to achieve when he said: “Last week it was vocally incredible but ‘who is she?’ This week I saw who you’d be when you make music.” So this can be considered a partial reboot, which may suggest that her public vote last week wasn’t all that had been hoped.
Seann Miley Moore came next, with another anodyne VT agonising over song choice. Production was again all about Seann himself, which is no bad thing when he fills the stage so effectively, although quite how Middle England will have reacted is open to question.
The clue to the judges’ reactions came when Nick stood, Rita hesitantly followed and Simon failed to applaud at all. After great praise from the other three, Simon said: “That was lazy… it was very comfortable, very safe, very so-what.” He ended by saying it was less pop star, and more “someone who turns up to sing at a talent competition” – a criticism that viewers may feel cuts to the core of their reactions to Seann.
Monica came next with what felt like the evening’s clearest hatchet job. There was a fire backdrop, overly suggestive styling and a jarring arrangement. Monica looked far less comfortable than last week, and the judges made sure we all noticed it. Simon said: “I didn’t love it. I hated it. I hope the public forget about you tonight. What have they turned you into? You’re not this person and you can’t allow this to happen…. it was just an okay version of a Beyonce song”.
Amelia Lily went from wildcard vote-topper to singoff in the space of a week in 2011, albeit with far fewer acts left in the competition, and Monica’s treatment suggests producers are hoping that her burst of public goodwill is similarly short-lived. Punters quickly made her second-favourite for next elimination, which feels fair enough.
Max Stone was reinvented from WGWG to WGWU, and appeared to have been upgraded in the pecking order judging by a VT which allowed him to show emotion by referencing his auntie’s funeral and featured him discussing with Anton how to open up. As Cowell said at the end of the VT, “the quiet ones can be dangeous, they creep up”.
His staging – a chilled out desert island evening, with groupies sitting around him – struck us as nicely positive, and the judges’ criticism that followed (an uncharacteristically harsh Nick said these “weird people” looked like they’d “washed up on a beach to play pass-the-parcel”) seemed calculated to be harsh enough to motivate votes; it’s worth noting that amid the criticism were callouts to Max being “cooler than this”. Cowell reinforced Max’s credibility with “you’re honest, you are what it says on the tin”. It certainly looked to us like producers are in no hurry to sink Stone.
Also having clearly been upgraded in the pecking order were Reggie N Bollie, who were granted a heartwarming VT partying with their families including telegenic young children (and with Max playing guitar in the background) and given the biggest production of the series so far, with “R” and “B”-clad cheerleaders. Liam Payne’s approval was referenced multiple times, and Cowell’s “on paper this shouldn’t have worked but I absolutely loved it, there’s something so infectious about you guys” appeared to sum up the general mood in the studio.
It’s rare to see an act drift from 2/1 to 20/1 in the elimination betting, but it felt justified – producers could hardly have done more for the likeable Ghanaian duo.
Lauren Murray continued the Hannah Barrett Memorial Beta Girl Running Order Trajectory, following up her opening show death slot with the second show pimp slot. As with Hannah in 2013, it perhaps wasn’t quite the moment it could have been, but she certainly was given every assistance: the VT featured clips of her being a dental receptionist; the staging featured stars, a gospel choir and a curtain of fire; there were cutaways to a grinning Rita; and Cowell called it “the best I’ve heard you… a great singer, a great person… and we’ve still got more to come from you”. Lauren’s pimping reinforced the sense that producers are not feeling particularly sanguine about Louisa’s prospects of victory.
The show closed with Olly and Caroline inviting us to tune in to see who is next eliminated; if there was a clear mention of a double elimination, we missed it, but it had been explicitly promised on Xtra Factor and Simon Cowell’s Twitter account before tonight’s show.
How did you read the show? Do let us know below.