Wouldn’t it be nice if the backstage peeks we’re getting in VTs this year could show us the meetings that really matter? Creative briefing, Wed pm. “Gemma, we want to drag Monica down in the vote this week. Could you dress her in a really suggestive manner? As much leg and cleavage as you like, you know, really make those female voters feel threatened. Oh yes, and she has a tattoo close to an intimate location, could you manage to find an outfit that exposes that?”
In last week’s review post, we reckoned Bupsi had cause to say “Et tu, Annabel” to her vocal coach; this week, we reckon Monica can mutter “Et tu, Gemma” as she reflects on the show’s hatchet job on her that saw her backed into favouritism for elimination. The alternative explanation is that Gemma – “one of the leading fashion stylists on the circuit” – genuinely believed she was helping by pushing the dress, which poor Monica clearly didn’t want anything to do with.
For Monica, it was another of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations that we saw with Jack Walton last year: he was also mocked for agreeing to dress in something that made him look ridiculous… the week after being portrayed as awkward and boring when he’d reportedly refused to make himself look ridiculous by ripping his shirt off. If Monica had stuck to her instincts and refused to wear the thing, no doubt she’d have been on the receiving end of a VT portraying her as difficult to work with and unwilling to take a risk.
Indignity was piled upon indignity for Monica this week, after Rita forgot her name when trying to introduce her (“she’s amazing, she’s… my girl”), and no other mentor or presenter was quick-thinking enough to cover it up – indeed, they ended up making sure everyone noticed. We’ll ascribe that one to cock-up rather than conspiracy, but it’s hard to do the same with the VT, arrangement and staging.
The VT had featured Monica worrying to Annabel that the song was “boring” – and while we then saw them trying to fix this, the thought was planted in viewers’ minds. We also saw Monica telling Annabel she has two minutes to “save myself”, planting the thought that she isn’t a leading contender. There was fire on the stage and in the backdrop, which we believe has “stay away” connotations. The lyrics had her admitting “Got me looking so crazy… I’m not myself… I’m foolish, I don’t do this”.
The dancers turned their backs on her at the end, visually suggesting they were embarrassed to be associated with her. That’s a trick the show has used before, but was there perhaps also a new staging trick at the start? The dancers sat under mirrors that appeared to be in danger of falling over and crushing them, visually suggesting “hanging by a thread”. They then spent a long time on the floor.
Cheryl’s comments were a masterpiece of smiling sweetly while twisting the knife. She started with a doubtful “how did you feel about that performance? Be honest”, which translates as “admit it, you know that was shit”; then, while claiming the sexed-up look suited Monica, she also slipped in “I would have loved to have seen you pared back, maybe like hardly any makeup”, which suggests “you look like a tart”.
Cowell was less subtle: “What have they turned you into? You can’t allow this to happen.” The look of humiliation on Monica’s face likely motivated sympathy from voters – as it did from several Sofabet commenters, so much so that some wondered if that was deliberate; our suspicion is that Cowell messed up in making Monica come across as a victim. Other commenters have puzzled why the show bothered to bring back Monica, if they planned to turn on her so quickly; we don’t have an answer for that – they do seem to be making it up as they go along more than usual this year.
What next for Monica? Her “how about an originals week” comeback to Grimmy is not the kind of independent-minded sass that tends to endear an act to the show’s producers; check out Cowell’s face after that line.
If they want her out, as with Abi Alton – whose attempted downfall they also accidentally overcooked, provoking a sympathy vote that kept her safe – the best bet may be a redemptive arc: allow her to do things her way, and portray it as a journey completed.
Get Your Thinking Recap On
Something we haven’t often discussed on Sofabet, but we like to look out for, is the recap edit – what producers choose to show in recaps can often be a useful guide as to what they want to stick in viewers’ minds. The start of Sunday’s show, recapping Saturday’s, is a good example. “Some rose to the challenge”, boomed Peter Dickson, as we saw images of Louisa, Lauren, Che and Reggie N Bollie. “Others were under pressure…”.
That was followed by Nick telling Anton his performance was like “a really bad musical”; Rita telling Mason “I don’t think you challenged yourself”; Simon telling Seann “that was lazy”; and Nick telling Max “you’re cooler than that”. As Peter Dickson concluded “the DREAM… WILL… END”, it’s Monica who appears on the screen. Although perhaps the biggest insult was to poor Kiera, who didn’t appear at all – evidently producers felt her coffin didn’t need another nail.
5,000 Miles Moore
Nick’s “cabaret” line to Mark Ronson about Seann’s judges’ houses performance had also been included in the recap before he chose his final three. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised by Seann’s early downfall after all. But we were. If we believe the Daily Star leak that Seann managed 3rd in week 1, which does seem plausible, how do we explain his drop to 10th last weekend?
It’s not quite unprecedented. In the comments, Sagand and Lia have given two examples of sharp falls in position from the first phone vote to the second: Sophie Habibis (3rd to 9th) and Scott Bruton (2nd to 9th). Yet, as Annie pointed out, Seann’s first week position wasn’t as false as Scott’s (who got a sympathy vote after Cowell took responsibility for a bad song choice), and he wasn’t as nuked in the second public vote as Sophie (whose VT suggested she was “boring”, “forgettable” and “dressed like Carol Vorderman”). Sophie also dropped only from 8.9% to 5.8%, and it’s likely that Seann will have dropped further.
If so, we suspect producers probably weren’t expecting to get him eliminated this week, but a deramp was clearly intended. Simon’s comments – headed by that damning “lazy” line, which implies he’s not working hard enough to deserve his place in the competition – were the clearest sign. Other factors, whether intentional or not, didn’t do him any favours – like the skit shown on Thursday’s Xtra Factor, and tweeted by the official X Factor account shortly afterwards, which was an attempt at comedy caricature but hardly helped an act who we already felt might have a likeability problem.
It may be too tinfoil-hat even for us to wonder where Seann got the T-shirt he wore throughout that show, bearing the slogan “Dump Him”, which also featured in Saturday’s VT.
Nick introduced that VT by saying, “This guy has travelled halfway across the world to be here”, reminding us he’s from Australia – and what an irony that he then proceeded to sing a song complaining that “All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey”, and banging on about wanting to be in a sunnier place thousands of miles away. Seann’s outsider status was reinforced by the conversation with his father and Filipino mother, currently residing in the Philippines. Otherwise the VT featured a pretty anodyne drama about song choice, though Grimmy expressed the fear that Seann’s ‘Downtown’ would be too “musical”.
In the comments, Jessica had already questioned the wisdom of ‘California Dreamin’ as a song choice. Visually, we started with the literal brown leaf, symbol of autumnal decline. What also struck us was the jarring initial use of the minor key (also used in the last note for ‘Life On Mars’), something far more common in musical theatre than pop songs. Indeed the whole performance looked and sounded like something out of the West End, but without the over-the-top theatrical wow factor of the first week pimp slot.
In short, and with hindsight, there was no particular motivation to vote: it wasn’t as striking as the previous week, and fans who might have thrown him a vote had they believed he needed it will likely have assumed he was safe so they didn’t need to bother. (This serves as a one-sentence summary of a confusingly game-theoretic explanation of X Factor voting published this week in The Telegraph).
We have to admit surprise, alongside many of our commenters, that he wasn’t saved over Mason in the singoff – what had seemed to be a promising pantomime villain role for Mason after his reinstatement had never transpired, with his treatment over the last three weekends effectively neutering him, and a second-placed running order position on Saturday hardly suggesting that he was a producer priority. So do they still have hopes of turning Mason into a commercial heart-throb, or was this simply a classic shock elimination for the sake of short-term headlines with the confidence that they can ditch Mason whenever?
Do keep the conversation going below, and stay tuned because <Peter Dickson>THIS WEEK… ON SOFABET… IT’S A… DOUBLE… REVIEW… ARTICLE</Peter Dickson>. Further thoughts on other acts coming your way in a day or two.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA