In the second part of our review of week 2, we look at what Louisa’s ‘Billie Jean’ suggested about how producers are handling her, and ask what they might have been trying to achieve with Anton’s treatment. When we saw him blinged up and slouched in his throne in the establishing shot, we reckoned it made him look like some kind of louche drugs kingpin from the 1980s.
On Sunday, the usually-reliable Daily Star reported that Anton had comfortably topped the vote in week 1. Did Anton’s moment in the throne, like Tony Montana’s, represent his high point before being mercilessly gunned down?
If the Star is to be believed – and last year’s pre-final leak of the semi-final vote blotted their copybook in terms of getting the percentages right, even though they had the order correct – Louisa was second with 13% in the week 1 vote. That’s just what Ella Henderson scored in week 1, from a similar position in the running order, with a similarly full-on pimping, after having similarly been pushed more than any other act through the auditions edit. Ella never bettered it. Will Louisa?
“Last week it was vocally incredible but I was like, who is she?”, said Grimmy this week. That’s a pretty damning admission about an act that producers had had five chances – arena auditions, two bootcamp episodes, a six-chair challenge and judges’ houses – to define. The sense is that the Syco A&R people want her pushed, but the Syco TV people haven’t had much of a clue how to go about it.
This week’s VT started with vocal coach Annabel dutifully asking Louisa “what are your ideas?”, and we cut to Louisa wearing glasses.
Nicely done – this portrays her as smart, and respected by the backstage team; the dressed-down look here also accentuates the contrast with her later makeover. We see her talking to her friends Ella and Megan on an iPad, before getting glammed up for a photoshoot. This all makes sense: we see she’s a normal, grounded girl, living the dream. After last week put to bed the never-convincing nerves storyline regarding her vocals, this week transfers that storyline onto her dance moves. Good thinking, it’s wise to give her a vulnerable side.
Then there are a couple of less sure-footed moves from the VT editors. She says “this is me” about the song choice; but she’d also said that last week, about a type of song that was completely different, as Rita implicitly reminds us by saying that this week Louisa is “acting her age”. Louisa concludes the VT with “I don’t want to rehearse till my feet bleed, I want my life ahead of me to be doing this every single night”, which risks making her sound like she’s hungry for fame without wanting to put in the hard work.
The choice of Billie Jean was a curious one, and not just because it did Amelia Lily no favours in 2011 – although thankfully for Louisa, they didn’t raunch her up or dye her hair pink. One of Louisa’s main problems is telling the story of a song, as week 1 made clear – the lyrics were about putting a brave face on dependence (“if you should ever leave me – though life would go on, believe me – the world would show nothing to me”), but she just belted them out with a winning smile. They need to find lyrics that a 17 year old girl can connect to and make us believe in, so what do they give her? “The kid is not my son”.
We reckon the big picture message from week 2’s show is consistent with the Star leak – that week 1’s vote made producers doubt their ability to get Louisa to the win, hence the slamming on of brakes with Anton while giving Che and Lauren a chance to shine. What will they have concluded from week 2’s vote? We eagerly await the clues in week 3 – the week in which Ella Henderson, having dipped to 9.5% in week 2, was given her first pimp slot.
The World Is Yours, Anton
Given the truncated live show schedule due to the rugby, if you count backwards from the final then we’re effectively already in week 6 of a normal year. Producers must be starting to think about who they might ideally like in the final, and making plans accordingly.
If we were them, we’d be thinking Louisa, Che and Anton as our ideal line-up. It would offer diversity of gender, ethnicity and age, and three mentors still in the game. Plus all three are great vocalists, which is good for the brand, to the extent they still care about that.
Of those three, Anton gives the best television and has the biggest personality, and the final needs talking points to drum up media interest. Admittedly, sometimes you can go very wrong trying to second-guess producers’ longer-term intentions – but if we were them, we’d want Anton in the final, without winning it. Much like Chris Maloney in 2012, or Andrea Faustini last year.
That’s the prism through which we interpreted Anton’s treatment on Saturday: not as an attempt to get him out, but as an attempt to get his vote under control. It reminded us of the Andrea Faun-stini treatment in week 4 last year after he’d topped the vote in weeks 1-3, when they gold spray-painted the likeable Italian and stuck a pig’s tail and horns on him.
That successfully dislodged Andrea from top of the vote. Confident that they had his measure, producers were then relaxed enough to give him the pimp slot the following week. If last week’s car crash had the desired effect, perhaps Anton will likewise be allowed back in his comfort zone this week – and he has already tweeted happiness with his song choice.
That said, Anton appears to be able to see the bright side of anything. In his VT on Saturday he gamely insisted “this week has been incredible fun”, just after we’d seen him repeatedly looking terrified as he messed up his lines with vocal coach Annabel. Hideous though many aspects of his treatment were, he was at least portrayed throughout as being a good sport.
So when Annabel tells him that he’s being done up like a kipper – sorry, that he’s being given ‘All About That Bass’, the song with which he struggled so much at bootcamp – we see him laughing slightly nervously and saying “that song is going to haunt me”, rather than glaring at her, arching an eyebrow and saying “oh, am I now?”
We also can’t ever remember an act responding to overly harsh criticism from the panel with such self-deprecating good grace. As Nick slams him with “like watching a really bad musical… it was bad”, Anton doesn’t – as other acts might have – give him a look that suggests he wishes he could react like Tony Montana whipping out the big gun.
Instead, he says “I’m sorry, I’m sorry for that”, looking genuinely saddened to learn that he didn’t bring joy. As he apologises to Nick and Rita calls for his attention, he turns to her with a polite “yes, my love”. By the time Cheryl critiques him, he’s cracking jokes about himself again – as he does in the post-performance interview with Caroline, gingerly pecking her on the cheek with a quip about “no headbutt”.
From Annabel’s revelation of the song choice, through the other judges blaming Simon, to Anton’s “I have to do what I have to do” to Caroline, the whole segment leaves viewers in no doubt that Anton bears no responsibility for his treatment. Indeed, as Cowell says, it shows he has “guts” and “a sense of humour”. In short, this felt like a treatment primarily designed to tease apart Anton’s diehard fans from those who voted for him in week 1 only because they liked his performance. It wasn’t a character assassination.
Were RnB RnBed?
Sofabet traffic is up this year by roughly as much as X Factor ratings are down. It’s interesting to wonder if these are facets of the same phenomenon – that cynicism about the show is going more mainstream, and producers haven’t yet figured out how to make the show for a more cynical audience. There were some intriguing hints in the audition shows of a more knowing and meta tone this year, but that’s been lost in the lives as the manipulation has felt as shameless as ever.
As for the cynicism going more mainstream, we have, for example, the Telegraph’s Isabel Mohan writing about acts being “stitched up”; Dermot tweeting sardonically about Lauren’s “pyro curtain and fake gospel choir” (how we miss you, Dermot); TellyMix linking the Star vote leak with Anton’s terrible treatment; and Kitty Brucknell’s always-entertaining blog in The Mirror.
While Kitty’s year, 2011, was arguably the most brutal of all in terms of acts being nuked, she writes on her personal blog that she’s even more horrified with the show this year. Sofabet diehards will also remember 2011 as the year when our friend Richard Betsfactor floated the theory that a red-and-black colour scheme might be used unhelpfully, sparking heated debate in the comments. Four years on, here’s Kitty introducing Mirror readers to Richard’s red-and-black theory apropos Reggie N Bollie.
The question of whether Reggie N Bollie were red-and-blacked also came up in the Sofabet comments over the weekend, so perhaps it’s worth revisiting the debate for the benefit of newer readers. Broadly, there are three schools of thought. One, as Kitty mentions, is that red and black is always a worry. Another is that any link between red-and-black staging and elimination is coincidental. Ours is a middle view – that red and black is sometimes bad, but not always. It depends on context.
We reckon red and black staging can be negative when it evokes certain connotations of those colours – darkness, night, blood, fire, anger, danger, the underworld, the devil, and so on. Hitting several of those subliminal motifs, Sophie Habibis’s arachnid hellscape staging from the 2011 series remains the classic example:
In overall vibe, that’s about as far away as it’s possible to get from the connotations evoked by the red and black backdrop to Reggie N Bollie’s cheerleaders this week.
This was the red and black of the sports team – and studies suggest that in sports, red is a winning colour – or maybe of the casino, with the spinning wheel imagery, and that has connotations of excitement and possible life-changing gain.
The colour scheme is leavened by white, and the black later turns into blue; more importantly, there’s a sense of fun and movement. Staging always has to be seen in context, and Reggie N Bollie’s treatment was about as positive as it’s possible to get. From the heartwarming VT with telegenic children; through Nick, Rita and Cheryl on their feet and dancing, before Simon also rose to complete a four-judge standing ovation; to making sure viewers noticed the Liam Payne benediction; producers could hardly have done more to help.
There has been a sustained plunge on Reggie N Bollie in the win market this week, with debate in the Sofabet comments about whether the hugely likeable but vocally limited Ghanaian duo have realistic prospects of winning. Who’s been backing them so heavily that they’re now as short as 9/1 in places? We can only quote the pair themselves: ‘It Wasn’t Me’.
Murray On The Move
Also attracting money this week has been Lauren in the next elimination market, with this morning’s papers revealing she has moved out of the X Factor house – the reason given being that she’s upset about Kiera and Seann’s departures, but who knows if there are other issues at play. For punters, the doubt it raises is whether it indicates any possibility that Lauren might be flirting with the idea of quitting the show altogether – the Craig Colton experience in 2011 suggests that in such situations, producers may prefer to push an act before they can jump.
As we look forward to tonight’s Xtra Factor and the first reveals of songs for movie week, do keep the conversation going below.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA