Anton Stephans was the latest brought down quickly from a strong week 1 performance, if we trust the Daily Star leak. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that the traditionally reliable source got it wrong in last year’s final, with one suggestion that it only had the phone vote figures to hand, and not the app votes. For all we know, the same could apply to its reporting that Anton received 23% in that first week poll.
It’s also worth remembering that with double elimination piling on top of double elimination, the show is eating its young (and not so young) far more rapidly this year. Still, like Seann in week 2, we hadn’t anticipated Anton in the singoff, and it’s worth looking at his treatment with a huge dollop of hindsight to understand how it happened.
We recognised at the time that the VT was damaging, with its theme of Anton as a musical theatre performer carried into the staging and judges comments. That’s a big negative in a show whose professed aim is looking for a pop star. They’d used the same criticism on Seann Miley Moore the week before, to devastating effect. Now they were pushing Anton into Seann’s box.
Perhaps worse for Anton, it undercut his previous sympathetic portrayal as a backing singer who through bad luck or whatever other reason, hadn’t yet got his break. That’s a staple story among the Overs category, but it resonates – as indicated by the popularity of recent music documentary, the marvellous ‘Twenty Feet From Stardom‘. Last weekend’s VT suggested that Anton, contrary to what he’d previously said, had experienced the spotlight. Over and over again in fact, singing to audiences in West End theatres.
The VT ended with Anton setting an unfortunately high bar for himself. “I want it to be the standout vocal performance of the whole night.” Simon concurs, adding: “This could be a real moment for him.” The judges love using the word “moment” this series: Rita had used it twice at the end of Louisa’s VT (Nick used it four times, like he was mocking the buzzword, after Louisa’s week 1 performance). But this time it set Anton up for a fall.
The most unusual and interesting aspect of Anton’s performance was the lighting. The blue of Anton’s jacket and blue spotlights are the only colours visible in an otherwise monochrome set. Some kind of filter or effect was at work throughout the whole song. When Anton finishes, we briefly see the ‘real life’ staging. The stage lights are a yellow that’s been desaturated during the performance, whilst all the background graphics are black and white, and the backing singers are dressed in black.
We can’t remember such an effect being used on the show before. It’s been seen once or twice at Eurovision (most obviously in the Swedish 2008 performance) but when it has, only for the first first verse, so that the return to a normal palette creates a visual moment. Anton got no such respite.
What was the overall impact of the filtering? You could argue the effect was designed to strip away any warmth he could convey through performance. There was a visual coldness, and a detachment created by the isolation of Anton’s blue jacket. We felt it was polar opposite of the golden glow of winner’s staging.
If week 2 had set him up to make him look ridiculous, the aplomb with which Anton threw himself into the task still had a warmth about it, as did the ridiculous staging with plenty of warm colours. Last Saturday, his emotional connection to the audience was completely drained away by the lighting.
Lauren vs Louisa
Just what was going on with Lauren this week? Initial reports that she’d be given ‘Licence To Kill’, which did for Craig Colton, suggested the start of a deramping for Louisa’s benefit after last week’s pimp slot performance. Instead, she was sent out in the penultimate slot with last-minute replacement, Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’, an excellent, contemporary song with a strong emotional connection that hasn’t been overheard in these competitions – unlike say, Anton’s ‘I Have Nothing’.
Meanwhile, golden girl Louisa was sent out third with the Romeo + Juliet, John Lewis-ed version of ‘Everybody’s Free’. The thought of a running order switch did cross my mind, given that Monica followed Louisa with the other “I’ve had to change my song” storyline. But it felt logical to put the show’s most hyped act after one target (Max) and before another. So perhaps not.
Still, having been surprised at Lauren’s inclusion in the live shows because she’s got a big voice like apparent Plan A Louisa, and a warm, relatable persona that could see her preferred among voters – here she was in week 3 continuing to steal the limelight over her now only remaining rival in the same category.
Compare their respective homecoming VTs: Louisa promises to work hard before in fact returning to slouch on her Mum’s sofa, where they watch a recording of her theatre school attempt at Leona Lewis, aged 8; Lauren returns to a hero’s welcome throughout her home town, where we see her being popular and warm with a wide range of people.
There were clearly supposed to be plenty of positives for Louisa this week. Again, there was her implied contribution to the creative process, she looked stunning in angelic white, and the judges went overboard in their praise. When Louisa’s tears arrived, the camera provided a lingering close-up, and Rita later joined the pity party.
But we can’t help but think that there are some mis-steps from producers in the way they’re presenting her. Occasionally they make her look too entitled. Take the large, pre-created images of Louisa for her staging last Saturday. We’re used to backdrops with large live shots of the performer, as indeed Lauren got. But here something pre-ordained has been created for Louisa, and whilst its aura was heavenly, she also looked like she was posing for a catalogue.
As last week, Cowell reiterated that she wanted to win: “You don’t want to be second or third, and be on telly.” The danger of these comments is that it portrays her as competitive, sharp-elbowed and stage-schooley – we were amazed her VT openly used the term “theatre school”. Cowell also added something strange when he said: “This is the song you’ll be remembered for.” It struck as us as oddly premature about an act who presumably has plenty more to give in the competition.
Compare these to the comments for Lauren. Simon referenced Fleur and Ben when saying “it feels like the competition has started”. Even more eye-opening was Nick’s reflection that “you’re definitely my favourite girl in the competition”, as well as saying she has a “Great British” similarity to Adele and Amy Winehouse. Grimmy’s first quote was repeated on Sunday night’s recap, to remind us that Nick prefers Lauren to Louisa. We can’t remember a supposed Plan A being undermined so early by such a direct comparison before.
And to cap it all, Lauren eclipsed Louisa in iTunes downloads, just managing the top ten, also ahead of the original version which returned to the charts. We saw with Fleur’s ‘Uptown Funk’ that iTunes success isn’t necessarily indicative of phone vote popularity, but it will give producers another morsel to chew on as they cogitate over the remaining girls.
YESSSSS GUYS WE DONE IT!!!!! My first top ten song I’m so happpppppyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!! 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉
— Lauren Murray (@laurenmurray) November 16, 2015
It feels that their respective treatment this Saturday will be crucial. After all, there are only four weekends of live shows remaining. If producers do intend to get Louisa over the line, they need to shore up her support rather than let it leak away to her female rival. It’s still very possible that ‘Licence To Kill’ heralded a deramping for Lauren that’s merely been delayed a week by events. But in true James Bond style, the clock is ticking down.
Olly’s Bad Day At The Office
Poor Olly. We chuckled on Saturday as he’d asked if a seat could be found for Fourth Impact’s Celina, when four were centre stage from their performance. And his weekend was about to get worse during the following evening’s singoff. It was a relatively simple set of judges’ decisions too. Nick had voted to send Monica home; Rita and Cheryl had voted to send Anton home. 2-1 advantage to Monica but with Anton’s mentor Simon remaining to cast his vote.
Olly already had it wrong at this point – thinking Anton had the 2-1 advantage, because he said: “If you choose to send Monica home, then she will leave the competition immediately. If you choose to go with Anton [sending him home], we will go to the public vote and deadlock.”
Whilst Simon deliberated, producers obviously shouted into Olly’s earpiece that he had made a mistake. The presenter heard he was wrong in some way but stuck with his miscalculation, because once Simon predictably decided to send Monica home and level the scores up, he said: “So just to clarify, I did say we’d go to deadlock but unfortunately Monica, you are going home.”
It was at this point that Simon and Caroline said “no”, and Caroline explained that it was deadlock instead. Olly began apologising in as many ways to as he could think of: “Sorry. Ok, sorry I got that wrong. Sorry. My fault. Sorry, I apologise for that. Sorry Monica, I do apologise… I do apologise.”
With Caroline taking over the reins, the pair of them became hidden behind Anton and Monica, who were holding hands to support each other. Poor Caroline had to peek in between these two figures to the camera before announcing that Monica was indeed going home. To reinforce the sense of shambles, Rita and Simon took the unusual step of joining Monica on stage for her valedictory speech, like a pair of teachers at a pupil-led school assembly that had gone to pot.
Some have wondered if Olly accidentally gave the game away that the presenters already knew Monica would be leaving after deadlock. The simpler explanation is that Olly simply miscounted who’d voted for who, then misunderstood producers’ hurried attempts to correct him while Simon was speaking. It’s easy to mock but presenting live TV is hard, and it only reinforces how good Dermot was at his job.
Still, you can bet that come the final, Caroline will be left to announce the winner.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA