A puzzling X Factor journey came to an end tonight. A meagre 47 seconds of audition screentime; a strop at the six-chair challenge, referencing the meagre 47 seconds of screentime; a controversial return; a neutering; an abject apology; cheese; a return to “cocky” and “arrogant”; and a clinically-executed hatchet job. What was that all about?
They could have made him a popstar. They could have made him a pantomime villain in the show. Instead they just seemed to mess around with him, changing tack from one week to the next. Mason himself seems to have been bemused by the whole experience and glad to be out of it. Before the show, he’d cryptically tweeted “One more show. I’m ready”; after his elimination, he hilariously said “thank you to everyone who didn’t vote, so I can go back to doing my thing”.
Now the tricky task of guessing who’s in the singoff tomorrow. As ever, a Sunday rewatch will tell us more. These are our first impressions.
In the Strictly crossover slot came Che Chesterman, who went from a man with all sorts of romantic possibilities last week, to a loved-up relationship this one. The VT showed us with his girlfriend referencing his grandfather’s death, before deciding that he could connect best to ‘Yesterday’ so long as emotions didn’t get the better of him.
The staging was helpful enough, with musicians on stage; a classy, Deco backdrop; and simple, focused lighting. Che’s vocal felt less exposed than last week, though I found the arrangement of the song fussy and off-putting. It was also a song choice that kept him firmly in his box and will likely not have expanded whatever support base he had already. Judges’ comments were positive: Cheryl said it was “one of the most powerful openers we’ve ever seen,” whilst Simon encouraged people to vote and used the “artist” buzzword. But being the only act under the Strictly bus has to be of some concern.
It soon became clear that producers were intending to sit on any potential bounce for Anton. An anodyne VT was followed by death imagery all over a cold blue stage, which seemed appropriate as Anton murdered ‘One Sweet Day’. Admittedly, we had pyros and warmer lighting at the end, but the effect was melodramatic.
Nick said that the performance felt “like an act”, implicitly reminding viewers of the story that appeared in The Sun after the first week’s show painting Anton as a serial fantasist, Walter Mitty type of figure. That sparked off anger in Anton that the judges didn’t know how to handle. “There’s nothing fake about me,” he shot back, and the rest of the panel had to work out ways to say a similar thing to Nick without getting the same backlash. Nick tried to claim Anton had been “aggressive”, and Anton went on to profusely apologise.
You could argue about how Anton came off – to us, it was like someone well aware he was being done over and not willing to take any more of it, but how widely that view will be shared among the voting public is open to question. But there was no denying the passion and sincerity of how he felt, and this sort of controversy often sees a spike in support. It certainly wasn’t in the script.
Fourth Impact had a VT which showed them missing their family, something Cheryl made sure to reference again at length in her comments (“they’ve come halfway round the world, they’re missing home” – the “halfway round the world” phrase was used about Seann Miley Moore in the week he departed). It began as an impressive production with great staging and styling, the girls starting from backstage like Fleur East or James Arthur. But once they were front and centre, the spotlights weren’t focused enough and something got lost.
Simon said he felt that the group had no individual personalities, and he didn’t know who they were as individuals; he even called them “A, B, C and D”, which is quite an insulting demotion from the laboured attempts in previous weeks to make sure we knew their names. Olly didn’t give them a chance to say anything after the song, although who knows whether anything Olly does is deliberate.
We’d wondered whether Lauren’s VT might sympathetically reference the stories in the press this week about her depression, or reference the stories about her moving out of the X Factor house by suggesting that she’d had enough of the competition and was ready to leave. In the event, it did neither. It had a nice segment with some of the music pupils she teaches, and associated her with Fleur; although it was unfortunate that after she was shown with Rita being excited to be going on Alan Carr, we then cut to her in the audience as Rita was being interviewed, leaving no doubt which of the two was the centre of attention.
There was a real lack of effort on the staging. Lauren was high on a podium – something we have argued can disconnect an act from the audience, and visually undercut a sense of humility. She was disconnected also from her few dancers, and had a generic backdrop and some falling confetti. The lighting was bright and unfocused, so as not to create any visual wow factor. The song didn’t give her any kind of moment, either.
The judges also came up with comments that were forgettable, criticising things that weren’t her fault whilst offering some generalised, nonspecific praise. Worryingly, Simon said: “For the first time I felt your nerves.” This was the sentence that Cheryl used on Monica for her ‘Crazy In Love’ week. Overall, this felt like a definite softening.
Mason’s VT showed a life transformed by his time on the show, but that had something of a “journey now complete, so no need for further votes” vibe, and whether discussing a propensity to jealousy in his love life was a good look is also open to question. Nick reminded us of the “cocky” line.
There were lots of big lights, occasionally flashing distractingly, whilst four backing dancers cavorted around with him. He was given plenty of rope and no help for the difficult falsetto parts of the song, which didn’t sound great – and that was immediately referenced by Rita in the comments. Simon’s comments were damning, implying he was unrelatable by saying “there’s always been a slight wall”, then calling him “ambitious”, before referring to the performance as “cold” and wondering if he was nervous. Cheryl also mentioned nerves. Mason gave them a look that suggested he had no idea what they were on about, but was past caring.
After five performances that were all unhelpful in some way to the act concerned, we got to the reason for the blanket unlephfulness. This week we got to meet Louisa’s builder Dad and she went public with her life as a West Ham supporter by means of a hard hat. It felt like her best VT yet, relatable and genuine.
We had been promised something “on another level” in her introduction and that’s both literally and metaphorically what we got with our staging, with Louisa standing on a cloud in the heavens with a distant cityscape-from-above backdrop, floating above her celestial choir – and also the audience, it turned out.
Cheryl called her vocal “unbelievable”, Simon called it her “moment”, which Nick agreed with. He also tried to persuade us she had sold the emotions of the song, which we have consistently argued is her weak point, and may have reminded us once or twice that she is only 17. Simon characterised her as “sweet and humble” and Louisa did her best to give that impression in her reaction, which was “grateful to be here” – in contrast to the “want to win” message, which we had wondered about the wisdom of.
It was a kitchen sinking of a pimping, and she went strongly odds-on in the outright market as a result.
She didn’t get the actual pimp slot, however – that went to Reggie n Bollie, who got another lovely family-oriented VT and huge, fun production. They also started off in the audience, and got an array of dancers. As in week 2, the female judges were out of their seats throughout and Cowell rose at the end to complete a four-judge standing ovation.
There were colour vomit elements and spotlights everywhere, for sure, but it all seemed intended positively. Simon then namechecked them as potential finalists in his comments, and made the point of saying that we had come to know them personally – in none-too-subtle contrast to his remarks to 4th Impact – and that the country is falling in love with them. Reggie briefly then mentioned a problem with depression, stealing what had looked like it could have been Lauren’s sympathy card, and Caroline asked them “if they think they can win”. The Reggie n Bollie train is still rolling.
After Mason’s elimination, Anton is hot favourite to go in tomorrow’s singoff. The show certainly looks like it has no interest in keeping him around, though it will be interesting to see if he gets any spike from the controversy created by Nick’s comments. Fourth Impact are next most likely according to the elimination market, followed by Che. This seems fair enough based on tonight’s show, and our reading of who is the priority to be saved among these three, which looks like the reverse of that bookies’ 1-2-3: that is, it looks like they are keenest to see the back of Anton, and still seem keen to keep Che around for longer. A Fourth Impact / Lauren singoff might be harder to call, though.
Let us know your thoughts on these permutations and anything else below.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA