After week 4’s expertly-executed pimping, we went back to being slightly mystified by some aspects of Louisa’s treatment in the quarter-final. We’re not primarily referring to the performances themselves, vocally below her very high standards due to illness. On that point, we felt rather sorry for her as she struggled through each song and the effort of maintaining a happy face afterwards.
We don’t mean the first VT either, which was a pretty anodyne one about being feted at a gig then hanging out with a friend. It’s the second VT, in the build-up to her first live show pimp slot, that intrigues us. It seemed like producers intended it to add depth to our empathy for Louisa, and in that objective it fell curiously flat.
The mission was spelled out. Once the song choice was revealed to her, Louisa said, “It’s one of them songs that you need to connect with.” Rita made the same point to camera: “What Louisa needs in this performance is to find something real – an emotional connection – and put it across to the public.”
It was no coincidence that the chosen song – Labrinth’s ‘Jealous’ – had provided the most emotional moment of the series so far. That was Josh Daniel’s arena audition, which had left Cheryl and Simon in tears, and has so far racked up over 29 million views on YouTube. Louisa’s illness meant her rendition didn’t match Josh’s, but that’s not our focus.
Having set up this moment as Louisa’s quest for an emotional connection, the rest of the VT was meant to hammer it home. Home is where Louisa told us she was going – although the venue turned out to be Sugar Hut, ground zero for The Only Way Is Essex.
For the third significant time this series, we encountered Louisa’s mum, once again on the sofa with her daughter. She said: “Last time we was here was for your 14th birthday… It’s great to be in Essex… You’re where you belong.” The appeal to the regional vote was reiterated by Louisa in her final words: “I know that I’ve got my family and all of Essex behind me, so I just need to go out and make them proud.”
So the build-up to Louisa’s moment of anticipated emotional connection involved merely a chat with her mum, and an appeal to the Essex vote. We’ve doubted in the past if the latter is significantly positive – on the basis that Rylan went home the week they played up his Essex roots. Still, at least Louisa got that regional callout – Ché had no such luck.
What else could they have done? It’s worth reminding ourselves how emotionally invested we were encouraged to get in last year’s winner, Ben Haenow: week 4 saw him visiting his mum in her council flat; week 5 had him reminiscing with his fellow-musician brother, saying he was “living our dream”; week 6 brought us back to his mum, whom he took to a film premiere; week 7 saw a return to the van, this time for a catch up with workmates; week 8 introduced us to Nonna Rita, who quickly became one of our favourite characters; week 9 featured not just Nonna Rita, but also Ben’s mum, brother Alex and girlfriend for a family festive meal.
Does Louisa have siblings? If so, where are they? If not, why have they not done a VT about growing up as an only child? Grandparents? Why have we not either met one of them, or heard about how sadly she never knew any of them? What’s her parents’ backstory – is there a divorce? (Builder dad Dave was briefly sighted in the Sugar Hut VT, not with her mum). We heard all about Lauren Platt’s divorced-then-reconciled parents last year. Where’s the “it’s been hard for my mum, raising me alone”, or “I’ve got step-siblings” VT?
We don’t mean to pry. Perhaps there’s some tragedy in Louisa’s family past that she doesn’t want to talk about. If that’s the case, we’d admire her hugely for it. We’re just puzzled as to why producers haven’t done more to help viewers understand who Louisa is and where she comes from, and to care about the people who matter to her, as they did last year with Ben (and Fleur, whose sister featured prominently and who had all her female relatives on stage for ‘I’m Every Woman’).
Louisa briefly mentioned “hard times” in her second VT. Earlier in it she’d said: “I just wanna put all those feelings that I’ve ever had into this song.” After the song, she repeated that line when Olly awkwardly asked her whether she had performed the song with anyone particular in mind. Sunday’s recap saw the line crop up yet again in the backstage return to her dressing room. It had presumably been drummed into her as something she shouldn’t forget to say.
The problem is, producers have given us no idea what emotions or feelings Louisa is referring to. You can’t get emotionally invested in someone over a generic reference to “hard times” and “all the feelings I’ve ever had”. It’s puzzling that producers seem to think we can.
The semi-final VTs are the last chance for some exposition before the final. It was at this point they wheeled out Ben’s family en masse and he promised to do it for them – and who could have watched their festive meal without hoping he could improve the lives of his Sainsbury’s worker mum and Nonna Rita? Ben was also the only act shown visiting the charity to benefit from the winner’s single, in a clever bit of subliminal association on the part of producers.
We’re looking forward to seeing what they come up with for Louisa next week (perhaps body image issues, which are in the press today). At this rate, they’ll have Rita stepping in as her Nonna.
Ambassador, with these singoffs you’re really spoiling us…
There were a couple of red flags in Fourth Impact’s treatment on Saturday. We had wondered when their home country popularity would be referred to as part of a deramp. Sure enough, we saw them watching a Filipino news report about themselves. The extensive need for subtitles at this point reminded us of their use in some of Andrea’s Italian moments last year.
But our favourite page from the Andrea playbook came when Almira, Celina, Mylene and Irene were sent to the Filipino embassy. Andrea’s week 7 visit to the Italian equivalent last year ended up with his first bottom two appearance. We can only speculate on why the “embassy deramp” has worked on both occasions. You could argue that such a narrative reinforces the sense of “not one of us” – of the act in question being a representative of the foreign country rather than individuals to empathise with. Which of course, taps into Simon’s wilful inability to get to know the girls’ identities.
Like last week, Simon’s inability to tell “A, B, C and D” apart dominated the panel discussion after their (second) performance. Rita scraped the barrel of distracting arguments by talking about not liking the idea of being boxed in, as the girls had unhelpfully been at the start and end of their medley. What with the most unhelpful running slots, they were the clearest targets on Saturday.
After elimination, Celina was taken away by ambulance after another fainting episode (the ironic ‘Cowell-friendly’ wall marking in the photo did make us chuckle). It’s worth wondering if her dizzy spell before and after their week 3 performance had an impact on producers’ favour – which clearly passed to Reggie n Bollie from week 4 onwards. The last thing you want to happen in any live show (especially the final) is one of the acts suddenly being unable to perform, causing headaches for the whole production team.
Our advice to future foreign contestants? Turn down any visit to your home country embassy, don’t be caught on camera having long conversations in your native tongue, and avoid any dizzy spells.
We’ll have more to say on Ché, Lauren and Reggie N Bollie in the second part of this review, scheduled for publication tomorrow. Do keep the debate going below.
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