EM made a useful remark in our comments section to look at what was planned and unplanned in last Saturday’s show. A case in point was Ché Chesterman’s flub on the lyrics for ‘Hello’, which necessitated an on-the-hoof change in a narrative which mostly struck us as having been planned to help the previous week’s singoff survivor maximise his bounce.
Ché’s first VT was helpful. It started with his reaction to falling into the singoff the week before. “You feel like you’re not wanted,” was his understandably disappointed comment to Lauren, while the pair watched it back on the sofa – a reaction which made him sound human and sympathetic, not entitled or whingey. To restore his confidence, the gigs that Nick arranged for him seemed to feature mainly mid-20s women expressing excitement about seeing him – an example of the principle of social proof.
“I feel so lucky to be able to do things like this,” he said about the gigs, showing that he’s humble, grateful and enjoying himself – all positive ways to be portrayed. The last line of the VT was: “It’s such a current song, there’s so much pressure on me to do it justice.” That was unfortunate in the circumstances, on which more in a second.
In terms of staging, we were unsure about the initial appearance of the cage of light, which we have previously felt (with District 3 and Chris Maloney) has had the effect of separating an act from an audience; however, unlike in those cases, at least this time the cage had an open door, in which Ché was standing. The lights later angled to form a teepee, an effect last seen for Andrea in last year’s quarter-final – coincidentally, also for his jukebox song and following a singoff appearance.
The camerawork, whilst not as unhelpful as it would be for Lauren, had its disappointing moments. It swept away from Ché during the iconic opening of the song (“Hello, it’s me”), when a close-up would have been more impactful; and it was unfortunate that the close up came when Ché had his brain freeze over the lyrics. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the whole show felt a little stretched under the pressure of each act having two songs to perform, alongside the unplanned events like Louisa’s illness and Ché’s flub.
It’s always interesting to see how judges react to such an unexpected moment or performance – do they stick to the script or acknowledge reality? For a case in point, remember how all but Simon tried to pretend that Lola had smashed her week 3 performance last year when she had, in fact, completely lost the melody. As Ché walked from the side stage for their comments, Rita and Nick both looked unsure of themselves, whilst Cheryl was deep in conversation with Simon.
“Can we have a round of applause for even taking on that song,” is how Rita started. You could see Cheryl at the side of the screen, clapping above her head, in an attempt to whip up crowd support. Rita referenced the mistake, but tried to make the best of it; perhaps the line that “I wouldn’t have taken on that song” but “you can’t deny your vocals” was what had been planned for her to say.
Cheryl eventually repeated the praise for the vocals, having first made an impassioned plea that, “This happens to the best of people… stuff happens.” When Cheryl referenced a Beyoncé example, Simon helpfully chipped in with a Madonna one, suggesting that this may have been what they were brainstorming as Ché prepared to receive their comments. Cheryl went on to add, “you had the wind knocked out of your sails last week, it’s not personal,” which was presumably planned as it related to the first line of his VT.
As with Lola last year, Simon was the harshest in the changed circumstances. “It was a killer song, it should’ve been a fantastic performance, it wasn’t”, he said, making us wonder whether the planned comment had been “It was a killer song, and it was a fantastic performance”. If so, then the “you look like you’ve just come from work” line would have sounded like a tangential caveat, not like a continuation of an attack. As Simon would have been well aware that Ché was due to reappear in two songs time looking much smarter, that was clearly planned as a setup for the second song.
Simon concluded by saying, “your overall star power has just gone back a little bit, you’ve got to come back on that second song and nail it”. And it certainly felt like the second performance was supposed to pay off that comment.
It started with a sympathetic VT, with Ché having a fry-up breakfast in a greasy spoon with his lorry driver dad, who had just come off shift. Cameras showed us it was dark outside, which helpfully told us both that Ché senior works hard and that Ché is a loyal son to have got up so early. The father-son dynamic was lovely to see – an example of what we felt we’ve been missing with Louisa – as Ché’s dad jokingly said he’d kick Ché out if he was in the bottom two again.
After Ché’s dad had tried to bolster his confidence, later in the VT Grimmy did the same, saying “I just need him to believe in himself.” The VT ended with Ché referencing a meltdown moment (Grimmy later remarked that all through the week, Ché had been cool with ‘Hello’ but struggling with ‘Try A Little Tenderness’), and hoping that wouldn’t happen again.
From Ché’s comment to Lauren at the start of his first VT, to the four-judge standing ovation after his second song, it all pointed to the plan having been to show Ché gradually having his confidence rebuilt over the course of the show. The staging for the second song – with Ché and backing dancers and instrumentalists attired to match the monochrome theme of the backdrop – ended with four enthusiastic young female dancers surrounding Ché and grinning, reinforcing the theme of sex appeal from the first VT.
The cutaway to Ché Senior in the audience, after Cowell’s comments, was presumably planned. The content of Cowell’s comments – “it’s the mark of a man that when he’s knocked down, he gets up fighting” – was presumably improvised.
With those few minor quibbles about the staging for ‘Hello’, overall it felt like another week of producers doing their best for Ché. The big question for this week is how forgiving they will be of his flub. If it was ever a possibility that Adele might agree to duet with Ché on ‘Hello’, which we speculated about last week, then whether she’s since got cold feet might help to determine how helpfully Ché is treated this week. The obvious conclusion is that the flub will have put the kibosh on any such duet possibilities – but if it does end up happening, there’s certainly more of a narrative now to shape the build-up.
Murray not so mint
There were arguably more than minor quibbles with some of Lauren’s treatment last Saturday. Her first VT was most memorable for her reaction to the public choice of ‘Firestone’ as her jukebox song. “I don’t know that song!” was her reaction on Tuesday on being told, “the public have spoken”. By Thursday, on stage at Sugar Hut, she was still asking doubtfully, “Does anyone know ‘Firestone’? Do you like that song?”
By Friday, when Rita said, “So that song is amazing. Yes to the public,” Lauren replied, “I’m so happy with that song.” Was the implication here that Lauren had initially not been grateful enough for her many supporters for choosing it? The final line of the VT was: “Prove to them [the public], that they’ve picked the right song. That they know Lauren.”
Judges’ comments continued to question this. Cheryl was supportive, “this song is more for you,” before undercutting her praise by claiming, “The first part was a little bit iffy. I could tell you were a little bit nervous at the start.” Simon claimed it was “totally the wrong song for you.” To which Rita said, “You think the public chose the wrong song?” Nick also said, “That is not the right song for Lauren, I personally wouldn’t have chosen that.”
Rita hardly endorsed the choice when she said, “You could’ve been singing anything and it would’ve been amazing.” And Lauren pointed out in her interview with the presenters, “I just worked with what I was given”. The narrative throughout seemed to be to undermine the public’s and her fans’ choice of song for her.
In terms of staging, Lauren was on the “thrust” above the audience like Louisa last week. But the concept was more low rent than Louisa’s heavenly backdrop. Instead, Lauren was apparently in a tunnel (the phrase “oncoming train” was mentioned on the Sofabet sofa about the bright light behind her) that divorced her from her surroundings, and made it look more like she was underground than above the clouds.
But the main talking point from her Saturday staging was for the second song ‘You Don’t Own Me’. The VT again started with us being shown that she didn’t know the song – the cumulative effect, after the first VT, being to suggest either that these were obscure songs or that Lauren isn’t well up on her music. For the second time this series, after Monica Michael in week 2, we saw stylist Gemma Shepherd choosing a “glam” outfit outside an act’s usual style (unlike reluctant Monica, at least Lauren’s reaction was “I love it”).
Unfortunately for Lauren, the “glam” dress was then seen in the context of low-rent staging – a balcony outside “nightclub” and “hotel” signs, in what looked a dingy and seedy part of town, with scantily-clad dancers gyrating suggestively. Our first reaction was that Lauren had been made to look like a lady of the night, accentuated by the lyrics (“Don’t say I can’t go with other boys”). The balcony also had the effect of divorcing her from her audience, high up and at the back of the stage, which was accentuated by many long shots. As with the first song, it took Lauren an age to reach centre stage for judges comments after the performance.
The VT had ended with Rita saying “This is the first time the public are going to see Lauren as an artist”, priming viewers to focus on the visuals. That line was reinforced in comments, with Cowell saying “you’ve found where you should be as an artist”, Grimmy adding “Rita was right, this is the song we see you as an artist”, and Rita saying she had “shown the public who you are as an artist.”
Another of Rita’s comments to Lauren at the weekend had seemed a little out of the blue – “there’s nothing fake about you”. Who’d said there was? Is it too tinfoil hat to wonder if that was a set-up (and, if so, whose idea it was for Rita to say it) for the unpleasant story about Lauren that appeared this week in Now magazine? The substance of the story is pretty thin – shock, horror, Lauren was once in a girl band – but the angle, implying she has been dishonest about her past, leaves an unpleasant taste.
Crack open the Bollie
Reggie n Bollie were given incredibly helpful staging for their first song, and truly horrible staging for the second. What was going on here?
In general, their treatment was highly positive, especially in the use of their children in the VTs, on stage and appealing for votes with Olly after the first performance, of ‘Watch Me (Whip Nae Nae)’. They endearingly attempted to learn the dance moves from their kids over Skype during the VT, and the kids then joining them on stage reminded us of Fleur East’s ‘I’m Every Woman’ performance, which also featured her family members.
With its cast of ordinary working folk as backing dancers – such as a policeman and a lollipop lady – the theme went even further, suggesting they represent everybody. That picked up on a VT which featured them connecting with diverse members of the public at a winter funfair. And the icing on the cake was Cheryl joining the Ghanaian duo on stage for the last part of the song. It was unprecedented before a final.
The Reggie n Bollie train to the final seemed well on the tracks. We were slightly surprised therefore, at the offputting presentation for second song ‘Dynamite’. The boys came out from the corridors to red-and-black lighting and a colour vomit backdrop. More worryingly, their vocals were completely exposed for the first verse as they sang alone, before the backing dancers joined them and a blinding set of colourful laser lights started rotating into the cameras.
The judges comments looked to their future career rather than prospects in the show. Simon called them “artists”; Grimmy said, “national treasures”; Rita criticised the vocals but said they had the “distinctive style” that it takes “to survive in this industry”. Cheryl brought it back to their role in the competition by explaining, “if it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be an atmosphere like this every single week”.
Our reading of it was that producers were keen to make sure they didn’t generate too much momentum. Cheryl’s second comments reminded us why the show looks like it wants them in the final – they bring atmosphere, fun, personality, warmth and a talking point. But in giving them some dodgy staging, exposing their vocals and allowing Rita to point that out, there were also signals that producers don’t want the pair winning. Expect to hear more about “you’re going to have a career in the charts whatever happens”, as a way of completing their journey, if they do indeed get to the final.
Let us know your thoughts below. Tonight’s Xtra Factor at 7pm should reveal more about what’s in store this weekend.
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