Producers set their stalls out very clearly tonight, effectively anointing Louisa as the winner after her performance from the pimp slot in the first round of songs, and hammering home the message that the final needed Reggie N Bollie in it after their pimp slot in the second round.
If the votes play out as they have pitched for, that will leave us a singoff of Ché against Lauren tomorrow. And while Lauren’s treatment tonight fell short of a full-blooded hatchet job, there were pretty clear signals that it would be Ché who makes it through such a scenario.
(One possible caveat is whether they might feel obliged to go to deadlock if Ché lags significantly behind Lauren in the phone vote, a possible explanation for the widely-unexpected save of Luke Friend over Rough Copy in 2013 – but then, they have hardly cared about being subtle so far this year. It’s also worth noting that a singoff wasn’t confirmed, as far as we could tell, perhaps giving themselves wiggle room to do without one if Lauren is clearly bottom and they wish to preserve some kind of suspense about relative positions going into the final).
Here’s how we saw the night’s events unfold.
Reggie n Bollie kicked things off with yet another VT of their lives being transformed. Reggie amusingly mangled his words as he tried to tell Lionel Ritchie that they could never have dreamed of meeting him, instead saying it was “not a dream come true, it’s a dream we never had”. Lionel told them: “performing is everything.” Cheryl twice explained we would “see a different side” to the pair. What that meant was a slower song than we’re used to. There was a prison backdrop and plenty of red.
Simon referenced his burglary last night and said, “I think that was your worst performance of the series so far. The vocals weren’t great, you’ve lost your sense of fun.” Rita explained: “it wasn’t the best but it was decent.” Cheryl promised more fun in the second performance. But the comments were far from a mauling, and it was pretty clearly a setup for a return to form in the second round.
Lauren’s VT involved her performing ‘Best of My Love’ to Lionel Ritchie, before at the last minute deciding to change her song to ‘Take Me Home’, with a mention that she had already performed it at judges’ houses. Rita and a producer were shown being very accommodating about it, but there was nonetheless a sense that she was putting them out. Staging-wise, she was stuck at the back of the stage again to isolate her from the audience, though at least she got a golden backdrop.
Comments were expertly pitched not to motivate votes, with muted praise and criticism that felt fair rather than overly harsh. Cheryl’s praise was around changing the song at the last minute; Simon liked the song, but said she was “panicky and screechy… calm down a little bit”. Nick gave the line that has preceded some eliminations this year, “that was the first time I felt your nerves”, and it was “wobbly in parts”. Rita said nothing about the performance apart from saying, “we’re going to absolutely murder it again,” in reference to her second song, and noted that “illness is not an excuse”.
Ché got a sympathetic VT showing him joshing with Grimmy over last week’s lyrics flub, and getting all emotional as he got his dad on the phone with the latter’s idol (although we were disappointed that they missed an opportunity for Lionel to start the conversation with “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”)
The staging was golden, featuring an array of female backing singers and dancers also in gold. Comments were as good as could have been hoped for, Rita saying: “You just reminded why I love the song,” which Cheryl also mentioned as well as saying he was “back in the game”. Both praised his vocals. Simon suggested it was his best performance yet, that he “may have booked his place in the final”, and said he “looked like a star… it was great”.
“Louisa is pristine, she just needs to learn how to perform,” was what Lionel said of The Chosen One, and we anticipated the pay off to that in judges’ comments – we weren’t disappointed, as Cheryl and Simon told us she had connected. She was then shown having fun with the West Ham football team (in the process fulfilling a dream for her dad, just like Ché had), in a segment that however seemed slightly rushed, before promising her own “little twist” on ‘The Power of Love’.
Like Lauren, she started at the back of the stage, but lighting was much more focused, and the reverb had been switched on. The glowing red violinists turned more angelic towards the end as Louisa was given angel wings in the backdrop. “Little angel face,” Cheryl called her. “Better than incredible” was how Simon put it, with one shout out to her age and another mention that “you want to win the show, and I like people who want to win”. Grimmy called it “shutdown season”, like the winner had already been decided. Rita referenced seeing who would be “potentially going to win the show”. They all but declared her the winner there and then.
The recap of first songs, after phone lines opened, made clear how much more reverb effect Louisa had been granted than Lauren.
Ché’s second VT had him testifying to how Grimmy had become like family. We saw him being styled like a star, he was namechecked twice as a finalist, and he had a chat on the phone with Mark Ronson (who produced the Amy Winehouse song he was about to sing), which again played up the portrayal of Ché as a serious musician. Styling was simple and classy, with a cosmic backdrop, as he started on a set of stairs but – unlike Lauren in either of her stagings tonight – got to walk down towards the audience midsong.
Grimmy teared up after the performance, and Che came over to give him a hug. Rita called it “gorgeous”, and Cheryl’s voice cracked as she said “Amy would have loved that”. However, Simon rained on the parade, criticising some things that weren’t Ché’s fault – the production and arrangement – before calling it “good, but a bit ordinary”; it felt like a clear attempt to keep a lid on any momentum Che might be gaining through the highly-charged atmosphere. Grimmy was too emotional to speak, other than calling it “spectacular”.
Louisa was up next, in modern styling and staging – an all-white trouser suit channelled the power woman look of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, and her abstract backdrop was in clean white, black and red lines and polka-dots. A white-clad choir added support, and the song choice of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ suited Louisa’s powerhouse vocals perfectly; Rita was on her feet for much of the song, and the other judges joined her for the ovation.
In our view it was easily Louisa’s best performance of the series. Simon called it “a masterclass… all I pray is that people don’t think you’re safe, because you have earned your place in the final… I’m proud of you as a performer and I’m proud of you as a person”. Nick referred to “passion and power like never before”. It also had the effect of memory-holing Ché, with no ad break between the performances.
As Plinkiplonk put it in the comments, “just how often have we seen Lauren dressed all in black while Louisa was dressed all white? Why not just give them signs with ‘good’ and ‘evil’ round their necks?”
Lauren got a surprisingly sympathetic second VT, showing her Nan and referencing how she sleeps in the living room of their cramped flat and would like to do well to be able to help them afford somewhere bigger; but the red carpet section (“I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I would”) had hints of “journey over”. Staging again had her marooned high up on a big plinth right at the back of the stage, from where she couldn’t do any of the ‘Running’ she sang about. In a dark-feeling set, she had what looked like a backdrop of heavy rain, giving way to pulses of abstract blues and blacks that resembled the iTunes visualizer.
Cheryl said she was “running out of compliments” and told Lauren to stick with current songs as they suit her. (They had also, of course, landed her in her first singoff last week). Simon compared her to “watching Eastenders”, ostensibly because Eastenders has highs and lows and Lauren’s second song was better than her first, but it’s interesting to wonder what other subliminal connotations might have been intended – that Eastenders is depressing? That Lauren is like an Eastenders character, rather than a popstar? He went on to say watching Eastenders was “exhausting”, before calling it a “great performance”. Nick said “you’re 100% you”, and Rita said she could “sell records” and “I’m very happy to be part of your journey”.
Cheryl introduced Reggie n Bollie in the pimp slot by saying it was time for a “party”. The feelgood VT told about how they had put their music dreams on hold to move to the UK, work hard and raise families, and doubted that they would be able to revive the dream so they’re grateful that they’ve been given the opportunity. Cheryl told them “we need you in the final”. The crowd had been given glowsticks – as had Cowell – and their backdrop featured colourful circles and backing dancers clad similarly; Reggie N Bollie themselves were in the colours of the Union Jack. The confetti started falling mid-performance, and all four judges stood to applaud.
Cowell said: “This is the Reggie N Bollie we love”, and “the final would not be the final without you two in it”. Nick said he was “desperate” to see them at Wembley next week, and both Rita and Cheryl repeated the message that we needed them in the final, before Cheryl pleaded for people to pick up the phone.
Louisa ended the night a shorter-priced odds-on favourite for the win, and Lauren a shorter-priced odds-on favourite for next elimination. The intentions seem clear, and it seems reasonable to expect that the voting public will play ball. Are you expecting anything to interfere with the script? Let us know what you reckon below.
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