Sofabet readers have known since even before the first audition show who the X Factor’s producers wanted to win: in our comments section, Donald displayed some inside knowledge when he said, “The letters L… J… to be watched for”. It turned out Louisa Johnson had auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent in 2014, and that’s presumably where Syco started plotting: they didn’t screen her BGT audition, instead inviting her onto the X Factor, a better vehicle for launching a pop career.
By the time Louisa made it to our screens, someone had bought her the handle @louisa on both Instagram and Twitter (where she’d previously been the less-memorable @louisajohnson0). That won’t have come cheap, and it was clearly an investment in anticipation of Louisa’s presence on the show setting her up for lucrative post-show stardom.
What producers want, they don’t always get. They messed up last year’s attempt to launch Stereo Kicks as a replacement for One Direction. In previous years, Tamera Foster and Ella Henderson fell well short of the final. We’ve had some quibbles about how they have portrayed her, but we can’t argue with the fact that going into the final, the betting markets have it as a foregone conclusion, giving Louisa an 83% chance of winning.
Props to producers, then. Here’s how they’ve done it, and some of the quibbles we’ve had.
Louisa’s audition was the last one screened in the first audition show, a sign of favour because the last performance in any show is the one that sticks most in the memory, and being shown in the first show also helps to lodge an act firmly in viewers’ consciousness. In that first audition show she performed the Jackson 5 number ‘Who’s Loving You’. We reckon it was no coincidence that producers chose this for Louisa, because of its proven recent effect: it had catapulted Andrea Faustini to breakout stardom during the 2014 audition process.
After that first audition show, she was immediately installed at the top of bookmakers’ lists and it’s a position she’s held ever since. She was again last to perform in the first episode of the first bootcamp phase, in a group performance alongside 4th Impact, and performed in the last segment of the second bootcamp phase. We analysed the favourable treatment she’d received up to that point in an article before the six-chair challenge, posing the question Is Louisa A Worthy Favourite?
One concern we had in that article was the sense that producers didn’t have much of a back story for Louisa. In a show that has become infamous for pushing sob stories to help us connect with the contestants, there appeared to be nothing much to say about Louisa. Her three category rivals, for example – Kiera, Monica and Lauren – all had stories about their families and day jobs that could help us relate to them. The most we heard about Louisa during the audition stages was that she’d had unspecified difficulties at school, plus a half-hearted attempt to convince us that she had a problem with nerves.
We argued last week that producers’ quest for an emotional connection with Louisa has remained a problem through the live shows. We’ve had a few chats with her mum, reminiscing about theatre school, and some nice interaction with her dad on his building site. But we don’t really know Louisa, in comparison to how we were encouraged to emotionally invest in Ben Haenow’s family’s last year, or Sam Bailey’s redemption in 2013. We’ve been given no idea what makes Louisa tick, what matters to her, what life experiences have shaped her.
Instead, the poor girl was made to repeat a vague line about “all the emotions I’ve ever had” – three times:
It’s not that we’re complaining about the lack of sob story. We just find it remarkable that producers have managed to get Louisa this far without finding any way to get viewers to emotionally invest in her – we’ve had nothing even akin to the moving father-son bonding of Ché and Ché senior, or Reggie N Bollie’s delightfully telegenic children.
Producers haven’t seemed clear about what direction to take Louisa in musically, either. They’ve given her John Lewis-ed versions of old songs (week 1’s ‘God Only Knows’, week 3’s ‘Everybody’s Free’, week 6’s ‘The Power Of Love’). They tried getting her to do some moves in Week 2 with ‘Billie Jean’. They pitched for that elusive emotional connection with ‘Jealous’ in week 5. They went more modern with Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ in week 5, and James Bay’s ‘Let It Go’ in week 4.
All were good (with the exception of those sore throat-affected week 5 performances), as Louisa’s a great singer, but consensus in the Sofabet comments was that none quite created the “moment” the judges have been desperate to claim for her – the kind of “moment” Matt Cardle had with ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.
It all came together for her, finally, with ‘It’s A Man’s World’ last weekend. More on that in a “moment”, but first let’s remind ourselves how desperate the judges were to convince us that she’d had a “moment” after Week 4’s ‘Let It Go’ (they don’t want to let us forget that she’s only 17, either):
Producers certainly threw the kitchen sink at that particular attempt to manufacture a “moment”, with some inspired staging that we analysed at length in a previous article. They dressed her in angelic white and stood her on a cloud, high up at the back of the studio, amid a twinkly sky and overlooking a distant city backdrop far below.
It’s been quite a theme this year to associate Louisa with the colour white and other angelic connotations. Here she is in week 1, again floating in a cloud and with a sparkly halo effect from the lighting:
In week 3 she’s in white again, with dreamily celestial images flashing up on the big screens behind her:
Ah, sod it, to hell with subtlety – let’s just give her wings:
In Louisa’s styling, there’s been a switching between this kind of glamorous sophisticate look and the girl-next-door vibe showcased in the bandana-wearing images at the top of this post, and the ripped jeans for Billie Jean.
In our view the most effective performance for Louisa was her latest one, ‘It’s A Man’s World’ last Saturday. She was again styled all in white, as were her choir, but this time she was wearing a power suit. Sofabet commenters pointed out that it looked very much like how Christina Aguilera was dressed when she sang the same song at the Grammys in 2007.
What made the performance work was Louisa’s ease on stage. It was the right balance for her – not rooted to the spot, as with the several John Lewis numbers, nor looking slightly nervous about choreo, as with ‘Billie Jean’. She strolled around the stage – indeed, if we can be forgiven for channelling Louis Walsh for a moment, she owned the stage – as the camera followed her, as if recording a gig. In combination with her powerhouse vocals, it was very effective.
We’ve had our misgivings about whether producers have known how to sell Louisa to best advantage, and it may be that the truncated live show schedule helped them – if they’d had ten weeks of live shows to pimp her through, rather than seven, the momentum might have been harder to maintain. But they must have done something right with her. And they certainly did an expert job of preventing any of the other acts from gaining momentum (with the exception of Reggie N Bollie, whose journey we will look at next).
That’s led to some uncomfortable viewing at times, with some of the acts this year appearing to be well aware that they were being stitched up: Monica’s humiliation at being forced into a hideous dress against her better judgement; Anton’s anger at accusations of fakery; Lauren’s tears as she faced up to the inevitable in the Sunday singoff.
None of that unpleasantness is Louisa’s fault, though. Indeed, it must have put her in a difficult position at times, carrying the weight of the show’s expectation and having to live with other acts who will have gradually become aware that they’d been cast only as supporting players. It was nice to see Louisa larking around in one of the Saturday VTs, acting like a sweet 17 year old.
In these pre-final “journey” articles, we try to identify what an act’s narrative arc has been. For Louisa, we couldn’t find one. She started as producers’ favoured winner, and she goes into the final as producers’ favoured winner. For once, it looks like Plan A is about to come off and the Sofabet sofa may need reupholstering in claret and blue!
Louisa Johnson photo courtesy of Dave Smith
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA