Nobody expected Reggie N Bollie to get this far. Or, if someone among us did, they didn’t say so: of the 43 Sofabet commenters who joined in the fun of trying to predict the 1-13 finishing order, all but three had Reggie N Bollie leaving between 10th and 13th. The highest predicted finish (take a bow, annie) was 5th. So how come they’re in the final?
With the benefit of hindsight, we suspect the answer to that question lies in how everything else this series – other acts; putting on a good show; ratings – has been subservient to the overriding aim of getting Louisa to the win. Producers have pimped two acts above all others, keeping them clear of singoffs: their Plan A, Louisa, and a fun but vocally limited act, Reggie N Bollie. We assume their thinking is to enable an appeal to the voting public’s sense of fair play in the final, asking them to give the win to the better singer of the two.
Here’s how we’ve seen Reggie N Bollie’s journey.
Then known as Menn On Poinnt, they had a promising introduction. A five-minute segment in the final arena audition show portrayed them as ropey singers but hugely entertaining. We saw Cowell and Cheryl rolling their eyes as they said they were going to do an original song, then Rita getting into it, Cheryl beaming as she was won over, and Cowell’s mid-song looks of incredulity giving way to comments of “I love it… not sure about the vocals, but I get the feeling it’s always a sunny day with you”.
We’ve seen this genre of audition many times. Most series have at least one such act – vocally limited, but entertaining. With producer support (Stevi Ritchie, Rylan Clark, Wagner, Jedward), they typically have a ceiling of fifth or sixth. Without producer support (Bupsi, Blonde Electra, Storm Lee) they depart in the first or second show. We wrote at the time that Menn on Poinnt could “brighten up the live shows as a fun act intended to be jettisoned before the business end”, as such acts usually are for the sake of the franchise’s credibility.
Did we miss any signs at the time that producers viewed them as more serious contenders all along? Perhaps we did: in a rewatch of the audition segment, you could see it as more significant with hindsight that Simon muses to the rest of the panel afterwards that “we’ve never had an artist like that on X Factor”, and Rita chips in “they’re actually so musically relevant right now”. Then again, Cowell has this week been quoted as saying “I thought they would just be a joke act”.
The fun-but-vocally-limited acts who are going to have producer support generally tend to feature prominently at every stage of proceedings, building their talking-point status. So it seemed pretty damning of Reggie N Bollie’s prospects that producers didn’t bother to show them during either the bootcamp group show or the individual bootcamp shows.
In our judges’ houses preview, we noted that the groups category had thus far been all about pimping 4th Impact and Alien Uncovered. That suggested gamma group status, and the associated probable early exit, was the best Reggie N Bollie could hope for. And, from the greater prominence given in bootcamp edits to rivals Beklyn and Silver Tone, we thought the duo might not even get that.
Of the three acts who we suspect may be missing out on the lives, if we were casting the show, we wouldn’t hesitate to find a place for Menn On Point. The cheerful Ghanaian duo put smiles on our faces at the arena audition, and did the same again at the six-chair challenge. We’d have a lot more fun watching Menn On Point on Saturday nights than most of the acts likely to make the final 12.
Evidently we were closer to producers’ wavelength than we realised. Bookies were offering them at 100/1 at that stage of proceedings.
Rewatching the first live show, in which they covered Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’, there are the now-familiar Reggie N Bollie trademarks: the big, fun production, colourful staging and lighting, numerous backing dancers, and smiling judges. But there’s no huge pimping, as we got later. The sense was merely that they were getting a fair crack of the whip, as many acts tend to in the opening show, so producers can test their level of support. The public didn’t take to Alien Uncovered, leaving only 4th Impact and Reggie N Bollie in the category.
The second show, the ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ and ‘Cheerleader’ mashup, was a different kettle of fish altogether. Here we had the heartwarming family VT; the off-stage entrance with cheerleaders; Cheryl, Rita and Grimmy dancing; and Simon joining them for a four-judge ovation. In the following days, they were backed down from long double-figure odds to single figures in the win market, as Sofabet commenters debated whether or not it was fair to call them a novelty act, with the traditional expected ceiling that moniker implies.
Their week 3 treatment was generally agreed among Sofabet commenters to be a distinct application of the brakes. Starting with a ‘My Heart With Go On’ skit, which exposed their ropey vocals, they went into ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’, to a more muted judge response: no dancing, and only Cheryl standing to applaud. It appeared to shove them firmly into novelty territory, and their win market odds drifted accordingly.
However, in week four the accelerator was pressed flat down again. They got another kidtastic VT and their first pimp slot for the ‘Shut Up and Dance’/’Dangerous Love’ mashup, which again had Cheryl, Rita and Nick dancing along and Simon joining them for a four-judge ovation before namechecking them as potential finalists.
The accelerator stayed down in week 5, with their kids and Cheryl joining them on stage for ‘Watch Me (Whip Nae Nae)’, after which Cowell called them “credible recording artists” (translation: “not a novelty act”). The foot lifted off the accelerator just a little for ‘Dynamite’, which had questionable staging, Rita pointing out their ropey vocals and only two judges standing to applaud, but still had Grimmy anointing them “national treasures”.
Their first song in the semi-final, ‘Locked Away’, also had questionable staging, with a backdrop of silhouetted prisoners. Cowell jokingly linked the “creative” to his recent burglary before saying the vocals “weren’t great” and you’ve “lost your sense of fun”.
As often happens in the two-round shows, though, this was merely a setup for the second song – a return to the usual for their pimp slot performance of ‘I Gotta Feeling’/’I Like to Move It’, complete with colourful backing dancers and confetti, which had all four judges standing to applaud before practically begging the public to put them through to the final.
It will be fascinating to see how this whiplash-inducing journey translated into votes, when the statistics are released after Sunday’s show. In particular, we’ll be intrigued to see if Reggie N Bollie’s week 2 vote was high enough for producers to have been alarmed by it, and if week 3’s vote was low enough for them to have felt confident they could bring the pair’s vote under control at any stage.
Another fascinating question, to which we may never get an answer, is at what stage producers conceived the plan – which they have executed so masterfully – of aiming for Louisa and Reggie N Bollie to be the two frontrunners going into the final weekend. The absence from the bootcamp edit makes us suspect it wasn’t a cunning plan from the very beginning, but took shape in the early weeks of the lives.
One possible explanation is that analysis of the app vote data helps producers to understand which acts share admirers; giving five free votes rather than one allows them to see which acts get votes from the same individuals, and votes being traceable to a device allows them to track how voter favour shifts as acts are treated differently from week to week. This is pure speculation, but perhaps they saw that Louisa and 4th Impact shared some admirers, hence deciding to elevate Reggie N Bollie to alpha group; and that Louisa and Anton shared some admirers, hence the brutally swift nature of the latter’s downfall; but that Louisa and Reggie N Bollie were fishing in different pools, making them ideal candidates to be the last other act standing.
Until Sunday’s statistics reveal, we can also only speculate about the relative vote performance of Louisa and Reggie N Bollie over the series, and especially last weekend. The natural assumption is that Louisa must have been well clear at the top, but it’s worth remembering how we all assumed the same was true of Sam Bailey in the 2013 semi, when in fact only 2.9% separated her from Luke Friend in third.
Sam Bailey still won the 2013 final comfortably, of course. And even if last week’s vote was closer than we imagine, there should be plenty of ways producers can make sure Reggie N Bollie aren’t allowed to mount a serious challenge for the win this weekend.
For instance, while praising Reggie N Bollie for bringing the fun to the final, judges can respond to Louisa’s songs by claiming that this is a singing competition, and guilt-tripping the voting public into doing the “right thing”. They can imply that Louisa needs the win more, by portraying Reggie N Bollie as already having succeeded in changing their lives by reaching the final, and saying that “whatever happens now” they’ll have a great career.
We might hear more about Reggie N Bollie’s previous in the music industry in Ghana, in a way that implies they’ve had their chance already. After 4th Impact were filmed visiting the Filipino embassy the week they exited, we’d been wondering if the battle bus might roll up alongside the Ghana High Commission this week. It seems they were involved in the entertainment at this week’s homecoming, footage of which has been popping up on social media.
As we wrote about 4th Impact when speculating about the “embassy deramp”, we suspect it doesn’t motivate votes from Middle England to emphasise a foreign act’s foreignness. We wonder if we might see constant reminders of the duo’s Ghanaian heritage, while comments to Louisa include lines like “I’d be proud to have you representing Britain on the world stage”.
Producers may need to tread somewhat carefully with any such tactics. One reason we were initially sceptical that producers would push Reggie N Bollie to the final is that we wondered if they’d fear a mischievous social media campaign to get the pair to the win – especially now that voting doesn’t cost money. However, that would require awareness of their Louisa favouritism to spread among enough mischievously-minded people to outweigh other voters’ sense of fair play. And producers have so far done a good job of avoiding any hint that a Reggie N Bollie win would be unwelcome, so it seems unlikely.
For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, we should also question the assumption that producers wouldn’t welcome a Reggie N Bollie win. The main reason, of course, is the obvious favouritism shown to Louisa throughout. One could also make the argument that Reggie N Bollie – for all their likeability and other talents – are not the best of singers, so producers may worry that victory for them would expose the franchise to some degree of mockery.
That said, the franchise has seemed a low priority this year – it’s been all about launching Louisa’s career. And while that’s spelled an uphill struggle for other acts, we reckon it’s also the reason why Reggie N Bollie have found themselves in an unlikely final.
X Factor stills/clips ©ITV/SYCO/TALKBACK THAMES