Producers have got the final they wanted. As we’ve discussed in our reviews of their journeys, Plan A Louisa and Reggie N Bollie have benefited from some inspired pimpings. Ché Chesterman hasn’t had as much producer favour, but he can have fewer complaints than most about his treatment: he’s been portrayed positively from the start, and was namechecked as a finalist by mentor Nick Grimshaw as early as week 3. It’s taken two singoff saves to get there, however, which have caused the Stevie Wonder-loving former Tesco worker’s odds to drift: the markets now give him only about a 4% chance of victory, down from as high as 30% before his first singoff.
It’s not hard to see why producers wanted him in the final, not least because his solid vocals lend the event credibility as a singing contest. But it’s also been clear throughout that they haven’t wanted Ché to generate too much momentum, as reflected in song choices that have largely kept him in the box of the “old-school soul” he promised to bring in his arena audition.
The week 1 medley of ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ and ‘Ain’t No Mountain’ was indicative, in that it was previously sung by Jahmene Douglas in 2012. Indeed, Jahmene in 2012 and Marcus Collins in 2011 are the acts whose trajectories Ché’s most reminds us of – treated kindly overall, but with a lid kept on them through a restricted range of mostly dated songs, rather than being given more varied choices that could have broadened their appeal. In both cases, they faced acts in the final whom producers had pimped more as they appeared to view them as brighter commercial prospects – James Arthur and Little Mix, respectively, with Louisa in that role this year.
Still, Ché has done well from the show. Judges have consistently offered high praise for his vocals, his sex appeal has been talked up, and we’ve been encouraged to emotionally invest in his bond with his affable lorry-driving dad, Ché Snr, who has become a cult figure on the Sofabet sofa. We’re hoping to see plenty more of Ché Snr and his signature porkpie hat during the final weekend.
Ché was given the chance to set out his stall before his arena audition. Having explained “I stacked shelves in Tesco, but I gave it up to become a singer,” he was led by Simon’s questioning to observe “there’s not a lot of soul in the industry at the moment.” Simon replied, “I would agree. It’s coming back though, isn’t it?” A more sceptical Cheryl reminded Ché of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, to which Ché nodded but explained what he was talking about – “old-school soul” from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross. His journey hasn’t deviated much from this path.
With his backwards baseball cap and casual teenage styling, Ché didn’t look like the next Stevie Wonder – but the more unprepossessing you look at your audition, the better the potential for (a) surprise and (b) a makeover. Rita, seen looking unconvinced before the audition, said afterwards: “Never judge a book by its cover.” On the same theme, Nick said the audition was “a complete surprise”. “One of those rare little finds'” was how Simon put it. Concluding his footage, Caroline said, “That was brilliant. That was a moment.” (The overuse of “moment” this year has since become something of a running joke; it’s fun to rewatch the auditions and realise they were at it even then).
Caroline and Olly played a substantial role in bigging up Ché throughout the audition process. Their gushing was a feature of his bootcamp rendition of Donny Hathaway’s old-school soul classic ‘Song For You’. Olly was featured praising Ché mid-song for every solo pre-judges’ houses performance, shouting “yes, yes, yes” at the six-chair challenge, as Cheryl and Nick high-fived in reaction to his rendition of old-school soul classic ‘It’s A Man’s World’.
Ché’s judges’ houses song was ‘Don’t Know Much’, which it is fair to say is another old-school soul classic. It was his parents’ wedding song (a first family reference), which made Ché fear his emotions would get the better of him, something Nick said he should embrace.
He was kept in the same genre as the live shows began, with retro styling to match. But unlike anyone else during week 1, his name was written in gold on the backdrop. Getting your name in lights has long been a literal sign of producer favour, as we saw with Fleur East last year.
Ché has also often been associated through VTs and staging with musical instruments, a sign that the show is keen for us to think of him as a serious musician. For his stripped back version of ‘Can’t Hurry Love’ in week 2 – with a simple, cosmic backdrop – he had a piano player. Ché’s mentor Nick looked close to tears during this performance, though it was Rita who said afterwards: “I wanted to cry. It was so beautiful.”
On the Sofabet sofa we sometimes joke about there being a supply of chopped onions under the judges’ table – Rita’s tears after Louisa’s week 3 performance a case in point – but the bond between Ché and Grimmy has seemed genuinely warm, and it has played a useful part in his journey. (Woe betide any act whose mentor is accused of not caring much about them, of which Simon accused Rita about Monica in week 2, and Cheryl about 4th Impact in week 5.) They’ve joked around and hugged on many occasions.
As they did so in Ché’s week 3 VT, sitting in a fake car prop on stage, Nick said they were driving “straight to the final”, the first such namechecking of a future finalist of the series. It may have been wrapped in a joke, but the fact that producers chose to include it in his VT indicated they were comfortable with the prospect. Week 3 was also our first encounter with Ché Snr, who was contacted by phone in the VT and shown in the audience after the performance.
Ché got the pimp slot for his rendition of ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’, and while we didn’t think it was one of his best performances, his name had been up in lights again for the drive-in set, and he received a four-judge standing ovation. This was where Rita admitted she was developing a bit of a crush on Ché. Simon, having said Ché was “getting more handsome” the previous week, said his love life was going to improve no end.
His week 4 VT – showing him on a date with his long-term girlfriend, Megan – put a lid on the ladies’ man talk for now. He was also placed in the Strictly overlap for golden oldie ‘Yesterday’, a performance that saw him fall into the singoff the following night.
Despite that, many other aspects of Ché’s treatment remained positive. The early part of the VT featured an array of prominently positioned musical props, as he joked with Nick about creating “a moment”. As at judges’ houses, he worried about getting carried away with his emotions. There were musicians on stage behind him during the performance, and a tasteful black-and-gold deco backdrop. His vocals received high praise, and this time the chopped onion was passed to Cheryl.
Previous years indicated a singoff save at this stage of the competition wouldn’t be fatal for his chances of making the final. To help him there in week 5, producers gave the public the opportunity to get him singing 2015’s biggest number, ‘Hello’, which however he stumbled over near the beginning.
As the judges reacted accordingly, Simon’s tangential “you look like you’ve just come from work” felt more harsh than it would have done in the context of the praise that was presumably planned for the performance. It was intended to be a set up for Ché’s smarter monochrome styling on the second song, ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. Not only were musicians present for that, the four female backing singers made Ché centre of attention when they started dancing around him, reaffirming previous comments about his attractiveness. The highly effective VT expanded on the father-son bond between Ché and Ché Snr, as the pair were shown before daybreak in a greasy spoon.
Loyal son Ché had come to meet his lorry-driver dad at the end of a night shift; in return, Ché Snr joked that this was the only time in his life when he would be telling his son not to come home quickly. That all proved enough to see him bounce out of the danger zone.
The semi-final ramped up all the elements previously used for Ché: 90s soul classic ‘Would I Lie To You’ was the first song; its VT showed us his warm relationship with Nick, who affectionately teased Ché about his ‘Hello’ flub; Ché Snr got to chat with Lionel Ritchie on the phone, with tears all round; and the performance itself had female backing singers in gold as well as musicians. Rita said at one point during her comments: “I saw a bit of sex in there. You had a little moment.”
In his second VT, Che revealed that, “Nick has been like family to me”. Cheryl and Nick were both highly emotional after his rendition of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love is a Losing Game’, but Simon brought the atmosphere crashing down by calling it “good, but a bit ordinary”. It was a reminder that the priority for the evening was to get Louisa and Reggie N Bollie to the final without having touched a singoff, and Ché duly found himself in the danger zone again, going through to the final after deadlock.
Two singoff appearances leave him in a similar position to Andrea Faustini last year, against Fleur East and Ben Haenow: clearly the outsider of three in the final, as the other two acts have never hit the bottom two. The revelation that his new song in the final is ‘Valerie’, and that he’ll be reprising his week 1 Jahmene medley, means he’ll be doubling up on Amy Winehouse numbers this weekend.
Our reading is that producers have got the three finalists they’ve wanted for a while. Ché has been the least favoured of the three, but he shouldn’t be too disheartened about that. As we’ve said many times, this show is all about getting exposure and building a profile which you can use to your advantage. In that respect, Ché can be pleased with how his journey has gone, and the opportunity that’s been presented to include himself in a very exclusive club of famous namesakes.
X Factor stills/clips ©ITV/SYCO