We’ve only got one room audition show left (this Saturday), which usually involves just a few scrag ends for live show contenders. That means we’ve probably seen the winner already, though if we have it’s not obvious: Caitlyn Vanbeck and Matt Terry currently battle it out at the head of the betting market.
We’ve seen less blatant favouritism at this stage than in recent years. All the signs so far are that the priority has been putting on a good show and getting good ratings. In that they seem to have succeeded. Up till now it’s felt more like a classic X Factor season, with natural chemistry between the judges, and Dermot reliably steering the helm. The result: over 10 million viewers for Saturday’s show once catch up figures were added; a two-year high.
Saturday’s show was bookended by some comedy characters, meaning yet another pimp slot given over to entertainment rather than any potential Plan A – the guessing game there continues. Our first serious singer was Gifty Louise, 20, from Kingston-Upon-Thames, who is rumoured to be one of the girls at judges’ houses. We heard how she lost her voice at bootcamp last year, though not whether she received a medical check-up: did anyone look a hoarse Gifty in the mouth?
With excuses firmly established for last year’s rejection, Gifty returned with a strong look and soulful rendition of Mary J Blige’s ‘No More Drama’. Her image and voice were praised. Simon’s responses included “very good”, “great energy”, “someone to watch” and “good audition.” He reiterated this after she’d left by saying: “We’ve actually found someone good.”
It was one of those solid, understated, not-too-long auditions without any massive sob story that could either portend something promising, or judges’ houses fodder. She looks and sounds commerical, and showed the requisite humility in accepting praise that has historically seemed necessary for young women of colour to get the voting public on their side in these shows.
Next up were Girl Next Door from Manchester, who divided the judges after a solid enough performance of Usher’s ‘Yeah!’. They are not among the final six groups rumoured for judges houses, whereas two other girlbands – 4 of Diamonds and Skarl3t – are supposed to be. That leaves them hoping for a wildcard, and suggests they are not high enough up the pecking order.
5am are in the rumoured final six groups. The threesome from Brighton, Leicester and East London comprise a casino worker, actor and street dance teacher. They explained they love Motown and R&B, and like to dance and sing. They had met through the solo circuit, which wasn’t quite working for them individually. There seemed like a non-forced, easy chemistry between the trio, who were likeable and unthreatening in a JLS-type way.
They danced and sang in a polished way to Drake’s ‘One Dance’. The judges were generally very positive, with Nicole being the one to slightly qualify her praise for their “energy” and “vibe” by saying “but I don’t want the dancing to take away from the harmonies.” Cowell seemed very keen. “Po-ten-tial. I mean it… I genuinely believe the next big boyband is going to be one that can dance.”
Crazy father-daughter duo Kayleigh and Stefan did Bohemian Rhapsody, then we had a marriage proposal between the He Knows She Knows pair. Both segments felt like they were all about the audition, rather than setting them up for a long journey. The same can be said of Saturday’s final act, Beck Martin, whose song ‘Friday Night’ got everyone up and dancing; and of Sunday’s first act, Faye Horne, with her flirting with Simon.
The Brooks’ return had been much anticipated among our commenters, the pair having got to judges’ houses two years ago when aged only 15 and featured in media reports of favouritism complaints this year over links to Sinitta. Their VT promised an improved image and vocals this time around, with a supportive Nan and a point to prove.
Josh whipped out a guitar for their performance of ‘Runnin’. It wasn’t any more of a pimping than 5am, and it’s interesting to wonder what direction they take these boys in. They have classic boyband looks, but seemed to be striving for more credibility with their song choice and the guitar. Simon and Louis emphasised their improvement. Sharon liked their harmonies. Simon suggested the credible route was their path when he concluded: “To really do what you wanna do, you’ve got a lot of work to do. You’ve got to develop your own sound. Less sometimes is more.”
Antonio Mirat, 32, a Croatian opera singer, is yet another possibility for the overs comedy wildcard slot. She was followed by Ivy Grace Paredes, who is one of the overs at judges’ houses. From the Philippines, she had been inspired enough by Fourth Impact’s impact to leave her two-year-old daughter with grandparents back home to come to audition. She initially ad-libbed too far from the beat of Whitney’s ‘All The Man That I Need’, though showed a powerful voice in the process.
The judges were very impressed, Simon in particular: “More than amazing… incredible, one of the best we’ve had.” Louis called her a “little diva”. She exited to ‘Halo’, promising to do it for her daughter. So the question is, would the show have an act from the Philippines for the second year in a row, and if so, when will they send her off for the fatal embassy visit VT?
20-year-old Aeron Smith had classic boyband looks, and gave a throaty performance of ‘Heaven’. He’s not rumoured to be among the boys at judges’ houses.
Olivia Garcia, 16, from Wigan, had striking pop star looks – I’m showing my love of early noughties pop here, she seemed to me like a cross between Jenny Frost and Mandy Moore. She has a pet turtle called Bubbly, and was inspired by Leona’s win when she was 6. Assorted proud family were present, but it wasn’t promising that there had been no filming at home.
She sang Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State of Mind’, which occasionally was too big for her promising voice (she usually only managed “New Yaw” in the chorus). The judges pointed this out, Nicole wishing she had done a different song despite her having a “really big voice for just 16”. Louis said “you look like the perfect pop star”; Simon added “one to watch”. She is reputed to be in the final six girls at judges houses, but there was less investment here than for some of her rivals in that category so far. Her journey will need to build from this point if she’s to be a stealthy contender for the lives.
The final act of the weekend was the feelgood story of Anelisa Lamola’s return from rejection at the age of 16 in the 2007 bootcamp. She’s been trying to make it since then, doing free gigs while working. She belted out ‘Natural Woman’ with an enthusiastic response from the panel. Simon called hers “an amazing recording voice”; Nicole said it was “soulful” and “classic” and even the “best voice in entire competition so far.” Unfortunately, she’s not among the rumoured overs at judges’ houses, and faces a lot of competition for the wildcard, which we continue to guess will go to a comedy act.
With one audition show left, there are still a few we haven’t seen from the rumoured pre-wildcard judges’ houses: one girl (Soheila Clifford); one boy (Nate Simpson); three overs (Samantha Atkinson, Christopher Peyton and Relley C, who has featured on the show before); and two groups (4 of Diamonds and Skarl3t). That doesn’t bode particularly well for their chances on past evidence, as producers have historically tended to deal their strongest cards early in the auditions process, but we’ll still be watching closely.
Then there’s a bumper single bootcamp episode on Sunday, ahead of the six-chair challenge the following weekend. As well as the obligatory heart-rending farewells to a few auditionees who’ve had enough screentime to make the casual viewer surprised by their departures, the bootcamp episode offers producers a chance to advance the narrative of their favoured acts. Hopefully this will give us more of a clue of who Plan A might be this year.
On which question, before we close for this week let’s round up the rumours and assess the lie of the land.
Discussion in the Sofabet comments and movements in the Betfair market point towards the final three boys being Matt Terry, Freddy Parker and the presumably-wildcarded Ryan Lawrie. Commenters also expect The Brooks and Cosmic Riot (Bradley and Ottavio) in the lives, with some confusion about whether the third slot is occupied by 4 of Diamonds or 5am.
These remain only rumours – but if true, they would invite a couple of observations. When the show is investing in a boyband, it tends to make sure the boys category doesn’t have too much competition in terms of pretty faces – and that wouldn’t be the case if it’s Freddy, Matt and Ryan. And if they’re joined by The Brooks and possibly also 5am, that would imply a lot of early vote-splitting among the female demographic.
So does that point to a girl as Plan A, and who? Caitlyn Vanbeck and rumoured wildcard Samantha Lavery are both fairly similar to last year’s winner; would they want another Louisa? But it can’t be ignored that both got the coveted first-audition-show introduction. Emily Middlemas, introduced in the second show, offers more variety, and the Ryan rumour is interesting given that the pair have reportedly hooked up – are producers hoping for some tabloid value? Or do they have big plans for Kayleigh Morgan, Gifty Louise or someone else?
We should, of course, also consider the possibility that the difficulty identifying this year’s Plan A suggests that Plan A is simply to put on a show that’s good for ratings, ease off the manipulations and let the votes fall as they may. But producers wouldn’t do that to us… would they? As ever, please keep the conversation going below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor