Last weekend’s six chair challenge was followed by a live episode of Xtra Factor that revealed a previously-discarded wildcard in each category. Among them was Ryan Lawrie, ditched as far back as bootcamp, and who – unknown to ITV viewers until now – had appeared with an unsuccessful manufactured boyband during the 6CC. In the rumours doing the rounds about who makes the live shows, Ryan had been one of the most surprising names, along with Saara Aalto and Honey G. With them both also confirmed as back for judges’ houses – the latter replacing Ivy Grace Paredes, due to visa issues – the rumours gained credibility.
There’s still a mood of some scepticism in the Sofabet comments at the rumoured exclusion of Caitlyn Vanbeck and Christian Burrows in particular, both acts who have enjoyed lots of screentime and praise so far. But let’s not forget that the show thrives on a regular supply of controversial shock decisions at the judges’ houses stage – remember Jennifer Phillips last year? We should also, of course, note that the possibility of one or more wildcards into the live shows has not been explicitly ruled out.
Anyway, for your Sofabet team, the highlight of the weekend was learning that Simon Cowell’s new 6CC compliment of choice is “sofa”.
For our 6CC round-up, we’ll just focus on those making judges’ houses.
Kicking off the girls category on Saturday night, Soheila Clifford continued to be secure in her abilities before launching into ‘Love Me Like You Do’, Louis admired her “confidence” and “arrogance”. In many years she’d be considered an ideal panto villain for the live shows, but – perhaps surprisingly – isn’t rumoured to make it.
Nor is Kayleigh Marie Morgan, of whose rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ Simon said “this was good, I don’t think it was fantastic”, and claimed he had been hoping for something a little more “adventurous”.
Also showing nerves in the cauldron of Wembley Arena was Samantha Lavery, who, when asked pre-performance why she deserved a seat, helpfully reminded us of her grandad. Samantha lost her pitch at times. “You have no idea who you are,” Simon said. “You’ve over-styled yourself. The song was horrible.” Despite the criticism, he praised her “great potential” and “great talent”. She’s the wildcard for judges’ houses, and if rumours are correct the comeback narrative sees her into the lives – perhaps in a final edit against fellow big-voiced teen Caitlyn Vanbeck?
Caitlyn herself won high praise for her rendition of ‘Rise Up’. Louis said she was his “favourite singer so far”, Sharon loved her for being “so real”, and Nicole had been “moved”. Simon said “I don’t think you’re aware how good you are”, before his “I want to give you a sofa” line. If you were looking for clues that Caitlyn might miss out, she didn’t get an intro VT like some of her judges’ houses rivals.
Gifty had a brief VT before walking on to the strains of Fleur’s ‘Sax’, which we thought might be something to take note of in terms of how producers are seeing her. The Londoner showed a powerful, raspy voice that got overly manic once or twice during ‘Crazy’. Louis praised her “star quality”, and Sharon thought she was a “special gift”. Gifty took Samantha’s seat, though the choice to eject the latter was disputed by the other judges, particularly Nicole.
Emily didn’t get a VT intro, but there was still plenty of build-up for the self-deprecating Scot who said “singing is all I do, and to be honest it’s all I’m really good at”. After her acoustic version of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, her standing ovation was milked like no one else in the category – Louis was up on his feet urging the crowd on. The Irishman later called her a “find” (repeating what Nicole had said of her in the room audition – “a little find”). Simon said, “it was one of the best performances we’ve heard today”.
Olivia Garcia got the pimp slot, from which she showed plenty of pluck for her tender years, but also some nerves for her version of ‘Changing’. Louis called it “flawless”, Sharon “incredible”, and Simon “outstanding”. If rumours are to be believed, she misses out to Gifty, Emily and Samantha. Which of these would be alpha girl is an interesting question, though Emily’s regional vote – in Caitlyn’s presumed absence – would see her starting out at a significant advantage.
The first two of the judges’ houses crop to get seats are not among those rumoured to make it further. James Hughes romped around the stage while belting out ‘Proud Mary’ and winning praise as a “great entertainer”, while Nicole praised Niall Sexton for improving on her own version of ‘Run’, Simon adding that he has an “incredible voice”.
The night’s big Matt Terry drama was kicked off with a bit of social proof from Nicole, observing “girls are excited about you already”. She interrupted Matt halfway through his Bruno Mars number to say he was singing a “half-step too high”. Unfazed, Matt responded “shall I try a half-step lower?”, with predictably improved results. This kind of thing always makes us wonder about whether the act was in on the script. Incidentally, we searched the Sofaweb to learn more about “half-steps” but all we found was Rick Astley singing Never Gonna Give You Up a “half-step too low”.
Freddy Parker is rumoured to make it to the lives, but is already being edited like a gamma, with viewers being left with the impression that Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ is the only song he’s capable of singing. The Sun has since covered his “drink-driving shame“. We look forward to a week 1 rendition of ‘Fast Car’.
Nate Simpson sang the better-known ‘Run’, Leona Lewis’s, winning praise from Simon as the “best yet”. But this was just the prelude to the big drama, with Christian Burrows getting the pimp slot for ‘Feeling Good’ and winning Simon’s praise for his “passion”. Nicole asked Matt Terry to sing again as she pondered who should lose their seat.
Again, we can’t help wondering how scripted this drama was and who was in on it. Our best guess – and it’s just a guess – is that Christian wasn’t, but Matt might well have been. He certainly seemed more calm and collected than Christian, inviting the latter over for a mid-song embrace and making a point of running after him for another hug when Christian’s seat was confirmed. The edit had previously hinted at a bromance between the two, and if rumours are correct this would all appear to be leading to a final edit in judges’ houses which pits them against each other for one remaining place.
Interestingly, on Saturday, The Sun had reported that Matt is still with the long-term girlfriend who’d provided his audition sob story by dumping him, although a “close friend” reassured The Sun that “she did split with him briefly”. Far be it from us to doubt that it was purely coincidental that the brief split conveniently happened just before Matt’s audition filmed.
Hull landlady Samantha Atkinson kicked us off, after a reminder of her bootcamp bonding with Rebekah Ryan and James Wilson. Simon, who’d slapped the “pub singer” label on her in auditions, now praised her voice, saying “you have the opportunity to turn yourself into an artist”.
James himself was the next of the judges houses crop to perform, telling the audience that he’d lacked the confidence to audition for years but at the age of 34 had thought “why not”. The likeable joiner had his guitar with him for ‘Trouble’, which had presumably been suggested to him so the “I’ve been saved by a woman” lyric could see emotional cutaways to Samantha and Rebekah.
James still isn’t making eye contact while he sings, and if the rumours are correct that he fails to make it past judges’ houses, the explanation can only be that producers are nervous about a live show meltdown. But it’s also being rumoured that James might be parachuted back into the lives as a wildcard. We don’t know how much credence to give that, but it would make perfect sense to us – if we were producers, we’d want him to be part of the lives.
Relley C described herself as “different” and bringing “fight” and “flavour”, before covering ‘What A Wonderful World’. Simon said it was “incredible”, but Relley’s lack of prior audition screentime means she needs a Fleur-esque change of fortunes to avoid an early exit if she reaches the live shows as rumoured.
Honey G, aka recruitment consultant Anna Georgette Gilford, called herself a “massive innovator” and “the next Jay-Z” before covering Missy Elliot. It’s hard to know what to make of Honey, or the show’s persistence with her – as Simon put it, “I don’t know if you’re real”.
The ever-present mirrored shades don’t allow us to make any kind of personal connection, and it would be a risk to carry those through into the lives, as Nicolo Festa could tell you. But opening up to The Sun’s Dan Wootton about a traumatic personal history and her dissatisfaction with being a businesswoman suggests that she won’t stay in character throughout, and that she wants the public to get to know the Sacha Baron Cohen behind the Ali G.
We were reminded that Janet Grogan fell at this hurdle in 2014 before the Dubliner VTed that doing so again would “destroy” her. Louis and Simon struck a disappointed note, though the latter later added that she was “potentially incredible”. If rumours are correct that further heartbreak lies in store for Janet, the former might have opined “you remind me of an older Melanie McCabe”.
Self-described “snow fairy from Finland” Saara Aalto continued to be entertainingly kooky before Sharon sent her packing, saying she felt a “disconnect”. If we assume that producers had cooked up the idea of wildcards to judges’ houses before filming 6CC, but won’t have anticipated Ivy-Grace’s visa issues, they must have initially intended to permanently bin one of Honey G and Saara. Which was it? Saara appeared to be genuinely irritated by her refusal, storming back on stage before unwisely warbling in French and prompting Simon into a throat-slitting hand gesture. On this evidence, if Saara indeed gets to the lives, she should add to the gaiety of nations.
Son-of-a-preacher-man Christopher Peyton won himself a seat with ‘Rise Up’, but isn’t rumoured to make it further, before Ivy-Grace won the seat from which visa problems would later see her ejected.
Simon compared The Brooks to “wind-up toys” and questioned their “commitment and professionalism”, which isn’t exactly how you’d want to be treated at this stage of proceedings but still leaves plenty of room for them to put that right with a live shows journey.
It’s always interesting to see how producers justify getting the joke acts into the live shows. Initially it looked like they were going to quietly smuggle Bradley and Ottavio in, putting them on early so they could occupy an empty seat rather than having anyone else kicked off, and putting it in the context of Louis being overly generous by putting everyone through early on. But no – and more on that later.
5am have now overtaken The Brooks in the betting, after showing off some slick dance moves for ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ and winning Simon’s praise for “putting on a show”. If rumours are correct that these are the three groups who make it through, which of 5am or The Brooks is being thought of as alpha group has to remain an open question despite the former’s superior treatment here. The edit at judges’ houses should tell us more.
Sharon thought 4 of Diamonds needed more “sass”, while Nicole called them “classy” and Simon “really good”. Next up were likeable Liverpudlians Tom and Laura, who charmed with ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, Nicole talking about feeling “happy deep down inside” and Simon comparing them to “bread and butter” before saying his “heart” wanted them through. We’ll be sorry to lose them, if rumours are correct that we do.
Yes Lad, “five normal lads” from “up the north”, unpromisingly came on to a chorus of boos after generous-Louis had turned into mean-Louis and broken the hearts of Girl Next Door. Clad in black, they covered ‘Let It Be’. Sharon praised them for turning around the “negative vibe”, Nicole praised their “solid” harmonies, while Simon said they were “old-fashioned”.
Louis initially kicked off Bradley and Ottavio for them, which prompted Simon to tell him “you’re making a big mistake… five boring boys”? After the ad break, Louis demonstrated why he adds so much to the X Factor by hamming up the crazy-uncle schtick, first swapping Bradley and Ottavio with Yes Lad after claiming that Nicole and Sharon had changed his mind, then bringing back Girl Next Door, only to swap them out again for Skarl3t after the latter’s rendition of ‘Bang Bang’.
As Louis brought the three girl groups back on stage to help him decide which one to jettison, Dermot deadpanned to camera “he’s like this in restaurants, you know”. Good to have you back, Louis and Dermot.
The Xtra Factor
As most viewers will have been putting the kettle on before Victoria by the time the voiceover touting the Xtra Factor said “we exclusively reveal four wildcards”, there will presumably be some surprise next week at the sudden reapparance of Yes Lad, Saara Aalto, Honey G, Samantha Lavery and – especially – Ryan Lawrie.
What’s been going on with the latter is a particular puzzle. On Xtra we learned that he’d been boybanded after his bootcamp rejection. Was this, perhaps, an initial producer Plan A which didn’t work out for some reason? Or did Ryan’s romantic entanglement with Emily lead producers to think there might be a storyline there worth running with? By the time 6CC came around, they sent the boyband on stage with Ryan’s clothing making him stand out and the judges singling him out for praise, which suggests they had in mind at that stage to wildcard him back in as a soloist.
Going into judges’ houses, Matt Terry remains the Betfair favourite, followed by Emily, 5am, The Brooks and Gifty. The next two in the market are Caitlyn and James – also the only two acts among those not rumoured to make the lives whom some punters are still willing to back at under-three figure prices. Do those punters know something we don’t? Time will tell. As ever, do keep the conversation going below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor