An eventful night began even before the show, with the news just beforehand that Brooks Way had been suspended from this week pending an ITV investigation. We were told the boys would not perform on the first live show but an elimination would take place as usual.
Being suspicious-minded as we are, we wondered before the show if this might have been part of some cunning plan involving an announcement of an Amelia Lily-esque reinstatement of a judges’ houses reject – but the fact that we still had half an hour of the show to go with just two acts left, and Dermot then spent several minutes valiantly filling on the subject of the X Factor theme jukebox, strongly suggests that it was, in fact, not conspiracy but cockup.
Quite how this plays out is anyone’s guess. But if whatever the Brooks have done turns out to be unforgiveable, we’ll need some other act to be parachuted in, or a non-elimination week, or else we’ll end up with a two-act final for the first time since Leona and Ray Quinn.
Before the insta-take on tonight’s show from the Sofabet sofa, in case you missed it, take note of the new twist for Sunday’s show – there will now be a bottom three, with a four-minute app flash vote to decide who escapes the singoff. At first blush, this would perhaps appear to be helpful for divisive acts and those with strong regional votes, although – again – time will tell how it plays out.
5am gave us an upbeat opening with ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ after an upbeat VT. Although the staging was arguably a bit Miss Dynamix-y, at least they had their name in big letters on the wall, fireworks in the backdrop and the outfits weren’t colour vomit.
They appeared to benefit from some audio assistance, and got a three-judge standing ovation and some serious positivity from the judges – Simon saying “this sounded like a record”, and Louis saying “we’re going to go all the way to the final”. This was a promising enough opening for the alpha group.
The same couldn’t be said for Sam Lavery, whose treatment made her look very much like the gamma girl. Simon ended her VT by planting the thought that Sam needed to “connect with the audience at home, pull something out that even I’m not expecting”. That was a high bar, and Sam didn’t meet it – the staging was funereal, the vocals alternated between mumbly and shouty.
Amid all the “17? 17. 17!” references from the judges, Louis reminded us she’s a wildcard, and Simon said she’d been shouty, as he’d talked to her about in auditions, but then unconvincingly claimed it was brilliant anyway. Silent assassin Dermot then picked up on Louis’s cue, saying “as a wildcard you’ve got a little bit more to prove”.
Next up was Zaara from Norway – sorry, Saara from Finland. Or somewhere, you know, “abroad” – as Brexit Sharon put it when Dermot asked her after the performance. In her VT, Saara played the role of kooky foreigner to a T. The staging was more Maleficent than Frozen, though – where was the snow? That, and the slowed-down arrangement, seemed to us like it would work against any connection to the young audience who will be most familiar with the song.
A two-judge ovation, Nicole’s high praise and Simon’s “incredible” and “amazing” were at least positives for Saara, who continues to strike us as having potential should producers choose to run with it – something they currently still seem disappointingly disinclined to do.
Emily made a guest appearance in Ryan’s VT, and there were reminders aplenty of his Scottish roots. You could see the staging as nice and simple, or as making Ryan look rather lonely amid the empty seats. Ryan wasn’t quite ‘Perfect’ in his vocals, appearing to flub in the second verse.
The comments brought more reminders of Scottishness. Louis claimed we were looking at a pop star, but Simon said the performance was “slightly theatrical” – although this allowed Nicole to fight back on his behalf. Ryan’s treatment struck us overall as neither great nor terrible.
Gifty, on the other hand, was all positivity. Her VT showcased her journey from a rather dingy-looking London high-rise, with an explanatory mention that she’d moved from Ghana aged ten after her mum died, to wearing fur and appearing in glamour shoots – the message being that she’s being transformed into a star. Her staging was current and high-concept, with a routine that put her front and centre, supported by backing dancers in fencing instructor masks.
A four-judge ovation led into Louis wheeling out “own the stage”, and Nicole saying she’s a “beautiful flower” and calling for her to “blossom”, setting up a journey. It all felt very promisingly Fleuresque – the choice of performing an unreleased song included. Gifty was suitably humble in the post-performance interview, and this felt like the show giving her every chance to fly.
It didn’t look great for Relley when her housekeeping VT associated her with the visual imagery of cleaning toilets, but it was largely good news from there on for the act who’d had the least pre-lives exposure. A good soing choice, well styled, and very positive gold staging – complete with gold tickertape – certainly didn’t feel like a kill attempt.
All four judges stood, and both Louis and Sharon explicitly called for the regional vote from Birmingham – something you could read either way (will Birmingham votes be outweighed by others not voting because they trust Brummies will?). Nicole referred to “heart, voice, soul, spirit” and Simon said “tonight I know who you are” and “you’re someone people will root for”. But how does early support counter lack of pre-lives exposure? That’s the question.
It won’t have helped Relley to be memoryholed by favourite Matt, whose VT had him setting the record straight on his love life, claiming to be single. You could query his song choice in the context of the show – it was one of the two that got Lauren Murray in the singoff from week 8 last year, and the “out with the boys” gender-lyrics switchup felt clunky – and also the staging, which felt rather cold to us, although Nicole’s comments clarified that it was intended to represent a laser.
Only Nicole stood, though Louis called it the “performance of the night”, Sharon referred to an “extraordinary” vocal range, and Simon said he had blown hot and cold on Matt but now liked him again and the song would get him “a lot of chicks”. Matt is good-looking and has a good enough voice, and is certainly a very worthy favourite – but we still were left with the vague feeling that producers could have done a bit more to help him get off to a really strong start.
Freddy’s VT portrayed him as a bit of a mummy’s boy, being nagged about remembering to take his fish oil tablets and worrying about a late song choice change. He had nice enough staging and lighting for the piano section, but the lighting changed to red and black as he unwisely left the piano to “whoa-ooaoa” his way through the final part of the song.
Simon pointed out that it didn’t work, leading to a contrived argument with Nicole. How much sympathy that won Freddy may determine whether he escapes the danger zone.
Bratavio’s VT was doing a decent enough job of trying to make them look likeable, until Simon promised it would be “awful” – and it unashamedly was. There were colour vomit outfits and staging, with African motifs everywhere – something that recalled Blonde Electra from two years ago – and there was no covering up the dodgy vocals.
Simon justly called it a “horror show”. Sharon possibly laid the groundwork for a save by calling them “brave” and “creative” and saying “I like you”, although whether the duo manage to get off the bottom of the vote seems open to serious doubt.
Emily’s first performance was also something of a horror show for those, including ourselves, who were thinking of her as a potential winner pre-lives. The VT opened promisingly enough, with a depiction of Emily leaving home in Scotland to become a star in London, but vocal coach Annabel’s admonition that she hadn’t been practising was a surprisingly unpromising sign, and the last-minute song change seemed unhelpful – indeed, it seemed positively anti-Emily, from all we’ve seen of her schtick so far.
The staging was also offputting, with Emily stuck in a cage throughout and with backdrops of puffs of smoke. The judges at least seemed to do their best to be supportive and understanding, which perhaps suggests this was an unfortunate misfire rather than a deliberate shot – Louis wheeled out “recording voice”, Nicole pointed out it was the wrong song and key, and Simon seemed apologetic.
The pimp slot for Honey G left no doubt that producers are really, really trying to make her happen. It certainly struck us as more fun than Bratavio’s performance, and it will be interesting to see how strongly voters respond. Simon said: “I don’t know what just happened, but here’s the weird thing – I loved it”.
At the end of the evening, Matt and Gifty are the movers in the outright market, with 5am, Emily and especially Samantha on the drift. Bratavio have hardened as elimination favourites, with Freddy rivalling Relley for second-favourite spot. Ryan, Saara and Samantha have also seen some backing. Producers will surely be tempted to try to engineer a controversial deadlock if Bratavio are above a fodder act in the public vote, but whether they would have the chutzpah for a 3:1 save seems questionable. With the change in the singoff procedure, waiting for Sunday’s show seems sensible.
What did you reckon? Do let us know below.