Matt Terry and 5 After Midnight were the big winners from the second live show – it’s 16.0 bar two on Betfair at the time of writing, and producers’ intentions to have both in the final seem clear enough. Who they’re thinking of as the likely third finalist is a more intriguing question.
Of more immediate concern, to our eyes there weren’t any all-out hatchet jobs – you didn’t have to look too hard to find some degree of positivity in everyone’s treatment. But three of the eleven acts are going to be standing next to Dermot looking crestfallen on Sunday evening.
Freddy Parker is a shade of odds-on for next elimination and justifiably so. He was sent out first, one of only two acts to perform in the Strictly overlap, and didn’t get as much positivity as most.
The VT was nice enough, if bland and reinforcing the mummy’s boy meme. And there was lots of gold in the staging, with Freddy front and centre. But only Nicole applauded at the end, and Louis probably vocalised the thoughts of many viewers by saying the song was too big for him – a criticism which Sharon backhandedly reinforced by ludicrously claiming it was “too little”. An article of faith on this site is believing praise perceived as detached from reality doesn’t motivate viewers to vote.
Simon called it “a little bit erratic” but still “a million times better than last week”, reminding us how bad he was then. He also said being in the bottom three had been good for Freddy. An invitation to viewers to let him experience it again?
Sofabet commenters were very down on Emily’s treatment, but we saw it as something of a rehabilitation after last week’s horror show. The VT started by making excuses for that performance, then we saw Emily going shopping with Gifty – are we to get the Fleur tactic of Gifty turning up in other people’s VTs? It ended with Emily saying she hoped everyone would “love it”, a positive frame to go into the song.
We thought the staging was classy – a single spotlight on Emily stood in an octagon, with darkness all around. And while there was no standing ovation, Simon at least persisted with applauding while Louis attempted to give feedback, riling up the crowd again. If we had one criticism, it was the funereal arrangement of the song.
There were at least two mentions from Simon – one in VT, and again in comments – of Emily not having a big voice, but we didn’t take this as too much of a negative as it was immediately coupled with pointing out all the other things we should enjoy in Emily’s voice. The VT showed her referring to “Emilyisms” while Sharon said she “Emilied” the song. There’s an element of brand-building going on there.
Of course, having been on Emily pre-lives, confirmation bias could be making us look for the positives here. But while it was not encouraging to see Emily come on in the Strictly zone, the rest of her treatment felt quite positive overall.
Not as much as Matt’s, of course. His VT featured a visit from his nan, who lives in Spain, as Matt did for eight years until his family apparently “gave it all up” so he could pursue his singing dream in England. Why it isn’t possible to sing in Spain was never explained.
Matt’s staging was exemplary, a backdrop featuring a gold disc with his name on it, and he made good use of his falsetto. Sharon and Nicole set out to establish Matt as a sex symbol, Nicole showing some leg and Sharon requesting a reprise of his opening over-the-shoulder look.
Simon dialled down the praise, saying the vocal wasn’t as good as last week and that he has “the chance to turn into someone really good”, implying he’s not there yet – but that just sets up the journey. This was a very promising week for Matt backers.
It didn’t start too promisingly for Relley as Sharon introduced her as Saara, but she got another nice VT with an introduction to her dad Eddie C, also a singer – like Che Senior last year – and shoutouts to the Birmingham regional vote.
She had a choir and simple, effective staging – although the distractions to her image in the backdrop raised an eyebrow and will merit a second watch – and sang it well. Comments were positive, Simon saying it was “devastatingly good” and again drawing a contrast between live-shows Relley and unsighted-in-auditions Relley, calling her a “different person”. How long-term the plans are for Relley remain open to question, but it didn’t seem like she was in the crosshairs tonight.
Sam Lavery got a regional vote shoutout, too, with Dermot pointing out she’s from Durham, and meeting James Arthur, who claimed the north-east is behind her. The staging was simple and intimate – although possibly a little cold, the wavy blue-black recalling a nighttime sea, until it changed to show the silhouettes of musicians towering over her, which is a subliminal you could question.
Vocally she was doing better than last week with the help of some reverb until she went for the high note and went yelpy again – possibly Sam doesn’t have the greatest of range, although both Sharon and Simon chose to praise her for having a “rock voice”, and Nicole called her a “warrior princess”. As with Emily, we felt that Sam backers could find plenty of positivity if they looked for it.
5 After Midnight got a textbook boyband VT, emphasising laughter and bonding, with childhood photos bringing out their individuality and a nod to their work ethic. Their staging was colourful and fun.
The four-judge standing ovation left no doubt about how we were supposed to react, and the reaction in the studio sounded huge. Simon congratulated Louis on the great job he was doing with them, and said they have everything. We’re still not completely convinced they have the vocal chops to go all the way, but this was a great night for them.
Less so for Ryan. Once again, we had Emily starring in his VT while he was absent from hers, and we were amused to hear how many times Coatbridge (population 41,000) was mentioned in his VT – Emily, by contrast, had been described as being from “Scotland” and “Glasgow”. After seeing many other families visiting rehearsals, Ryan chatting to his family on the tablet felt like it invited less of a connection. “I just hope I can do the song justice” was the final line of his VT, planting the thought that he might not.
You could take some comfort from his staging – the name up on backdrop and movement with backing dancers – and he seemed to get some vocal assistance, but it felt significant to us that they’d shorn him of his trademark curls. He looked barely recognisable without them. How well Ryan fares in the vote may depend on whether Simon’s criticism (“this didn’t work…. It was mechanical… It didn’t feel real…”) strikes viewers as justified or motivates sympathy. Oh, and whether Coatbridge come out in force.
Once again the show did their very best for Honey G, with a VT introducing us to Mummy G – we loved the photo of Anna as a kid in her gansta gear, with a backdrop of a leafy suburban street. She got a segment to herself, there was gold tickertape and a four-judge standing ovation, and the judges motivated as much noise from the crowd as they could.
Honey rapped at the start that she was going “all the way to the final”, where Snoop Dogg has already offered to duet – we presume the show would love that, but there’s a long way to go. Will there be a drop-off in how well this pimping works, given it was basically the same thing for the second week in a row? Having enjoyed last week, it felt to us like this week fell a bit flat in comparison.
Gifty’s VT had her meeting Fifth Harmony, whose song she’d performed last week, and bonding with Simon. She also had her name up in big letters, colourful staging with pink balloons, and nice choreo with backing dancers. It was a fun performance, which Simon pointed out. He called her a “happiness balloon”, after Louis had said she was like an “established recording artist”.
Simon also explicitly pleaded for votes. It remains possible that Gifty might not have done too well last week – Dermot pointing out her smile added to the sense that they feared she’d come across as too fierce in the first performance.
Saara’s family had made the trip over from Norway to see her, reassuring her that “the whole of Finland is behind you” in a Faustini-esque VT that further emphasised her foreign-ness, as she went on on a trip around London with her sister, courtesy of lastminute.com, and waving union flags.
We thought her performance was great – amazing vocals and good interaction with her backing singers in what was a big production, and a winning combination of showmanship and kookiness that reminded us of Kitty Brucknell. Louis called her “cold” and said people hadn’t taken to her, and there followed a distracting conversation about bananas. Saara remains second-favourite for elimination; how many people will have felt motivated to warm her up by throwing her a vote?
The much-anticipated return of 4 of Diamonds started promisingly with the four girls introduced individually in their VT, but the staging was uninspired – the backdrop looked more like a Renault logo than a diamond – and the performance was rather static and dull.
Judge reaction was less than enthusiastic, with Nicole praising them as “my favourite girl group” (so, a good job Louis didn’t bring back Skarl3t) and Simon pointing out how much Louis hates girlbands. It was a pimp slot, and it’s early days for the returnees, but this was an overall treatment that suggested they have plenty of ground to make up on the alphas in their category.
Freddy is the act we’d be most confident of seeing in the bottom three, when the question will be whether the app vote will save him again. How did you read it? Do let us know below.