Ryan Lawrie’s VT this week sent us down memory lane to one of our favourite ever things we’ve seen on this show, Craig Colton’s Incredible Shrinking Hometown. If you weren’t with Sofabet in 2011, start by watching Craig’s week 4 VT, when he was still in favour with producers. Note the establishing shot of the iconic Mersey riverbank, and the “we all support him in Liverpool”, “come on Craig, do it for Liverpool!” vox pops.
Now here’s Craig’s week 7 VT, when producers want him out. After some hints that we should now consider his X Factor journey completed, producers show him returning home… not to Liverpool (population: 465,000), but to Kirkby (population: 40,000). We especially enjoyed the shot of poor old Craig waiting alone at a deserted bus stop.
This week, Simon introduced Emily with “she’s from Scotland” (population: 5.3 million). In her VT, Emily informed us that she’s from Glasgow (population: 600,000). Ryan, in his VT, said “the support from my hometown is absolutely crazy” – but where is that hometown, pray? Here’s his mum to enlighten us, standing in front of a couple of “Vote Ryan” posters on the glass doors to an empty room: “All of Coatbridge is behind you, 100%…”. (Population: 41,000. Hey, more than Kirkby).
The extent to which a regional vote helps an act is a perennial talking point on Sofabet. Historically, both Merseyside and Scotland are areas from which X Factor acts seem to have outperformed, presumably due to the regional identity being cohesive over a relatively broad area – that’s why we assume it’s a deliberate tactic either to emphasise or obscure an act’s connections to these regions.
When it comes to other parts of the country, it’s a cultural guessing game. For example, James Arthur told Sam Lavery the “north east” is behind her; Dermot, before the ad break, more specifically mentioned “Durham”. Sam’s County Durham pit village is about equidistant between the region’s main population centres of Teesside and Tyneside – is it close enough to either to motivate votes? We can only guess, but producers’ knowledge of regional voting strength should have become more sophisticated with app votes, which presumably come geo-tagged.
Anyway, back to Ryan’s VT, and it got worse. We had a message from two music teachers at Coatbridge High, one of whom was particularly young and good-looking. Matt, watching over Ryan’s shoulder, observed “no wonder you were a top student at music”, prompting an embarrassed laugh from Ryan.
We’d love to know if producers fed Matt that line. (What was Matt even doing there, anyway?) It had the effect of making Ryan look somewhat sleazy, just after we’d been reminded of his relationship with Emily.
Finally we got Ryan’s gran, with the succinct: “We’re so proud of you back here in Coatbridge. Bye.”
It was more subtle than sending Craig home to a deserted bus stop, but it was cruelly effective nonetheless. Had producers suggested to Ryan’s family to make sure they mentioned how proud Coatbridge was of him? Who knows. They certainly made good use of it.
Last week we noted that The Sun had reported on Ryan and Emily supposedly being too busy getting jiggy to focus on the work. It was Ryan who got the talking-to about this in his VT, looking somewhat abashed as he told Nicole “working is the only thing I’m interested in”. Nicole replied she’d “whip him into shape” if that wasn’t the case.
Something we always listen out for is the very last line of a VT, which can frame the audience’s expectations of the song to come. In this case Ryan’s words planted some doubts about whether he’d be able to carry it off: “the song that I have is one of the biggest Motown songs around, I just hope I can do it some justice”.
Then came the hairdo, with Ryan’s familiar forelocks slicked back. We’ve observed before that when an act’s styling takes away their most memorable visual motif, it can be a bad sign for them – a notable example being parting Abi Alton from her trademark glasses in the week she was killed off.
We can’t help feeling bad for Ryan, whose post-show tweet on Saturday was interestingly phrased: “You know what guys, I tried my best with the situation. You all know how these things work.” Indeed we do, Ryan, indeed we do.
5 After Midnight have a moment
Woofie: The producers have invested a lot into 5am. I couldn’t believe that was a week two performance. Vocals could be an issue but everything else was spot on.”
Occasionally we doff our cap to producers for a well-executed kill or pimping. They did a stellar job boosting 5 After Midnight this week, on the back of a first performance undercut by less than perfect vocals. It’s one for the X Factor textbooks, so let’s go through how.
The VT started with Jordan’s Mum showing her pride whilst her son celebrated his 21st birthday. We then got childhood pics from the family album for each of them, as the boys explained their determination and dreams. Previewing their second week performance, Brian Friedman primed us about how much was in their routine. Simon Cowell watched rehearsals, and Louis claimed he “feels threatened”, before ending the VT with the line: “It’s going to be an X Factor moment we’re all going to remember.” Hold that thought, viewers!
The boys started on their plinths, which we knew they were going to come off. What was striking was the colourful, modern take on retro styling in the moving striped backdrop, with their stylised images dancing around. Strongest singer Kieran got the vocals off to a confident start, and they were joined by four unobtrusive dancing girls in a big but focused production.
Sensibly, the boys had a dance break in between the mashup of two numbers (their vocals had suffered most in week 1 when coming down the stairs, and trying to do other things whilst singing). The second song, ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’ is one of the nation’s favourite Motown songs.
The performance was followed by a four-judge standing ovation, a huge audience reaction, comments like “sensational” by Sharon, and “this is your career” by Nicole. Just as Simon felt threatened by their talent in rehearsals, Scherzinger was “scared of you guys”, a compliment also given to Matt Terry on Saturday.
As needs to be rammed home with groups, Nicole also said “you guys are great together and individually” (something that their similar but different-enough black, red and white styling reinforced). Simon added to the alpha group buzzword bingo by calling them “such nice people”, whilst Louis namechecked them individually, as he had done when introducing them.
We had expected nothing but positivity for them and Matt, both having been namechecked as finalists in week 1. This production helped cement that status for 5am, although Matt looks like a runaway train at this stage unless producers decide to change things up.
I say “Honey”, you say “again?”
360: “A step down for Honey G. This week will be about pushing as many as possible under her.”
In a midweek comment last week, Brian Friedman suggested the public may start to tire of the “I say Honey, you say G” catchphrase if they heard it too often. And yet North Weezy’s finest did just that again, in a second routine that felt like a less joyous copy of the first.
We smiled all the way through that first week performance; this one fell slightly flat by comparison. Nonetheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that Reggie n Bollie had certain weeks of huge productions punctuated by slightly less successful ones that included mixed judges comments, perhaps as a way of ensuring their vote never got out of hand.
The show is clearly out to continue promoting the act, for example with its attempt at Mummy G memes. It also seems to be enjoying the headlines surrounding the question of cultural appropriation. So where can they go from here with “something of a phenomenon” Honey G?
Artist-wise there’s plenty more out there, having covered Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. in the first two weeks. The forthcoming diva theme gives her a chance to return to her audition roots, when she showed her respect for Missy Elliot. Performance-wise they can definitely ramp things up again.
We had wondered before the live shows whether producers would feel the need to blow her cover to tell us about the real Anna Georgette Guilford. But on second thoughts, that just defeats the whole idea. We’re amazed at how many people seem to be taking her for what it is, and asking if she’s real. There’s no point pulling the rug away in the circumstances.
Which probably means more pictures of pets dressed as Honey G, and no doubt more brainstorming sessions among the production team on how to represent their most talked about asset.
Fudd: “If we’re saying that Simon commenting on Freddy’s performance last week is a reminder of how bad he was he did exactly the same thing to Emily”
We seem to be in a small minority who felt Emily’s treatment was broadly positive this week, after the red flags in week 1. Let’s take Fudd’s comment, above, as one example of how we are more sanguine than most. It’s worth studying in full what Simon said to Freddy, as hindsight confirms that Freddy was the target this week so it was likely to have been carefully calibrated.
“You know, I think that’s one of my favourite songs in the world.”
Simon is picking up on Louis saying the song was too big for Freddy, and Sharon disagreeing. This observation is significant because of what Simon doesn’t go on to add: “and I loved your version of it, Freddy.” Instead he continues:
“It was a little bit erratic, it started well, fell off in the middle, then you picked it up at the end. But, compared to last week, this was a million times better.”
Translation: it was a bit shit, but we know you can be a million times shitter.
“You haven’t come back moaning or complaining. I think in a weird way being in the bottom three was good for you, as it showed you’ve got determination. So congratulations.”
On the face of it, this is a nice thing to say to Freddy – but it also gives his fans no motivation whatsoever to vote to keep him out of the bottom three this week. He was fine with it, and it was good for him – and “congratulations” implies that his determination has had its reward already. This was really a Cowellian masterclass in subtle vote-dampening manipulation.
Now here’s what he said to Emily:
“I think that you’ve demonstrated tonight exactly who we wanted you to be as an artist. You don’t have to push those big notes like the other singers, you’ve got a different kind of voice. It was beautiful, it was subtle, it was delicate, it was unique. This was so much better than last week, it’s going from karaoke to originality. Congratulations”.
It’s similar in referencing a poor week 1 and ending with congratulations, but the tone was very different – he’s giving her forgiveness and redemption, offering seven positive epithets (artist, different, beautiful, subtle, delicate, unique, original) and reminding viewers of what they liked about her before that first live show aberration.
The pecking order in the girls category still looks remarkably fluid, as the odds indicate – Emily, Gifty and Sam are all around 12/1 to 16/1. We thought all were treated positively enough this week – but now they have two weeks of voting results to study, producers may soon decide which to push and which to jettison.
As ever, do let us know your continuing thoughts below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor