All credit to producers. In the past, Hallowe’en shows have made their targets hilariously clear – from Belle Amie’s coffins to Jack Walton’s vampire. This time, we felt treatment was much more nuanced. VTs and comments were largely positive for all, and – this being Hallowe’en – staging clues were less obvious. We’ll need to rewatch this one tomorrow.
Our quick reaction, though, is simply that producers are presumably comfortable with whatever vote they’ll get with relatively even-handed treatment. After the show, the three market leaders in the elimination betting – the three bottom-three survivors so far, 4 of Diamonds, Ryan Lawrie and Saara Aalto – remain the same, though in a slightly different order.
The biggest market mover was Gifty, who was under the Strictly bus. This suggests to us that she didn’t poll brilliantly last week and producers aren’t interested in expending too much effort keeping her clear of the bottom three – the big question being whether this is with the intention of a save-and-bounce, or they’ve given up on her altogether.
Her VT featured a friend visit, but a suggestion from Simon that she needs to be reminded to look like she’s having fun. Comments featured plenty of praise, but also Louis and Simon bickering over the song, which Louis and Sharon pointed out was not well known. Despite the elements of production, we found the overall effect a bit underwhelming.
Staging-wise, she had a spider on her cheek – something we’ve previously suggested could be the most off-putting Hallowe’en prop – and the doors could be seen as an “exit” subliminal, but there was gold tickertape at the end. The hair was a halfway house between the crop of weeks 1 and 2 and the long wig of week 3. Take from all that what you will.
Second up, memoryholing Gifty and catching viewers turning over from Strictly, it was another very solid week for hot favourite Matt, with a sex-symbol VT, a strong vocal performance and superlatives galore in the comments. It’s probably best not to think too much about the zombie nurses on zimmer frames. The Matt steamtrain shows no signs at all of slowing.
While Matt’s market position hardened further after his performance, 5 After Midnight have drifted right out. It’s interesting to wonder whether their VT will have made more of Middle England go “aaah” at Kieran embracing his impending fatherhood and showing off the 12-week scan, or “oh!” at the revelation that he carelessly got his girlfriend up the duff.
In our previous Hallowe’en staging article we’d speculated that being portrayed as undead may be especially unhelpful, and here we actually saw the boys dying – the opening vignette showed them clinking glasses and falling down dead, poisoned, while the TV set stage backdrop turned into a graveyard. But this is Hallowe’en, and it’s easier than usual to overanalyse these things.
What doesn’t need any overanalysis is that the vocals were even ropier than usual, though the judges didn’t acknowledge this – Simon saying “every great group needs personality and this is what you showed tonight… it worked… a million times better than last week”, and Louis claiming it was “one of the best things I’ve ever seen on X Factor, visually and vocally… and you must make the final”.
For as long as Honey G continues to be the show’s main media attention getter, emphasised in the VT with her radio interview, producers will be doing their utmost to keep her around. By teasing us with shots of Honey waking up and donning her sunglasses and hat before looking at camera, the VT also played into the “is she real?” vibe which the general public still seem to be heatedly debating (somewhat bafflingly. Isn’t she clearly a recruitment consultant called Anna who enjoys having an alter ego, like Sacha Baron Cohen and Ali G? Where’s the mystery, or the problem?)
Producers had gone to the trouble of getting ITV to create a “breaking news” segment about UFO landings to go from the VT into her song, and she started from outside the studio and walked in. The kitchen sink had been thrown at the production, and comments again prepared the ground for a save if necessary, with Louis saying everyone wants to know about her, Simon saying it was “the biggest turnaround I’ve seen of any artist. You started off everyone hating you, including me. This was like being at the Honey G concert… I’m beginning to get you now.”
Sharon said “you make people happy, you make people smile”, and said people would want her in the final. Dermot referenced her hard work. Producers will be hopeful that they’ve done enough to keep her in the top six of the vote.
Ryan had been reported in the tabloids in midweek as believing there was a “conspiracy” to get him off the show – interestingly, as it suggests an increasing comfort level with public discussion of producers’ machinations. Unsurprisingly, after that, they went for plausible deniability this week with Ryan – a nice enough VT and some positives in the comments (Louis: “rock star”; Sharon: “personality”; Simon: “vocals were a bit dodgy, but a thousand times better than last week”).
However, his vocals were left exposed, and there were staging red flags even for Hallowe’en – a lighthouse spotlight searching anywhere but where Ryan was standing recalled something similar for Chris Maloney in 2012. They’d removed his trademark curls again. Nicole was allowed to stand up for him this week, but there was no real motivation to vote – indeed, Dermot suggested that he must be happy now.
Sam had the sweetest family homecoming VT of the night, surprising her mum in Tesco and having her dad emotionally tell her “good lass” at the kitchen table. She went to see Newcastle United win 6-0 in the midweek cup match, which could be a double-edged sword for the regional vote. Coxhoe, where she’s from, is closer to the Stadium of Light than St James’ Park. How many votes will Sam be getting from Sunderland tonight?
Vocally it seemed off again to us, and again there was no hint of the judges acknowledging that, with Louis calling it “great”, Sharon referring to her “rock voice”, and Nicole calling it her “favourite performance” of Sam’s and a “masterpiece”. It was left to her own mentor, Simon, to suggest that it wasn’t that, saying that “if anyone’s thinking it wasn’t good enough, it’s my fault”, promising to do better and saying he thinks she will “survive”.
Staging and styling wise, Sam had a spider’s web in her hair, the stage was very empty, and she seemed to be depicted as drowned on the big screen.
Saara got the Andrea Faustini Memorial “Funny Foreigner Has Never Heard Of Hallowe’en” VT, reminding us that she ain’t from round here but also sending “end-of-journey” signals about her now feeling accepted. Again we loved Saara’s performance – the show hasn’t had many acts who can perform and sing as well as the Finnish Kitty.
Comments were kind, Louis saying “I did not want that to end… You’re a world-class performer”, and Simon saying “you’ve become someone we look forward to seeing”. Just how much that’s the case may be put to the test if Saara finds herself in need of another singoff save. On Xtra Factor, it was mentioned that Sharon is planning to fly to Finland with her this week, which is a VT we’d enjoy seeing and may be an incentive for the show to keep her around.
4 of Diamonds got another pleasant, family-focused VT, going for a lastminute.com spa day with their mums. And comments, yet again, were positive – Nicole called them “classy”, Sharon said they’d “progressed”, Simon claimed “we’re seeing you for the first time as who you are… It felt real to me for the very first time”.
But the staging was arguably the biggest red (or should that be flourescent vomit-green) flag of the night – not only the spider on the mic stand, but the sustained fire, which looked from certain camera angles like they were four witches being burned at the stake as they repeated “give up the ghost”. Relative newbies to Sofabet may not be aware that fire is generally seen in these parts as the most vote-demotivating possible staging. We’ll find out on Sunday if it retains that reputation.
Closing the show was Emily, and plenty of effort had gone into her staging. It, and the vocal, worked for us – the judges agreed, Simon calling it “magnificent” and “career-defining”, as did Betfair, with Emily backed down to below 5.0 and emerging as the clear second-favourite after 5AM’s drift.
Dermot mentioned the words “bottom three”, which suggests the lifeline vote remains. Is the market right that you can perm three from four of 4oD, Saara, Ryan and Gifty? Do producers remain sufficiently invested in Gifty? Does Coatbridge remain sufficiently invested in Ryan? Will one of the other five drop into the danger zone? For us, it’s one to sleep on. As ever, do let us know your continuing thoughts below.