DannyCraig: “This show is about Matt & Emily this year”. James Martin: “definitely a full-on pimping”.
On a Friday, when the song choices are released, the Sofabet comments section becomes a hive of enjoyable speculation about whether each act’s choice portends helpful or harmful intent. Last Saturday was a reminder of how fraught with peril that exercise can be.
Last time ‘Creep’ was used on the show, it was for a textbook kill: Wagner in 2010. Remind yourself of the performance, and read the step-by-step breakdown we did at the time. There was no subtlety, no subtext. “I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here.” Got that, viewers?
It couldn’t have been more different for Emily.
Let’s start with the VT, which followed a beautifully judged VT in week 3 that had her and Ryan discuss their relationship, and how Ryan had been asking her out for several years before she finally said yes. What that told us about Emily: NOT A FLOOZY. This week’s VT efficiently filled in several more character details about someone who has consistently come across as adorably girl-next-door.
We revisited Emily’s Dad innocently telling Dermot the previous week, when interviewed in the audience during the show, that she hadn’t phoned home all week, and we saw Emily’s embarrassment about this as she Skyped her parents, brothers and dogs. What we learned: DUTIFUL DAUGHTER, after all. Oh, and LOVES DOGS.
Then her dad told us: “I remember when Emily first went into a school competition. That’s when I found out she could sing.” What we learned: NOT A STAGE-SCHOOL BRAT WITH PUSHY PARENTS.
Dad continues: “Emily has dedicated her whole life to music… Emily certainly did miss out on socialising with her friends, she’d have a party on a Saturday night she couldn’t go to because she had a gig.” What we learned: WORK ETHIC.
Emily then assures us that while “I do work so hard, I also let my hair down”. Cue a montage of Hallowe’en pranks. What we learned: NORMAL, FUN-LOVING GIRL. From start to finish, the VT was perfectly conceived and executed.
It ended by preparing us for something unusual, with Emily saying her parents would be shocked.
We saw a silent movie, depicting Emily as a doll being sadly left on the shelf as other dolls found homes. Then: “110 years later”, fade to black, a longish pause, and a single spotlight. This was staggeringly good stagecraft from Brian Friedman: it was already inducing goosebumps, before Emily had opened her mouth. When she did, the helpful reverb effect on the mic was immediately apparent.
Friedman’s genius continued. Emily – made up as a Victorian doll might now look, her cheeks cracked – was sat next to an old packing crate; that her musicians barely moved a muscle added to the sense of time having forgotten her – as did the film reel recurring in the backdrop, which suggested decades of lonely abandonment as she plaintively sang “I wish I was special”; and we were back to the silent movie, with “FIN” at the end. So much thought had gone into it – Emily later said, on Xtra, that they’d experimented with her getting up and moving, but realised it worked better with her remaining seated throughout.
As with Wagner, the comments picked up on the lyrics, but with the opposite intent: “That was so special, and you are special”, Louis said. Simon made a point of crediting Emily with creative input (we’d also seen Brian Friedman, in cutaway, responding to Sharon’s praise by pointing to Emily to share it with her), and bestowed high praise even for someone with his penchant for hyperbole: “This is one of those performances, genuinely, I see very rarely and I’m going to remember. And I think this is going to define your career tonight, Emily. This was magnificent.”
On the back of this, Emily came down to clear second favourite – currently 7/2, after Matt at 8/11, and it’s 10/1 bar the two. Of course, one week of bigging-up guarantees nothing on this show – compare and contrast 5 After Midnight’s week 2 with week 3. But it seems to us that it would make sense for the show to continue to help Emily, if only because it would be good for ratings if Matt goes into the final with a credible-seeming rival, and Emily seems like the most logical candidate.
Dean: “with the age old theories in mind we really should have seen Gifty leaving… She was announced last to be saved last week. She was given a song not many had heard of. She was on first in the Strictly death slot. All her staging had subliminal messages of ‘exit’”; Edie: “after her performance I was utterly convinced that she would be in at least the b3 (and also that producers/cowell were happy for her to be there), but also convinced that if she was there with any of the usual suspects (Ryan, Saara, 4oD) she would be safe this week… an important reminder of how producer favour can shift on a dime”.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s a rare week where we at Sofabet kick ourselves for not going deeper down the rabbit hole, but on our Sunday rewatch we’d discounted all those subliminals in Gifty’s staging as merely insignificant Hallowe’en fun.
She came out of a door marked “Room 101” (“You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”) She was carrying a suitcase. There were loads of other doors on stage, all marked “13”. And somehow we were still surprised when she left!
In our defence, the staging subliminals for 4 of Diamonds were even worse. Long-time readers will know that there’s a strong historical correlation between fire on stage and trouble in the vote. Correlation ≠ causation, but a causal link seems plausible to us – the subliminal message of fire is “danger, stay away, don’t touch”. And boy, did they go to town on the fire. It was like 4 of Diamonds had been been found guilty of witchcraft in mediaeval Europe.
So why was Gifty sent packing? A few theories have been floated in the comments. It could well be that behind-the-scenes personal unpopularity had something to do with it – it had earlier been rumoured that Gifty thought she was God’s gift, and the less-than-magnanimous way in which she reacted to her departure perhaps lends credence to that.
So does the lack of a Lord Sugar-esque “with regret” as the judges sent her packing – unusually, neither of the neutral judges, Sharon or Nicole, bothered to give any explanation whatsoever. Cowell initially firmly saying “Gifty” in response to Dermot’s “who are you sending home?” was either calculated or Freudian. He later attempted to console Gifty with that glibbest of breakup excuses, “it’s not you, it’s me”.
Unlike many acts on this show, Gifty can’t say she wasn’t given every opportunity: producers could hardly have been more helpful in weeks 1 through 3. We believe there have been cases where producers have acquiesced in a singoff appearance for an act they wanted to launch commercially, hoping to generate a storyline that would reboot viewers’ interest for a week or two – Cher Lloyd in week 7 of 2010 being, to our eyes, the clearest example. But perhaps they’d concluded Gifty was irredeemably unpopular in the vote.
Some have suggested Gifty’s exit was punishment for unleashing the f-bomb on the week 3 results show. Maybe, though we doubt producers will have been that fussed about it – it was, after all, said in support of another act (“I f***in’ told you” to Sam, after she was called safe – presumably Gifty had previously been reassuring her backstage), and it got the show a few tabloid column inches. All publicity is good publicity.
There are other plausible reasons. Perhaps they anticipate the possibility of Honey G needing a save at some point, and didn’t want to risk the awkward optics of having to do that against a black girl? Perhaps they enjoyed the media attention they got from ludicrously claiming the jukebox randomly landed on “Fright Night”, and wanted to keep the story going by saving a girlband just before it landed on “girlband vs boyband”? (Though this strikes us as really pushing the “all publicity is good publicity” adage). Perhaps they just wanted a shock.
At any rate, 4 of Diamonds stagger on. Once again we had Louis bigging up their “potential” as he theatrically begged Sharon to save them, but the show has shown precious little interest in helping to develop that potential – so far, their principal raison d’etre seems to have been to provide an excuse to mention Little Mix, while making the latter look good by comparison. Hence the “Lidl Mix” reference that went viral thanks to Twitter user @CaraghElla – no reflection on the girls themselves, but how they’ve been presented.
— Caragh-Ella (@CaraghElla) October 30, 2016
H to the O to the N to the E to the Y to the Final?
Woofie: I think they have got it really wrong this year in choosing Honey G… Do you think they are picking up on it and that it is time to cut Honey G loose?
Love-to-hate novelty figures Katie Waissel and Wagner came 7th and 6th respectively in 2010, our first year analysing the show. It’s been a running joke since then to place an equivalent novelty act in around that position for our 1-12 prediction.
Sure enough, Kitty Brucknell managed 7th in 2011. Rylan reached 5th in 2012, perhaps going one step further than planned when leaving Ella Henderson and James Arthur in his wake the previous week. Stevi Ritchie got to 6th, and we felt most comfortable putting Honey G in the same place for this year’s prediction.
Except the show has been suggesting she can make the final from early doors, much as Reggie n Bollie ended up doing last year. Like Reggie n Bollie, Simon was won round at the start of the live shows, so the narrative hasn’t been about a novelty act winning his approval, and the journey ending once that’s happened.
Simon has instead been cheerleading along with everyone else on the show about the entertainment provided. So is Honey G destined to make it all the way to the final, or will she fall at the more traditional novelty hurdle in around 6th place?
I think that the show would like Honey G in the final if they could get her there. Reggie n Bollie hadn’t yet been namechecked as possible finalists by this stage last year, whereas Honey G was writing it into her rap for her week 2 song, as was referenced by the judges and Dermot. By this point, news stories were suggesting she would duet with Snoop Dogg if making it.
As an example of the extra effort the show is making on her behalf (beyond the massive productions which included a mock ITV Breaking News VT last Saturday), each week it has pushed viral memes such as Mummy G, pets dressed up in her garb, and Spooky G Halloween pics. There’s no doubt she is the talking point of the show, far more than Reggie n Bollie ever were.
She’s gained far more column inches than the Ghanaian duo, with debate raging over if she’s real or not (?!), is the act offensive or not, is she rubbish or not, and the more traditional, how far can she really go? The Sun showbiz website page in the middle of last week had five stories about the X Factor – all concerned Honey G. I think the show would love that kind of publicity in the week leading up to the final.
I think a bigger question is whether they could actually get her there. The show may be treating her differently to say Stevi or Wagner, but in terms of her vote, the lack of genuine talent beyond the ability to entertain on stage may see her reach a ceiling. For example, getting 8-14% of the phone vote will keep you clear of the danger zone in the early weeks, but an inability to win round waverers or transfers from eliminated acts, sees those figures in trouble by the middle of the competition, and would put you short of the final.
How might the show mitigate against this? A situation where two of the acts (say, Matt and Emily), hoover up more than 50% of the vote in the middle stages might help. Especially if quite a lot of deadwood (say, Ryan and 4 of Diamonds) remain. And if the judges continue to be positive, they provide a raison d’etre for a singoff save if necessary.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Stevi had actually beaten Andrea Faustini in the phone vote before losing by majority vote in the singoff. Jedward bested Olly Murs in the same way, only to be binned by the judges. Would they cause the ultimate controversy by saving Honey G in a similar situation?
If not Honey G as the third finalist alongside Matt and Emily, then whom? 5 After Midnight have always seemed most favoured, also being namechecked as finalists on a weekly basis. But there were amber signals in their treatment last week, which featured a lot of red distracting spotlights. Overall, it didn’t feel like a proper redemption for their week 3 criticism. It’ll be interesting to see whether the gauntlet is picked up again this coming weekend.
Sam Lavery continues without falling into the drop zone, though her staging, and continual early or middling running slots don’t suggest any great push for her, even if the judges remain resolutely positive. There was another very empty feel to her set last weekend. Saara has been mooted as a possibility now that she’s the Finnish Kitty Brucknell in terms of what she brings to the show. But despite a fabulous performance last weekend, hints of colour vomit in the staging, and an offputting arrangement of ‘Bad Romance’, suggest she too is in a holding pattern.
Will they be able to hold Honey’s rivals back enough? It’s probably what’s required if they want her as a contender at Wembley. Let us know your continued thoughts below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor