Halfway through the live shows, the eight remaining acts also seem to divide neatly in half. There are four in whom the show apparently retains an interest: Matt, Honey G, 5AM and Emily. Meanwhile, Sam seems to join Ryan, Saara and 4 of Diamonds on death row, wondering when their stay of execution will expire.
4 of Diamonds are favourites to go next, followed by Saara. Ryan “Lifeline” Lawrie has drifted out in the betting, with Dermot confirming we again get a “bottom three”. Can anyone stand in the way of Sunday evening being Saving Private Ryan: Part IV?
In the last three weeks Freddy Parker, Ryan and Gifty have all been clobbered by the Strictly bus, so what to make of Matt Terry opening the show this evening? We wonder if this was producers’ way of saying to the acts: “no, of course it’s not a tactic to get rid of you!”
Matt got a VT about avoiding complacency, while also reinforcing the sex symbol meme, and preparing the ground for his first negative comments – which duly arrived as Louis thought it was “karaoke”, and to our ears it was indeed his weakest vocal. Simon “loved it”, though.
Overall, this felt like an easing off of the accelerator, which had to come sooner or later – they’d have risked burning out the engine by continuing at full throttle for another five weeks – rather than an application of the brakes.
Sam may have suffered a glancing blow from the Strictly bus, with her VT starting at 20:15 and performance at 20:17 (Strictly finished at 20 past). Her VT featured advice from Rebecca Ferguson and discussing her Dad with vocal coach Annabel (rebranded this week as Annie), but we didn’t actually see Dad himself, except in photos.
The staging was great, with the audience waving lights, a white-clad choir and the lighting focused on her. But the vocals sounded off to us, and the look on Sam’s face at the end suggested that she knew it. Louis then incongruously claimed that “you’re one of the few people who seem happy to be here”, which was interesting in hinting that other acts aren’t happy backstage.
Sam rather alarmingly claimed that it was the first time in her life that she’d connected with the lyrics of a song, and began to cry, to which Sharon rapidly urged “don’t cry, missus” (echoing what she’d once said to Abi Alton, when they were trying to ease her out but Sharon overcooked her criticism). Nicole duly softpedalled to avoid any further waterworks, gently saying that the song choice “dated” and “aged” Sam, and wasn’t “edgy” or “raw”.
Simon praised the song choice, but said nothing about Sam’s performance of it. Something else was noticeably absent: a cutaway to tearful, proud Dad in the audience, which is surely something the show wouldn’t have missed an opportunity to provide had they been looking to help.
Sam was thoroughly memory-holed by Honey G, and became the mover in the elimination markets, coming in to fourth favourite. If she escapes this week, her card does look more clearly marked now.
The Honey G show continued apace, with Mummy G in the audience and going through the #GrannyG tweets with Dermot. In a week where Professor Green and Lily Allen have called Honey offensive to black people, the VT twice referenced “haters” and showed her giving a motivational talk to a racially mixed class of schoolkids. Good work, producers!
It was another huge production – her best yet, we thought – and followed by a four-judge standing ovation, with a big crowd reaction, and the judges reiterating that that she is the act everyone is talking about. They couldn’t have made it clearer how desperate they are to keep her around.
Ryan’s VT featured repeated mentions of the words “bottom three”, and – rather cruelly – making him read out tweets that said he was “dismal” and didn’t deserve to be there. Chin up, Ryan.
To his credit, Ryan came out with a fun-filled performance – and to their credit, producers gave him a bit of dignity by allowing him a big production and plenty of vocal assistance. Louis duly praised his attitude, but Sharon claimed he hadn’t shown enough enthusiasm – then Simon defended him as “not a moaner”, again claimed that the repeated bottom threes had been good for him, and praised his fighting qualities.
To our mind there’s no particular reason to see a change in the dynamic of the last three weeks – Ryan losing out in Saturday’s vote, when he has to split the Scottish and teen girl vote, and sailing through the lifeline vote when he has those demographics to himself. The fact that producers are persisting with the lifeline vote suggests they’re comfortable for the Saving Private Ryan storyline to run for at least another week.
Louis still isn’t introducing 4 of Diamonds individually by name, and the poor girls were made to read out even more insulting tweets than Ryan’s, calling themselves “boring” and “like cats being strangled”. They were shown bonding with a slumber party and being supported by Yasmin’s sister’s schoolfriends in a video message, but the overall feel of the VT was more defeated and despondent than determined and defiant.
Then they sang a fairly dull song, in a fairly static way, repeating the message “hold on for one more day”, which may be prophetic. The judges were positive but with praise that felt nonmotivational to us, and there was no particular reason to think that 4 of Diamonds will suddenly hit the top five in the vote after two consecutive singoff appearances.
If they’re in a third consecutive singoff, the market reckons it’s likeliest to be against Saara, whose VT explained that her X Factor experience had helped people in Finland to see that it was okay to be different. Yay X Factor, changing Finnish culture!
In the Sofabet comments, Saara has been called the “singoff assassin” – the speculation being that producers are happy to have her repeatedly in the singoff, as she’s such a good singer and performer they can credibly save her over anyone, but because she’s a kooky foreigner they can also get rid of her at any point they want to. So it was amusing when the staging had her astride a gun barrel on a tank. Will she be blowing another act away in tomorrow’s singoff?
Otherwise, the staging was a Brian Friedman fever dream – some kind of high-concept colour-vomity Geisha thing, which we didn’t entirely understand on first watch. Simon said “you’re becoming the choreographer’s puppet” and it was “too costumey”.
This may have been getting the excuses in early to explain another singoff appearance, if one is in store. Saara brings much more in terms of performance and vocals than any of her likely rivals in such a singoff, so we’d be inclined to save her if we were running the show.
Next up was Emily, who didn’t have quite such a moment as last week, but was treated very positively: she was the only one to get the red carpet VT, then there was a moving bit about how the lyrics of ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ reminded her of her mum. Nicole later referenced that, saying the song was not only for Emily’s mum but for all women.
Simon’s comments were encouraging for Emily’s long-term prospects: “you’ve created a sound, style and look for yourself which is recognisable, you’ve distinguished yourself from a lot of people in the competition”. However, there’s a danger of pigeonholing so we’d hope to see her go uptempo sooner rather than later.
5 After Midnight didn’t get the most promising of VTs, their “six hours later” struggle for a song choice recalling Ryan’s VT after his first bottom-three appearance (and which presaged his second). The rejection of song after song made it look like they weren’t confident in their own abilities.
The vocals also felt exposed and ropey to us, but the four-judge ovation and gushing comments clearly indicated that we were meant to have felt differently. Nicole claimed it was a “gamechanger”, bringing them “credibility”, while Simon said it was “so exciting, so refreshing”.
He also claimed “the best bands are not puppets” and said “everything felt like it was coming from you tonight”. The positivity of the comments felt at odds with the performance to us, but it does seem like the boys are back in producers’ good books.
The market suggests a bottom three of 4 of Diamonds, Lifeline Lawrie and Saara, with the Coatbridge Cavalry coming to the rescue again and the girlband being despatched. Do you take a different view? As ever, let us know below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor