We’ve long wondered how much the acts are aware of their own varied treatment on the live shows. No one’s treatment has been more varied this year than Saara Aalto, yet she has thrown herself into every performance – from a ridiculous Japanese geisha routine in week 5 to a discotastic ‘Enough is Enough’ in week 6 – with the same enthusiasm, winning over viewers in the process.
With the switch to two songs for each remaining act, the yo-yo treatment can occur within one live show rather than week-to-week. An apparently disappointing first performance can be a set-up for a second performance comeback. Two of the most pimped acts in X Factor history – Little Mix and Fleur East – experienced such a narrative in their respective semi-finals.
We fear that Saara may not be so lucky tonight. Last week’s treatment, with an elegiac VT and the dulling down of ‘My Heart Will Go On’, felt like a softening. She’s the only remaining act about whom there’s been no talk of making the final or winning. And of her three songs tonight (including a mash-up of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’), the most contemporary is 1980’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’.
The Abba classic has been considered talent show kryptonite since Rosie Ribbons’ disastrous rendition on the original Pop Idol series. Coincidentally, Union J were given it at exactly the same point of the competition in 2012, when they hit the singoff for the third time. The only other time we’ve seen it on the X Factor stage is Only The Young’s notorious rendition in their first 2014 singoff. It’s fair to say that Saara won’t have the same vocal issues though.
Saara is not the elimination favourite – Honey G is, as she aims to rebound from last week’s bizarre singoff appearance. There has been a debate in our comments section whether the show cuts their main talking point loose at this point, or tries to keep the headlines going for at least one more week. Song choices are mash-ups firmly in her comfort zone, and news that one of the performances will include the zeitgeist-y Mannequin Challenge, suggests to us that producers may work to bounce her. We’ll know more tonight.
The other three acts haven’t been in the danger zone yet. Matt Terry cemented favouritism for the prize with his performance last weekend. The hype surrounding it suggested he was still The Chosen One, after producers had taken their foot off the accelerator pedal for a few weeks. His song choices of Little Mix’s ‘Secret Love Song’ and Sia’s ‘Alive’ seem promising enough. Pre-show, he’s the only contestant we’d be surprised to see in the bottom two this weekend.
In the last few years, producers have preferred to go into the final Sunday with two acts who haven’t faced a singoff. Tonight’s treatment of Emily Middlemas and Five After Midnight may tell us who producers’ preferred challenger to Matt is. Emily got the pimp slot and unqualified praise last weekend. She’s been given ‘Toxic’, which was her original week 1 song choice until the switch to something more contemporary, and Rag n Bone Man’s ‘Human’, which fulfils the remit of being modern and more upbeat.
Five After Midnight attempt ‘Uptown Funk’, which seems highly suitable, though runs the danger of being compared unfavourably to Fleur East’s iconic performance. Their other song is a Justin Bieber and Drake mash-up, including their audition song. There were a few red flags about their treatment last week. Judges comments were mixed for a disjointed ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ that included some fire during the dance break. But that followed a few weeks of heavy pimping, and they were still being namechecked as finalists.
Before the show, it’s the dated nature of Saara’s song choices that stand out most. She’ll be hoping she doesn’t feel like a fool for playing by the rules. Let us know your continued thoughts below.