Sometimes you just have to hold your hand up and admit you read the runes completely wrong. From the song choices and various other clues, we’d been anticipating that producers would come to bury Saara tonight – instead, they came to praise her. It’s a salutary reminder of the show’s unpredictability, especially when there are two songs to get through.
Now it looks very much like producers have decided Honey G has run her course. Who will join her in the singoff looks a very open question. On Betfair, at the time of writing, Emily shades 5AM, with Saara considered almost as unlikely as Matt.
It wasn’t the greatest of nights for odds-on favourite Matt, who opened both rounds.
VTs were fine in both instances, with a visit from his erstwhile singing teacher giving him an excuse to turn on the waterworks, followed by a visit to the focus group and sharing a dessert with mentor Nicole. (We were intrigued to see the focus group, by the way – every act but Emily got a VT of them seeing what some random people thought about them. It’s an odd choice from producers to show us this, because presumably the purpose of these focus groups is to help them decide how to present the acts – presumably they assume viewers won’t make that connection).
Judges’s comments were positive enough for Matt, too, with the exception of some Simon criticism (“a bit wet”) of the first half of the first song – there was plenty of “you have to be in the final” (Louis), “golden voice” (Sharon), “passion and commitment” (Simon). Nicole perhaps unwisely gave us the mental image that “you whipped your balls out and threw them everywhere”.
But there was no standing ovation from any judge other than his mentor; his first song had him marooned on a high plinth, and his second had him alone on stage; his first performance was promptly memoryholed by Saara’s much-praised ‘Winner Takes It All’; and by the end, he was arguably the least memorable of the evening’s performers.
The positivity for Saara was the big surprise of the night. Her first VT had her being visited by an old friend and being delighted to hear “she’s my winner” from a focus group member – the first time the “win” word has been associated with her.
An early cutaway to Sharon suggested that we might be supposed to be finding the song boring, with Saara at the piano and an unusual arrangement – but the vibe changed with a shot from behind of the audience rising to some vocal acrobatics, and all four judges stood before delivering some very high praise indeed: “you just took first place” from Matt’s mentor Nicole; “you just had the moment” from Simon; and “one of the best performances on X Factor” from Louis.
Her second song saw Saara in the pimp slot, with a VT showing her taking creative control not only of the song but the staging. She got another big production, with iconic UK landmarks floating past in the backdrop – but this time only Louis and Sharon stood, while both Nicole and Simon tempered their praise by calling it “cheesy”. Simon also said he preferred the first performance, and Sharon agreed. Louis was in fine, self-parodic form, calling on everyone in Finland to pick up the phone (Saara pointed out they can’t; Louis said “they can try”).
Honey G was the third act up in both rounds. In the VTs we saw her taking umbrage at a focus group member’s suggestion that she’s an “entertainer”, and staying in character as she went home to visit her well-spoken mum, who played ‘Can’t Touch This’ on the piano.
Honey’s two performances weren’t the biggest she’d been given, and there were no four-judge standing ovations – in other words, the show didn’t seem to be pulling out all the stops to get her off the bottom of the vote, as you would assume they would have needed to had they been keen to get her through another week.
Indeed, the two biggest talking points had nothing to do with her performance at all: there was a stage invasion as Louis gave comments to her first song (he smoothly incorporated it into his “you owned the stage” cliché), and the second performance featured a live mannequin challenge (which would have been a much funnier time to do a stage invasion). The mannequin challenge made for a great televisual moment but it required no dexterity on Honey’s part, and we doubt it will have motivated any votes for her.
5 After Midnight performed fourth and seventh, and retain their place as second favourites in the outright despite relying heavily on the backing track once again, and one or two little warning lights amid their generally very positive treatment.
Their first VT featured a red carpet and heartwarming brotherly visit for Kieran, as we heard about his six siblings and single mum. The second VT had a focus group member say Jordan should be the lead singer (long-time Sofabet readers will be aware that singling out a group member as the “main man” has previously seemed unhelpful, as it suggests the other members are weaker and unwilling to admit it). But then, they also got a “winner” shoutout in the focus group, too.
‘Uptown Funk’ got them a four-judge ovation with a “brilliant… you want to win this show” from Simon, a “that’s one place gone in the final” from Sharon and a “you’re going to be worldwide this time next year” from Louis. But the second performance – a ‘Sorry’ and ‘One Dance’ mashup – felt disjointed to us, and had Simon saying “I didn’t think that worked”.
Emily got the first round pimp slot and the penultimate place overall, with VTs that showed her tearful over boyfriend Ryan’s departure but determined to work hard, and taking responsibility for her second song choice with Simon’s approval. She also claimed twice, about her first song, “I love ‘Toxic’” – the song she had been going to sing in week 1 before a last-minute change.
Having referred in her VT to how she had her guitar with her throughout auditions, it felt like a bit of a downgrade when she was sent out with a ukelele – something she said afterwards she’d never played before. She also had tear make-up, as last week, and the staging for ‘Toxic’ consisted of some fairly toxic colours. We thought ‘Human’ worked only adequately – it’s a strong song but most viewers won’t have heard it before, and Simon’s VT comparison with Fleur’s ‘Uptown Funk’ felt a little optimistic.
Comments were generally positive, although only Simon stood; Nicole accused her of still playing it safe at the end of ‘Human’, and Simon pleaded for votes, which often sets the alarm bells ringing. Emily’s drifted to fourth-favourite in the outright in consequence, as Saara challenges 5AM for second favouritism.
Overall, it was an unexpected and somewhat confusing night. On a Sunday rewatch, the main questions will be: if they’re resigned to losing Honey G, who gets the singoff save against her, and will that presage a bounce to the final? And does Saara’s positive treatment indicate that the show is contemplating her as a winner, or merely that they recognise how much she brings to the show both vocally as a performer and feel confident they can deflate her vote when necessary?
As ever, do let us know your continued thoughts below.
Photos via ©ITV