The act with the most positive overall treatment goes into this weekend’s climax as outsiders. 5 After Midnight have been namechecked as finalists more than anyone else, and received the most endorsements from stars guesting on the Sunday show. We’ve consistently been encouraged to emotionally connect with Jordan, Kieran and Nathan – and their families – more than we have with either Matt or Saara.
But their relative lack of support in the betting market reflects another inconvenient reality: their vocal capabilities have been under question from the beginning, with only frontman Kieran able to hold a solo of any significance. Just how noticeable that’s been is down to the backing track, which has occasionally drowned out the boys’ voices. There’s been no acknowledgement of that in the judges’ critique, but the public were unconvinced enough to put the trio in the bottom two in week 8.
Which makes it all the more amusing to look back at how they introduced themselves at auditions: “We all love the same type of music,” explains Kieran. “Those big vocals, vocal acrobatics.”
It was an exemplary audition edit, showcasing producer favour from the start. The moment they walk in, Nicole says “hello boys” in a happy-sounding way, and Louis smiles. We cut to an explanation that they met through the solo circuit, where their individual careers were stalling, and we’re shown them laughing and joking together as Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’ plays in the background. At one point they even frolic in slow-motion through some long grass. Back in the audition room, Simon says: “you look good together” before they perform ‘One Dance’.
Louis says it was “slick” and “fun”, Sharon adds “natural” and “easy on the eye”, and Nicole praises their “good energy” and “good vibe” before adding a note of prescient caution: “you’re doing your harmonies and dancing at the same time, so when you all are on you’re really on, but when you’re off you’re really off”. Simon flags their “potential” and adds that “I genuinely believe the next big boyband will be one that can dance”. As they celebrate four yeses with their friends and families to the strains of ‘Higher and Higher’, we cut to Nicole claiming “they can all sing”.
We got only half a minute of them at bootcamp, with approving judgely looks but nothing significant said. The six-chair challenge edit had plenty of cutaways to admiring females, including 4 of Diamonds reacting with delight to a Kieran backflip. “Potential” but “not a perfect vocal” were the takeaways from their judges’ houses performance, while the reveal saw them emphasising how much they’ve “bonded”.
It was more than enough to establish them as the clear alpha group going into the live shows, and the positivity continued into week 1 when their show-opening ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ elicited a three-judge standing ovation and Louis predicting “we’re going to go all the way to the final”. All four judges were on their feet after week 2’s mashup of ‘Get Ready’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’. Nicole told them “this is your career”, and Simon vouched for them as “such nice people”. The show couldn’t have done more for them in these first two public votes.
So what went wrong in week 3? The VT started promisingly with a mention that they were “having more input” and “working hand-in-hand with Brian”, as we were reminded that Nathan is a dance teacher. But then it went awry. We saw Nathan irritably telling the others: “I don’t think that should be the first move, and I can’t do that move, so… I don’t know why you’re looking at me, we both can’t do it”. Cut to Brian: “They aren’t agreeing… they aren’t even talking. They’re eating up my time.” Cut to Louis asking them how they’re getting on. Kieran: “Sometimes you hate each other”. Say what? Bickering is about the most damaging look imaginable for a boyband on this show.
After their rendition of ‘Valerie’, Simon clobbered them: “It was terrible… I don’t know what’s going on in your heads right now… sort yourselves out… too many people were in your ears this week”. At the time we interpreted it as a shot across the bows for having somehow displeased producers backstage, and that’s still how it looks on a rewatch. There were, at least, saving graces: Simon ended by holding out the promise of redemption next week, and the VT cast the bickering as brotherly: Kieran’s answer was couched as a comparison with “real” brothers, and the “brothers” line was hit twice more in the VT. Bickering brothers is a less damaging vibe than bickering bandmates.
Whatever backstage issues it referred to, the message seemed to be received and understood, because by week 4 the VT had much more kindly intent – it featured Kieran showing off his girlfriend’s 12-week scan and promising to be a good dad. Simon praised the “personality” they showed in their version of ‘Thriller’ and Louis was back to namechecking them as finalists. Week 5 saw them pimped from the pimp slot for ‘Say You’ll Be There’, with a four-judge standing ovation. Simon claimed: “you just landed… so exciting, so impressive”, and Dermot’s always-on-message post-performance question was “you worked hard on this, didn’t you?”
Dermot told us last week that all four semi-finalists had topped a vote at some point, and this seems the likeliest candidate for 5AM having done so, given that it was the first week of the Matt deramp.
Perhaps that emboldened producers to step it up a gear, because week 6’s VT again invited us to invest emotionally – this time in Nathan, to whose hard-working dad we were introduced. There was another sustained crowd reaction to their ‘Boogie Wonderland’ and ‘September’ mashup, something over which we assume producers have some control, by way of strategically placed tone-setting rabble-rousers; and Simon’s comments twice referred again to their “personality”; Louis mentioned the final again, and Dermot helpfully asked “you’re all very close to your families, aren’t you?”
It was Jordan’s turn for the heartwarming family VT in week 7, as his folks invited the boys round for a chicken dinner and younger brother Caspian gave him a hug and an “I love you, bruv”. However, this time Simon put a dampener on proceedings, saying ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ only started to work with the dance break and they needed to put in more work on the vocals. After the show punters thought 5AM were in serious danger of hitting the singoff, and week 7 remains the hardest to figure out what producers were intending to achieve: were they still invested in Emily at this stage? If not, why did they waste the pimp slot on her? Hopefully the voting statistics will help us to reverse-engineer what was going through their minds with their treatment of Emily, Saara, 5AM and Honey G.
Week 8’s first VT saw Kieran’s brother and nephews turn up for another heartwarming family moment before ‘Uptown Funk’, which Simon praised as belonging to the “real world” – a phrase Louis repeated in their second VT. There were also a couple of red flags, however, as they watched a focus group discuss them. Nathan arguably came over a little sleazily in saying “I’m going to see her after this” as one focus group member blushed about letting slip that she’d like to get their numbers; then another focus group member said Jordan should do lead vocals, and we cut to Jordan nodding and Kieran saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It was all in jest, but any hint of band discord is a risky move.
The second song is more important in these two-song shows as it lasts longer in the memory: a weak first song can prove to be a set-up for redemption, or conversely a poorer reaction to the second song can create the impression that an act is going backwards. That happened with the judge reaction to the ‘Sorry’ and ‘One Dance’ mashup. The backing track gave them less vocal assistance. There was no standing ovation, and Simon’s “I don’t think that worked” undermined his subsequent, less-than-enthusiastic sounding claim that “this could be one of the strongest weeks you’ve had”. Louis said nice things before concluding with “I still want you in the semi-final”, a turn of phrase that implicitly acknowledged disappointment.
Had producers decided that their best chance of getting 5 After Midnight into the final was to accept a singoff appearance and work with the bounce? We know not all commenters accept the theory that producers sometimes acquiesce in singoffs for favoured acts, but it makes sense to us. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that 5AM topped the week 5 vote; did less well in week 6 despite huge positivity; and only just escaped the singoff in week 7. To get them to the final without a singoff would then have required massive pimping in both week 8 and 9, with no guarantee of success and some risk of backlash. Better, perhaps, to accept a week 8 singoff and flog the “reboot” narrative for all it’s worth in week 9.
Which is exactly what they did. The first VT pitched for sympathy after the singoff shock, by reminding us that Kieran wants to make his unborn child as proud of his parenting as Kieran is of his mum’s. Another huge audience reaction was whipped up for ‘Stay Another Day’, which had Nicole comically confessing she’d misheard the “stay now” lyric for “steakhouse” – she sang this a couple of times, and Dermot referenced it in his question. Is it too far down the rabbit hole to wonder if it’s coincidental that this mouthwatering subliminal came just after Simon had compared Matt to a butterless sandwich? Simon continued the food theme, contrasting the “vanilla” of “the first act” (Matt) with “an ice-cream sundae with cherries, tomatoes, oranges, bananas, everything”. (Tomatoes?)
Returning in the pimp slot, their second VT went from reminding us of the “wake-up call” of the singoff to ticking the work ethic box as they debated their song choice and then into a Greatest Hits of 5AM family moments: Nathan’s hardworking dad, Kieran’s sacrifice-making family, Jordan’s younger brother looking up to him. Simon made a big thing of saying “something’s changed”, and concluded with “if I was voting at home, I would pick up the phone and say you deserve to be there” – a brutally damning line for his own act, Emily. “Was last week a wake-up call?”, Dermot helpfully enquired, just to make certain.
What seemed clearer than ever before was extensive use of the backing track for the trio. Most of their previous performances contained a weaker verse including solo parts, before joint vocals sounded beefed up in the chorus: ‘September’ in week 6 appeared to have a particularly strong wall of sound. This isn’t unusual in X Factor. The most-discussed historical example is One Direction, and there was discussion in the press this season about Ryan Lawrie’s ‘Twist and Shout’. But in 5 After Midnight’s week 9 efforts, it felt like both verse and chorus were enhanced significantly so that there was no light and shade in either number. The backing track vocals were dialled up throughout.
So they’ve got 5AM to the final. What now? That may depend on how close the semi vote was between Saara, 5AM and Matt. We know they succeeded in getting 5AM above Matt, so it doesn’t seem too implausible to imagine that they could do it again if they want to – although the final does tend to be somewhat more of a level playing field: there are opportunities for deramps, but we likely won’t see anything as direct as the “bland” or “butterless sandwich” applied to Matt in the semi. And it’s in the nature of sympathy bounces that there’s a comedown. So if 5AM only just shaded Matt in the semi, they may inevitably be destined for the third-placed finish their odds suggest.
But what if they were comfortably ahead of Matt, and reasonably close to (or even ahead of) Saara? Might producers think it’s worth trying to dampen Saara and push 5AM for the win? You could certainly argue that it’s incongruous, on the face of it, to have the longest odds available about the act which goes into the final off the back of most producer positivity in the semi.
And yet: Saara is one of the strongest singers they’ve ever had on this show, while the week 8 singoff revealed just how ropey 5AM’s vocals can sound when shorn of the assistance of the backing track. A 5AM win over Saara might elicit some “what a joke!” reactions – not the best of groundings for a commercial launch. Perhaps producers might be better off embracing the feelgood win for the female soloist? In the long run, it didn’t seem to do JLS any harm.
Having been linked with The Weeknd and three-fifths of the Spice Girls, 5AM are now rumoured to be duetting with Clean Bandit and Louisa Johnson on ‘Tears’. It’s a song we like, but it was hardly the most massive of hits, reaching number 5 in the charts earlier this year; and while Louisa has some positive connotations as the most recent winner, she hasn’t yet earned the right to sprinkle real-world stardust.
At the time of writing, that’s not officially confirmed. Nor, yet, are song choices for the first round reported on Tellymix: ‘Crazy In Love’ for 5AM, ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ for Saara and ‘Take Me Home’ for Matt. As ever, let us know your thoughts and theories on what to expect below.
Photos via ©ITV