X Factor 2017 Auditions Week 1: Grace and Favour

“It’s only recently that people have started to do their original songs on this show, and that’s what I’m looking for.” Simon’s comment to 2017’s opening act, manband Rak-Su, felt like a statement of intent. The first episode ended with another new number, from Grace Davies. These two acts top the market after the first weekend.

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Actually, we started down this route in 2012. Then, the first episode pimp slot was given to Ella Henderson doing her best Adele impression on a self-penned tune. James Arthur and Lucy Spraggan repeated the feat, but producers didn’t have the courage to follow it through. Only Lucy was allowed to do an original song in the lives – in week 1. She managed fifth in the phone vote with 7.3%, and was back to doing covers like everyone else the following week.

Whatever our reservations on the first weekend’s auditionees, it’s worth remembering that the earliest programmes are usually front-loaded with finalists. In the last four years, we’ve seen 4-5 eventual qualifiers in the opening weekend. As usual, we will be writing these articles with a focus on the alleged final 24 – those reported to make it through to judges’ houses by posters on the Digital Spy forum who attended the filming of the Six Chair Challenge – and largely ignoring the rest.

Let’s start with Rak-Su, as the 2017 series did. We were amused at the difference between the minimalist production for their failed shot at Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita’ compared to the generous help for original song ‘I’m Feeling You’. Favoured groups from One Direction to 5 After Midnight have often been blessed with a supportive backing track, presumably because the extra vocals don’t seem so incongruous if there are multiple people on stage.

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Aside from their exposed vocals on the Timberlake number, there was plenty to like about Rak-Su. By the standards of the show, the Watford quartet of 25-26 year-olds are contemporary, credible and commercial. Moreso arguably than last year’s podium finishers 5 After Midnight, which Simon acknowledged when he rather insultingly said “we haven’t had a good group on this show since Little Mix.” They seemed very likeable too, with the “friends since childhood” angle pushed.

As commenter Amy Beth pointed out in the comments to our preview article, they’re already pushing merchandise on their website – you can get one of the Rak-Su baseball caps they modelled in their audition for a mere £20. Given all this, and their first episode appearance, it would be a surprise if they weren’t put through to the lives, and given a chance to shine there.

One noticeable feature of the Rak-Su edit was how many reaction shots we got of the waiting auditionees as they watched outside on the big screen. Regular readers will know that these audience reaction shots are intended to provide “social proof“, suggesting to viewers how we ourselves should be reacting. We got repeated and extensive shots of the crowd enjoying ‘I’m Feeling You’, and we saw the group receive a standing ovation. Unusually, even Dermot was shown singing along.

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If there was a nagging doubt, it was Simon commenting that they might not have gone through based on their first song, which he had stopped with a raised hand. It’s a well-worn trope for judges to pretend not to like an auditionee’s first attempt, to set them up for wowing with their second – but Simon didn’t need to remind us of their mediocre cover and cast doubts on their ability to do anything but their own material. After all, surely they can’t do an original number every week?

The same question applies to Grace. Based on Lucy’s 2012 experience, we’re already envisaging her making ‘Purple Rain’ “her own” after a disappointing first-show phone vote reminds producers that viewers prefer covers.

Grace’s edit also saw judicious use of reaction shots – although in this case less of the audience and more of the judges, who were mesmerised in an arched-eyebrow, eyes-glistening way. This isn’t to say one edit was better than the other, just to remind ourselves of how the show sets an atmosphere – in Grace’s case, an intimate one.

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This was appropriate for the back-story of a 20-year-old who was singing about being a small-town lass trying to prove her doubters wrong and make it big. The warehouse worker had a nicely self-deprecating introduction, admitting that she wasn’t comfortable with the glitz of the stereotypical pop star: “I’d rather be in a pair of trainers and baggy trousers and just feel comfortable on stage.”

In other words, she is authentic and relatable. This line also sets her up to be suitably glammed up as and when her journey demands that we see her becoming comfortable with the mantle of stardom.

The judges pressed similar buttons. Simon called her “genuine”, a word that will have been in his head after saying “I loved it. Genuinely,” as he does when he’s worried that he might not have sounded sufficiently convincing. Louis said that ‘Roots’ was “a hit song”. Sharon helpfully added: “I would like to hear more of your original material”.

Grace has allegedly been on Syco’s radar since 2014, and presumably they know what’s up her sleeve in terms of other original numbers. Are producers thinking of her as a Lancashire Adele? ‘Roots’ showed she can get her voice to crack in a way not dissimilar to Adele, though that’s a trick she’ll have to be careful not to overuse.

Grace is currently trading around 6.0 on Betfair. If that seems plenty short enough, it’s worth remembering that other young, female recipients of the coveted first-show pimp slot – such as Janet Devlin, Ella Henderson and Louisa Johnson – were much shorter going into the live shows as the apparent Plan A. As happened with Louisa, Grace has acquired a nice new Twitter handle.

Fascinatingly for us, it turns out that Grace is a housemate of Janet Devlin, who was brutally taken down during the live shows in 2011. Has Grace asked Janet for advice on how to handle the show, and if so, what has Janet said? If those walls could talk.

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In the meantime, Janet’s showmate Amelia Lily should have a word of warning about Grace’s decision to dye her hair pink, something that has boded ill on this show in the past.

Talking of post-audition show interviews, we were interested in this one in the Radio Times from Oxford University pairing Jack & Joel:

The pair also admitted that they were initially a bit worried when they watched the show on Saturday night and the producers had put together a mash-up of auditions featuring Ed Sheeran songs.

“As it was like ‘…and now they’re all sick of Ed Sheeran’ and Simon started rolling his eyes we were like ‘here we go, we know that we’re going to get shown in this bit. It’s going to be so negative, what have we done?’” said Jack…

On whether they were worried about the edit at that moment, Joel said: “100%. As soon as that compilation started I think me and Jack both looked at each other and we kind of knew ‘oh this is gearing up to us – what angle are they going to take on it?’ but I think it worked in our favour.”

Contestants giving interviews on the “edit” and the “angle” – did this kind of thing happen a few years ago?

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Jack & Joel started off being portrayed like a cerebral version of Bratavio, but it soon became clear they have some talent too. It would be hard to see the duo being much more than the gamma group, but easy to see them being that – they were interesting, likeable, and have a “great little USP” as Simon put it.

They have original material too, according to that Radio Times interview. If they were put through to the lives, they’d provide some fun and variety, and would presumably be easy enough to take down when needed.

In the girls’ category, Barnsley’s Holly Tandy put herself in the reckoning for a sub-alpha role in the lives with her rendition of Alicia Keys’ ‘If I Ain’t Got You’. In truth, the 15-year-old didn’t strike us as particularly distinctive on this outing. Young, big-voiced Northern girl with model looks and a supportive, blubbing Grandad is pretty standard issue on this show – last year it was Olivia Garcia and Sam Lavery who fulfilled this role – and Holly doesn’t yet offer anything that obviously sets her apart.

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Nonetheless, there was positive buzz about Holly from those who attended the filming of the Six Chair Challenge, so it’s too early to be writing her off just yet.

Georgina Panton, also in the girls category, is a much bigger price on Betfair after an entertaining segment on Sunday. The 20-year-old from Birmingham is a confident black woman, a self-described full-time Mum to her four-year-old son (though the caption-writers hadn’t got that memo, instead tagging her as “unemployed”).

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Simon summed her up well, as he often does: “You are a little bit all over the place, and there were a lot of notes that were all over the place, but I really like you.” She’d surely be an entertaining inclusion in the lives, and also easy to take out when required.

In the boys category, 27-year-old Anthony Russell was flying the flag for Scousers: “Give me a shovel, I’ll dig … I’m trying to be for the underdogs, working-class people.” Ant explained that his black eye was from having been jumped on the way home from a gig; he’d lost his job on the railways earlier in the year; and he wants to do it for his one-year-old daughter. Cowell pointedly extracted the information that he’s no longer with the daughter’s mother.

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Ant’s upfront nature was likeable, and it was Nicole’s turn to provide the apposite summary after his rendition of ‘Issues’, saying: “you don’t have the best voice but you’ve got heart.” Simon told him: “You represent Britain, people will like you.” To us, this all smelled of an emotional and heartbreaking judges’ houses rejection.

Lloyd Macey, 23, reminded several in the Sofabet comments section of 2011’s Scouser, Craig Colton. Producers had some fun with his Cowell-loving Nan, who took a seat on the judges’ panel after providing Simon with a fish finger sandwich. Lloyd’s rendition of ‘Lay Me Down’ got stronger in the chorus, and Simon said he had a “great Welsh voice that people love.” It’s worth remembering that we heard plenty similar about Welsh contender Kayleigh Marie Morgan last year at this stage, and she was turfed out at judges’ houses.

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If put through to the lives, Lloyd might activate both a regional vote and a housewives/Nan vote with his sweet, unthreatening looks. Producers might therefore be wary of taking that chance, although they could calculate that there’s enough of the stage about Lloyd to be able to subject him to a Seann Miley Moore-esque despatch – indeed, Louis wasted no time in hitting him with a “musical West End”.

Plenty of other acts shown over the weekend can also be backed with the bookies, including Sunday’s emotional show-closer Shanaya Atkinson-Jones at prices as low as 10/1. Regular readers won’t need reminding of this, but any new readers thinking about a punt should be aware that spoilers about who fails to make judges’ houses are usually accurate.

Since last week, we’ve had confirmation that the final is scheduled for December 2. With the week-later start, that’s two fewer weeks than usual. While this particular detail has yet to be confirmed, it lends credence to the earlier reports that we’re in for six weeks of live shows, with eliminations on both Saturday and Sunday. That would imply two more weeks of audition shows. It would also imply needing more than 12 acts. They could manage it with 13, reducing to 11, 9, 7, 5 and the customary three-act final. An alternative possibility is just one more week of auditions followed by seven weeks of live shows in the usual format, as happened in 2015.

Does the truncated run of live shows indicate that producers are hoping to railroad Grace to victory as they did with Louisa? If so, will they succeed? Or were you feeling the Rak-Su vibes more strongly in terms of producer favour? As ever, do let us know below.

Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor

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52 comments to X Factor 2017 Auditions Week 1: Grace and Favour

  • I personally found Grace utterly underwhelming. However Facebook didn’t agree and she got 39,000 Likes within 2 hours of her post being published – however her post was ‘Highlighted’ by Facebook so the numbers are likely inflated – her YouTube stats aren’t nearly so impressive. I personally preferred Rak-Su (despite the obvious production behind the music).

    Grace seems to me another one of those breathy singers that really isn’t that talented and would come undone within a couple of weeks in the Lives. Considering Janet had such a miserable time on the show, I’m amazed she recommended it to her friend.

    No winners in the first two shows for me. They’re definitely not going for a Boy this time around and I agree that they may well try to push the Groups.

    Ok I’ll come clean – I’ve been gambling on Specials a number of years and have recently brought all the stats I can get together onto a single website – http://tellystats.com – also checks websites like Sofabet for new posts. I also get access to the Running Order before anyone else which will be made available soon. Monitoring Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, the X Factor App, News websites, etc so please check it out. The website is still under construction and I’m working like a madman to get the front-end looking nice and registration working and whatnot but the core functions are there.

    Daniel I hope I’m not treading on toes by posting it here, have been a fan of yours for many years – I’ll drop you an email soon anyway.

    – TellyStats.com (http://tellystats.com)
    (Dan)

  • Joe Lemer

    Once again delighted that X Factor is back. Studying the manipulation is fascinating, I have been avidly reading this site for a few years now, thanks to Daniel and all those that respond with their great insight.

    In total agreenent that they want a group this year. Was fortunate to have a small wager in Little Mix and feel we are long overdue another group. Never had a male band win and after seeing 5AM not manage it last year I’m reluctant to back Rak-Su.

    Looking at which judges have which category if reports are to be believed, Louis never wins, Sharon is a liability, Nicole won’t win 2 years in a row, so Simon looks the most likely.

    If only there was a mixed, family band with regional support from Scotland on the show soon. The Scots are heavily supported and hard to stop in the voting……..

  • Another tidbit about the two acts performing original songs.

    Rak-Su was permitted to leave their song up on iTunes and it charted for several days on the T100. (I think it reached #40 at its high point.) The song was released in April 2017.

    OTOH, Grace’s song was nowhere to be found. I realize that she mentioned never performing it publicly before. With the lag time between filming and air, she could have arranged to have the song available to buy.

    • R

      I believe Roots isn’t available yet as it could be the B side to Grace’s single if she wins the show. There seems to be a big demand for it to be released.

  • 360

    Tinfoil hats alert, but wouldn’t it be great if Grace Davies turned out to be a mole sent in by her friend Janet!

    Great write-up as always. Rak-Su and Grace do seem a likely A and B at this stage – poor Ella Henderson’s second album seems to have been shelved for the moment so they could well be angling for a replacement.

    Grace also looks similar to current pop singer Anne-Marie.

    I also think we might see this year an exodus of white young men being put through at all; a similar lineup to Little Mix’s year – chubby boy, mixed race boy – both gay – and a wildcard boy with a bad voice who can be lumbered with unsuitable material.

    • R

      They did post online about watching Janet’s live show performances earlier this year. They were probably discussing the possibility of Grace auditioning at that stage.

  • So from Show 3 we had the first successful Overs, according to the Six Chair Challenge spoilers, with Talia and Kevin’s auditions airing.

    I don’t think either are really beign pushed – I can see Talia possibly being the gamma Over but surely they won’t put two foriegn Overs through and I still think Slavko will be preferred.

    I wonder if Leah might be the unknown member of the Girlband of Rejects?

  • Stoney

    When is this Scottish group I am eagerly anticipating going to be on?

  • Stoney

    Also was I the only one who thought yesterdays episode was crap? Could barely be bothered to watch it on the play back. Big mistake to reduce the live shows. These are always the part where the show comes to life.

    • But viewing figures really decline at that point. From our point of view, you’re right – the live shows is where the interest lies because it becomes a battle between producers and the public in whether the latter will follow the former’s will. Perhaps it’s become a bit obvious to those who do not watch to Sofabet level? The interest is not there anymore; the lives have become the lowest rated stage of the show for the past few years (since 2011?) So it makes commercial sense to focus on the more popular recorded shows.

      Then again, are we sure how the shows are formatted this year? If we’re having performance shows (combined with results) on Saturday and Sunday aren’t we having 12 shows rather than the usual 10 this time around? If so, and there’s an elimination each night, it means we’ll need a wildcard to have a three act final Saturday and two on the Sunday.

      • James Martin

        I’m disappointed the lives are cut. I love that part of it and don’t care much for the auditions. Problem is now, too many of the public see through the smoke and mirrors as it’s too blatant. To be honest I fell out of love with it as a straightforward piece of entertainment after the Jedward vs Lucie Jones singoff in 2009.

        We’re stuck with it until 2023 but Simon needs to actually mean it when he says “we’ve revamped” every year. They haven’t. Same shit different year.

        Sad really. They used to cane Strictly.

  • Joe Lemer

    The Sun article today highlights that a member of Cutkelvins was previously in the charts as part of Neon jungle. Huge de-ramp? What effect will this have on their chances do you think?

    • Stoney

      Around the same sort of affect that being in a band had on the guy from libery x winning the voice.

    • fused

      Neon Jungle! I wondered what happened to them. I liked their song ‘Braveheart’.

      I haven’t really been watching properly. I never do pay much attention at this stage, I’m another one who prefers the live shows. But I quite like Grace Davies so far. It is pretty hilarious that her flatmate is Janet Devlin!

      I agree that they’d probably like a group to win this time. They’ve only had that category win once, and two of the most successful acts to ever come from the show are Little Mix and One Direction.

      • R

        I don’t see any groups so far who have had the treatment to suggest they have a chance of winning.

        Groups tend to naturally score low in the votes and need massive amounts of manipulation to win.

        One Direction only scrapped third place and Little Mix needed all the other contestants to be targeted for elimination by TPTB to give them the win, with 2011 being one of the nastiest manipulation years of the show, losing them a few million viewers in the process.

        I don’t see the show being able to manipulate to the same extent as it did in 2011 and keeping it’s viewing figures above 5 million. Especially if they end up having to target Grace in the same way they targeted Janet.

        Much better for them to have a feel good series.
        For me, that means putting through weak male singers who fall by the wayside and having a group in the final who won’t challenge the chosen one.

  • Joe Lemer

    Partly agree with R. We have seen a couple of great female singers in week 1 which stand out, so with little time for gradual manipulation heavy handed tactics will need to be applied to take them out. Throw no hope overs and weak males and it’s a group win for me.

    Little Mix tickets are the ad break comp this year which could be a subtle reminder…

  • Have we had a “you’re the main man” or spin off of it at the auditions stage before? That’s what we just got for the CutKelvins.

  • Stoney

    Id be happier backing the cutkelvins over raksu.

    • Piresistable

      Agreed. I’ve clearly been watching this show too long. During their audition I thought “I bet Simon compares them with the Black Eyed Peas.”

  • Martin

    Loved the Cutkelvins just now, but I feel they could have done more for them if plans were big. Pluses – strong family connection, excellent (and non-threatening) image, elements of a backstory with their dad were mentioned, their performance was good and they are all clearly talented, with Simon expressedly saying that he wants to work with them. Anchoring them to Black Eyes Peas is a strong reference.

    Minuses – Running, as a song, I don’t find particularly resonant or favourable on talent shows. It was used to take Lauren Murray down, and it’s a bit… meh? I’m sure they could have been encouraged to use something more rousing with a better connection. The insistence of them having a lead singer in the girl (I forgot her name I’m sorry) is also a bit of a question mark but she was the standout so it may seem justified.

    noticed they referred to their dad in the past tense a few times, is this a sob story unexplored or just a bit of word trickery? All this said, they’re the only act I’ve got excited about so far, they were absolutely charming in the Vt. gut feeling has to count for something!

  • Stoney

    straight in as second favourites

  • Stoney

    I think the fact Simon compared them to Black eyed peas and said he hopes hes mentoring them spoke volumes.

  • Joe Lemer

    Have been eagerly awaiting Cutkelvins. She has an amazing voice and I’m excited for their progress. Like Stoney Simon’s positive comments could be a strong sign of favouritism. He hopes he works with them and he is in their category. They must be in it for the long haul. Very modern, female viewers will love the fact they want to push the female to the front of the group.

  • Martin

    Oh I didn’t realise Simon had the groups. Glowing endorsement.

  • Piresistable

    It’ll probably be long forgotten by the lives but that Deanna’s from Anguilla which has been badly affected by Hurricane Irma. That could make for an emotional VT at some point if she makes the lives.

  • Piresistable

    Deanna a shorter price than the CutKelvins which surprises me.

  • R

    I really liked Cutkelvins and Deanna.

    A number of people on Twitter recognising Shereen as a former member of Neon Jungle and showing their support.

  • Three successful Six Chair Challenge acts aired tonight if the spoilers are right – The CutKelvins, Deanna Mussington and Aidan Martin.

  • Phil

    Aidan Martin could be a juggernaut if he makes the lives. He could well be this years Maloney.

  • Martin

    All three were very strong I thought – was a better show tonight than the previous ones this series so far.

    Deanna is a great vocalist, and seems likeable and sweet. Telling that her audition was signposted with Andrea’s footage, with some comedy foreigners filling in between. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her during the lives.

    Aidan was nice, his song was good and lots of judge positivity. It was all so emotional and positive though, seems like a build up to a sad judges houses rejection. The one doubt about that is that he would be an over, and he’s doing original material. We’ve had a group, and a girl doing self written songs, no doubt a boy will be doing them too – it would
    Make sense to tick that box in each category given the attention they’ve drawn to this “new” element of the show.

  • Ben Cook

    If they pick well, could actually be a good set of finalists this year. Very impressed with the 3 of the 24 we saw tonight, along with Grace from last week.

    • I agree. I really hope they care about ratings and pick decently for a great show. Instead of culling the talent to make way for TCO as cretin Cowell is wont to do.

      • Ratings are more than just the number of people who watch TV on a Saturday night, although that’s all that gets reported. The way people watch TV is changing. The standard X Factor view is now 30-45, more tech-savvy and understands that things aren’t a must see when they’re on.

        YouTube clicks and the ad revenue generated are just as important. That continuous income every time an ad plays adds up.

  • Stoney

    The Cutkelvins are 18s on betfair. Possible sign that they haven’t made the lives? Has judges houses been filmed yet?

    • Panos

      Looks bad. Really bad.

    • Nah, if someone knew they hadn’t made Lives that £116 waiting to back them at no higher than 32 would have been swiped.

      Pretty sure no JH yet.

      • Stoney

        That Sheeren could probably win the show on her own. One of the guys is pretty decent. The rapper is the weak link. But I’m sure they could find a way of hiding that.

      • Uzair

        https://forums.digitalspy.com/discussion/2233117/spoilers-six-chair-challenge/p6
        In my opinion the lemonade were the best vocally and the better girlband but I have a doubt they won’t make it. The cutkelvins r really good and better then rak su who couldn’t sing. The audience loved every act who made it. Jack and Joel were fun and sassy. Sean and Connor r strange as they r appealing and could be a alpha they will surely have a strong vote with their appeal to young girls and they’re gutair slow songs. I would like lemonade jack and Joel and cutkelvins to get through. Cutkelvins were the only group to just sing one song. Jack and Joel had to sing a different song. Raksu had to change a cover to an original song. Sean and Connor went from a cover to an original. Lemonade had to do a sing off with JFK and the new girlband had to sing their song with ash (the member added from another group) again. The cutkelvins performed show me love by robin s and killed it

    • Uzair

      At six chair the cutkelvins were the only people that had to sing once everyone else had to sing 2 songs. Also Simon has constantly said he wants to work with them it would be shocking for him to choose rak su which are weaker in every way and not his favoured

        • Uzair

          Yeah and the cutkelvins were amazing a big improvement from their auditions. Raksu can’t sing only one of them can none of them did much. Also raksu are pushing their song right now I’ll doubt if they have been accepted into the lives they’ll be pushing their original song. IMO I can see Simon taking yh cutkelvins his alpha jack and Joel gamma and the newly formed girl group as beta

          • Stoney

            Rak Su have removed their songs from Spotify now. Which means they are probably in the lives. Also I can’t seem to find a Twitter page for the Cutkelvins as a band. Strange.

          • Yes Rak-Su definitely have been given alpha group treatment so far. It doesn’t matter if they can’t sing. Hardly any of the XF groups can. Look at 1D.

            Uzair would you be able to post here how each of the groups was received by the judges and the audience at 6CC? Did you see the Boys or Overs 6CC as well?

        • Stoney

          It wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to push RakSu as Alpha group though. Weve had this sort of band pushed several times. Rough Copy/5am. Both finalists but needing an awful lot of help along the way, then absolutely bombing after the series ends. Raksu would be no different.

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