Two performances per act this week, everybody! *grins wanly*
So now that we’re down to top five (already!), it’s time for everyone to sing twice: one song chosen from a shortlist by the general public, and one song chosen for them by the judges. Normally Jukebox Week is a megasnooze because the public inevitably rejects the interesting, challenging, leftfield song choices in favour of hearing ‘Someone Like You’ or ‘Stay With Me’ for the 115th time. This year, however, either I’m getting incredibly old or the audience is getting that little bit bolder, because not only were some of the acts’ shortlists properly filled with untested material (ie songs I’ve never heard of), but even in the cases where there was a more conventional option, the public seemed to go for slightly more exciting choices this year. Hooray! (Judges’ Choice was a bit more rote, but you can’t have everything, can you?)
RITA ORA AND THE GIRLS
Ever since the live shows began I’ve been hoping something might happen to make Louisa Johnson a bit more interesting, but I didn’t quite mean this: she was besieged by a sore throat this week which made her performance of Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ feel strangely vulnerable. She looked lethargic, her voice sounded strained, the high notes remained out of her grasp, and when it finished she looked genuinely panicked because she could hear how unimpressive it all sounded. And all of this did make me warm to her, as perverse as that sounds: obviously I didn’t want her to fall ill in an important week, but seeing just how much this meant to her made her much more appealing as a contestant. Perhaps lazily, Rita snapped up one of the rejected songs from the public’s shortlist for Louisa’s second performance – ‘Jealous’ by Labrinth – and the whole performance seemed to be styled all ready for the future ITV biopic miniseries where she’ll be played by Sheridan Smith. Her voice was still struggling, of course, but it was a stronger performance than the first time and certainly enough to count as a “comeback”. On reflection, I think having such an obvious stumble this week helped her far more than hindered her: I think if anything having one noticeably ropey performance (even if it was still ahead of the curve looking at the show as a whole) probably mobilised her fans far more than two blandly competent turns, and was probably the deciding factor in Lauren being the one who ended up in the bottom two rather than her.
Speaking of which, goddammit, British public. I thought we’d established at this point that Lauren Murray is, to borrow a phrase from Tina Barrett in LA 7, the only good one. I thought she’d mostly had a solid week, to be honest: her first performance of ‘Firestone’ was strong vocally, but a little stiff physically, since whoever’s in charge of creative on the show these days decided it was sensible to stage the whole thing on that platform that Buffy jumped to her death from at the end of season five, with the unfortunate result that Lauren was kind of stuck in one place and looked a bit…Rebecca Ferguson. Interestingly, she was also pretty much trapped in one small part of the stage for her second performance, ‘You Don’t Own Me’ (another rejected song from the public shortlist), because someone decided she should be standing on a fake hotel fire escape in a dress she could barely walk in, but Lauren inhabited the song to such a degree that she didn’t really need to move much – it was captivating just to watch the disdain dripping from her face. For my money, this was the vocal performance of the series, but she dropped down into the bottom two: perhaps because of the 4th Impact shoving incident last week, perhaps simply because the field is so much narrower now and someone has to be there. While I thought she more than proved she belonged here by a) picking an absolute banger like ‘Vision Of Love’ for the sing-off and b) slaying the absolute hell out of it, she still ended up in dead lock – but surviving on the public vote. She’s probably toast next week isn’t she? Ah well. At least this way I don’t need to feel excited about the final.
CHERYL FERNANDEZ-VERSINI AND THE GROUPS
Alas, alack, this was the week that the bloom finally came off the rose for 4th Impact, through no real fault of their own. The public selected ‘I’ll Be There’ by the Jackson Five for them to perform, and they were very excited to finally get to sing a ballid at long last. Their first VT rather lacked structure, which made me think perhaps the show didn’t really know what to do with them any more: they went on the radio with Grimmy, they met Fleur East, they went to the Philippines embassy. That last one might have been the clincher, the conscious “othering” of them around the time that viewers are starting to think really seriously about who they want to win. There certainly wasn’t anything wrong with ‘I’ll Be There’, which could have been a convincing breakthrough performance if the show had chosen to present it as such. But Simon didn’t really like it, because they were all dressed the same again, and continued with that gross, racist (yeah, I said it) habit of referring to them as A, B, C and D. The audience laughed, 4th Impact laughed, I did not laugh because it was disgusting. Simon wanted them to have more personality, by which he meant he wanted them to adopt that age-old pop marketing tactic of plastering their names across themselves until people know which one is which. (Remember when Girls Aloud had to do that with the early singles from What Will The Neighbours Say?) So of course that’s exactly what they did in their second performance, as they mashed-up ‘Fancy’ and ‘Rich Girl’ while dressed as dolls (eesh, again, not a great way to treat minorities, guys), and Simon declared himself content. The viewers, not so much, since they ended up in last place and losing to Lauren in deadlock on Sunday.
I think part of 4th Impact’s problem was Cheryl’s obvious declining interest in them once she realised that Reggie ‘n’ Bollie were where the money is for her this year, which is presumably why she spent so much time with them this week as they rehearsed for their public-chosen performance of ‘Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)’. I’m assured this is THE DANCE CRAZE THAT IS SWEEPING THE NATION, although apparently not Reggie or Bollie themselves, since they had to be taught it by their kids. Cheryl’s dad is doing it though, that madcap guy! They were surrounded by adorable kids for their performance (possibly their own? I wasn’t quite paying enough attention for that, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest) but I must admit I wasn’t entirely charmed by this performance, as I felt Reggie ‘n’ Bollie themselves got a bit lost amid the show’s need for them to deliver a spectacle 100 per cent of the time. And Cheryl joining on stage only served to prove to me that a) she’s more interested in these guys than she is in 4th Impact, and b) Cheryl likes things to be about Cheryl as much as possible. Fortunately for the boys, their second performance of Taio Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’ felt much more comfortable, even if it was yet another song to be snatched up from the shortlist given to the public. Seriously, these second-round song choices have been so lazy.
NICK GRIMSHAW AND THE BOY
Poor Ché Chesterman had to rewatch his own failure on the Product Placement TalkTalk Media Machine this week (with Lauren there to express her disbelief, naturally), and Nick resolved to get him a gig this week to boost his confidence. Because getting a gig worked so well for Mason last week? Unfortunately he ran into a little bit of trouble with his performance of Adele’s ‘Hello’ by, erm, forgetting most of the words to the first verse. Probably not a great look for a song that’s just been downloaded by eleven hundred squillion people and is, therefore, probably quite well known by most of the viewers. The fact that he didn’t really have the vocal dexterity for the song either made the entire performance an out-and-out stinker, and Simon decided to really stick the boot in by telling him that he looked like he’d turned up straight from work. (Nick decided to follow this up with a fresh and funky joke about Simon’s high-waisted trousers! Such contemporary!) Fortunately, the performance order was such in the second round that only one more act (poor, beleagured 4th Impact) had to sing before Ché got another bit of the chérry with ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ – something far more in his bland, bland league and for which he got a bit more dressed up. So, like Louisa, he perhaps got the sympathy vote from a disastrous first performance and the talent vote from a comeback second performance, and when you combine that with a bounce from his unexpected visit to the bottom two last week, that explains why he was safe this week when, in all honesty, he probably shouldn’t have been.
Two more weeks to go, and then we’re free. Huzzah!