Last weekend: the show took the logical next step in its quest to find a winning act with a contemporary, marketable approach to music by making them all sing disco songs. Hannah was accidentally given a costume from the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid, Abi went and sat back in the comfort zone of her piano, which was in turn placed on the Rebecca "Single Mother Goose" Ferguson Memorial Revolving Platform, Sam Callahan was suddenly history's greatest monster because it turned out that he's not really that great of a singer, while Tamera and Sam The Screw got the biggest plaudits, as per usual. Then Strictly Come Dancing had a shock bottom two, and The X Factor went "oh HELL NAW, you're not stealing all of my column inches in Monday's tabloids" and produced a SHOCK BOTTOM TWO of its own, in the form of Tamera and Leyton Midland Road. (Not so much of a shock in Leyton Midland's case, obviously, as they'd been here before, but since Tamera was favourite to win, the show reacted like the entire royal family had been assassinated.) The judges opted to save Tamera, of course, and then Leyton Midland Road went off to the papers and started crywanking about how they would've won if Nicole hadn't shamelessly exploited their obvious heterosexuality by sitting in front of them every week and looking female, thus making it impossible for them to concentrate. I like to call this "the Brandon Hantz defence".
Tonight! Big Band Week returns for the first time since series six, after which it was temporarily removed from the roster to make room for absolute winners like "Lady Gaga vs Queen week" and "shameless Olympics cash-in week". Who's still with us at this point? Well, we have Borelow and the last remaining group, Rough Copy (I find myself surprised on a weekly basis both by their popularity with the public and by how much I actually like them. Of course, now I've said that they'll probably be gone this week). Nicole and her as-yet-intact-although-probably-not-for-much-longer Girls, Louis and his impressively indestructible Boys, and Sharon and Sam The Screw, who's starting to look like she might actually win this and thereby destroy Sharon's glorious legacy of failure. [But at least Gary Barlow will then forever be officially the WORST MENTOR EVER, even if Sharon will be utterly insufferable - Rad] Gary whines that Big Band Week is hard, and "if your vocals aren't big enough, you'll be drowned out." With all due respect, that's utter bollocks. Big Band Week is the easiest week of all. Leon Jackson did Big Band Week every single week, regardless of the theme, and he won. All you have to do to succeed in Big Band Week is get a bit pissed, turn up, mumble all the words and look sideways into the camera in a manner that suggests you would like to have sex with everyone watching. Just ask Michael Bublé. Anyway, CUE GIANT X!
As we arrive in the studio, you can tell they've really blown the budget this week, because not only do we have an actual big band in the studio, but Peter Dickson is in the studio. I repeat, we have IN-VISION PETER DICKSON, doing Dermot's intro into an old-timey microphone! Dermot arrives, wearing what looks like a child's dress-up bowler hat and carrying a cane, and surrounded by dancing girls. He gives the cane a bit of a twirl and then basically shrugs at the camera as if to say "nope, that's all the movement you're getting." In honour of Big Band Week, he's in a (boxy) black three-piece suit with a black tie and a crisp white shirt, with the obligatory poppy adding the only splash of colour to his outfit. The dancing girls mercifully relieve him of the hat and cane, and make a speedy exit. Dermot reminds us that we have a big band in the studio and makes them perform a series of stings for no particular reason other than sheer showiness. Having established that we do indeed have an orchestra, Dermot summons "our very own wind section" (hee) - the judges. The judges have mostly followed the black-and-white dress code for the evening, with the exception of perpetual wallflower Nicole Scherzinger, who's doing her best to blend into the background in a bright lemon-coloured fishtail dress. Meanwhile, Gary's in a black suit with a white shirt and white tie, Sharon's in a black and white shirt-type dress (with very, very mad hair) and Louis is basically wearing a more efficiently-tailored version of what Dermot's got on. The band plays a jazzy, upbeat version of 'O Fortuna' as they enter, which sort of defeats the point of 'O Fortuna' a little bit, and Dermot introduces them as "the hardest working judges in showbusiness". Excuse me, but I think we all know who the hardest working judge in showbusiness really is:
You don't get results like that without putting in the hours, let me tell you.
Louis tells Dermot that he's very excited about Big Band Week because he remembers all these songs from the first time around, and it's kind of hard to tell if he's joking or not. Dermot takes this opportunity to point out that Louis is yet to have an act in the bottom two. They're a bit late on this, as he's never previously lasted two weeks without having an act in the sing-off, as I pointed out at the time. Everyone cheers for Louis's unexpected competence when actually given a non-joke category. Sharon says it's a treat for the contestants to perform with a live band, and Gary has a musowank about how there are 30 musicians on stage, so tonight is going to be electric. (I hope that means Lisa Scott-Lee is going to be tonight's special guest performer.) Dermot asks Nicole if she's as excited (/drunk) as she was about Disco Week last week, and Nicole doesn't explicitly answer that question (which probably means she's drunk again), but informs us that the energy will be "schwinging".
The girls are up first, and Dermot throws to Nicole, who is still taking a sip from the glass on her desk and flipping over a piece of paper, and just generally not quite ready to be thrown to, since she ends up introducing "my little Abu Dalik". See, drunk as a lord. For our sober readers, assuming we have any, Nicole was introducing Abi there. In her VT, Nicole giggles with Abi about her adorable reaction in last week's results show "when Derek called your name". (To be fair to Nicole, she probably just swallowed the second syllable of Dermot's name, but it did really sound like she was calling him Derek.) Abi admits that she always expects to be in the bottom two, and then non-sequiturs that all of her experience playing in pubs has made her into the performer she is today. I'm genuinely unsure as to whether that's an endorsement or a denunciation of pub gigs, to be honest. Nicole and Abi watch a video of a 14-year-old Abi playing the piano on the Product Placement Tablet, and Abi says that she's been working so hard ever since then, gigging every weekend. She goes on to say that her dad is actually in a big band (I hope he's in The Polyphonic Spree), so she's excited about this theme because she's been around this sort of music all her life. She goes off to have fish and chips with her dad (and yes, she does wear a flowery garland headband thing to the chip shop, just in case you were wondering), and tells her dad that it's strange not having him around. Her dad is pleased with this lukewarm compliment. Abi says that she wants to do well this week, both for her dad and herself.
Just to really ram that message home, she begins in the studio by saying "this one's for my dad", having apparently forgotten that this show has no use whatsoever for parents who are alive and well. She's singing 'That's Life', although most of the attention is focused on ZOMG SHE HASN'T GOT HER GLASSES ON. There's not really much energy to the performance, and she kind of sounds like a pre-adolescent boy because she's all nasally up in her nasal. That said, this is at least a style of music that she's clearly comfortable with, so it's a more confident performance from her than usual, and it's a little bit better purely because of that. Apart from one of the big final notes, which is flatter than the Florida Everglades.
Louis begins with "Abi, you've opened the show, you've lost your glasses, you've lost your piano and you've got a really big band" like he's trying to win a spot the difference competition. He liked the song choice, but "it didn't go too far for me". Isn't that technically a good thing? He thinks she can do better, because she was swamped by the band. Nicole objects, and Louis responds: "I'm only being honest. That's life." Ser-wish! Sharon coos at Abi and tells her it was a great song choice and that she was more centred, but "I expect more sassiness from you." You do? Dear god, WHY? It's Abi Alton, for chrissakes. I expect more sassiness from Wee Nick than I do from her, and he looks terrified every week. However, Sharon declares Abi to be "nearly there", wherever "there" is. The bottom two, quite possibly. [If that enormous bus they're driving at her doesn't go on a detour, anyway - Rad] Gary says that he worries about Abi the most each week as the theme changes, but this week he DIDN'T NEED TO! He thinks the fragility of her voice worked in this context, and that she was clearly comfortable tonight being "a musician amongst musicians". Oh, he's just going to be intolerable tonight, isn't he? Nicole screams "MRS O!" at Sharon, because she is still drunk, and declares that Abi was in fact "sass-tastic" tonight (surely the word should be "schwass-tastic", Nicole?), apparently purely on the basis that she isn't wearing her glasses. Sharon says that she misses the glasses, and Louis chimes in that he misses the piano, to which Nicole responds "hush your chops! Stop being a Debbie Downer!" She thinks this is the first time that Abi really sang out, and she did her family proud.
Dermot arrives and asks Abi how it feels to be sass-tastic. Abi says that she thinks that was her best performance, and she really enjoyed it. Also, it's her dad's favourite song. Dermot goes in for the cheek-kiss as he sends her off, and seems to end up devouring her ear in the process. He shills the app, as well as upcoming performances from Sam The Screw and Wee Nick.
Ad break. Specifically, an ad break for the TV premier of this year's John Lewis Christmas ad. It's apparently now such an event that it gets its own individual ad break with a special intro and exit bumper. I mean, I love John Lewis as much as the next person with a Partnership credit card, but ye gods. Also, this year's John Lewis ad isn't even that great. The rabbit seems super-needy. If I were the bear, I'd be super-pissed if someone woke me up from hibernation with the passive-aggressive gift of an alarm clock just because they didn't have any other friends.
We return, and the big band does a flourish to welcome us back. They'll be doing that every single time, and it's going to get quite annoying before long. Sharon and her only act are next, and Sharon declares that "you only need one person to win, and I've got Sam Bailey". Not that Sharon's making this all about her or anything, you understand. Sam enjoyed Disco Week, but the highlight of the week for her was getting a tweet from Michael Bolton saying that he'd be happy to
Wardrobe have decided to attire Sam in a double-breasted blazer and black leggings, which - combined with the inherent theatricality of this song - prompted a great many Twitter users to observe that this feels a lot like her audition to play Mama Morton. The song's no problem for Sam, obviously, but it is the kind of performance that brings out all the worst of her excesses - shouting, hooting, lacking any sort of nuance, that sort of thing. [I bet Meaty Minge watches Sam every week with a voodoo doll in hand, because Sam is clearly going to nick all the musical theatre touring roles from her once she's done the obligatory mothers' day album - Rad]
Gary tells Sam that her vocal range seems to get bigger each week, as that was the highest he's heard her sing yet. He says that he's running out of good things to say about her - much as he is doing with the other Sam, as we'll see later on. Nicole grunts a lot and tells Sam that she came out with a BIG BOOM (see what she did there?). She says that it's a song that's been sung a million times, but that's exactly how you're supposed to do it. Louis compliments her on her consistency and versatility, and says that he thinks she's the one to beat. Sharon declares the performance "stunning", and says that she's "on your coattails". I love that even Sharon is basically admitting that if she wins, it's purely by having the right act in her category and not because she's particularly done any great mentoring.
Dermot asks Sam how it feels to be up here, and Sam says that she loves singing with a big band, and that she'd "do it again tomorrow". Will the big band actually be here for tomorrow's show? Not that I'm suggesting Sam's going to be in the sing-off or anything, but it would be quite funny if this turned out to be one of those "be careful what you wish for" moments. They talk a bit more about Michael Bolton, and Sam giggles that Michael's still in touch on a daily basis. Oh, I'll bet he is.
Over to Louis and "baby Bublé" next: it's Wee Nick. He talks about how important his family is to him, and his family sob about how much they miss him. Wee Nick tells Louis that he's never sung with a big band before, and Louis says that it'll be a real challenge for someone who's Only Sixteen. And then he says "baby Bublé" a few more times for emphasis. He adds that if he was Wee Nick's manager, this is the sort of music he'd put on his album. Wee Nick says that performing with a big band is scary, so he woodenly videocalls his mum on the Product Placement Tablet for reassurance. Seriously, send this lot on an advertising masterclass, because if they're going to have to do this sort of thing every week, they need to do it better. Wee Nick says that knowing his family is behind him has given him the confidence he needed to give the performance of his life. Hang on, so he didn't know his family was behind him before the Product Placement Videocall? I find that highly unlikely.
Wee Nick's in a wee suit with his hair all slicked down, singing 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me', which feels slightly off-brand for Big Band Week for me, but maybe that's just because I'm so used to The Mamas And The Papas' version. As expected, it's perfectly competent but deeply unexciting. Even Wee Nick himself looks a bit bored.
Sharon slathers all over his hair and calls him a "little schoolboy". I'd be careful about how sexually aroused you sound when saying that, Sharon, if you don't want to end up on some sort of register. She thinks it was a fantastic performance, even though he's Only Sixteen. (Sixteen.) Gary tells him it was another great performance, and the key with him is consistency. He points out the decades that they've spanned so far in the competition - the 80s, the 70s last week. Yeah, that's great. Any chance of something from this decade, though? Gary marvels that Nicholas doesn't know any of these songs. Dude, he probably does do them, because a) he has parents who probably own music of some sort, and b) he has probably watched this show before, and these songs get done on this show all the goddamn time. Nicole calls him "Nicky Blue Eyes", and says that she loves the hair, "hashtag glistening", and says that if he keeps singing with that effortlessness, then he'll have some girls "dreaming a little dream of you tonight". Question: do we think girls watching this show actually get excited about Wee Nick? I would've thought they'd probably be more interested in Luke (the quiet, sensitive one) or Sam (the FITTTTT one), but maybe I'm wrong. Louis says that it's hard to remember that Wee Nick is Only Sixteen (not in the last five minutes, it hasn't been) and he hopes all of Scotland is behind him. HOUSE! [Autopilot Louis is totally doing this for a bet now. And for the lulz - Rad]
Dermot condescends that Wee Nick "can barely remember the Nineties", much less anything else, and Wee Nick chuckles that there hasn't actually been an appropriate theme for his age yet, at which point a klaxon sounds and he is promptly dragged off to a room in the back for reprogramming, for daring to suggest that this show is not HIP, GROOVY AND DOWN WITH THE KIDS. (Even Dermot goes rogue, responding "keep wishing, buddy, it ain't gonna happen." Watch it, Dermot, that sort of insubordination will get you Thorntoned if you're not careful.) Dermot feels Wee Nick's hair, and Wee Nick's a bit "...please don't touch me" and it's all quite awkward.
Adverts. The Christmas ads are definitely here in earnest now.
Another sting welcomes us back to the show, and Dermot's hovering in the audience with Tamera's family, and also Nicole's nan, who Dermot says is "the original schamazeballs". I still find it hard to believe that Nicole was actually born in the standard fashion, rather than emerging fully-formed from some sort of sexy cartoon in a Weird Science-sort of way. Dermot "humanahumana"s at Nicole's nan, which is all kinds of weird, so let's just move on to the next act, Luke Friend. Luke really enjoyed last week, and Louis declares him a serious contender in the competition. Luke says he never expected to get to week five, but he misses his family, so Louis "spontaneously" suggests that he goes to see his family, which is definitely not the same thing that Abi and Wee Nick have already done tonight. So Luke hops on a train to Devon, and goes back to the place where he used to busk. I guess being a contestant on this show doesn't really pay that well. After that, Luke goes to college to see his nerdy band camp friends, while Luke says that he used to sit in college wanting to go on The X Factor, and it's strange that that thought process led him here. Yes, truly it is bizarre how wanting to go on this show can lead to applying for this show which can lead to being on this show. It's just so unpredictable. Luke thinks that Big Band Week will be a massive challenge for him, because he's never performed with a live band before. Aside from all the people who live in his hair, obviously.
Luke sings 'Moondance' in a listless and flat fashion, wearing a black jacket and a purple silk scarf. He is also wearing formal trousers with no socks, because he is some sort of anarchist. He's surrounded by flapper girls in sea-green dresses doing their utmost to detract attention from his singing, but there's only so much they can do, because he's flat and off-tempo pretty much throughout.
Sharon asks him to do his end flourish again, and declares the performance "110 for effort". Out of what, though? She goes to the "young people have no idea about this music" well yet again, and see my comments on Wee Nick for my thoughts on why that is utter horseshit. Gary, however, was disappointed - he thinks Luke's been getting better each week, but this doesn't suit him at all. He says that the important thing in big band is to sing behind the beat - "listen to Michael Bublé, he's the laziest singer out there" (SHADE - also, I thought we'd established that Matt "Bit Of A Bum" Cardle was the laziest singer out there?) - but Luke was ahead of the beat throughout and it was uncomfortable to listen to. Nicole agrees with "Gaz" - she likes that Luke doesn't lose himself in the theme each week, but she would've got the band to pick up the tempo to fit his energy more. She did like his "scataroos" at the end, though. Is that a board game? Louis says that they don't realise he's come a long way from being a busker in Devon. Quite what that has to do with anything is anyone's guess. Oh, Louis.
Dermot arrives and accuses Gary and Nicole of being "hypercritical", which is apparently the same as "not loving everything". Gary replies "that critique, I'm afraid, was spot-on" (how modest!) and Nicole advises Luke to watch his performance back [On a HANDY AND FUNCTIONAL BUT YET ATTRACTIVE Samsung Tablet. Or YouView box - Rad]. Exit Luke.
Back to Nicole and the girls, specifically "my little Hannah Banana". Hannah says that she pushed herself so hard last week that it took a toll on her voice, so she was put on voice rest from Sunday to Thursday. This seems to be happening to Hannah with alarming regularity, to the point where I suspect that she just might not be singing properly at all and might benefit from some lessons from a professional. If only we had one of those lying around! Thankfully, Voice Rest Hannah has a Product Placement Smartphone with which to communicate, and tells Nicole that her voice feels "knackered", and Nicole is grateful that she's not been in the UK enough to know what that means. Hannah is singing 'It's A Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's Man's World' by James Brown, and since she's on voice rest, rehearses mostly by just watching him on the Product Placement Tablet. The non-voice-resting Hannah (presumably filmed at some point from Thursday onwards) explains that this song is very important to her because it was the favourite song of her dad, who is dead. She shows Wee Nick pictures of her dad (WHO IS DEAD) on the Product Placement Tablet. Nicole advises Hannah to just enjoy the experience and remember that the big band is there to support her. [I love the implication that the product placement tablet can now hekp people commune with the dead - Rad]
Hannah is also wearing a sort of mini-Mama Morton outfit, complete with a fedora, and despite a reasonably-promising beginning, I don't really care for this performance at all. I like Hannah a lot, but she's fallen into the trap of just bellowing and ad libbing without paying much attention to the melody. Also, you can tell that she's not really had much time to rehearse at full-voice, because she sounds either squeaky or guttural a lot of the time. She's working the performance and vamping like crazy, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her back in the bottom two this week.
Louis tells her that she's probably got one of the strongest voices in the competition (so strong that she's blown it out after four whole weeks!), and while he's not sure that James Brown is really "big band" (oh, she really came that way? Awwight), but she can really sing. Sharon tells Hannah that we had "more of that hot chocolate voice of yours, soothing, delicious voice, we can never get enough of you." And the milk always clings to the saucepan for days afterwards, but I'm not sure where we can fit that into the analogy. Sharon admonishes Hannah for not smiling when she's talking to her, and Hannah giggles that "you had your serious face on", so Sharon responds "nonono, smile! We're on the telly, Hannah!" She's really starting to remind me of Dolores Umbridge. Gary loved her visual and audible confidence tonight, and we all know what happens to confident black women on this show, don't we children? Nicole agrees that Hannah had "steel in your eyes" and made it her own.
Dermot tells Hannah that it's nice to see her smiling, and Hannah starts gushing about her suit and her weave and generally getting so Croydon about everything that Dermot can't understand her any more. Still, I can understand her enthusiasm - this is a good look on her, or at least it's a much better look than some of those abysmally unflattering dresses they've been squashing her into for the last couple of weeks.
Adverts. COCA COLA CHRISTMAS TRUCK SIGHTING!
Another return, another orchestral flourish. Over to Gazza and the last remaining group: Rough Copy. They were the sole highlight of Disco Week with their Earth, Wind & Fire cover, and Gary tells them that they need to keep up their momentum. He adds that they're his best group by far, before "realising" that they're his only group, with all the comic timing of a backbench MP. Gary says that he needs them to keep having fun, because that's what people love about them, so he takes them go-karting. "It was important for me not to win," explains Gary after the fact, setting up an attitude that bodes well for the result of this series, adding that he didn't want to "deflate them". Except in the usual way by sucking all the air out of the room with his very presence. Gary tells them to bring that sense of competition to the stage with them on Saturday. Rough Copy meet the big band, and have the obligatory moment where they pick up a trumpet and go BLOODY HELL WHAT'S THAT?? because they are URBAN and therefore CANNOT KNOW THINGS. Ah, my least favourite trope in all of television.
They're singing 'Hit The Road Jack' and have easily got more showmanship than all of the other acts on this show combined. I also like how they're working around the wardrobe theme of the morning by pairing velvet blazers with their standard skirts and baggy-crotched leather trousers. It's not really the best vocal of the night (and the bar tonight is fairly low as it is), but it's by far the most entertaining and enjoyable performance, for my money. Despite the Barlow effect, these guys are the only act I can really imagine existing successfully in the real world. [I do like them, but I can't help thinking they would choose more interesting songs in the real world. Although, see also: everyone in this show except maybe the two Sams - Rad]
Nicole thinks they deserve to be in the final three of this series. Nicole still has three acts of her own left. Just pointing that out. She loves how they make each theme their own, and thinks that Kaz really showed up on vocals tonight. Louis declares them "slick and snazzy", and admires their chemistry. Sharon asks who did the arrangement for that song (Gary, apparently), and says they did a fantastic job. The crowd start chanting "RC! RC! RC! RC!", which sounds unfortunately like "arsey", but there you go. Gary tells them that they push the boundaries each week and always deliver. [Their name is terrible really - unless it's a joke on how this show always has poor imitations of its previous contestants on it. What can you shout about this band anyway? 'We like it rough'? 'Copy cats'? And imagine Rough Copy condoms - ouch. Although I believe the JLS ones were colour-coded and a bright yellow/red/green/blue member is not what you want - Rad]
Dermot reminds the boys that they had "two judges, including one that wasn't your own" saying they deserved to be in the final. (Except it was Nicole and Louis, so actually neither of the judges who said that were Rough Copy's own mentor. Pay attention, Dermot.) Rough Copy follow Hannah's lead by getting a bit Croydon and confusing Dermot.
This week's competition involves winning Sharon's own car. Just imagine what might have happened in the back of that.
After the ads, we return in time for Dermot to read out from The Twitters. Apparently Gary Lineker thinks Sam The Screw deserves to win. Dermot mithers that Gary should be GETTING READY FOR MATCH OF THE DAY, not watching and tweeting about this show. Way to protect those ever-dwindling viewing figures there, Derm. Our penultimate performance comes courtesy of Tamera, who says that last weekend was really tough for her. She was grateful to get through, but got emotional once she got off stage. Tamera reports that she just wanted a hug from one person: her mum. Thank goodness it's "show us your family" week! Tamera says that she was a "tricky" teenager to bring up, but her relationship with her mum has become so much stronger since she's been on the show. In fact, we should probably just demolish the entire Department of Social Services and subcontract their duties out to The X Factor instead. Nicole says that they're going to work extra hard this week to get everything right, and then adds "and they're going to vote...right?", looking into the camera with a fierce fire in her eyes. I am unsure how I feel about this breaking of the fourth wall. I mean, I'm not especially concerned about Nicole doing it, but what if Sharon starts getting ideas? She might start crawling out of my screen like The Ring or something. Anyway, Tamera's mum turns up for soundcheck, and Tamera is very pleased about this. Tamera says that this spurred her on, because it means a lot to her that her mum is so proud of her, and she doesn't want to be in the bottom two again.
Tamera is in a tight black sequinned corset/trousers combo, singing Julie London's 'Cry Me A River'. I'm glad this song turned up, because Big Band Week never feels complete without it. Tamera's version is all right, but she struggles for some of the low notes, and some of her attempts at riffing towards the end are a bit painful.
Louis asks why she was in the bottom two last week. I'm not sure she's particularly well-positioned to answer that one, LouLou. He says that she has star quality, because she sings AND she's "got the visual". Sharon says that Tamera really did sing for her life when she was in the bottom two last week, and while she sang well tonight, she really wanted some more of that passion in tonight's performance. Gary says that seeing her in the bottom two last week made him realise that everyone's been taking her for granted, because she's so good, and he wants to remind everyone that she has "stratospheric" potential, so he's going to acknowledge her amazingness tonight. Nicole instructs everyone to applaud Gary's critique. Heh. She reminds us that Tamera, much like Wee Nick, is Only Sixteen.
Dermot asks Tamera if she feels like she's fighting for her life every week, and Tamera admits that last week was "definitely a kick up the bum". Hee.
Final ad break, and another chance to see lots of wealthy and attractive people advising us to buy more material goods to celebrate Jesus's birthday or summat.
Upon our return, we have Sleeveless Sam to close out the show. He and Louis get straight down to the business of watching last week's show on the PPT and laughing at Gary sitting there with his jaw hanging open like the Dartford tunnel. Sam says that he was gutted when he came off stage, adding that it's hard to receive the same criticism week after week and that he's "starting to feel a little bit like Gary's punchbag". I mean, sure, Gary's being a dick to Sam, but I feel like they're over-egging the pudding a bit here. Anyway, Louis tells Sam and his collection of brightly-coloured tops with block white lettered slogans on them not to worry, because the public like him. Apparently. Sam vows to work hard on everything this week because he doesn't want "another week of dodgy comments". He's a big fan of swing music, and shows us a picture of himself, ostensibly aged 13 but looking exactly the same as he does now, when he apparently went around dressed all suave all the time because he thought he was Frank Sinatra. Although they appear to be pictures from an actual concert, so I'm not sure quite how reliable they are of this being something that he did all the time.
Sam gets the honour of telling us that during the week, they all got some really exciting news from Simon Cowell. Simon appears, via satellite link-up from LA, to say "hi guys, I hate it out here. It's rubbish, nobody watches my show and we can't even get the voting numbers right. Please can I come back? You still love me over there, right?" Actually, what he really wants to say is that everyone in the competition at this stage gets to go on the tour. So after all the "SIMON RETURNS TO X FACTOR THIS WEEKEND!!" hype, that's all it was. Anyway, Sam says that this has inspired him to work even harder, because...reasons. Of some sort.
So Sam's in the pimp slot, singing 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head' with a loose bow-tie and a load of girls waving feathers. He does a little giggle and a "hello ladies!" at the beginning, which adds to the general cheap-cabaret feeling of the evening. Again, the vocals aren't great - they're not terrible, but they're solidly middle of the (rat) pack, even on an easy night like this, and the longer the song goes on, the more the strain starts to show. Still, he remembered to roll his shirtsleeves up and show us his forearms, so perhaps he's not going home just yet.
Sharon tells Sam that he gets hard knocks every week, but he's "still here". What a compliment! She also gives him an "A for effort". Gary: "Sam, you look like you had a great time up there, well done." And that's it. What a little bitch. I mean, I'm no great fan of Sam's, but dude, you're being paid a handsome sum to sit there and give feedback, so say something useful. Nicole congratulates Sam and Louis on "the creative" and how much work must have gone into it. She adds that she loves how Sam embraced the character of the show and looks really dapper, and also the suspenders are working for him. She does have one note for him: "don't hold onto the notes for dear life". Heh. Louis tells Sam that he deserves to be here because he works so hard and the girls love him, and calls him "like a little Fred Astaire".
Dermot arrives and gets straight in there to ask Gary why he didn't bother to give a critique tonight, and Gary replies "no, listen, I have to respect you for getting up there, look at the amazing singers we've had tonight - Sam Bailey, Hannah, Tamera - respect for you for getting up there, completely." Well, that was cold. And dickish. The good news is that Sam doesn't appear to be terribly bright, so the stone-cold shade that got thrown his way appears to have gone right over his head. He says that he had the time of his life. Dermot joins the stealth insult pile-on by saying "this week should be good for you, because it's all about performance." Et tu, Dermot? Sam just hopes the viewers enjoyed it as much as he did.
So there we are. Dermot thanks the big band for their sterling work and declares the voting lines officially open. Time for the obligatory recap: Abi without glasses or piano; when you're good to Sam Bailey, Sam Bailey's good to you; Wee Nick sending us all to sleep; Luke being even more of a mess than his hair; Hannah making sounds for the first time all week; Rough Copy actually behaving like an act you might voluntarily pay to see; Tamera making an effort to reassert herself; and finally, The Other Sam getting the pimp slot because the producers wanted to see if it would make Gary's head explode.
Dermot invites the contestants all back out onto the stage - not for the Flash Vote, of course, but just to create a sense of occasion. He tells/warns us that Robbie Williams and Celine Dion will be here for the results show tomorrow, and that's it. Who'll be getting big-banned on Sunday? Join me later to find out.