Top 9: 17th April 2010
Previously on A Star Isn't Born: there was shock and horror in considerable measures as presumed frontrunners Bronte and Lauren found themselves in the bottom two, for the respective crimes of being middle class and expressing confidence in one's own abilities. The fools! Ultimately Bronte was cut loose and sailed off on a sparkly moon, while every other contestant lost their shit, with the possible exception of Emilie, who simply removed one more pin-ravaged doll from her scale model Dorothy House and started playing ippy-dippy over which of the remaining eight was going to get a little acupuncture next. In unseen backstage footage(!), Bronte apologised for letting The Lord down, and he told her that was nonsense. Once again, the remaining Dorothys have had a fire lit under their pert little hineys, and they're all realising just how very vulnerable they are. This! Is Over The Rainbow!
Titles. I sincerely hope Andrew Lloyd Webber is next on Sheila Hancock's list for an acting masterclass, because that shit is not going to cut it around here. Even Jessica is watching this and thinking "sheesh, dial it back a bit."
Graham enters, with another Turner Prize-worthy waistcoat, flanked by our ever-enthusiastic potential Dorothys. With impressively little ado, he introduces the panel, who are "here with their brains" (more pyrotechnics go off, and once again Sheila looks for her heart medication), and our final nine Dorothys have plenty of courage (except in the cases where courage would come across more like being a CONFIDENT BITCH, of course) and the Lord has a great big heart (two feeble sparklers go off either side, and Andrew fans under his nose, inadvertently giving the impression that he just farted into a cigarette lighter to produce the aforementioned effect). Smoke from the pyrotechnics floods the studio, and Graham snarks: "I feel like I'm in Iceland!" Heh.
The Dorothys open the show by performing 'Ease On Down The Road'. Forgive me if I'm being a bit of a pedant here, but isn't that from The Wiz? Are we doing that show instead now? [I wish we were. - Carrie] The girls do a bit of country-style hoofing while they sing their solos: Jessica unfortunately looks more like a rugby player than a Kansas farmgirl in this particular instance, and somebody has finally taken pity on us and turned down Emilie's mic so she can barely be heard.
Graham informs us that it's dance week this week. Does this mean that Steph will be performing the 1994 club smash 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy' as a tribute to her parents? Oh, hang on: he means that the girls will be put through their paces in order to demonstrate their dance skills, rather than singing an assortment of songs from Now That's What I Call Bangin' Choons 18. Graham reminds us that last week, which is now apparently being termed "Brontegate", has served as a timely reminder to all the girls of just how quickly they can be dismissed. I wish people would stop tacking "-gate" onto everything they want to make sound like a national scandal - I mean, they do know that the Watergate scandal didn't actually have anything to do with water, right? The panel are introduced: legendary actress Sheila, West End and soap star John, and newly-engaged Charlotte. Aw, apparently her personal life is her career these days. Poor mite. And, of course, there's Andrew, who's quizzed about last week's tough call in the bottom two, and gives us some good news about Bronte: she's had a good week and gone for several auditions, of which he thinks she's likely to get one of them, and she's got a place at stage school. But hang on, won't that gloss over all her realness and RUIN HER FOREVER? Andrew continues that Bronte needs to develop the stamina to perform EIGHT SHOWS A WEEK, which she can learn at stage school. Hmm - never mind the fact that Pirate Jessie needed a few years' tuition to knock those annoying tics out of her system, and yet you couldn't throw her onto the West End stage fast enough? Stupid moving goalposts.
Apparently the show's musical director has been stuck elsewhere as a result of the general airport chaos this week, which Andrew reminds us is proof that this show is LIVE and full of REAL talent, presumably a dig at what'll be on the other side in an hour or so. The crowd applauds the Substitute Musical Director, and Graham teases a group performance of 'America' from West Side Story later, but before that, we must get to our first two Dorothys: Dani and Sophie. Could they not shake up the running order a bit? Sophie's been in the first couple to perform for two weeks in a row now, and Dani has been on third, fourth and second so far. Anyway, Dani got good notes from Charlotte last week and was thrilled. She's so pleased that she's here on the show, especially since her parents didn't want her to come and audition for it in the first place: Dani's mum says through possibly-gritted teeth that their daughter is very "determined" (I can't help wondering if she really wanted to say "wilful") and applied for the show without their knowledge, only telling them about her audition the week before it happened, the young scamp. However, having seen her perform, they think that this is what she was born to do, and Dani is grateful for their support. Last week, Sophie was upstaged by her Boy Dancers, and the show makes out like he has some kind of vendetta against her. Sophie says in a confessional that John doesn't like her as a performer (I don't think that's strictly true) and she needs to change his mind. As it happens, John popped into training this week to give her a bit of one-to-one assistance, which seems to chiefly involve pointing out some fairly obvious things about her performance, but hey, if it works, that's the main thing I guess. Sophie says that this is exactly what she needed, and now she hopes to "rock it" on Saturday.
Graham tells us about the show's red-button interactivity, and Andrew asks if he has to save "George, Dave or Nick" next week with the red button. Graham has no idea what he's talking about, and even I'm slightly confused. Was that meant to be a general election joke? If so: George? Oh dear. Dani's on first, wearing a sparkly jacket and a mustard-coloured dress, singing 'One Night Only' from Dreamgirls. In order to judge this performance fairly, I went back and reviewed Jessie's performance of the same song in all its sidegobbed glory, to see how they stand alongside each other. Dani's take on the song is fairly subdued, with less snarling and considerably more earnestness. Her dancing's a little bit stilted though, and she performs it in some sort of vacuum without really interacting with her Boy Dancers. [Jessie's performance of this was the first appearance of the swinging pirate arm, if I recall correctly. - Carrie] The vocals are definitely better than Jessie's, though - she's on-key nicely throughout.
Sophie, meanwhile, is doing Avril Lavigne's 'I'm With You', standing on the Stairs Of Doom and looking very small. Some Boy Dancers walk onto the stage during the chorus, and Sophie starts to sing to them, which kind of makes the song look a bit like it's about prostitution. Er, oops. Her singing's nice, although she's a bit painful to listen to on those top notes, which are kind of more yelly than singy in the original anyway, and have a bit of sloppiness about them.
The two girls join Graham for their feedback, and Graham asks Dani whether she prefers doing ballads like last week, or being a diva like tonight. Dani hastily clarifies that she's not a diva, because she saw what happened to Lauren last week and wants no part of that, but says that she loves trying something different every weekend, and says she's had a fun week with her male dancers. Ooer. Sophie says she poured her heart and soul into her performance, and she's really grateful to John for helping her out.
John's apparently looking at movement skills this week, but says that since there wasn't much movement in either performance (I suspect there was supposed to be movement in Dani's, but it didn't really turn out that way), so he was looking for connection with the audience and the lyrics, and he thinks both girls did him proud. He thinks Dani stood out despite having lots of dancers and sold the emotion of the song, and gave her strongest performance to date. He thinks that Sophie gave a very credible performance, and he thinks she won't be going home after that performance (which I thought seemed like a really odd thing to say the first time I saw the show, but I've since realised that he's referencing the song's lyrics, which involve looking for someone to take you home). Charlotte loved Sophie's performance - she thinks she got all the notes and had a beautiful tone. She started off shakily, though (I personally took that as a deliberate acting choice, but YMMV, I guess) but she got all her emotion across. Charlotte likes that Dani is not self-conscious, but needs to watch for her voice getting nasal. John didn't think it was nasal, but Charlotte did. God, are those two going to have a really tiny dispute every week? This is encroaching into PRECIOUS SHEILA HANCOCK TIME, people! Speaking of Sheila, she thought they were both great, but she's going to be picky: she longs to see Sophie do a humorous song ('That Don't Impress Me Much' was humorous, though, surely? I mean, I know it's no 'There! Right There!', but it could be pretty funny in the right hands, I would've thought) and hopes we can see her having some fun, because she's always so intense. Sheila thinks Dani didn't quite make it clear to her what the song was about - it worked as a pop song because the audience were clapping along, but she thinks that Dani was misled by that. Sheila explains her interpretation of the song: that it's about a young girl who's not interested in commitment and looking for a one-night stand, which she points out is "not very Dorothy", and not very appropriate for Dani's age group, "but then I'm a silly old fa- ahhh..." Snerk. Although, that particular assessment of it makes me wonder if La Hancock has actually seen Dreamgirls, because I would say it has an entirely different meaning in its proper context (although, in fairness, it does ultimately get disco-fied and turned into a free sex anthem by Deena shortly afterwards, so she's not entirely off the mark here). Anyway, Sheila would've liked more light and shade in the song to clarify what it was about.
Andrew wants to ask John something, because he worked with the girls this week, about the dancing side of things: he basically accuses Dani of having no rhythm and says that these two are not the strongest dancers in the field. John tries to defend them both, saying that Dani's performance this week was self-confident and not self-conscious, which she has looked in the past, and as such, this week was a bit of a breakthrough. Sheila interjects that Dani was "superb" during 'Home' last week, but then John points out that had no choreography. Heh. Andrew says it's about getting the whole package together, they need a Dorothy who is credible and can really move with the music. In other words, I wouldn't bet on this pair's chances of surviving the bottom two when they eventually end up there.
Next up is Lauren, who got a wake-up call last week when she landed in the bottom two, and now gets a segment all to herself. She is, predictably enough, getting the full Danyl Johnson treatment this week, where her VT focuses on how hurtful it is to be called arrogant: she cries a bit, and says that while she projects an air of confidence, she's made of jelly on the inside or something. Her dream was nearly taken away last week, and this week is going to be tough, but guess what? This has made her realise just how much she wants this! I mean, what are the odds?
This week Lauren is singing 'Sway', complete with Boy Dancers, and her performance this week is playful, though in a step up from last week, there's a coherence to it rather than a different emotion in each line contributing to a general air of chaos. Some of her notes are a little scratchy, though it seems a much better performance on re-watching than I thought it was the first time I saw it. Graham asks her if she's done enough to win back her public support, and she says that it's been a tough week, and she put a brave face on and tried to do her best, and it felt like a comeback performance. I think a good rule for Lauren in the future is to end each sentence about two clauses before the point she's currently ending them at, though as a babbler myself, I do sympathise. Charlotte, who admonished Lauren for her alleged arrogance last week in a proper Women Beware Women moment, is asked for her opinion this week: Charlotte thought Lauren smouldered her way through it, and she hopes people vote for her this week because her voice is so special. Sheila thought it was a very elegant performance, and praises Lauren's navigation of the Stairs Of Doom in particular, while John -- being a much-needed voice of reason at this point -- tells Lauren that it's okay to be confident, because confidence is a good thing. I mean, finally. I know it's a tricky line to negotiate, because any sign of confidence from a woman on reality TV is generally taken for arrogance, but I'm glad someone's pointed out that she doesn't have to be all meek and grovelling instead. He says she proved that she's a good dancer tonight, so she's got the full package. The Lord says that she didn't do all the knowing gestures from last week, which was a good thing, and she had fun with it, giving her best performance yet. Lauren looks very relieved, BUT NOT IN AN ARROGANT WAY, obviously.
Our next two Dorothys were respectively "panned and praised" by the panel last week: Emilie and Stephanie. A brief snippet of last week recalls the horror of Emilie's rendition of 'The Boy Does Nothing' and the subsequent notes she got about her vocal control. Now, my boyfriend and I interpreted Emilie's comments in this VT somewhat differently, so in an effort to remain fair, I'm going to transcribe them verbatim: "I disagree that the voice is where I need a lot of work, but this is a tough competition, you're always going to get negative comments [...] The voice is there; I've trained, I've had lessons, I can sing." To be fair, the first time I was faintly incensed by these comments, and thought they were just as rife for interpretation as misplaced confidence as Lauren's thoughts were last week, but yeah, watching it back: she is just pointing out that she didn't just roll up on a whim on the 226, she's had a lot of vocal training and thinks that her voice is up to the challenge of this show. However, just as I defend Emilie's right to her own opinion, I also have a right to mine, wherein I would point out that lots of auditionees on The X Factor have had a lot of vocal coaching, and a lot of them still sound like refried ass, so coaching alone is not an automatic ticket to future melodious consistency. Hell, I took and passed two drama exams from a professional body as a teenager; but if I went to a professional acting audition these days, they'd laugh me out of the room, and rightly so. Also, I don't know if the contestants ever get a chance to review their previous performances, so I'll give Emilie the benefit of the doubt and assume she has not, because if she's listened back to 'Breakaway' and 'The Boy Does Nothing' and still doesn't see the problem, I can't help wondering if she's actually tone-deaf. Anyway, Emilie refers again to the public's faith in her, and she feels she has more to give, and she's determined to woo the judges.
Stephanie loved last week's song, and was really pleased to show the judges that she's got another side to her. Of course, Stephanie also saw what happened to Lauren last week, and so her VT is about how she's always really nervous and lacking in self-belief. Apparently, someone told her she wasn't good enough a few years ago, and she believed them. Well, that's showbiz, kid. However, she's regained her faith in herself, and she's never going to doubt herself again. Though she'll probably keep quiet about that in order to avoid being branded a she-devil by Charlotte.
Emilie goes first, singing 'Moon River', in a slightly shrill but not entirely unpleasant tone. Ultimately I feel a lot like I did after watching Kate Gosselin's tango on Dancing With The Stars: it's wonderful to see improvement, but when you were starting from such a low point to begin with, it's hard to get too excited about it. Also: it's 'Moon River'. It's really not that taxing a song, and she has no choreography to worry about this week (well, there is some, but it's when she isn't singing). So: I can see her point about how she's had vocal training and can deliver a song, but she's still got a lot of work to do to convince me that she can cut it against the Stephanies and the Stephs of the competition who are knocking it out of the park on a regular basis.
When that's over, Stephanie takes to the stage for a complete change of mood with Jennifer Lopez's 'Let's Get Loud'. I for one am disappointed, because there are going to be Jennifer Lopez songs on this show, then this one should be at the top of the list:
Anyway, where were we? Oh, right: Stephanie's giving it some Latin fever in an alarming black dress with yellow polka dots, and this song isn't a natural fit for her at all, but she's selling it like a true pro, and that's what I mean about the difference between the likes of her and Emilie. There's some odd choreography going on, but Stephanie has command of the stage, and while it's not the best vocal she's ever given, on a fairly sub-par night it's definitely one of the better ones.
Graham asks them, NatWest-style, if it's all work-work-work or whether they get to have any fun in the Dorothy house. Stephanie says that they work and play hard, and Emilie agrees. Sheila thought Stephanie was wonderful, and she's pleased that she's shown she can do different styles of performance. One small problem: "I haven't the slightest idea what the number was about, but never mind - it looked nice." Heh. Similarly, with Emilie she could've done with more pointers as to what the song was about - she didn't understand why the Boy Dancer was there for the performance, but she's sure Emilie did. John didn't get Emilie's performance - despite what Sheila said, he's not sure Emilie did know what she was doing, because he didn't understand who she was singing to or what she was singing for, and there was no connection with the guy she was singing to, or possibly not singing to, and he didn't understand the waltz, or the bit where they turned away from each other, and Charlotte disagrees, but about what I'm not entirely sure, and she didn't sound supported vocally. Stephanie, on the other hand, gave another excellent supported performance, but needs to learn when to pull back. Charlotte thinks Emilie has found her vocal control and she got the whole story, and Stephanie is awesome. Andrew tells Emilie that he thinks there's a reason why they didn't put her into the Top 10 initially, and he agrees with John that she's not vocally secure, and he worries about her in a large theatre doing EIGHT SHOWS A WEEK, while Stephanie was brilliant. He does throw Emilie a brief bone by saying that she's "possibly our best mover", to which I say:
The cooch-punching! Make it stop!
Andrew talks briefly about the West Side Story performance coming later, and says that they wouldn't ask a West End company to do as much as these girls are doing tonight and "tomorrow" night. Yes, but they are doing EIGHT SHOWS A WEEK, not TWO SHOWS A WEEK, as you keep telling us. You can't have it both ways, chum. Anyway, he thinks 'America' will be a defining moment in the history of the competition, if they can pull it off.
Steph and Jenny are on next: last week, Steph gave us a showstopper, and was really pleased with how it all turned out. Steph's mum Baby D is very proud of her, and so is her dad, the Phil Fearon of Galaxy featuring Phil Fearon. Her parents talk about how being in the studio is a bit like when they used to do Top Of The Pops, and they're kind of adorable. Steph has apparently been teasing her dad about being more famous than him now. CAREFUL, STEPHANIE FEARON, THAT MIGHT LOOK LIKE CONFIDENCE TO SOME. [Steph doesn't have a punchable face like Lauren, though. She's fine. - Carrie] Jenny impressed with 'Songbird' last week, and says that she feels the pressure to keep the good comments coming, but this week is choreography week, and she's the worst dancer here, she reckons. Sucks to be Jenny, then. However, Jenny suspects Dorothy "doesn't really dance", and reckons she's up to "a wee skip and a hop". Fair enough.
Steph is singing 'Out Here On My Own' from Fame, and it's easily the best performance of the night: there's a stillness and a confidence (the good sort, not the EVIL SORT) to it, amid a sea of vamping and hamming, there's a sincerity to it which is quite rare on this show. Jenny is singing 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love?', and while there's nothing especially wrong with this performance (she moves easily about the stage and her vocals are on form), it's just not really an attention grabber like 'Songbird' was. I don't think she's in any danger this week, mind: as I pointed out earlier, it's a week where several people have underwhelmed, and so merely being decent is probably plenty to keep yourself in it.
Steph tells Graham that she's confident in her own abilities (CAREFUL!), but always gets nervous during the live shows. Jenny says that Bronte going last week was a big shock, so they're all having as much fun as possible because no one knows when they'll be ousted. John says that Steph dazzled with her dancing last week and this week she dazzled with her acting. Jenny on the other hand, he thinks could be faking it. Charlotte thinks Steph is a triple-threat, but needs to watch her vibrato, "which is the wobbly stuff in your voice". Our singing expert, ladies and gentlemen! She thought Jenny was pretty good, but got nasally at parts and she needs to be careful. Sheila thought Steph was beautiful, and that Jenny could've gone further with the choreography and had fun. Andrew thought Jenny did well with a tricky song, and then he deals Steph the killer blow by telling her that even though she's talented, he's not sure the role of Dorothy is the one for her. So, Steph joins Sophie and Dani on the "gone the next time she hits the sing-off" list. Curse you, Lord Webber!
Oh, God, I'd forgotten about Rover The Rainbow: there's another teaser VT about that search, which will be covered in more detail in the results show, so once again, Carrie has the joy of recapping that. HAHAHAHAHAHA! [Fuck off. The end. - Carrie]
Our final two Dorothys are up: Jessica and Danielle. Jessica didn't feel like she'd nailed it last week (because she hadn't), and she thought she would be in the sing-off, though Bronte being in it wasn't a much better alternative, because Bronte was Jessica's best friend. Jessica's also missing her best friend from home, Rebel the Dog, but her mum's brought the dog down to cheer her up. I'm sure Bronte's thrilled at how quickly her place in Jessica's affections has been usurped. Jessica coos over the dog, but at least does so in a way that suggests she is a genuine dog lover, rather than someone who just wants to show how well she would work with Toto. Danielle brought Amy Studt back to primetime last week, and got great reviews: she tells us in her VT that she started musical theatre late in life and was quite shy. In fact, people called her "The Victorian Child" because she was always seen and not heard. I find it hard to imagine that a bunch of other kids would ever nickname someone "The Victorian Child"; that just sounds too much like one of those stories you make up later to spice up a potentially boring anecdote. Danielle recalls the horror of playing Rizzo in Grease when she was in year six, but was taken under the wing of her high school drama teacher and subsequently blossomed.
Jessica is singing 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', "from" We Will Rock You. From the way she's perched on a motorbike and surrounded by guys in white t-shirts and leather jackets, I wonder if she might not have been better off doing a number from Grease 2. [GOD YES. - Carrie] The facial tics are still present, though not quite at the horrific levels of week one, but her vocals are still all over the shop, especially when she's having to dance and sing at the same time. Danielle finishes things by taking on 'Could It Be Magic', and sings the entire thing to the lighting rig. Well, lighting rigs probably look like magic if you're not used to them, I guess. Her vocals are okay - she sounds a little unsupported in her top notes, and the whole performance is a bit anticlimactic, though.
Graham asks them how they're coping with the pressure, and Jessica's answer is "great". Heh. She and Danielle are enjoying the test of their stamina, the maniacs. Charlotte thought Jessica owned the stage, but she would've liked her to blues it up a bit, while Danielle was good, but should colour up her top notes with some vibrato, "which is the wobbly stuff, like I said earlier". Somewhere, Zoe Tyler is weeping. Sheila thought "Steph's" choreography was so complicated that she wasn't on top of it, while Danielle needs to love the camera more, and consider it a friend rather than an intrusion. Graham clarifies that she was talking about Jessica, but Sheila misunderstands and thinks Graham meant the second set of comments she gave, and says that she meant Danielle, and then Graham muddles things even further by saying "when you were talking about Jessica, you meant Jessica". Apparently being LIVE has its disadvantages. John didn't love Jessica's performance: he thought the choreography was laboured and he didn't enjoy it, while Danielle is just sticking at what she's good at and needs to take some risks. He thinks her performances have been the same for the past four weeks, which Sheila disagrees with. Charlotte wants her to sing "something joyous". Andrew says that he'd be keen to cast Jessica for Funny Girl, [which is what he said to Abi Finlay years ago and that still hasn't happened - Carrie] and is impressed that she worked the room and the cameras, while Danielle is a remarkable performer, but needs to come out of her shell a bit more.
Graham plugs the touring events that the show will be doing, and then we're into the girls having a choreography session with Kevan. Jessica's been in West Side Story three times before and is very excited, whereas Jenny hasn't even seen it. Lauren says that they're all focusing on their solo numbers, but the group number is still a big deal. Jenny frets about the complicated routine. Steph says that she's had dance training and she's struggling, so she's worried for everyone who isn't trained. Dani flirts with her Boy Dancer, and Stephanie hopes to show the judges what she can do. Lauren says it's a very competitive routine, where they're all fighting to get to the front, and Emilie promises to steal the whole number.
Back in the studio, Andrew says that these performances show us the all-round qualities of the girls, and that 'America' is one of his favourite songs: he wouldn't have dared to do this in any of the shows they've done previously because they didn't have an appropriate standard of contestant, so the fact that they're doing it at all is a small miracle. I hate it when programmes attempt to convince me that the standard of talent has increased massively despite little evidence to support that: I didn't believe it during Strictly Come Dancing 6 and I'm kind of raising an eyebrow now. John says that it's a huge choreographic challenge, and thanks Kevan for his hard work with the girls.
And so: 'America'. Complete with cringeworthy "Puerto Rican" accents. There's lots of sassing, although the girls don't enunciate their lyrics terribly clearly, perhaps because they're so preoccupied with their accents. Steph and - I can't quite believe I'm saying this - Jessica are the standouts for actually managing to interact convincingly with the others and make themselves heard properly.
Once that's all over, we get a sneak peak of this week's mission, where John teaches them how to wear heels, which will be coming up tomorrow. The lines are opened, and then we get a quick recap of the voting numbers and the performances. And that's it! Carrie will be here soon to reveal which Dorothy will be getting a house dropped on her...