Sunday, 2 May 2010

Band this filth

Top 7: Big Band Night
1st May 2010

Last week! A cartoon Graham Norton briefly appeared during the last thirty seconds of some old guff about a spaceman, and the nation collectively lost its shit. Also, it was a night of outstanding performances. And Emilie's. The Lord thought that Jessica gave him a world-class performance (he did not, however, specify which world - my money's on Super Mario World, I think she'll make an amazing Wendy O. Koopa), and we were all put out of our misery when the voting public finally realised that Emilie was hopelessly out of her depth and sent her packing. Hooray! Tonight, the remaining seven Dorothys are performing with a big band, and spouting various reality TV clich├ęs about this being the most important thing they have ever done and will ever do!

Titles. Girls attempt to steal shoes from each other; first-time viewers wonder why the BBC commissioned How Do You Solve A Problem Like Imelda Marcos?

Studio, no longer Television Centre-based. Thanks to last week's commenter Josh, by the way, for informing me of the show's new location, and consider me suitably embarrassed for not having worked that out beforehand. Graham enters, wearing another waistcoat that aims to give hard-of-hearing viewers a better impression of what Jessica sounds like. The big band play a few stings, and various pyrotechnics erupt feebly. The top 7 take to the stage to sing 'Don't Rain On My Parade', and group numbers are a little bit less fun now that I'm not waiting to see if Emilie can come in on-pitch or not. Jenny appears to be cultivating a sidegob worthy of Pirate Jessie, Lauren plays with her skirt during the "I'll beat my drum" line (dirty!), and of course the "hey, Mr Arnstein" line is changed to "Mr Lloyd Webber", and Andrew cackles like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard, even though some loser did exactly the same thing during the auditions. I guess he had better things to do than watch the rushes.

Once that's over, Graham tells us that we're past the halfway stage, and there's no clear frontrunner because "a different girl" has been hitting the bottom two every week. I think you'll find that's two different girls, Graham. Also, surely the frontrunners would be the girls who have yet to find themselves in that position, i.e. Stephanie, Jenny and Jessica? That's what the internet is saying, anyway, and obviously the internet is always right. The panel are present and correct: Sheila (demure), John (orange), and Charlotte (burlesque). Graham asks Andrew what sort of perils the girls should be wary of this week, and before answering, Andrew informs us all that Lee and Denise welcomed their sprog Betsy into the world this morning. Look out for Betsy on Take Me Or Leave Me, the hunt for an actress to play Maureen in the next revival of Rent, in around 18 years' time. I know I've got it marked on my calendar. The crowd applaud the general concept of heteronormativity, and Andrew makes a rubbish gag about Dorothy and Toto having equal-sized dressing rooms. Lauren's all, "as long as it has room for my relatively expensive double-quilted eye make-up removal pads, I'm good."

Graham teases that the girls will be performing a song made famous by Judy Garland (whoever she is - I might have known once upon a time but Dani's rendition of 'Ego' by The Saturdays completely banished all such knowledge from my mind), and then it's time for Steph and Jenny. Steph's VT reminds us that Andrew actually liked her last week, much to her astonishment. Steph hopes she's shown Andrew that she's versatile and changed his mind about whether she can be Dorothy. She's excited about big band week because she loves jazz, and she's amazed that she's still standing after being in the bottom two. Such heavy foreshadowing, in addition to the fact that she's on first, makes me suspicious that she might be the first contestant to end up there twice. Jenny's VT reminds us that she has never seen a West End show, "which is funny, because the first time I might've seen one might be the time that I'm in one." I'm not sure she quite understands how this "theatre" malarkey works, y'know. To cure her of the apprehension that actors tend to have out-of-body experiences and simultaneously guzzle fruit pastilles in the stalls while watching themselves perform, Jenny is taken to see Mamma Mia!, and even gets to go backstage to meet some of the cast to boot. We see numerous shots of Jenny rapturously enjoying the show, and several other audience members who are possibly a tad put out at having a camera shoved in their face during their quiet night out at the theatre.

Steph's on first, singing 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' in a choreography-heavy number that sees her twirling around a sparkly cane while hurling herself bravely at her backing dancers and hoping that they'll catch her - which they do, thankfully. It's a fun, game performance - Steph twinkles every bit as much as her cane does - though the glory note at the end is perhaps a little bit rough. Jenny takes on 'Feeling Good', and her attempt at sultry is a little bit on the squinty side - she reminds me of Jane Horrocks impersonating Shirley Bassey - though the transformation of Jenny between her pre-performance VTs and her live show appearance makes me think that the make-up artists on this show really deserve a raise. Vocally, it's totally on the money, and I don't think she'll be in any trouble this week.

Graham asks Steph what the challenge was like of opening the show with a full-on production number this week: Steph says that while the lifts looked worrisome, it was actually walking on the boys' backs that she was most concerned about because she didn't want to hurt them. Apparently they kept going "ow!" in rehearsal, so she's glad they're not mic-ed up tonight. Jenny says that having the band behind them really got their hearts racing and got them into the spirit of the performance. John thinks they made a cracking opening to the show, and he thinks that Steph's new "BFs" after that performance will be the scarecrow and the tin man, because she handled a big number and made it look effortless. [Oh, Partridge, you get gayer by the week. - Carrie] He thinks that Jenny got her mojo back and really grew throughout the performance. Sheila says that despite her misgivings at the start of the series about anyone being able to rival Judy Garland's (what? who?) iconic performance, both of these girls would make wonderful Dorothys. She thinks Jenny could've used the lyrics a bit more to colour it, and Steph could've gone a little bit further, but they were both great. Charlotte calls Steph a "diminutive diva" and praises her performance, and tells Jenny that she absolutely owned her song. The Lord congratulates Steph for saving the day last week when the band came in early at the end of 'Oklahoma!' last week (I don't remember exactly what happened, but Steph is my favourite, so I'll just assume she did something completely awesome) and blathers on for ages about understanding the lyrics and uses the terrifying phrase "a big bump-and-grind number", but seems generally impressed by both performers.

Getting a slot all to herself this week is Sophie, who tells us that being in the bottom two is not a good feeling because you feel like the public have completely lost faith in you. Well, yes, but on the bright side, they lost faith in Emilie more, so it's not all bad news, right? Sophie's grandpa Haydn thinks that Wales has let her down (because we are, of course, voting for postcodes and not performances), so Sophie goes home to Tonypandy to LAY DOWN SOME BEATINGS. Oh, sorry, my mistake: she just watches a video of some nice old ladies and her old drama studio telling her that they're supporting her, and that they're kidnapping people from the English borders and holding them at gunpoint while they vote for Sophie. I may have added that last bit. Watching the video lifts Sophie's spirits, anyway.

She's singing 'What A Wonderful World' and has made the odd-but-not-necessarily-invalid acting choice to play it in a depressed sort of way. It sort of works, but on a night where everybody else is going to be running around and dancing, it doesn't really do a lot to make the performance linger in the memory. Her vocals are pretty decent - she cracks on a few of the longer notes, but her singing's of a better standard than usual. [I love the tone of Sophie's voice. That's what makes her a possible Dorothy. - Carrie]

She talks a bit more to Graham about how much it means to have the support of Tonypandy, and Charlotte thinks the vocals were wonderful, though she could've pushed it further (we seem to be getting a lot of this particular line of criticism from the panel as a whole this week, and I rather question how useful it is - would it kill them to provide specific examples?) and Charlotte would've liked her to smile rather than be all SRS BSNS about the whole thing. Sheila thinks the interpretation was a viable one, but she wishes Sophie had chosen to really love it. She thinks Sophie's nerves are holding her back and she wants to kick her (Graham: "Don't worry, Sophie, we'll stop her.") and then Sophie smiles and Sheila's all "THERE! RIGHT THERE!" [gay or European? - Carrie] and we've perhaps had a breakthrough of some kind. John doesn't want to kick her when she's down, but he wishes he could've seen the colour in the rainbow (at this point, I could do with seeing a colour besides ORANGE, because seriously, dude, lay off the tanning for a bit) and thinks that she worried so much about singing that she forgot to act. Andrew agrees with the panel, but thinks that Sophie is really capable of much more, and wonders if the big band led her astray a little bit. In the background, the band are all "well, excuse us, Princess."

Toto teaser: they're off to Legally Blonde this week, and it's Carrie's turn to recap it again. Hahahahaha. [BITCH. - Carrie]

Up next are Danielle and Lauren. It was Danielle's birthday this week, and Andrew was going to buy her a celebratory shandy until several quick-witted public relations experts took him to one side and suggested that might not be the BEST idea, so instead the girls threw a surprise party for her back at Dorothy Manor. Everyone's dressed as West End stars: Lauren is Sandy from Grease (or possibly Julie Goodyear in Calendar Girls), Jessica is the Cowardly Lion, Steph is being Sheila Hancock in Sister Act, Jenny is presumably something from We Will Rock You, Stephanie is Elphaba from Wicked, and Sophie is someone from Mamma Mia!, I assume. Danielle, of course, gets to be Dorothy, which I'm sure will not have gone unnoticed by the conspiracy theorists. Although, the fact that Danielle gets video messages from the cast of Wicked (including Rachel Tucker as Elphaba), Niamh from Love Never Dies and the cast of Mamma Mia!, all wishing her a happy birthday, does seem perhaps a bit excessive. I bet Sophie's not feeling quite so excited about that video from the Tonypandy Mothers' Union any more. They conga around Dorothy house, and Danielle is very happy. Lauren thinks that last week was her best show so far, but she thinks she's been mechanical and robotic about her approach to the show so far, and thinks her friends at home wouldn't even recognise her from her edit "the Lauren they've seen on TV". So she goes off to a crappy-looking funfair with said friends to relax for a bit, and they really are just copy-pasting the Danyl Johnson I'm Not An Arrogant Fiend Redemption Arc here, aren't they? Lauren throws some balls and wins a teddy, and then hits a friend over the head with an inflatable hammer, possibly because she suspected said friend of stealing her relatively expensive double-quilted eye make-up removal pads.

Danielle is singing 'Mambo Italiano' this week, and begins her performance with an ill-advised wink at the camera which makes her look a bit simple. Once the song turns uptempo, she's actually pretty good - it's not the best vocal she's ever given, and I'm still not wholly convinced that her emotional range is that wide, but it's the most animated I've seen her on stage so far. It's the closest I've come to feeling inspired to vote for her, anyway. (I didn't in the end, just in case you were wondering.) Lauren is singing 'The Man That Got Away', and regular readers will I'm sure be entirely unsurprised that I spent the entire performance screaming "Where is he? Look over your shoulder! Touch your hair in anguish!" Ahh, happy days. [I was so excited when she went to lift her hands to her head, and then didn't follow through. How is heartbreak supposed to be denoted without that? - Carrie] I'm not suggesting that Lauren's performance is a masterpiece of subtlety and nuance (she does have melodramatic tendencies of her own), but the fact that she does manage to develop an emotional narrative for the song without just acting out each individual lyric demonstrates just how amateurish Jessie's performance was two years ago, despite what Andrew Lloyd Webber said. I feel rather bad for not judging Lauren's performance on its own merits and just using it as another opportunity to bash Pirate Jessie, but...oh, wait. Never mind, I never feel bad about bashing Pirate Jessie.

Danielle tells Graham about her birthday cake, which was apparently two pieces of Soreen smushed together because she doesn't actually like birthday cake. I'd call her a weirdo, but my boyfriend doesn't like cake either. I attempted to make him a cheesecake for his birthday this weekend, but it didn't set, so he ended up getting a bowl of cheesy-yoghurty slush with a few lumps of biscuit in it. I am the worst boyfriend ever, aren't I? Anyway, no one ate Danielle's cake and it went hard. And then it's time for another story about how Lauren is an alien who doesn't understand our earth customs: hooray! Apparently she's a neat freak (SHOCKER) and cleans up after everyone - she says that Steph is good when it comes to cleaning, but STEPH-ER-NEE is a liability, and they all keep a log of how long she leaves her pots and pans out without washing them. Stephanie cringes as her complete lack of domestic skill is broadcast to the nation once again. Presumably she'll be getting Anthea Turner round for her VT next week. Lauren waves at Stephanie and mouths "sorry!", and I actually love her a little bit. Oddly enough for someone who spends this much time on the internet, I know what it's like to have no social skills whatsoever, so I'm starting to find her post-performance chats incredibly endearing.

Sheila thought those were two knockout performances, and both girls assume a character when they perform. She was particularly pleased to see Danielle going mad and having fun, and being appropriately silly with it. Similarly, Lauren brought the necessary desperation and grief to her song. John is amazed at Danielle's improvement, but thinks her vocals were affected by the choreography. He handwaves it by saying that normally performers get six weeks to develop the necessary stamina to support their vocals in such situations, and...this is the fifth live show of the series, and I'm assuming they would have had a few weeks' rehearsal before then, so I'm not sure I'm ready to buy that one. Lauren's the most experienced girl here, and he thinks that's starting to show, and he loves her. Charlotte thinks Danielle has grown the most of all the girls, and that her performance was brilliant and joyous this week, while Lauren gave "one of the best performances I've ever seen in my life". Andrew makes a mental note to take Charlotte backstage afterwards and show her Pirate Jessie's DEFINITIVE performance. Oh, and he tells both girls that he's proud of them, and that Danielle showed us humour and fun, and sang live while dancing, while Lauren took on one of the most tricky songs of all time, and Andrew gives us another potted history of the song despite no one really caring. Apparently Lauren breathed in the wrong place, but it was really the right place, and that was why her performance was brilliant. I won't even pretend I understood that.

Mission trailer: this week they abandon the girls in the woods at night. Awesome.

And so we come to Stephanie and Jessica. Stephanie gets to go home this week to see her family, and thinks it feels like years since she's been back to see her family. They're all out in force to greet her, though I can't see any evidence of cousin Gemma. Hmm. They've made a makeshift yellow brick road for Stephanie out of wallpaper, and then Stephanie goes out into Liverpool city centre, where lots of people stop her and ask for her autograph and get their pictures taken with her. Stephanie is agog, because this is just what she used to do when she saw Atomic Kitten. She takes a ferry 'cross the Mersey while the aforementioned song plays behind her. Heh. Jessica is very excited that Andrew was so impressed with her last week, but came down to earth sharply when her voice went on "Sunday evening". But hang on a minute, Jessica, we all saw you on Sunday evening and there was no evidence of this! Next you'll be telling us that show wasn't 100% live! "You mustn't speak, you mustn't sing," her voice coach tells us. What the show does not explain is that this segment was in fact recorded two months ago, when the voice coach met Jessica for the very first time. Jessica goes to see a throat specialist, and basically has to keep quiet all week (hooray!), which means she can't rehearse this week's song. Sucks to be her, I guess.

Stephanie is singing 'Mr Bojangles', and it's a rare mis-step from her this week. She doesn't really seem to be able to get a handle on the song terribly well, and it doesn't give her much opportunity to show off her vocals, relying instead on her acting ability, which isn't really Stephanie's strongest suit. In evidence of this claim, I submit: Stephanie sings the line "call him Mr Bojangles" by glaring ferociously at the camera and pointing her finger, leaving me absolutely terrified of what she'll do to me if I don't call him Mr Bojangles. "Kneecap me" seems the most likely outcome. I like Stephanie a lot, but this was a really rough week for her. Jessica, on the other hand, is singing 'Cabaret' (her favourite song ever, apparently) and looking right matronly in her sequinned jacket and school-run hairdo. Her voice seems to have returned to her, though judging by the snarls and twitches, I think she could've still made herself heard even if she'd been rendered mute all night. She also disappoints me greatly by not singing "when I go, I'm going like Rachel", which I think we all know is the correct version of the lyrics.

Post-performance, Graham informs us that Stephanie also lost her voice this week, but this was apparently not worth mentioning in her own VT. Poor Stephanie - robbed of the sympathy vote. Jessica said the others finally had some peace and quiet this week. John thinks they didn't let their vocal problems show, though he didn't like Stephanie's performance. He didn't know who Mr Bojangles was or how she felt about him - at which point Charlotte cashes in her I Disagree Completely Card for the week and interrupts, saying that it was "different" and she made it new and fresh. Then she tells John he can carry on now, which I admit did made me giggle a little bit. John didn't think the choreography went with the lyrics (not really Stephanie's fault though, is it?), but he knows people will pick up the phone and support her. Jessica, on the other hand, gave the performance he's been waiting for, because it showed passion and attack, both qualities that Dorothy should apparently have. Charlotte says that all the girls stepped up their game tonight, and tells Stephanie not to listen to John, and then tells Jessica that she gave her best vocal performance of the series. Sheila likes that Jessica got the context of 'Cabaret' and that this was an embittered, sad, lost girl (I'm not entirely sure that was deliberate, but I'm not about to contradict Dame Sheila Hancock) but she would've liked a few more colours. She thinks Stephanie should've told the story of Mr Bojangles more simply, but concedes that it was a very difficult song. Andrew agrees that both songs are very difficult, and thinks that Jessica got the acting side of it right, while Stephanie could perhaps have told two sides of the story, though he thinks they both did very well in challenging circumstances.

Filler time! Andrew gets his own VT to give us his thoughts on each of the contestants: Danielle is "one of the most talented girls we've got in the competition" and they haven't seen all that she can do; Lauren is DEFINITELY NOT ARROGANT AT ALL and has a vulnerability that we've not yet seen; Stephanie is "an interesting talent" with a lot of personality, but needs to develop her acting skills; Steph has made a huge journey and completely turned a corner for him, becoming a strong contender; Jenny surprised them all at the start and has great instincts; Jessica has so much to offer, but has only given us glimpses of her true potential so far; Sophie may have turned in on herself a little bit, and Andrew wants to see the homespun quality of Dorothy in her. In short: he's very proud of them all.

It's not over yet, either: it's time for another group number as they sing 'The Trolley Song', as made famous by Whatshername. Everyone mugs for all they're worth throughout, and once again it's not as much fun when nobody really fucks up. Jessica gets a much shorter solo section than everyone else, though I wonder if that's a result of her aforementioned voice problems this week which didn't give her much rehearsal time. Steph and Lauren probably work the hardest of everyone in the song, but no one really embarrasses herself.

Andrew thinks there is "real excellence" in here, and asks us all to think about them not just as Dorothys but also as "real talents" when we vote. The lines open, and it's time for a quick recap of the performance: Steph dazzling, but perhaps on reflection not standing out quite as much as she usually does; Jenny feeling good; Sophie feeling like she might want to cut herself; Danielle delivering some Latin flavour; Lauren forgetting to touch her hair and look over her shoulder; Stephanie threatening to knife us if we don't call him Mr Bojangles; and Jessica loving a cabaret.

That's it! Don't forget to join Carrie later for the results show, and remember: CALL HIM MR BOJANGLES, MOTHERFUCKERS! OR I'LL END YOU!

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