Sunday, 16 May 2010

It's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed

Top 4: 15th May 2010

Last week! The producers chartered a small fleet of buses to pass through the studio on Saturday evening and ensure that they left a flattened Jenny in their wake, following which the general public decided that they'd had enough of mad faces and quirkiness and thus Jessica took the second bullet in the double elimination. Tonight! We're in the semi-final, and this is the last time that Andrew can save one of the girls from the unending horrors of a contract with We Will Rock You, so naturally the girls are determined not to be sent packing. They all spout various reality TV show clich├ęs about how this is THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF THEIR RELATIVELY SHORT LIVES THUS FAR! It's times like that that I miss Stacey Solomon and her "there's always Asda" approach to reality show fame. Although, where is she now? Is she, in fact, now working in Asda? That's a question for another recap, because this! is! Over The Rainbow!

Titles! I assume they meant for it to look like Andrew was peering into my living room through his opera glasses, but either way, I still feel incredibly violated every time it happens.

Studio. 'We're Off To See The Wizard', instrumental version, and a shiny Irishman. Graham spoils the fact that Chelsea have won the FA Cup for anyone who may not have seen the match yet, though I imagine that the crossover audience between this show and The Football is fairly slim. Even Andrew is looking comparatively unimpressed by the pyrotechnics these days. The four remaining girls sing 'Together Wherever We Go' from Gypsy, which as far as I know has no relation to The Wizard Of Oz, other than the fact that it was once recorded by She Who Must Not Be Named and her daughter, and suddenly I am glad that we're nearing the end of the series if they can't even be bothered to find Oz-themed songs to open the show with any more. The good news, however, is that they all sound in fine voice tonight, and the choreography doesn't hamper them too much either. In fact, it's quite nicely set up, as each girl gets a moment alone on camera for her solo line, and then is joined by two of the others appearing as if from nowhere for a harmony at the end. It's cute, although it does remind me of this a little bit.

Post-performance, Graham reminds us that everyone remaining has been in the sing-off at least once and been saved by The Lord, which is completely unprecedented on shows of this nature. Please feel free to ruminate at your own leisure about what this says for the viewing public's general level of investment in (a) this batch of girls; (b) this production as a whole. [I did, last week, and got called a bitch for my troubles. - Carrie] We're reminded also that Jenny and Jessica were ousted last week and their shoes now hang from the Chandelier of Doom, which is growing more precariously heavy by the day. The panel are back, of course: "first lady of theatreland Sheila Hancock, twinkle-toed EastEnder John Partridge [and] Wales's finest export, Charlotte Church". The hyperbole on this show is LITERALLY THE MOST EXCESSIVE I HAVE EVER WITNESSED. Graham quizzes Andrew about the lack of a "clear frontrunner", if you believe such a thing to be true, and I personally do not (I still consider this Danielle's competition to lose), and Andrew makes an ill-advised attempt at topical political humour. Luckily no one suggests having a coalition of Dorothys in the parts. Andrew says that all of the rejection they've experienced in the sing-offs is good experience for the theatre, which continues the thread of sunny optimism begun by Tamzin Outhwaite and her tales of the mind-numbing boredom of EIGHT SHOWS A WEEK last Sunday. Andrew encourages us to think of the girls as individual actors, and to think of them as people: can they be Dorothy? Can they go on a JOURNEY?

From there, we're gifted to a few teasers of what's coming up, and from there we're onto the first two girls: Sophie and Steph. Sophie says that last week was tough, and she's thrilled that the public kept her in. Having been buoyed by the chance to watch a Betamax recording of some old ladies saying they supported her" a few weeks back, she now has the opportunity to go home and be hugged by some old ladies in person, and sign autographs outside the post office. (Which is closed, by the way, presumably as a direct result of BROKEN BRITAIN.) Sophie meets up with her Very Supportive Granddad Haydn, who's the same one who chastised Wales as a whole the other week for not keeping her out of the bottom two. Steph, meanwhile, has made the treacherous trip back to...London to see her family, who are all very excited to see her. She takes us to the bar that she worked in before she was in the show, and hugs someone who is presumably her (former?) boss. She says that she enjoyed the job, but does not want to be pulling pints for the rest of her life.

Before the girls get a chance to sing, Graham has a quick chat with Andrew about what he's expecting: he would like Sophie to come out of her shell, and for Steph to de-age by about four years connect her head with her heart. Sophie takes to the stage first and sings 'Reflection', which is either from Mulan or by Christina Aguilera, depending on your perspective. I don't remember being especially impressed with this the first time that I watched it, but on review, it is actually a pretty good performance. It's one of the best vocals she's given on the show, easily, and while the performance part is still a little wooden, there is at least a sign that she's managed to attach a personal emotion of some sort to the song, so it resonates more strongly. Steph's singing Take That's 'Rule The World', and appears to be doing so in a key slightly too high, which both sounds slightly strange and, I think, leads to her delivering an unusually subdued performance. It's not a bad performance, at all, and Steph's always a pleasure to watch, but there's just something missing tonight, and my gut feeling after watching it was that she might be in trouble this week, because both of her previous visits to the sing-off were after technically-fine-but-still-underwhelming performances.

Graham asks Sophie who the biggest threat is in the top four, and she says everyone, because Steph's a triple threat, Lauren's a great singer and Danielle's brilliant at acting. So, wouldn't that make Steph the biggest threat, then? Steph, in turn, is asked what it would mean to make the final, because as we all know backwards by now, she was in the singoff in the first week. Steph says that she never imagined she'd make it this far, and hopes she's done enough to still be here next week. Charlotte is asked who has the vocal edge, and sits on the fence a little bit. She calls 'Rule The World' "a classic" (really?) while pointing out that it's a "man's song" and therefore gave Steph an extra hurdle to overcome, but she likes the fragility in the lower part of Steph's voice. She also thinks Sophie's had a breakthrough and gave a lovely vocal. Sheila thinks Sophie took a big leap forward, but could've been a bit more subtle and given a bit more puzzlement, but it was a step forward. She thinks Steph, on the other hand, was great, even though it's a pop song so Sheila doesn't have a clue what the words mean (and seriously, every time she says that, I go off her a little bit more). She tells Steph to watch her shoulders and push her hair back, like we're suddenly on America's Next Top Model and dressing for go-sees. John says that Steph's the girl that he wants out of the final four, and tells her that to be a leading lady you need talent and a break: she has talent, and he hopes the public give her that break. Aww. He loved Sophie's performance too, and tells her it was her best performance to date. Andrew tells Sophie she did well, despite singing A POP SONG, but he would've liked her to play it a tad more innocently because they're looking for Dorothy. I've honestly lost track of whether they're supposed to be channeling Dorothy or not in these main songs, but even if they are, I challenge anyone to find me an appropriate context for Dorothy to sing that song over the course of the damn show. He also thinks Sophie turned a corner tonight, despite having a difficult song.

Toto preview: this week's task appears to involve grooming, and Andrew being made to look scarier than he normally does. I'll let Carrie fill that in for you later. [Cheers. - Carrie]

From there, we're off to rejoin Lauren and Danielle. Lauren says that being in the bottom two doesn't get any easier second time around, but she's so happy to be in the final four. She goes home, where everyone is waving placards at her. She makes a special visit to her nan and granddad, the latter of whom she explains hasn't been able to come and see her perform because he suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and doesn't like to leave his living room. And if you're expecting me to make a joke here, you're going to be disappointed, because I once suffered from panic attacks so badly that I could barely make it to the end of the front path without collapsing in a hyperventilating heap, so for once I'm going to can the sarcasm and sit here quietly empathising. Lauren's grandpa tells her he's impressed, and she's pleased that he's had a chance to see her perform. Danielle recalls last week's visit to the bottom two and thinking she was a goner, but is relieved to still be here. She goes home, and immediately cracks up at the rapturous reception that's waiting for her, which is super-cute. She skips up a makeshift yellow brick road and hugs a load of her pals. She visits lots of local shops where people have hung "vote Danielle" posters and baked "Danielle for Dorothy" cakes, which makes me wonder if she's related to Robbie from So You Think You Can Dance.

Back in the studio, Andrew says that he would like Lauren to display some vulnerability, while Danielle is a raw talent who has grown the most of all the girls in the competition so far. This, just in case you've forgotten, is in response to the question of what he would like them to deliver tonight. You may have spotted that he did not answer the question for Danielle, which perhaps suggests he thinks she's perfect as it is. Hmm.

Lauren's up first, singing 'Heaven', the DJ Sammy version. She inserts a bit of a playful giggle into the lyrics, which is a nice touch, but it's not long before she reverts to her biggest flaw: literally acting the lyrics out line by line. That includes reprising last week's Joey Tribbiani Confusion Face for "I'm finding it hard to believe", and then looking skyward for "we're in heaven". And, my personal favourite, standing very still for "I'll be standing there by you". The song's key change is very awkward and results in some deeply unpleasant noises as Lauren swings randomly between her lower and upper register, and there's a touch of hysteria to the closing notes as the giggle that sounded nice at the beginning rages out of control. Danielle sings 'When You Believe', which starts out sounding lovely as she carefully negotiates the Stairs Of Doom, though in the second half of the song, she appears to be singing directly through her nose, which is unfortunate. Danielle probably gets the honours for best solo performance this week, though none of them were exactly perfect.

Lauren tells Graham that she's grateful to have been saved last week, and she hopes she's given Andrew enough faith in her again this week - and an uncharitable observer might assume that she thinks she's destined for the bottom two again based on that comment. Danielle is quizzed about her alternative career plans, and admits that she wanted to be a crime scene investigator, though this was probably just because she's nosey. Sheila thinks they were two cracking performances, and that Lauren caught the "wonderment of love", and applauds her for not getting carried away even when the idiot audience started cheering. Heh. Once again, Sheila does not understand what Danielle's pop song was about, but apparently this is a good thing, because Danielle did not impose a meaning on it. Yep, Sheila's kind of losing me here. [I really didn't understand this. So it's OK not to convey a meaning because it's up to the audience to interpret? - Carrie] John calls them "the voice and the actress" - and seriously, how long has Danielle been the acting wunderkind of this show? I always thought it was her strong singing voice that was keeping her afloat despite some so-so acting performances, rather than the other way around - and says that it would be great if they could mix the two together. Sheila, sensing a threat to her beloved Danielle, cries foul and says that Danielle has a great voice, and John's all "yes! I know!" John had precisely the opposite reaction to me with Danielle's performance, in that he loved the second half but wasn't sure about the first, but he thinks that even divas have an off day. He thinks that Lauren adopted some of Danielle's sensitivity and truthfulness, and combining that with her voice makes her unbeatable. Charlotte thinks Lauren is incapable of giving a bad performance, and that she took on board what Andrew said last week about occasionally getting a bit shouty. And here we have our weekly tiresome battle between John and Charlotte, because he jumps in and claims that she called Lauren "screechy" last week (I no longer have last week's episode to refer to, but the recap seems to be on Charlotte's side here). John, incredibly rudely, insists that Charlotte said Lauren "screeched the whole way through the song", at which point I call bullshit for sure, because even if Charlotte did utter the word "screechy" at some point, and I still seem to recall that being Andrew, Charlotte doesn't have it in her to say anything that sharply critical. Anyway, Charlotte finally gets him to shut up and says that she missed some of the power of Lauren's vocal this week (at which point John pipes up about what he thinks she said last week, and seriously, SHUT UP, JOHN) and finally it's over. Charlotte tells Danielle that she works really well with substance to the lyrics, and the vagueness of that song meant it wasn't one of her best performances, but she made some lovely noises, apparently. And then Charlotte says happy birthday to her nana. No, seriously.

Andrew tells Lauren that she'll always give her best, and thus she is a producer's dream, but he wonders if there should've been a touch more sweetness in her performance. To Danielle, he says that she's one of those actresses who relies on her inner truth, and gave an extraordinary performance, and that "you've got a long way to go in the theatre." By which I suspect he means "you'll go a long way in the theatre", because what he said wasn't quite the same thing.

It's not over yet! The girls have a mission ahead, in which they must learn to speak like a genuine Kansan. We'll get that in more detail later, because the girls will now be doing duets. Sophie and Steph are up first, and they get a mock-rivalry VT in which Sophie refers to Steph as one of her best friends. They do bicker very cutely, it has to be said. Sophie is worried that Steph is a triple threat, while Steph is worried that Sophie is a very funny and charismatic performer. She must be seeing something we aren't. She talks about having to rise to Sophie's level as a performer, and come on now. I like Sophie a lot, but that's clearly a load of crap. Sophie says that she really needs to start shining. "I really want Sophie to do well, but I just want to do a little bit better than her," Steph concludes. Heh.

They sing 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair' from South Pacific in polka dotted towels. Vocally, they're both giving it some, and they've both chosen to play it rather angrily, which I think is a bit of a shame because I think they're missing some of the comedy they could've got out of it if they'd played it with a touch more amused exasperation. Oh God, I sound like Sheila. Cameron Mackintosh will be pleased to see that the choreography calls for both girls to touch their hair as a way of showing emotion, anyway.

From there, we go straight into Lauren and Danielle's VT. Danielle thinks Lauren's a strong contender, but isn't going to let that faze her. Lauren doesn't want to be overshadowed by Danielle. They're singing 'Popular' from Wicked, and Lauren's sure that Danielle's acting skills will make her shine on stage. Danielle says that they have to work as a team while also trying to stand out.

They sing at matching vanities, and it begins with Danielle kissing a gold-framed picture of herself, which I have to admit kind of wins me onto her side from the outset. She's very good in this, actually - very animated, very good at doing business with her props without seeming hammy (something that Lauren's not quite so adept at), and she sounds great. Lauren's acting, on the other hand, is a little bit overstated, and has the unfortunate effect of aging her, to the point where I wonder if she's actually playing the role as Norma Desmond, given the giant vanity and everything. I also struggle to suppress a giggle when Lauren has to sing the line "I know about popular", considering the reaction she prompts on a lot of the messageboards I've been reading. Vocally they're matched evenly all the way, but Danielle makes the performance look easy, and that's why she wins this one for me.

John's asked who came out on top, and he thinks they're both sensational, but if he had to answer, he'd pick Danielle. Between Steph and Sophie, Steph was the more polished choreographically, but Sophie has really been raising her game tonight and may have had the performance edge. Charlotte thought Steph was brilliant, and wants someone to write a musical for Lauren and Danielle. Sheila thinks Danielle is a gifted comic, and thinks that they had a slightly wittier, easier number, and thinks the public should bear that in mind when voting: "their past history, how well they've been doing - don't care whether they've got nice grandparents, it's what they've been doing up there". Okay, she might have won me back a little bit. Andrew worries that the producers of Wicked might want to steal Lauren and Danielle from him after seeing that. He praises Danielle's "comic gift" and backhands Lauren by praising her "experience". He's then vaguely pervy to Steph and Sophie about the content of their number, and thinks they could've got more humour out of it. He thinks Sophie is "deliciously funny" and wishes them both luck.

Right, time for that promised accent mission VT. The girls are taken to a West End theatre which is currently vacant to learn a Kansas drawl from accent coach Jill McCullough, who's worked with Robert De Niro, Dame Judi Dench and... Keira Knightley. They tells them all to flatten their tongues. Lauren says that she thought her accent was quite good, but she's being picked apart. The girls all have to say "my name's Dorothy and I have a dog named Toto" over and over again, before finally being put to the test in front of Andrew in a scene, the one where Dorothy asks how to get home to Kansas. Sophie's accent goes all over the place a little bit (Ireland, mainly) and her performance is a tad flat, Lauren's is over the top, of course, but her accent seems fairly constant. Steph gives a lively and emotional performance with a fairly decent accent, and Danielle gives a still but resonant performance, and her accent seems fine as well.

Andrew gives his verdict: Danielle's accent was BRILLIANT and she MADE THE ROLE HER OWN, just in case we're in any doubt who his favourite is, Lauren is the most accomplished but they need to eke more vulnerability out of her, Steph was very professional but was too much in her head and not in her heart, while Sophie struggled the most with her accent and that affected her performance, though Andrew thinks she'll be stronger when she's more comfortable with the accent. He thinks all four of them can do the accent, and it's pretty clear to him who the actresses are. It's interesting how he seems to keep trotting out the same old criticisms for each girl most of the time, regardless of the performance she's just given. I have my suspicions that Andrew has his ranking order all set up in his head now, and little short of a miracle is going to upset that.

Then we're back in the studio for a group performance of 'I Cain't Say No' from Oklahoma!, which I'm sure will appal Sheila with its general air of sluttiness. Again, the vocals are strong all round, though there's a bit less common ground in the performances: Danielle's probably the strongest here, closely followed by Steph, with Sophie and Lauren somewhere behind. Graham asks Sheila who got the Kansas drawl best (and make a note of that, it'll be important later): Sheila says that she can't be bothered to worry about that (heh) because they'll all get the accent in time. She was focused on the acting, and it reminded her of something that John (Thaw, not Partridge) used to say to her: "don't demonstrate, be." She thinks they were all demonstrating, apart from (wait for it) Danielle, who was "totally simple". Nah, that joke's too easy. John thinks all the girls have developed hugely and should all be proud of themselves, but he thinks Lauren gave the best performance in the last number. Charlotte thinks Steph stood out, and so did Lauren. Then there's a bit of confusion, because Charlotte comments that she's "disagreeing with Sheila" because she liked that Lauren was big and brash and it suited that number, and Sheila points out that she was talking about the acting VT, not the number they just did, and in fairness, it does seem like that's what Graham asked her about in the first place, though it seems odd that she was asked to comment on that while the others passed judgement on the song-and-dance number.

Andrew's asked for his feedback, and he says that there's no question that any of them could do the accent. He doesn't want to lead the viewers any more VOTE FOR DANIELLE and he wants us to evaluate them as individuals OF WHOM DANIELLE IS THE BEST. We've seen them all acting and he knows where he'd like the competition to go, WHICH IS TO SAY DANIELLE WINNING, but he doesn't want to lead anyone DANIELLE DANIELLE DANIELLE. I mean, seriously. Don't get me wrong: I like Danielle, I think she's done more than enough over the past few weeks to prove she'd play the part well, I have absolutely no problem with her winning, but for Andrew to say that he doesn't want to "lead" the public when he's offered criticism to all the girls tonight except her is a tad hypocritical. In the interests of avoiding a flame war here though, I really must stress again that my beef is with Andrew, not Danielle. She has no control over how they react, so I don't blame her at all, but it doesn't mean I can't feel at least a little annoyed at Andrew's pretense of impartiality.

Graham asks Andrew about television versus theatre, and he says that they need a girl who can command the stage and have a rapport with Toto. He definitely, definitely doesn't want to lead anybody (see above), but we should all bear that in mind.

The lines open, and we get a quick recap of tonight's performances, duets included, while the numbers scroll across the screen - though I daresay if The Lord had his way, only Danielle's number would be shown. Not that he wants to lead us, you understand. Just like he totally didn't want to lead us when he declared Pirate Jessie to be the second coming. I suppose I should be grateful that at least Danielle does at least justify some of the praise she gets, unlike her seafaring predecessor.

That's it! Don't forget to join Carrie for the results to see who gets the boot at this crucial stage.

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