Everything was going so well.
Classically, the X Factor pre-final is an unstoppable gush-fest, where judges laud praise on anything that opens its mouth on stage in the name of good sportsmanship.
But Simon Cowell seemed to bring that to a shuddering halt, after Scarlett Lee’s performance of Elton John’s classic Your Song.
First, after praising Anthony Russell and Dalton Harris pretty much without reservation, he brought up his own act’s ‘nerves’ as she belted out what actually sounded like a thoroughly respectable performance.
Then, in what was a pretty needless jibe, he took aim at Fleur East, two-time former X Factor contestant, one-time runner up, and also one of his own previous acts.
After delivering a hardly glowing notice of Scarlett’s performance, he warned: “This is the first time I’ve felt your nerves because you’re all about personality and a big voice. This weekend could change your life.
“I don’t want you in the jungle in two years drinking worm juice. I want you either on Broadway, [the] West End, [or] selling records.”
Fleur is, of course, currently a contestant on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here. Though she’s yet to drink any worm juice.
It didn’t go unnoticed.
— Erel H (@Erel124) December 1, 2018
I can’t believe Simon just burned Fleur East like that! Ouch. Feel like that catty comment will cost Scarlett votes, which is unfair. #XFactor
— Daniel Falconer ☃️ (@DanielJFalconer) December 1, 2018
“Don’t want you in the jungle in two years drinking worm juice” That says more about Simon not being a good manager rather than Fleur not being a great singer #XFactor
— Kate Rockett (@KateRockett) December 1, 2018
Poor Scarlett. Simon clearly doesn’t want her to win. He calls Dalton one of the best ever XF acts and a “superstar” and tells her not to go on I’m a celeb and to go on broadway #xfactor
— Satz (@mochuna1) December 1, 2018
— ☀️🏖Hannah🏖☀️ (@HannahVCW) December 1, 2018
So Simon making a dig at Fleur being in the jungle when she was signed to his record label ?? Clearly a sign that he’s failing at helping people who are not like one direction to have consistent success in the industry #thexfactor
— verona smith (@veeveeverona) December 1, 2018
— Fay Dean (@FayDean85) December 1, 2018
There was none of the ‘superstar’ chat for Scarlett that he offered Dalton.
Who, by the way, seems like a shoo-in to win. Not least because of the general feeling among viewers.
Dalton is just a different class to the other two. #xfactor
— Mags Watson (@Margare22017812) December 1, 2018
It almost makes me cry that Dalton can't look up when he's speaking. He's so so so humble and grateful and he wants and DESERVES this so much!! #VoteDalton #XFactor #thexfactor #XFactorUK #xfactor2018 #loufactor #TeamLT #LouisTomlinson #DaltonHarris #dalton #XFactorFinal
— Katie (@cadams47) December 1, 2018
I’ve only watched 3 minutes of this years #XFactor but like………… Dalton deserves to win
— erin (@ErinaIona) December 1, 2018
Bookies have him at a pretty decisive 1/4 favourite, with Scarlett at 9/2 and Anthony an outsider at 7/1.
However, the odds that the winner will pick up the Christmas number one have gone from a one-time certainty to a lowly 12/1 this year.
We’ll find out the winner of the 2018 series tomorrow night…