Several questions loomed as the final of X Factor 2014 got underway.
Would parachuted-in judge Tulisa Contostavlos make for a suitable replacement for the unwell Mel B? Could early front-runner Andrea Faustini see off the recently rampant Fleur East (now an actual chart star, by dint of her cover of Mark Ronson's Uptown Funk). What chances Ben "I'm just a normal bloke living my dream" Haenow bursting into tears two weeks running?
The great imponderable, of course, was which of the three remaining contestants would be eliminated ahead of Sunday night's ultimate sing-off. The not-especially-surprising answer was revealed to be Faustini, who has wilted badly over later episodes. After a decent but bland night at the office, he deservedly received the boot, with the more polished East and the likeable Haenow surviving to warble another day. Though you wished Faustini well, who could argue that reality TV justice had been served?
In the case of Tulisa v Mel B, it quickly became clear that what the replacement adjudicator lacked in north of England stroppiness she more than compensated for with charm and tact. She was gracious and professional, the ideal foil for Louis Walsh's hysterics (dear Louis, please find a new shtick) and Simon Cowell's over rehearsed lip-smacking (Twitter, being Twitter, begged the differ – in fact, the internet went a bit mad over supposed intra-judge tension between Tulisa and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini).
With Wembley Arena the super-sized backdrop, the contestants started off visibly nervous. They wore rictus grins trooping on stage and looked uncomfortable pairing up with a slimmed down Take That on Rule The World (it was possible they were unnerved by Mark Owen's alarming crushed velvet dinner jacket) .
Thankfully the jitters quickly dissolved. Faustini was absolutely at home negotiating Feeling Good, though you had to query the song choice given mentor Mel B was potentially sitting up in bed somewhere gagging down a mug of Lemsip (to his credit he also did well pretending to be excited upon hearing his 'celebrity' duet would be with…um, Ella Henderson).
Haenow, meanwhile, delivered a frankly troubling cover of an Imagine Dragons' dirge: he started off singing inside a David Blaine style class glass cage, through which he burst in order to mount a floating platform (if that was a metaphor for something it shot straight over our heads).
With his stubble and cheekbones Haenow has clear pin-up potential and seems a decent sort (or at least he does when he stops banging on about what an ordinary geezer he is). Nonetheless, he was more fanboy than musical equal squeakily dueting with Ed Sheeran and you wonder how he will fare outside of the rarefied atmosphere of reality television ( things could surely go a bit 'Joe McElderry' for him).
East, for her part, bossed her way through Can't Hold Us, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and overshadowed Labrinth as they performed Beneath Your Beautiful together (Labrinth was so smitten with Fleur he postponed a pressing dental appointment in order to share the stage with her – a-mazing). Should the Londoner triumph on Sunday, she would be a worthy winner –regardless of the result, you suspect her career is set to whoosh towards the stratosphere and that X Factor may have unearthed its biggest star since One Direction.