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No Fear: Celebrating Saara Aalto’s journey ahead of The X Factor Final

More than one hundred days ago, 104 days to be precise, we began what was to become one of the most remarkable journeys in reality TV show history. The Eurovision community united to support Saara Aalto. Saara has twice been runner-up in Finland’s Eurovision national selection – in 2011 and 2016. On August 28th 2016, Saara turned up on the second episode of The X Factor UK. The UK’s most popular music reality show had just begun its thirteenth series. Despite her obvious talent, none of us knew that more than three months later, Saara would be odds-on favourite to win the show.

The Eurovision community unites

escXtra and Eurovision fans alike have followed Saara through her successful audition, dramatic six-chair challenge and her subsequent reinstatement as a wildcard. After impressing her eventual mentor Sharon Osbourne at her home, Saara won a ticket to the live shows. As we reported a few weeks ago in our look back of the first four weeks of X Factor live shows, the first two live shows saw Saara appear in the sing-off both times. Yet, her sensational vocals saw her survive both sing-offs. This was swiftly followed by her breakthrough performance of Björk’s It’s Oh So Quiet. Saara’s quirky and incredibly entertaining week 3 performance was the first time we saw what would become a series of fantastic reactions from Saara on hearing news that she received enough public votes to progress straight to the next live show!

Carrying on from where we left off…

We finished our previous journey article following week 4’s Fright Night-themed show. Saara had just progressed to week 5 on the public vote yet again following a scarily good performance of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Let’s now recap what has happened since before this weekend’s final gets underway!

Week 5: Boybands vs. Girlbands

After two successive weeks of succeeding on the public vote alone, momentum was beginning to build behind Saara. However a cover of Girls Aloud’s debut single Sound of the Underground landed our Finnish favourite in the sing-off for the third time in five weeks. Saara’s vocals and performance skills were on point as always, but the judges suggested that the Japanese-themed stage production could have gone one step too far in terms of “craziness”. Nevertheless, Saara put all of that behind her with yet another sensational sing-off performance. Her emotional rendition of Jessie J’s Who You Are resulted in the judges choosing Saara to progress to week six!

Week 6: Disco

Saara needed another massive comeback performance in week six, and she completely delivered it! Opening the show, Saara delivered a disco-tastic performance of No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). She received a standing ovation from all four judges. Her vocals were exceptional and the choreography was spot on. The amazement of how good the performance was was clear to see on Nicole Scherzinger’s face! The public agreed, and Saara was through to week seven…

Week 7: Movies

Saara had proved she can deliver a ballad to a sensational standard during her sing-off appearances. However, she had yet to have had the chance to do so in a Saturday main show aside from the first week. Movie week provided the perfect opportunity for Saara to sing one of the most iconic movie songs by one of her favourite artists, Céline Dion. With a minimalist yet beautiful stage show, Saara gave us a note perfect rendition of My Heart Will Go On. This rightly earned her many public votes and progression to the X Factor quarter-finals.

Week 8: Louis Loves

Week 8 was the first time each contestant sung two songs. Time allowed for this as only five contestants remained by this point. The first song for each act was chosen by judge Louis Walsh. He chose an ABBA classic for Saara and this gave her the opportunity to finally show off her piano playing skills. This was to become the moment when Saara went from an underdog to having a real chance of X Factor victory in the eyes of the bookies.
Using an arrangement more similar to the one used by Sarah Dawn Finer in the Eurovision 2013 final in Malmö than the original, the audience and judges were astounded by the world class performance she gave of The Winner Takes It All. Upon Saara hitting the big notes towards the end of the song, the camera panned across the audience as they jumped to their feet and applauded in amazement. This was arguably the most powerful moment of the entire series so far.
Determined to show that she can perform ballads and uptempo show numbers in equal measure, Saara closed week 8 with a medley of Diamonds Are Forever and Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. This undeniably fun performance combined with the masterclass that was her first performance was the perfect recipe for X Factor viewers. As a result, she booked her place in the semi-final on the public vote alone. Saara was now on a run of three consecutive shows without a sing-off appearance and her momentum was at an all-time high.

Week 9: Christmas

Christmas came early for X Factor viewers and Saara chose to take on arguably the most iconic Christmas song of all-time. After a beautiful intro of White Christmas, Saara brought the party with Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You. A wonderfully joyous performance and an incredible high note at the end made the audience scream with delight. The judges were on their feet yet again, something that has become a regular event for Saara.
Saara then chose to reprise her audition song, Sia’s Chandelier. This was the song she believed could get her to the final. With a brand new arrangement and dramatic staging effects, Saara gave us emotion and vocals at a level higher than ever before (who knew that that was even possible?!). This was the moment Saara became odds-on favourite to win the show. Subsequently, the public swiftly voted her through to the grand final. This was the first time in X Factor UK’s history that a sing-off survivor from week one has made the grand final, let alone a three-time sing-off survivor.

The most wide open competition ever

Presenter Dermot O’Leary revealed last weekend that all four semi-finalists had topped at least one week’s public vote, yet another first for X Factor UK. This means that the show is wide open and current momentum is certainly with Saara. Nothing symbolised this more than her homecoming concert in Helsinki on Monday. A record-breaking 12,000 fans turned up for her performance, a number that has reportedly never been reached by any other X Factor homecoming performance in the show’s history. Likewise, Saara’s incredible number of YouTube for her weekly performances have been jaw-dropping!

Looking ahead to the final

For the first part of the final, to be broadcast on Saturday evening, Saara will be performing a cover of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World. Rumours suggest this will be followed by a duet with American Idol star Adam Lambert, although we will have to wait until the live broadcast to see if this is true. If Saara finishes in the top 2 of the Saturday vote, she will progress to the Sunday show where she will ultimately perform the “winner’s single” which would be released in less than 48 hours time should she be crowned the winner.
Whatever happens this weekend, following Saara’s X Factor journey has been an utter delight for Eurovision fans and X Factor fans. Her consistently high quality performances, whether they be ballads or show numbers, have always impressed. Saara has already broken many X Factor records as her remarkable journey has continued. We all hope that more records are broken over the next couple of days and that Saara can become the champion of X Factor 2016. Remember that voting will be open via the X Factor app during Saturday’s show, let’s make sure she gets into the final 2 and hopefully become the winner!
Thank you Saara for three months of fantastic entertainment, you have certainly showed us how to have #NoFear and to follow our dreams!

Ryan Cobb

My first memory of watching the Eurovision Song Contest was back in 2001 and, over the years, my passion and enthusiasm for the contest has very much turned into an obsession. I adore music and I love geography, so this contest is a natural fit for me. If la la loving Eurovision was a crime, I'd certainly be a criminal!

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