The remaining 12 acts in The X Factor 2011 were in a romantic mood as they tackled Saturday’s ‘love and heartbreak’ theme – but it was a night of mixed fortunes for the finalists.

With the first public vote of the series looming, there was a lot at stake for the hopefuls as they took to the stage – with Nu Vibe kicking the show off singing U2’s With Or Without You.

The performance divided the judges, with Gary Barlow referring to the five-piece as “No vibe” and criticising their vocals, although mentor Tulisa Contostavlos leapt to their defence.

“Last week you became the underdogs of the competition and you worked your butts off to get those vocals on point,” the N-Dubz star said. “What an improvement, vocally you sounded so much better.”

Sami Brookes also fell foul of Gary with her rendition of Whitney Houston’s classic I Will Always Love You.

The Take That singer said the performance “was a little bit too close to being a cruise ship singer”, but the others disagreed.

“Not many people can get away with nailing that song,” Tulisa admitted, “but tonight you nailed it.”

Gary, meanwhile, delivered his first wholehearted praise of the evening to Craig Colton, who performed the Beyonce hit Best Thing I Ever Had.

The Liverpudlian lad had previously expressed doubts about the choice of song, but his mentor had no such reservations. “You are in a league of your own mate,” he said, while Louis Walsh agreed. “People really love you, and you deserve to be on that stage,” he told the 22-year-old.

And the entire panel were once again wowed by Janet Devlin, who took to the stage following the death of her grandfather earlier this week to perform a moving rendition of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.

Gary raved about her performance, saying, “I don’t only hear every note you sing, I feel every note you sing,” while Kelly Rowland added, “I know your grandfather is very proud because you delivered such a beautiful heartfelt performance.”

Frankie Cocozza, on the other hand, was slightly scuppered by a last minute song change which saw him performing Coldplay’s The Scientist – and receiving less than perfect reviews from the panel.

“That was just very very average,” Louis told him while Kelly also expressed a note of doubt. “Vocally you have got to come up another level,” she warned the teenager, “because at the moment it’s just sitting stagnant.”

Johnny Robinson performed next and provided a welcome change of pace with a wacky interpretation of Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, which saw him dressed in a Japanese geisha-style costume. But not all the judges were impressed.

“I am actually quite sad because I don’t want to laugh at you Johnny,” Gary told him, “I want people to take you seriously. I mean look at him,” he added to mentor Louis Walsh, “he looks like he’s in Aladdin.”

And Tulisa agreed. “As much as he is entertaining,” she told Louis, “I would love to see his vocal shine through.”

It was also a rocky night for Marcus Collins, who appeared nervous as he performed the Rihanna track Russian Roulette.

The judges were quick to criticise the song choice. “I do not feel it was a good representation of your personality or what you are capable of when it comes to vocals,” Tulisa pointed out – but Marcus’ mentor Gary disagreed, calling the performance “absolutely brilliant”.

The Take That frontman also gave the thumbs up to Rhythmix’s rendition of Nelly Furtado’s I’m Like A Bird, calling the four-piece “fresh and exciting”, while mentor Tulisa added, “I’m so happy I chose that song for you because you absolutely smashed it.”

For many though, Misha Bryan’s performance was the high point of the evening. The 19-year-old donned a flamboyant purple outfit to sing Charles and Eddie’s 90s hit Would I Lie To You?, once again giving it her own spin and at one point even leaving the stage to stand behind the judges’ desk and sing to the audience.

“We need a new urban queen…I think we’ve found her!” said a delighted Louis Walsh, while Gary added, “It isn’t like watching a contestant, it’s like watching one of the guest artists we have on this show…you really are another level!”

The Risk also fared well with their version of Bruno Mars’ chart-topper Just The Way You Are, with Louis saying he predicted “big things” for the four-piece, while Sophie Habibis won praise for her performance of The Calling’s Wherever You Will Go. “Your voice is amazing,” Kelly told her, “and it doesn’t just make you a normal person, it makes you a star!”

The final performance of the night came from Kitty Brucknell, who adopted an Alice In Wonderland theme for her rendition of Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet, that saw her surrounded by the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit and other characters from the story.

Tulisa admitted the performance left her “speechless”, while the 26-year-old also won favour from the other judges, with Louis calling it “the performance of the night”.

The results of the first public vote of the series will be revealed on Sunday night’s show.