X Factor 2017 6CC: Blanket smothering for Linnen et al?

In last week’s article, we discussed the possibility of producers pursuing a scorched-earth policy to facilitate a Grace victory. The remaining 6CC shows fitted that interpretation: after her rivals in the other three categories had performed, the only act shorter in the Betfair market than they had been before was Sam Black, who didn’t even feature (but was later confirmed as replacing Ant Russell). The newly-listed market entrants, the two girlbands and Leon, didn’t impress punters much either.

Usually there’s more than one act at this stage with some sense of momentum and general positivity. But we find ourselves looking at the boys, groups and overs and asking not “who have they bigged up the most” but “who have they done least to undermine…?” It was a weekend full of putdowns, reservations and qualified praise, in which pretty much every act seemed to be given the finger in some way.

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The most hilarious backhanded compliment was Simon’s to Lloyd Macey: “People are going to like you, in much the same way that they like a comfortable blanket before going to bed.”

Let’s go through each category in turn.

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X Factor 2017 Bootcamp 2: Coup de Grace

In two recent seasons of X Factor (the beneficiaries being Little Mix in 2011 and Louisa Johnson in 2015), producers have adopted “scorched earth” tactics – not only pushing their favoured act, as they always do, but also nuking every single other act from space, just to be sure. They don’t always do this: in most years they seem to be more relaxed about settling for a less-preferred winner – for example, allowing Ben Haenow to beat Fleur East in 2014. So what kind of season is this shaping up to be?

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Last weekend’s final bootcamp and first 6CC episodes made us suspect producers might be planning a scorched-earth year on Grace’s behalf. Not only did she remain the centre of attention on both days, there was a mixed edit on Saturday for one of her main apparent rivals, Rak-Su. With the boys and the overs looking weak, the groups and girls have so far been where it’s at – and now all three of the most heavily-featured groups have received questionable treatment in their arena bootcamp performances.

The first hint that our weekend would be full of Grace came on Friday, when her second original song of the series, ‘Don’t Go’, was previewed online in full. This is unusual, and was clearly an attempt to build pre-show social media buzz. Grace got duly the pimp slot on Saturday’s show, with a protracted segment to herself. And the absolute positivity continued with huge praise for another self-penned number, ‘Do It Better’, during Sunday’s girls 6CC.

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X Factor 2017 Bootcamp 1: Betfairs and Graces

In a normal year, we’d be looking forward to the first of the live shows this coming weekend. Instead, the XF’s focus groups apparently told them that what viewers really want is five hours of bootcamp, and the same again of 6CC. Bootcamp is turgid fare from a Sofabet perspective, typically revealing limited new information about producers’ thinking. Indeed, the most interesting betting event of the week happened not during the shows themselves, but on Twitter on Monday evening.

A tweet was put out by a BBC Lancashire presenter about a Children In Need gig on Saturday November 4, with Grace Davies of X Factor fame top of the bill. It was retweeted by Grace herself. The suggestion that she had committed to a gig on the Saturday of the second week of scheduled live programmes saw a massive market drift, from favouritism out to 20.0 on Betfair. The following day she returned to favouritism, as the money suggested she was in the live shows after all.

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We can’t claim to know anything for sure right now – about whether Grace is in the lives, and what the format of them will be. (As Ben Cook points out in the Sofabet comments, there’s been some suggestion that overs and groups will compete on Saturdays, and girls and boys on Sundays, which could allow Grace to make the gig.) There’s also the extra unknown of a potential wildcard: if we have two eliminations each weekend, we have to start with 13 to have 3 left for the final.

We do know for sure what happened in last weekend’s shows: not much of interest. But here’s what we picked out.

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X Factor 2017 Auditions Week 4: The Cup Runneth Overs

The penultimate audition show on Saturday managed to fit in six of the apparent judges’ houses participants, while Sunday’s programme delivered just one. As Amy Beth pointed out in the Sofabet comments, that’s an odd decision considering the Saturday shows have been receiving weaker ratings so far – embarrassingly more so after Strictly’s return last weekend.

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X Factor 2017 Auditions Week 3: Group Think

There were slim pickings for punters from the third weekend of audition shows, which introduced only two acts among the 24 rumoured to have got to judges’ houses. That leaves ten still to come this weekend. However, one of the two has shaken up the head of the betting, teenage Irish brothers Sean and Conor Price replacing Rak-Su as clear second-favourites behind Grace Davies.

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The recipients of the Saturday show pimp slot, Sean and Conor have plenty going for them, including personalities brimming with cheeky Irish charm, and an apparent good fit with this year’s authenicity agenda – as Cowell said, as they left the room after their audition, “keep practising. Originality, right?” Producers chose James Arthur as background music; James, of course, won in 2012, the last time this show was seized by a sudden urge to proclaim itself a promoter of guitar-wielding singer-songwritery types.

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X Factor 2017 Auditions Week 2: Aidan and a-Betting

The second weekend introduced another five auditionees among the 32 rumoured to have made judges’ houses. None have troubled Grace Davies and Rak-Su at the head of the Betfair market. Those two both trade in single figures, while each of this weekend’s crop trade around 20.0 or higher at the time of going to press.

Unusually, it was the Sunday episode that introduced more acts of interest. Let’s start with the recipient of the pimp slot, Aidan Martin, a 27 year old bar worker from South Shields, hometown of 2009 winner Joe McElderry. They’ll have been near-contemporaries – as Joe was 18 when he won, he will be a year Aidan’s junior.

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Aidan had got the memo about doing original material, explaining that his song, ‘Punchline’, was about having been “really in love with someone”, feeling hurt and not wanting to be seen as a joke. It mirrored last year’s winner Matt Terry, who milked an “I’ve been dumped” sob story throughout the audition rounds – but while we were left in no doubt that it was a girl who’d dumped sex-symbol Matt, there was a conscious effort not to specify the gender of Aidan’s ex, with Cowell carefully choosing “them” and “they” as his preferred pronouns.

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X Factor 2017 Auditions Week 1: Grace and Favour

“It’s only recently that people have started to do their original songs on this show, and that’s what I’m looking for.” Simon’s comment to 2017’s opening act, manband Rak-Su, felt like a statement of intent. The first episode ended with another new number, from Grace Davies. These two acts top the market after the first weekend.

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Actually, we started down this route in 2012. Then, the first episode pimp slot was given to Ella Henderson doing her best Adele impression on a self-penned tune. James Arthur and Lucy Spraggan repeated the feat, but producers didn’t have the courage to follow it through. Only Lucy was allowed to do an original song in the lives – in week 1. She managed fifth in the phone vote with 7.3%, and was back to doing covers like everyone else the following week.

Whatever our reservations on the first weekend’s auditionees, it’s worth remembering that the earliest programmes are usually front-loaded with finalists. In the last four years, we’ve seen 4-5 eventual qualifiers in the opening weekend. As usual, we will be writing these articles with a focus on the alleged final 24 – those reported to make it through to judges’ houses by posters on the Digital Spy forum who attended the filming of the Six Chair Challenge – and largely ignoring the rest.

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X Factor 2017 Preview

X Factor returns for its fourteenth series this Saturday and Sunday at 8pm. That’s a week later than usual – the opening weekend has fallen over the August Bank Holiday in recent years. Talk of an early December final suggests it will end a week earlier than usual too.

The main shake-up seems to be fewer weeks of live shows. Cowell himself explained in an interview, “The early and middle rounds rate well. So the idea is to do more of the middle shows and less of the live shows.” The suggestion is that there will be six weeks of the latter, with an elimination every Saturday and Sunday.

We’ve experienced a truncated set of live shows before – when the Rugby World Cup of 2015 ate into the schedule. On that occasion, Louisa Johnson was the producers’ favourite from first audition show to her winner’s tears. With less time to mix things up, producers didn’t change her narrative at all.

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