It’s been three weeks since we reasoned in our preview of the then-final 12 that One Direction went into the live shows as this year’s Producer Plan A to win the whole thing. Time to take stock: how is that initial reading of the situation now looking?
In the outright winner betting markets, One Direction are currently second favourites at a best-priced 3/1, about half the odds they traded at before the live shows. They briefly overtook Matt Cardle as favourites last week, but Matt’s fantastic performance of ‘Baby One More Time’ propelled him back to the head of the market at a currently best price of 7/4. (If any readers are unsure what these numbers mean, check out our page on understanding betting odds).
Evidence from previous series suggests that, paradoxically, One Direction should be more comfortable with this state of affairs than Matt. There’s still a long way till the final and favourites at this stage of the competition don’t have a great record.
Last year, eventual winner Joe McElderry became favourite at around the final six stage. At this point, and for most of the middle of the series, the market leader was Olly Murs. In 2008, Alexandra Burke became favourite at around the final five stage – the eventual fourth, Diana Vickers, was favourite in the betting for most of the series.
In 2007, eventual second Rhydian Roberts was already odds-on favourite at this point and he stayed that way practically right up till it was announced that he hadn’t won. In 2006, Leona was towards the front of the betting all the way through, but for much of the series the eventual third, Ben Mills, was favourite ahead of her.
I think this is no coincidence: it’s in the nature of these shows that it’s hard to maintain momentum for more than a few weeks. Fresh acts grow stale. The media and public grow bored. New angles are needed to reawaken interest. And the challenge faced by Matt Cardle is that he came into the live shows already as a versatile and accomplished singer who appeared both likeable and healthily self-confident.
That might not sound like a disadvantage, but the potential problem is that it doesn’t leave him any obvious “journey” to go on. And if all he does is turn up week after week and sing well, the audience’s interest in him may eventually start to wane.
In contrast, other players in the show have their “journey” mapped out. Rebecca’s journey is towards self-confidence, the classic reality show journey. Katie’s journey is towards likeability. Mary’s journey is towards versatility. (Mary’s odds in the outright market lengthened dramatically last weekend when she belted out another old, slow song, and one we’d heard already. But I reckon it would take only one half-decent performance of a modern, upbeat song to see her back at single-figure odds again.)
One Direction’s journey, meanwhile, is towards accomplishment – from five kids who didn’t know each other to, we assume it is hoped, a cohesive unit. And it’s been interesting to see the slow-burn tactics adopted by the producers. While the headlines focus on Wagner and Katie, and praise justifiably rains down on Matt, One Direction have been kept relatively under the radar. They haven’t yet been over-hyped.
That may sound like a strange thing to say after Simon called them the “most exciting pop band in the country” in week two and Cheryl last week compared them to the Beatles after a girl in Top Shop practically orgasmed when one of them winked at her. But this is hype about them being, essentially, young and cute – which they are. Simon this week praised them for not whingeing and being a pleasure to work with, which roughly translates as: “mums, these are nice young boys. Do let your daughters vote for them”.
What hasn’t been hyped yet about One Direction is the quality of their performances. Sure, their performances haven’t actually merited hype, but that’s never stopped the show before. I expect we’ll start being told how great they’ve become vocally in about another two or three weeks time.
Two other aspects of the One Direction slow-burn deserve attention. First, I have a theory that the key to success as a group in this competition is appearing to be genuinely close. In the last four series, the top group has been either a sibling duo (Jedward, Same Difference, MacDonald Brothers) or longstanding friends (JLS). Manufactured groups have traditionally struggled.
So I was fascinated to see that, in the first two weeks, One Direction’s VTs focused on showing mutual support and group togetherness. First there was Zain’s difficulty in keeping to time, with other group members helping him out. Then there was the comforting of Harry over his attack of nerves.
Secondly, the Saturday night audience still doesn’t know much about two of the five members. We were introduced to Liam and Harry with lengthy segments during the audition shows, and to Zain with that vignette at boot camp when he didn’t feel like dancing and Simon gave him a pep talk – as if Simon would have cared if there wasn’t a boyband narrative arc to be established. But we’ve not been properly introduced yet to The Blond One or The One Who Stepped On A Sea Urchin.
This should give the producers plenty of new material to keep One Direction’s VTs fresh and interesting, while I personally think that Matt’s continued straightforward excellence could slowly begin to grow old – but I know my sofabet colleague Daniel has a more optimistic view of Matt’s chances, and no doubt he’ll be along in the comments box to explain. Why not join the debate? We’d love to know what you think.