The big mover in the outright winner betting markets over the weekend was Cher, now down to 11/2 after her tearful rendition of ‘Stay’ – a performance which Simon Cowell dubbed the best in the history of the universe (or was it just the series?)
Naturally, it wasn’t all that. And you didn’t have to venture far onto internet forums to find outraged fans of other acts jumping to the conclusion that this unsubtle hyping of Cher suggested she must be the “chosen one” to win the entire show.
I think this is an over-reaction and misunderstands how the show works, for several reasons.
For a start, there’ll be no such thing as a chosen “one”. Sure, we have argued that One Direction are Plan A, but whether we’re right or wrong about that, there will undoubtedly be plenty of overlapping backup plans. There will be shades of grey in terms of how happy the show would be with each act as a winner.
Moreover, it’s not all about the winner. Of course, it’s better to win than not to win. But as the likes of JLS, Olly Murs and Diana Vickers are demonstrating, plenty of money can still be made from acts who fall short.
The show will therefore be keen to cover their bases by building up several acts as possible recording artists. They can do this by rotating the spotlight from week to week – a tactic which also has the advantage of keeping the show more fresh and interesting for the viewing public.
I think the hyping of Cher in week 4 should be understood in this context. As a classic Marmite contestant – one who polarises opinion – Cher seems to me, at this stage, a highly unlikely winner. Marmiteness is great for getting through the early and middle stages of the live shows, with the support of an enthusiastic base. But when it gets down to the final two or three, it’s all about picking up the floating voters.
Never say never, of course, but Cher does not currently look like the kind of act who will pick up floating voters.
The praise for Cher was really about two things, I think: motivating her base, who will consequently pick up the phones to vote more, as well as potentially becoming a more lucrative market for her records in due course; and deflecting heat from other acts for a while.
One act with a plausible recording future who was noticeably less in the spotlight last Saturday was Matt. His rendition of Bleeding Love was fine but nothing we hadn’t heard from him before, and as a result he’s slipped in the betting from 7/4 out to 11/4.
I speculated last week that Matt could eventually struggle to maintain momentum, with no obvious “journey” to go on, and you could view Bleeding Love as perhaps the beginning of a slow retreat. Alternatively, you could simply see it as the show turning down the gas on him for a while, intending to bring him back to the boil when other acts have had their turn on the front-burner.
(In terms of his chances of winning the competition, though, I tend to agree with Nick’s comment to last week’s post that Matt’s REM vibe is not the most natural fit with the voting public who crown X Factor winners.)
Meanwhile Rebecca is simmering away nicely and down to 10/3. I would bet that if she and Cher had swapped places in the running order last Saturday, Rebecca would now be the clear outright favourite as her comments were arguably even better than Cher’s.
Simon Cowell compared her to Leona Lewis, as we ourselves did four weeks ago when our pre-live shows preview identified Rebecca as being set up to follow the “ugly duckling” narrative arc – a staple of reality TV, of which Leona is a prime example, in which a talented-but-shy contestant journeys to the swanhood of self-belief.
We noted in that article, however, that Rebecca’s lack of confidence had been emphasised more heavy-handedly than you would expect during the audition shows. I was reminded of this on Saturday night when Cheryl wheeled out two of the most potent compliments in the X Factor arsenal: “world class” and “ambassador for Britain”. You expect these to be used more in the later shows, in attempts to pummel the voting public into submission. It was somewhat disconcerting to hear them make an appearance as early as week 4.
Is it possible that Rebecca’s narrative arc is being accelerated, and she may run out of steam by the final? Rebecca hasn’t been in the pimp slot yet (the first four shows were closed by Treyc, Matt, Katie and Cher), and it will be very interesting to see how soon she features there.
I still believe that all the signs are pointing in One Direction, now joint favourites with Matt at 11/4. I commented last week on Simon choosing to praise them for their hard work, and it was interesting to see this theme being developed again on Saturday both in the VTs and in Simon’s comments.
What I think we’re witnessing here is the show patiently laying foundations. If they emphasise now how hard the boys are working, viewers are more likely to think they have earned and deserve the torrent of hype that I expect to come their way when the show decides the time is right.
I also mentioned last week a theory that the key to success as a group is being perceived to be genuinely close off-camera, so I was delighted to hear Louis yelling at them “you’ve gelled as friends” during his comments. I expect we’ll hear more about this in the weeks to come.
The critical moment for One Direction will come when these fledglings are pushed out of the nest with a big song in the pimp slot, helping the producers to decide whether or not they will fly. That might happen as early as this week, although I would suspect week 6 or 7 is more likely.
A final word on Mary, about whom my crystal ball appears to be malfunctioning badly. Two weeks ago I wondered if she might make the final. Last week I thought her odds in the outright market might rebound with a good performance. Instead she’s drifted further, to 20/1.
I haven’t quite given up on Mary. She can probably afford to fly under the radar for another week or two given the presumed strength of her core votes – the Irish and older demographics – and she still has time to put in a game-changing performance, if she has it in her.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments box below!