Wagner’s evasion of the bottom two yet again last week delighted fans of the US website Vote For The Worst and Facebook groups such as Rage Against The X Factor and Wagner To Win X Factor. These people apparently assume they are annoying the show by voting for Wagner.
Yet every week, in our articles on the elimination market, we assume the show is desperate to keep Wagner in. So perhaps it’s worth spelling out why we work from such a diametrically opposed assumption, and why we think these pro-Wagner campaigners are – from the show’s perspective – useful idiots.
Let’s get one thing straight: we’re certainly not objecting to Wagner’s continued presence in the show. Far from it. Here at Sofabet, we love Wagner. The X Factor is Saturday night entertainment, and Wagner – ably assisted by Brian Friedman – is hugely entertaining. Long may he continue, we say.
No, we’re saying these campaigners are misguided because we’re sure the show itself also loves Wagner’s continued presence. The logic is simple enough: he generates headlines, which means public interest, which means audience share, which means advertising revenue.
Why do we think the show wants to keep Wagner? There are two vital clues. First, the running order – arguably the most important way the producers can shape the public vote, because late-performing acts are generally at an advantage. Every single week, Wagner has been given a helpful slot: he sang 14th out of 16, 10th of 14, 11th of 12, 7th of 11 and 7th of 10.
Second, the big productions. Every single week, Wagner has been supported by all the dancing girls the show can throw at him in combination with the full fruits of Brian Friedman’s fertile imagination, from week 1’s infamous bongos to the fabulous wedding scene at the end of ‘The Wonder Of You’ in week 5.
If the show really wanted rid of Wagner, they’d simply send him out second or third in the running order with no big production – just him and a microphone. The week they do that is the week we’ll know they’ve grown tired of him.
Ah, the campaigners may say, but wouldn’t the show hate it if Wagner actually won?
There are two answers to that. The facile one is: could he really have a less successful recording career than Leon Jackson, or be a more embarrassing act for Simon Cowell to manage than Zig and Zag?
The more important one is: he surely can’t win. We will know for sure only when the show releases the statistics after the final, but we would bet that Wagner is only just scraping clear of the bottom two. In the extremely unlikely event that he gets anywhere near the final, the voting public’s sense of fair play will kick in and they will support the more talented act against him.
Ah, the campaigners may say again, but didn’t a similar Facebook campaign get Rage Against The Machine to the Christmas Number One spot ahead of Joe McElderry last year?
Yes it did, but there’s one crucual difference: downloading RATM didn’t enrich Simon Cowell, whereas every phone vote cast for Wagner is another direct injection of cash into the show’s pockets. Plenty of people who downloaded RATM will realise that a music lover protesting against the X Factor by voting Wagner is a bit like a vegetarian protesting against factory farming by buying meat and refusing to eat it.
From a betting perspective, Wagner’s continued survival creates a self-fulfilling circle that benefits media, bookies and show alike: “could Wagner actually win?” headlines inspire a smattering of bets at long odds, so bookies cut the odds, leading to “Wagner’s odds plummet” headlines, making people take him more seriously as a potential winner, and so on. This week he has been cut from 100/1 to 33/1, and survival this weekend could see further moves in the same direction.
More realistically, we think the main question we have to answer is whether Wagner gets enough support to avoid the sing-off again. A sing-off would be very hard to call: the show might well prefer to keep him, but it would be even more controversial than saving Katie over Treyc last week or Jedward over Lucie last year. They might just get away with it if it’s a sing-off against Katie, though.
But even then, Wagner’s presence in the sing-off would puncture the illusion that he has anywhere near enough support to win. And maintaining that illusion is key to keeping the phone vote cash rolling in from the useful idiots.