With only four weeks left, the outright winner betting market is wide open. I predicted last week that Rebecca would overtake Matt for favouritism when she took her turn in the pimp slot. And it turned out that I was right – but prematurely, and only very briefly.
I was watching Betfair during the Saturday show and the switchover happened in the middle of Matt’s performance. That seemed a little harsh – I thought Matt was doing a fine job, as usual. Rebecca shortened even further when it became apparent that she would be up last. And so it came to pass that the pride of Liverpool sang in the pimp slot… and very shortly afterwards, Matt was favourite again.
The pimp slot traditionally demands ludicrously overblown praise, but even the judges seemed underwhelmed by Rebecca’s ‘Candle In The Wind’. Simon and Louis couldn’t be bothered to join in the standing ovation. The comments demoted Rebecca from her previous ambassadorial status to a mere “role model” and “inspiration for single mums”.
So has Rebecca blown it?
On the face of it, it seems far too early to say that. She’s still shorter than she was this time last week, at a top-priced 5/2 with Betfred. She didn’t drift anywhere near as far as One Direction did after their pimp slot performance the previous week, and One Direction this week showed that needn’t be fatal by clawing back all of the ground they’d lost in the betting – they’re now 11/4 again.
But you do start to wonder if Rebecca lacks the killer instinct. This was her big chance to change the game and create a sense of unstoppable momentum with a spine-tingling powerhouse of a performance, and she didn’t rise to the occasion. Does she have it in her?
Does anyone? You get the sense that Matt retains his uneasy 2/1 market leadership largely because nobody else has decisively grabbed it from him, rather than because he has decisively grabbed it for himself. Nick wrote in the comments a few weeks ago: “Whilst he is clearly the most talented, I think he will struggle to deliver that one show stopping performance that triggers the big votes at the end.” That is the question. Have we already seen the best of Matt (twice) with ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’?
Matt is a victim of his own prowess, like a company that consistently delivers excellent profits – stock market analysts build it into their expectations, so that when quarterly results are merely very good, the share price dips. How can he surprise us now? By not singing in falsetto?
Cher has already had her show-stopping performance with ‘Stay’, and she seems to have found her level again – the market was relatively unmoved by this week’s performance, and she retains fourth-favouritism at 10/1. I would be surprised if Cher can surprise us again (well, obviously, but you know what I mean).
With former fifth-favourite Aiden Grimshaw now sent home to the grim shore that is Blackpool, could any of the rank outsiders gatecrash the big four? Mary looks increasingly one-dimensional. Paije is likeable but limited. Katie would need mind-altering chemicals in the nation’s drinking water, and the vote Wagner movement is deluded if they think their man can win.
That leaves One Direction. Their ability to deliver a show-stopping performance must also be in serious doubt, but one thing can be said about them: in terms of surprising us, the bar is set a whole lot lower for them than it is for Matt.
Their performance this week was arguably their best yet vocally. Once again the VTs and comments emphasised their work ethic and niceness – it can’t have hurt with their teenage female fanbase to be called “gentlemen” by Hermione Grainger (insert your own Wand Erection gag here) – and once again, Louis helpfully reminded us that they have “gelled as friends”. But what was with that brief shot of them rehearsing in what looked like Teletubbies outfits?
Most ominous, though, was that Simon stepped up the hype another notch by holding out the prospect of them winning. Simon will have to tread a very fine line here: a show of confidence is needed to motivate the One Direction vote, but the appearance of smug over-confidence could whip up a backlash. Aiden’s shock departure should help him in striking a credible note of humility as he appeals for votes for them this week.
The continued media focus on Wagner and Katie is also a boon for One Direction. Katie is acting as a useful lightning rod for public annoyance at Simon’s favouritism, while Wagner provides an outlet for “annoy Simon” votes. If the show get Wagner through this weekend, there will be a mere fortnight between his presumed departure in week 8 and the final in week 10. That might just be too little time for another anti-Simon backlash to get off the ground.
Now that we’re nearing the business end of the competition, I think we’re starting to hear the cranking up of the X Factor machinery as the producers attempt to propel the boys over the finishing line. Will they manage it? It will certainly be fascinating to watch them try.