Controversial or novelty acts are an essential element of TV talent contests, a format that originated with ‘variety’ shows. Having twelve passable dancers or singers does not provide variety; adding a Wagner, Widdecombe or even a Waissel to the mix, does.
TV producers and tabloid editors, desperate for ratings and sales in an age of decline, fan the flames with watercooler moments and prurient gossip as viewers are invited to love or hate these characters. And lo, the nation divides in opinion over the likes of Darius, Chico or Jedward (can you spot a pattern here: one moniker is often enough).
These acts are sent down a well-trodden path: kept in for as long as possible, but jettisoned before they ruin the show’s veneer of credibility altogether. Yet two of this year’s crop are being taken more seriously than usually as potential winners: both Wagner and Widdi are now top-priced at around 8-1, the former having halved in odds in just two days off the back of huge media hype. So how do the three compare and, realistically, how far can they now get?
Best Headline: Wagner ‘banned from groping dancers’
Best Moment: Playing the bongos to ‘Love Shack’ in Week 1 of the X Factor live shows
Entertainment Value: On the VT, a Brazilian lothario, all winks and kisses; on stage an hypnotic study of poor timing, nervous microphone holding and hip shaking. Meanwhile, Brian Friedman does his bit by throwing the dancing girls in tassels at him. Think Monty Python meets Moulin Rouge.
Achilles Heel: Maybe he is just a bit creepy.
Current odds: 8/1 to win the competition, though has been traded as high as 500 on Betfair – where you can currently lay him at 11, thus getting a 9% return on your money if he doesn’t win. Meanwhile, currently best-priced with Betfred at 3/1 to be next eliminated and evens to go if it’s a double elimination – about the same odds he’s been in these markets week after week after week.
Prospects: We have already looked at the reasons why Wagner won’t win, despite the best efforts of his many fans, and how producers can manage the exit. Still, he has a great chance of surviving this week if it’s another single elimination and he’s helped again in the running order, but we think he would be unlikely to survive what would then be a major cull at the semi-final stage.
Best Headline: Widdecombe ‘Won’t Dance as a Transvestite’
Best Moment: Creating comedy gold in canary yellow on last week’s Blackpool edition of Strictly Come Dancing
Entertainment Value: Ably assisted by Anton du Beke, no one has hammed up dance routines like this since Morecambe & Wise. Ann is shuffled and dragged around the dancefloor like a demented sparrow in the paws of a sated tabby cat.
Achilles Heel: That Tory past
Current Odds: 9/1 on Betfair, having been traded at 379-1 at the start of the series. However, having come drastically down in price a few weeks ago, she has stabilised and even drifted in the market over the last week.
Prospects: The former politician, who we had down as a cult figure from the very start, is not as evenly loved by Strictly Come Dancing viewers as the more harmless John Sergeant, and as we’ve said in our most recent article on the show, she will suffer as better dancers are knocked out and the British sense of fair play kicks in. Another to leave by the semi-final stage, we reckon.
Best Headline: ‘We’re ashamed of our tart gran’
Best Moment: Saying “Sod this!” then sitting down during her sing-off performance in Week 5 – and still surviving!
Entertainment Value: What with her big-chinned, fame-hungry obliviousness to the horror she elicits, we at Sofabet admit to a sneaking admiration for Katie’s sheer chutzpah, based as it is only on a smoky, average voice and bird’s nest hairstyle. You’ve got to have some sympathy for someone who has inspired 250,000 people to sign up to a Facebook page entitled ‘It’s easier to get rid of Chlamydia than it is Katie Waissel’
Achilles Heel: Just a heel?!
Current Odds: 40/1 reflects where she has been roughly throughout the series, though she has come down slightly in price having avoided last week’s sing-off for what felt like the first time since the wheel was invented. Currently top-priced with Betfred at 6/4 favourite (again!) to be next eliminated.
Propspects: Whilst there’s no way she is going to win, and she’s unlikely to get into the final, Betfred’s 10/1 on her being top girl in the competition doesn’t look as far fetched as Wagner or Widdecombe winning their respective shows, especially with Cher and Rebecca wobbling.
All three have made weekend nights immeasurably richer over the past few months. Wagner and Widdi are under no illusions that they’re especially good at what they’re doing. They’re just having fun, embracing their cult status and tongue-in-cheek support.
Katie on the other hand actually does think she’s good at what she’s doing and this is why she’s nowhere near as popular as the other two. But ask yourselves this: would Gamu have provided as much entertainment?!
These shows are devised so the format enables the “love to hate” acts to stay around. If it was a vote to evict, Katie and Wagner would have gone long ago, as arguably would Ann. In I’m A Celebrity, it’s a more obvious form of humiliation which provides the incentive to keep these characters in. Gillian McKeith’s current notoriety on the latter means she’s supplanted Katie as the nation’s number one pantomime villain.
Unfortunately, as both Strictly and X Factor reach their respective finals, producers will be looking to get rid of these oddballs in an attempt to pretend that talent is being rewarded.
In the meantime, be thankful we have another weekend to enjoy the novelties within these televised end-of-the-pier shows. And don’t get caught up in thinking they might win. Before this point is reached, they’ve completed their services to entertainment and the British media.