Over two months ago, before the live shows, Daniel and I posted our prediction of the finishing order of the then-final 12. It was a hugely speculative exercise and has naturally proved far from perfect (although in part because the addition of the wildcards rebalanced the show). But please forgive us a moment of self-congratulation given that we’re still in with a fighting chance of getting the 1-2-3-4: we called it as 1. One Direction, 2. Matt, 3. Rebecca, 4. Cher.
Predicting a win for One Direction was based on our early sense that they were the act producers most wanted to win. We’ve seen nothing in the last nine weeks to change our minds about that. But in that time Daniel and I have evolved different opinions about whether the producers are going to be able to engineer the outcome that we think they want.
Tomorrow, Daniel will be explaining why he’s now switching away from One Direction, and which act he is backing instead. In this post, I’m sticking up for our original prediction and explaining why I still think One Direction can win this thing.
The cornerstone of my case is a conviction that producers will do all they can for One Direction this weekend. Last week I wrote that I would be very surprised if One Direction didn’t sing 4th or 5th of five in the semi-final and producers duly took no chances, sticking them on last of all for both performances. I would be equally surprised if they don’t sing last of the four acts in the final.
Leroy wondered in the comments to Monday’s post whether producers would really have the brass neck to double-pimp One Direction for two weeks in a row. Given their track record so far this series – saving Katie Waissel from four sing-offs, instituting an unprecedented semi-final singoff to shake off poor old Mary Byrne – my feeling is that yes, they certainly could.
The running order does seems to be surprisingly significant, even in the final. The previous series have seen four three-act finals (2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009) and in all but one of those, the 1-2-3 running order has translated neatly into a 3-2-1 finishing order.
The exception was Rhydian, who sang last in the final in 2007 but still fell to Leon. I was pretty sure then that the show didn’t intend Leon to win, and my theory on what went wrong for Rhydian is the final duets, with Kylie Minogue’s superior celebrity stardust rubbing off on the Scottish underdog.
If I were the show’s producers and I wanted a One Direction victory, I wouldn’t be making that mistake again. At the time of writing, it is not yet known who the celebrity duets will be for each act this weekend. But if One Direction get the biggest name, that could be a gamechanger for them.
I’m not going to claim that One Direction are the best vocalists in the final (though their ‘Chasing Cars’ did, surprisingly, involve some actual harmonising, and they seem to have hit on a formula that makes sense: Liam, the best singer, gets the opening solo to ensure an in-tune start; Harry, the second best singer and the emerging sex symbol, gets the later solos to melt the girls’ hearts).
I do, however, think they have a plausible alternative route to the summit. If they can’t win this thing on ability, they’re going to have to do it on likeability. And here I think the show has played an absolute blinder.
We have commented repeatedly throughout the live shows on certain themes being hit time and time and time again in One Direction’s VTs and judges’ comments – their closeness as friends and how hard they work. Why does the closeness thing matter? I have no idea, but the voting public does seem to like groups who appear close to each other: JLS, top group in 2008, were clearly good friends; Jedward, Same Difference and the McDonald Bros, top groups in 2009, 2007 and 2006, were siblings.
Maybe it’s just an “aah” thing: we like seeing shared happiness. Maybe we tend naturally to think more highly of people as individuals when we observe others thinking highly of them.
The “hard work” angle is easier to figure out: it gives us the sense that these boys deserve success, almost shaming us into voting for them. A recurring subtheme is how much responsibility they take for their own choices, which came through again this week given Simon’s absence with “man flu” (and was subtly reinforced by the opening lines to their second song: ‘We’ll do it all / Everything / On our own’).
The message we’re meant to get is that they are mature, worthy individuals – not at all the pretty, empty ciphers one might expect from such a manufactured boyband.
We even got character references for them from Cheryl this week, as she referred to taking over Simon’s mentoring duties. And while she was critical about their choice of first song, it was for being too “current” – which sounds like the kind of backhanded “I work too hard” response to an interview question about your biggest faults.
In short, aside from the not-insignificant matter of their questionable talent, nobody seems to have much of a bad word to say about these kids. That’s a testament to some meticulous image management on the show’s part, and I still think it could prove to be enough to get them the win.
If the One Direction boys are to win on likeability, it would help if hot favourite Matt comes across as a bit less likeable. He has certainly been portrayed in the media as being opinionated about the show and about some of his fellow contestants, in particular appearing miffed at the headline-grabbing acts outlasting better singers. The trouble is, as Matt is so clearly the best singer of all, this risks coming off as more than a little bit self-interested.
It will be fascinating to see if the show chooses to feed this sense of Matt as prickly and entitled, and how they might do so. I wondered if that was how to interpret Simon’s comment after Matt’s first song in the semi: “Having got to know you more over the past week, I want to vouch for the fact that you are very sincere”. While this could simply have been aimed at minimising the possibility of anti-Simon votes going to Matt, it also subtly reminded us of those opinionated quotes in the press (“sincere” being an excellent euphemism for this purpose).
Matt has been favourite for a very long time, and we’ve observed before that long-standing favourites (Ben Mills, Rhydian Roberts, Diana Vickers, Olly Murs) have had a habit of falling short.
I was feeling confident about our original prediction of third place for Rebecca until a nagging doubt was introduced by this week’s Digital Spy thread from Abigail88, the mysterious source of the infamous Aiden “Twitter vote leak“, which had Rebecca “storming it”. If there’s any truth in that – and Sofabet’s social media guru Nick also reported that “Rebecca has shot up in terms of iTunes comments and You Tube views from previous weeks” – then the Liverpool lass could be carrying some serious momentum into the final.
Rebecca has been a frustration this series. She hasn’t noticeably developed much self-confidence or stage presence, she moves less fluidly than Mary Byrne, and while she comes across as perfectly nice, it’s more in a personality-vacuum Leona Lewis kind of way than an adorable Stacey Solomon kind of way. But while I personally found her ‘Amazing Grace’ as much of a damp squib as her other recent performances, it seems I was in a minority and there has to be a danger that a shrewd song choice could yet see her ignite in the final.
Still, though, there hasn’t been much evidence of producer love for Rebecca since her week six pimp slot disappointment, and we saw with Cher in week four and week five that producers are just as capable of dampening down hysteria as they are of whipping it up.
Speaking of Cher, I completely agree with Wagbo’s assessment in his excellent comment to the post-mortem article that we can expect “a credible duet to establish and latch on to a fanbase but that’s it”. Going to such lengths to get Cher into the final was surely with an eye to her post-X Factor music career rather than with any intention of her winning the thing.
Under normal circumstances you might expect Cher to get a sympathy bounce following the sing-off, but the sympathy bounce is primarily about fans reacting with surprise to the realisation that an act is less popular than they’d imagined, and none of Cher’s fans could have been under any illusions about that before the semi. It would be a turn-up now if she bests fourth.
She might just, though, help to pave the way for a One Direction victory, by acting as a lightning rod for howls of protest about favouritism – a role she has taken over from Katie Waissel. By the time it sinks in that One Direction are really the ones the producers want, they may already have succeeded in smuggling them over the line.