Andrew laid out yesterday why he thinks that our original prediction, One Direction, can still be crowned the winners of X Factor 2010. We think producers have wanted them to win from the beginning, but the plan is going to fail, in my opinion. Instead, I’m backing Matt Cardle for victory.
I should start by saying that I like One Direction: they are five personable, nice-looking lads who are ideal for their demographic. There’s always a place for boy bands in the music industry and thus a competition like this. That’s why producers put them together in the first place.
But there are two main reasons why the plan to crown them may not be successful.
The main problem they’ve faced this series is accusations that they get too much help from backing tracks during their performances. Often, the guys have been drowned out in the chorus.
This had led to the idea that they can’t really sing. Actually, two out of the five – Liam and Harry – are adequate enough vocalists, and that’s about par for the course with any boy band. But thanks to the caution of producers in turning up the backing track, the public perceive the group to be vocally weak.
Trouble is, when we get to the X Factor final, a wider range of viewers are voting, often for the first time, and they’re looking to reward the most talented vocals. A recent piece of market research on X Factor by Survation (admittedly asking those aged 18 and over), found that over 78% would vote based on this criteria.
When the boys have had the chance to prove themselves vocally, they haven’t taken it: in week 5, they got the pimp slot and ‘Kids In America’ but the backing track did all the work; nor did they make the most in weeks 6 and 7 of weaker performances from Matt (‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Come Together’) and Rebecca (‘Candle In The Wind’ and ‘Yesterday’). Likewise, in the semi-final they were presented with a double pimp slot, and a below-par Matt, but were somehow unable to build up a head of steam from it.
Earlier today, Iain reiterated these points in his great response to Andrew’s article: One Direction are only third in all the major surveys, have not had a more popular song on YouTube than their Week 1 performance and do not have a standout song during the live shows or auditions to rely on – as Matt, Rebecca and even Cher do – if one of the final songs is a reprise of an earlier one.
And herein lies the rub. Matt and Rebecca in particular are both perceived to be better vocalists with a distinctive style. The boys don’t seem to have a style of their own. Until the semi-finals there was no harmonising at all, which for a group of singers is what people are expecting.
Actually, the harmonising, when it finally came, was OK. But producers needed to train them quicker and get them displaying it far sooner in the competition. By last weekend, the perception of the band as poor vocalists carried forward by favourable treatment was well ingrained.
Which leads us to their second main problem. As soon as Simon Cowell took control of the groups category, it became clear the raison d’etre for doing this was to nurture One Direction. But looking like Simon’s poodles won’t ultimately do the boys any favours in the final. In retrospect they would have been better off under the maternal gaze of Dannii or Cheryl.
Simon has become increasingly smug about their chances. Marry that to the growing outcry about the way the elimination process has been manipulated – culminating in the surprise semi-final sing-off – and you dampen the One Direction vote because it also seems like a vote for Simon Cowell.
For these two reasons, when I ask people who watch the show (usually aged over 18) who they want to win, they usually say Matt, with Rebecca as an alternative. This indicates that due to the problems outlined above, which producers could have done more to rectify, One Direction are not connecting enough beyond their core teen demographic.
Part of the problem is that there are five of them. We haven’t really had a chance to get to know them well enough in the short space of time since the live shows began. Carefully controlled in the X Factor house, we know about Harry being the cheeky one the girls like, but I reckon most viewers would be hard pressed to remember the names of all of them.
This is not the case with Matt and Rebecca, who are two strong rivals in the final. Matt may have had some issues with the media suggesting he has an attitude of entitlement. This doesn’t seem to affect the opinions about him from X Factor viewers I talk to, who rightly take these stories with a pinch of salt and seem to favour him most of all. He comes across as a good bloke, and has an everyman quality.
In terms of talent, Matt is still the only act to have provided goosebump moments for me during the live shows – with ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. I commented on this as far back as November 3.
If he manages something like that again, it would in my view be the money moment that sways enough voters and wins him the prize. He could have a couple of opportunities to provide it: by reprising one of those two numbers, or in his celebrity duet (an early rumour put him with Christina Aguilera on ‘Hurt’, which would promise a special note or two).
The fact that he is seen as a musician – able to sit there, sing and play the guitar (during an excellent rendition of ‘Nights in White Satin’) – makes him in people’s minds the antithesis of the manufactured One Direction.
As well as talent, Matt’s chances are enhanced by having Dannii as his mentor, and by not being perceived as the candidate Simon Cowell wants to win. I speculated about this back on October 27, and it’s worth quoting again:
Cowell will be desperate to ensure One Direction are in the final. In doing so, he may create a backlash. It’s early days for such a theory, but Matt Cardle is the most talented performer and yet could still also become the anti-Simon underdog in the final. A role which enabled Will Young to beat Gareth Gates. Let’s see how it plays out.
How has it played out? Any Cowell backlash may be more related to the way Mary was eliminated last Sunday, rather than the preferential treatment given to One Direction, but as public opinion fulminates against the show for what they see as its manipulation and falseness, Matt is able to strike a note of authenticity. That will work hugely in his favour.
He suffered a wobble during the semi-finals when hindered by a sore throat. This is not ideal, as most previous winners have gone into the final with a measure of momentum. But the latest Survation report indicates towards the end that “it seems that the public did feel some genuine sympathy for Matt performing while ill and still rate him their clear favourite”.
It therefore appears that he’s still the most popular contestant, even when not on top form. This is because he has the vital mixture of passion and talent – and he’s not seen as being controlled by Simon Cowell. All this makes his prospects very strong: ultimately, if he hits the heights we know he can achieve, it’s his to win.
Rebecca can also claim to be a more authentic artist than One Direction, but her main problem is that she doesn’t have any stage presence – hence the comments from the judges that she has a ‘great recording voice’. She has been virtually static throughout her performances, until looking slightly uncomfortable making a couple of strides in her semi-final rendition of ‘Show Me Love’.
Partly for this reason, I have found Rebecca to be a rather uninspired performer at times during the live shows, and even speculated that she could be in danger of falling into a sing-off situation in Weeks 8 and 9. But she is clearly popular enough not to have found herself there.
What’s more, her performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ gave her much higher levels of activity on Twitter and YouTube, and seemed to indicate that she had some measure of momentum going into the final week. Her smoky vocals clearly have plenty of admirers and we cannot underestimate the fact that she is the most likeable of the finalists. Her story is genuinely heart-warming.
I just struggle to see her providing the spine-tingling moment that we got when Alexandra Burke duetted with Beyonce. If she provides it this weekend, and Matt fluffs his opportunity, that could prove a gamechanger, however. Early rumours suggested she would be partnered by Robbie Williams, which wouldn’t do her any favours; it’s also been rumoured she could snatch Christina Aguilera from under Matt’s nose for a rendition of “Beautiful”, which would be altogether more promising for a gamechanging moment.
Having survived a second sing-off thanks to the judges, the strong likelihood this coming weekend is that Cher will be eliminated first. I think Andrew said all that needs to be said about Cher’s chances in yesterday’s article. Duet rumours so far this week have variously linked her with Avril Lavigne and will.i.am, neither of whom seem especially likely to give her the necessary turbo-boost.
This would leave us a One Direction / Matt / Rebecca contest. And if that’s the case it will be interesting to see what happens next, because producers will be making it much harder for One Direction if there’s a further elimination and another public vote on the final two acts standing.
This is because I believe that if either Matt or Rebecca are eliminated next, their supporters are more likely to switch to the other more musically talented candidate rather than go One Direction’s way. This is why I reckon we will probably have a three-way final vote. It splits the anti-Simon, anti-One Direction vote.
So despite all my reservations, I’m not saying the boys don’t have a chance. I, like Andrew, fully expect producers to pull out every stop for them this coming weekend, including the second pimp slot in a row. (If Matt gets the pimp slot, it would be an early admission of defeat by Simon Cowell.)
But, given that they were Plan A from the beginning, I’m surprised the plan hasn’t been executed more effectively. As a result, I expect One Direction to fall short, and Matt Cardle – the most popular and talented contestant – to take the crown.