X Factor 2010 Review: The Moral Victors

This is the last article in our ten-part review of X Factor 2010 – we hope you’ve enjoyed it, and as ever we welcome your comments on all our posts. Next up on Sofabet we’ll be looking at the question of the 2011 X Factor judging line-up, and gearing up for Eurovision in a big way. If you haven’t already, you can sign up for post updates through Twitter, RSS or email.

Indignation is often expressed on internet forums by fans of acts who are sent home from the bottom two when they had a higher public vote. This happened often in 2010 – Katie was saved over FYD and Treyc despite a lower vote; Cher over Paije and Mary Byrne; Treyc over John Adeleye; and Belle Amie over Diva Fever.

Of course, the whole point of the singoff format is to allow the show to save acts which finish bottom of the public vote. If there was some kind of moral obligation to save the second-from-bottom act in the public vote, why bother with the sing-off?

Nonetheless, just for fun let’s see if we can use the voting statistics to address the question of perceived injustice. In this series of articles, we’ve been expressing each act’s vote as a proportion of the average vote available each week given the differing number of acts – we think this is more meaningful than the raw percentages. So, what if we averaged out those votes per act over the course of the series? What would it do to the finishing order?


X Factor 2010 average votes

If it were decided on these averages, Matt would remain a comfortbable winner – unsurprisingly, for someone who topped the vote nine weeks out of ten. On average, he polled 215% of the mean available vote – in other words, he did more than twice as well as you would expect if votes had been assigned at random. That’s good going.

More meaningfully, he did almost twice as well as Rebecca and One Direction, who come out neck-and-neck on these figures. Both averaged 11% more than the mean vote over the course of the series.

There are two big losers on this analysis: Mary Byrne and Aiden Grimshaw. If placings were determined by these averages, Mary would have finished second rather than fifth, and Aiden would have finished sixth rather than ninth.

But can their fans really consider this an injustice? Both Mary’s and Aiden’s X Factor journeys were characterised by tailing off after a storming start:

X Factor 2010 Mary Aiden

It’s not like either of them were threatening to win but cruelly evicted off the back of just one unlucky off-week. They both had their chances to capitalise on the momentum of a good first week, but they failed to take it. If you wanted to be uncharitable, you could say from looking at this graph that the more the public saw of them, the less the public liked them.

The most noticeable winners on this analysis – no surprises here – are Wagner and Katie. They’d have finished 9th and 8th respectively, instead of 6th and 7th. That’s not only a testament to Katie’s four singoff saves, it also tells us how efficiently producers engineered Wagner just clear of the singoff zone week after week with some big productions and favourable slots in the running order.

Of course, that favourable treatment is also reflected in the averages. If the show ran a level playing field – scrupulously equal screentime, running order determined by drawing lots, and so on – it seems quite likely that John Adeleye (who averaged 49% from his three shows) might have outlasted Wagner (53% from eight shows).

Given his three consecutive poor slots in the running order and lack of screentime during auditions, John Adeleye actually did pretty well – he had the 10th-highest average, though he finished only 12th. He arguably has much more cause for self-pity than either Aiden or Mary, who both were given every chance to establish themselves as contenders in the first couple of weeks.

Paije Richardson was another act shown no love by producers, leading us here at Sofabet to zero in on him in the elimination market on a number of occasions before he eventually went. He got more votes than Cher that week, but it seems like less of an injustice that Cher was saved when you consider she averaged 103% of the mean over the series compared to Paije’s 70%.

Of course, Paije’s lack of producer love is built into those averages – he hadn’t had a pimp slot, for instance, while Cher had. Overall, if the finishing order went on averages, Paije would have finished 7th rather than 8th – ahead of Katie and Wagner, but behind Aiden. An annoyance, for sure, but it hardly looks like a terrible injustice.

Interestingly, this year’s result more closely tracks the average percentages than either 2009 or 2008, the only other series for which we have the figures. Here’s 2009, which suggests that Olly Murs can feel a lucky boy to have emerged above his fellow over-25, Danyl Johnson:

X Factor 2009 averages

Even more striking is 2008’s, which dramatises how much Alexandra Burke and JLS, after relatively slow starts, relied on late surges (and pimp slots, in the final and semi respectively) to carry them past long-time favourite Diana Vickers and Eoghan Quigg (who won six of the first seven weeks – and was sent out first in the running order in both semi and final by producers who were no doubt sweating over the prospect of having Leon Jackson II on their hands):

X Factor 2008 averages

So if you’re tempted to feel aggrieved about sing-off saves of acts finishing bottom, console yourself with the thought that in 2010, at least, it doesn’t look to have cost anyone more than a week or two more in the show – while on the plus side, those saves generally did make for a more interesting series.

And if you still wish the X Factor was a scrupulously level playing field, consider that this would likely have given us a 2008 winner of Eoghan Quigg. How, exactly, Eoghan Quigg almost cruised to victory but One Direction never came close is a question that must be giving Simon Cowell nightmares.

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