We’ve said a lot about the importance of the running order in BGT – if you bet without knowing the running order, you’re largely betting on who producers will favour in this respect. But that begs a question: can we say anything about the type of act producers are likely to favour?
Maybe so, because the power of the producers starts long before they decide on who performs where in the semis. They can choose who to give more screentime to in the audition process, whose performances to feed quotes about to the newspapers – and, of course, who even gets onto the BGT stage in the first place.
With just the one audition show remaining on Sunday, before the live semi finals start on Monday May 30th, we can start to try to read the runes of what kind of act producers seem likely to want to help in 2011. At the moment, it’s looking to us very much like producers want a child singer to win it this year.
Here’s the reasoning.
Since its first season was won by the opera-singing Paul Potts, all three winners of Britain’s Got Talent have been acts of a more visual nature – a winsome child breakdancer (George Sampson, 2008), a dance troupe who offered the additional dimension of looking like role models for kids from the wrong side of the tracks (Diversity, 2009), and a purpose-formed group of award-winning gymnasts (Spelbound, 2010).
While the last two winners, Diversity and Spelbound, were hardly identical acts, they are nonetheless sufficiently similar that producers will surely have feared the show getting samey if another multi-person visual spectacle were to win in 2011.
No surprise, then, that dance troupes don’t feature heavily among the acts that have created a buzz from auditions so far. Among the market leaders there’s only Two And A Half Men, currently top priced at 25/1. It seems pretty clear that this isn’t the kind of act producers want topping the vote for a third year in succession.
It also looks to us that they don’t want an individual dance act to win. The two shortest priced are very similar acts – Razy Gogonea and Michael Moral, neither of whom come from the UK and both of whom do dance routines that involve oddly contorting their bodies. Neither make much appeal to us at their current best odds (11/2 and 12/1 respectively, both with Bet365).
Matrix-inspired bodypopper Razy Gogonea created a huge buzz at auditions but it unfortunately has to be questioned whether being from Romania will hold him back with certain sections of the voting audience, even though producers were careful to establish in his VT that he had moved to Britain to be with his girfriend (rather than to steal the jobs of British bodypoppers).
This doubt applies even more forcefully to Michael Moral, who doesn’t even live in Britain. It would rather undermine the premise of Britian’s Got Talent if it were to be won by someone from France, which makes us think producers are unlikely to be pulling out all the stops on his behalf.
Both these acts are also similar to 2008’s winner, breakdancing George Sampson. Also perhaps too analogous to Sampson to secure the full weight of producer backing – in that he’s a child dancer, although in this case his medium is ballet rather than breakdance – is James Hobley (currently best-priced 14/1 with Paddy Power).
On the whole, it doesn’t look to us like producers are hoping for a fourth dance win in a row. Nor does it look like they’re gearing up to throw their weight behind a novelty act, either. They had the chance last year to try for a winning comedian (Paul Burling) or dog act (Tina and Chandi), but lumbered both with unhelpful draws in the final. None of this year’s market-leading novelty acts – circus performers Circus of Horrors (16/1), impressionist Les Gibson (35/1) or illusionists David and Karen (45/1) – have impressed in their auditions as likely to evolve into anything more than supporting acts on the Saturday bill.
That leaves us with the singers, who producers may feel are overdue a win having not claimed the prize since 2007. Ideally, they would surely like to replicate BGT’s two big commercial phenomena, Paul Potts and Susan Boyle. Paradoxically, though, the huge success of those two highlights how difficult it is to do well in this show as an adult singer.
What Potts and SuBo both had going for them was an easily-graspable backstory explaining why they hadn’t made it yet. SuBo’s social awkwardness was all too painfully obvious, while we could easily believe that the snobbish world of opera was hard to break into for an ordinary bloke from Carphone Warehouse.
Backstories this compelling don’t grow on trees. Mostly, a mature would-be star can’t say anything more heart-rending than that they’ve been plugging away tirelessly for years. And 2009’s saxophonist, Julian Smith, shows us the limits of such a quotidian backstory – he only just squeaked into third, despite the huge help of performing last in the final.
Interestingly, Potts and SuBo both have analogues of a sort in this year’s competition. The current fourth favourite, Jai McDowell, is Scottish and nervous. This year’s Potts-a-like, meanwhile – in that he is chubby, from the West Country and has an unimpressively geeky-sounding job – is the caravan-dwelling, guitar-playing 19-year-old Michael Collings.
It seems we are to understand that Jai’s explanation for why he hasn’t made it yet is stage fright – all the judges made sure they referenced his trembling knees. Also in the 24-year-old’s favour are his good looks, a worthy profession (he’s a support worker), and the Scottish regional vote. But is this really enough to persuade the public to take him to their hearts? We’re not so sure, and his current best price of 7/1 looks short enough to us.
We reckon Michael Collings might be more likely to strike a chord with the voting public. His audition VT expertly portrayed him as loveable doofus, with memorable lines about proposing to his girlfriend over an all-you-can-eat buffet, thinking the caravan park he lives in is posh because it has a key-card entry system, and forgetting where he’d be performing to the Queen if he won.
His choice of audition song, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, was also very smart on a couple of levels. Most obviously, it gave us the Pottsian surprise factor which is tailor-made for BGT – here we had a chavtastic-looking kid, unexpectedly singing a gentle and moving song. More subtly, it hinted at a brave face on hidden feelings – after VTing about being cheerfully unbothered by his unprivileged upbringing, he sings a lament about escaping from an unprivileged upbringing.
The big question we have about Collings, whose vocal talent does appear limited, is whether he can choose a similarly suitable song to keep up the momentum in his semi. If so, a reprise of Fast Car in the final – especially if producers manage to shoehorn in a glimpse of his newborn baby – might just make his current odds of 16/1 with Boylesports Ladbrokes look like a decent each-way.
The great advantage of being a child in this competition is that, unlike the adult wannabes, they don’t have to clear the implicit hurdle of explaining why it hasn’t happened for them yet (in Collings’s case, the implicit answer seems to be endearing incompetence). Two child singers (Connie Talbot and Andrew Johnson) have been among those filling the each-way slots in the four series to date, and it’s surely only a matter of time before a child singer wins.
This is especially true as, unlike the adult singers, children who might be capable of shifting albums don’t have an alternative route via the X Factor.
Three child singers sit near the head of the betting, but as of now we’ve only seen one of them. That’s Ronan Parke (currently top-priced at 9/2 with Betfred), a terrifyingly cute 12-year-old who looks like a pint-sized version of the musical theatre types that regularly trundle onto the X Factor production line, and who added to this impression by belting out the overdone ‘Feeling Good’ at his audition. Producers clearly have a target demographic in mind for Parke.
But they have also been softening us up via tabloid buzz for a big audition from another 12-year-old, Liverpudlian Taylor Fowlis, also currently best at 9/2 with Betfred. We haven’t seen her yet, nor have we seen a 9-year-old called Arisxandra Libantino who at the time of writing is down to 10/1 on the back of being talked up in the press.
At this point, if you buy our theory that producers are pitching for a child singer to win, you’re largely betting on which of these you think they will most favour during next week’s live shows. Sunday’s concluding audition show should give us more clues, and we’ll be back on Monday with an update.