Tonight is the BGT 2011 grand final. And after a semi-final week that started predictably but delivered surprises, punters have two big questions to answer: Will the producers still be going all-out for a Ronan Parke victory? And if so, will they succeed?
For new readers, we should emphasise that our reading that Ronan Parke was the producers’ “Plan A” long predates and is entirely unrelated to the allegations Simon Cowell referred to at the opening of Friday’s show (thereby grabbing headlines that will doubtless do the viewing figures no harm). It was over a week ago that we laid out our own reading of why we were guessing that producers were hoping for a child singer to win this year.
And then on Monday, we made the case for getting on Ronan Parke at 11/4 as it seemed highly likely to us that he would get the pimp slot (that is, singing last of all followed by huge praise from the judges) in that first semi-final, and that his odds would plummet as a result. So it came to pass.
If you got on Ronan Parke before his semi, you can now lay off for a profit, if you haven’t already. But will he win?
We have observed before that in three out of the four seasons of BGT to date, the act performing last in the first semi final has also gone on to enjoy the huge advantage of performing last in the final, and speculated about why this may or may not be a coincidence. (If you’re not aware of why it’s such an advantage to perform last, see our statistical analysis of the importance of the running order in BGT).
After Ronan Parke closed Monday’s show, we seemed set fair for a predictable repeat of this pattern. But Tuesday’s semi-final introduced a doubt, in the shape of New Bounce.
They became the big market movers of the week when Simon Cowell called them “the ones to beat” and, in what seemed like a calculated and somewhat surprising snub to Ronan Parke, the only act he’d seen so far that could work in the “real world”.
What was going on here? Three possibilities come to mind:
1. Perhaps, although he won Monday’s semi, Ronan Parke might not actually have garnered that many votes against what looked to be quite weak opposition (in the comments to the last post, Sofabet readers Rob and Justin gave their reasons for doubting his public appeal). Who knows? But one might speculate that any disappointment in this respect might possibly have sparked a decision to activate a “Plan B”.
2. Perhaps Simon Cowell, engaging only late and distracted from his US commitments, suddenly realised New Bounce were an act he could work with. (In the comments, Annie poses a great question – would Cowell really want New Bounce, having so recently signed One Direction? Maybe not. But on the other hand, think of all the “battle of the boybands” stories he could spin).
3. Perhaps producers became alarmed that the final was seeming too much like a foregone conclusion after just one semi, and simply felt the need to hype up an apparent rival pretty darn sharpish.
The running order should give us a clue here. Punters will be watching with poised fingers as the acts are announced, and if one of New Bounce or Ronan Parke appears early, you can expect a major and instant shift in the betting towards the other.
But what if they both get helpful late slots? That might appeal to producers if they are worried about bad publicity over perceived favouritism and don’t want to be seen to be throwing Parke’s perceived principal opposition under the bus.
We reckon that if Parke is in the pimp slot, it will be a sign that producers are confident he can win, even if New Bounce immediately precede him in 9th – a scenario that might appeal in terms of maximising viewer interest and phone vote revenue. If producers doubt Parke’s ability to win, we don’t think they’d risk putting him in the pimp slot.
But if he’s not in the pimp slot, would that equally indicate that producers don’t think he can win? Not necessarily – although if it’s New Bounce who get the pimp slot, then that will look fairly conclusive. Another possibility, though, if perceived favouritism is a concern, is the Julian Smith route taken in SuBo’s year – give the pimp slot to someone inoffensive who’s not going to win. Paul Gbegbaje, for example. And put Parke in, say, 9th.
If producers’ intentions don’t seem clear from the running order, then we’d have to wait for comments – an “I loved you in your semi but that was disappointing” from Cowell, for example, could be fatal.
The permutations are endless, and the speculation is fascinating. But as arguably the two most-pimped acts from the semi-finals, it does seem likely to us that one of these two will be walking off with the honours tonight.
The Wednesday and Thursday semis were understated by comparison. Wednesday’s vote-topper, impressionist Les Gibson, looks more like a light-relief filler than a likely winner, while the fact that he beat the better-fancied James Hobley from a slightly worse draw suggests that the dancer is unlikely to trouble the top of the leaderboard.
Jai McDowall won Thursday’s semi-final but his odds for the outright victory barely moved, which tells you all you need to know about a workmanlike performance. If producers were lining up Jai to win, we would have expected a lot more fuss to have been made of him in the semis.
The same can be said of Michael Collings, who found himself shunted into the unfavoured Friday heat (acts emerging from the last of the semi-finals have previously had a poor record in the final) and beaten by Razy Gogonea.
What of Razy’s chances? We remain inclined to think that producers are unlikely to want a fourth dance act in a row to win, and the doubt remains about whether Razy’s Romanian nationality may sadly prove a sticking point with certain segments of the voting public – although last night’s VT for Razy certainly seemed cleverly calculated to undercut any such prejudices, with testimony from his Manchester-based girlfriend’s family about how much he misses home.
A top-three finish is certainly a possibility for Razy if he gets a helpful late draw. But then, you could say exactly the same about all but arguably two or three of tonight’s acts – certainly you could still say it about Collings, who disappointingly has only shortened slightly in the betting since last week when we wondered (as we still do) if a reprise of Fast Car in the final might make 16/1 seem generous each-way.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Betfair have a couple of markets that – while currently still illiquid – could offer some interesting opportunities. The “top 3” market is an alternative to each-way betting, while the “winner without Ronan Parke” market could be interesting if Ronan gets the pimp slot.
And so, as ever with BGT, it all comes back to the running order. On which subject, props to Nick D for noting in the comments that the first 30 minutes of BGT coincides with the much-anticipated midseason finale of Doctor Who on BBC1. This is likely to put the first two and possibly three acts, not favoured at the best of times, at an even bigger disadvantage.
Who are you expecting to get running order help tonight, and who’s your money on? Let us know in the comments box below.