We’re back! After a summer devoid of TV shows to bet on, X Factor returns to our screens on Saturday August 20th. With the help of your insights in the comments box, we hope to work towards some wisdom on the elimination and win markets as the series progresses.
To start with, the plan here on Sofabet is to publish one article a week during the audition shows phase. We’ll wait till midweek rather than posting immediately after the show, so we can also see which acts are getting traction in the tabloids, and round up what rumours we’re aware of.
But the more interesting question – and one we’d love your opinions on – is what are the producers planning for 2011?
Last year we thought from the start that One Direction were the Producer Plan A, partly because it was surely high time the groups category justified its existence. A group still hasn’t won the show (although JLS are among its most successful alumni); will they have another serious go this year? Giving the category to Gary Barlow would be a suggestive sign. Have they found a plausible readymade group? Would they have the brass neck to cobble together soloist rejects from bootcamp yet again? Or will the groups revert to the familiar archetypes of cannon fodder for the early weeks and comedy siblings?
Of course, plans aren’t only about the winner. We’ll spend the audition shows trying to figure out what trajectories the producers might have in mind for the acts that get a decent chunk of screentime. One Direction didn’t come off, for example, but one plan which surely worked perfectly last year was Cher Lloyd: set up from the start as a polarising figure, she was too Marmite ever to have a hope of winning – but the show played her astutely, shepherding her to fourth place and building enough of a fanbase to cash in with a debut single that topped the charts a week ago.
The first audition show should provide us with rich pickings. It makes sense to get your water-cooler acts in early, and this is just what the show has done in the last couple of years – the first audition show of 2009 introduced us to Jedward (as well as three of the eventual top four: Joe McElderry, Stacey Solomon and Danyl Johnson), while last year’s first audition show unleashed the controversy-magnet that was Katie Waissel.
That first show last year also went big on Gamu Nhengu, a salutary reminder of how things can change. And this brings us to a degree of trepidation we feel about this year’s series. The attraction of the X Factor as a betting medium is its formulaic predictability, but this year is set to see some shake-ups.
Most obviously, we have three new judges. When I went on a reconnaisance trip to one of the audition sessions, it seemed clear that the new judges are supposed to be slotting neatly into the roles the others have vacated – Gary stepping into Simon’s shoes as the only one whose opinion is really worth caring about, Tulisa usurping Cheryl as the nation’s spiky sweetheart, and Kelly performing the Dannii role of sweet positivity. But there has to be uncertainty about how this will play out – especially with constant rumours of a return for Simon and/or Cheryl in some kind of uber-judge capacity.
It is rumoured that, as last year, we will have 16 finalists instead of 12. We very much hope not, because it played havoc with betting strategies last year when we never knew until the last moment whether we were looking at a single or a double elimination.
More generally, we assume there must be a lot of new blood in the upper echelons of the show’s production this year. If we were Simon Cowell, we would have wanted to headhunt the top talent to work on launching the US show. And if that indeed is what has happened, we could well be noticing more fresh ideas with the UK show – or, perhaps, some signs of inexperience.
It’s certainly been possible to wonder, over the last year, whether these shows are losing their touch a little. First we had the failure of One Direction to get anywhere close to winning last year’s X Factor. Then the other big Cowell show, Britain’s Got Talent, was won by Jai McDowell instead of Ronan Parke. And whatever was supposed to have been achieved with Cheryl’s brief stint on the US judging panel, it’s hard to believe that the story didn’t escape the leash a little.
Still, it should be a fun ride, and we are looking forward to your help in decoding what we see on our screens. Please post your theories, thoughts and observations below – they make this site what it is.