One of the trickiest aspects of this year’s X Factor for punters is the fact that two otherwise strong-looking contenders, James Michael and Melanie McCabe (now named by Judge’s spoilers as the fourth girl through to the lives and down to 11-1 this morning), had such a tiny amount of screentime in the audition shows.
Why should punters worry about an act’s lack of audition show screentime? Two related reasons. In the short term, it gives them less of a chance to establish a fanbase early and thus make a running start in the lives. In the longer term, it suggests the producers are not interested in helping them to win. And while it is certainly possible to win this show without the goodwill of producers, it makes life a whole lot more difficult.
How big a hill is it for the laconic Liverpudlian and the big-voiced Dubliner to climb? Before putting it into historical context, a quick trawl of youtube lets us compare how they shape up against the other auditionees who Judge tells us are going through. The figures are youtube clip lengths in minutes and seconds, with the auditon show in which they featured in parentheses:
Frankie Cocozza (1) 6:34
Craig Colton (2) 6:52
James Michael (5) 1:05
Marcus Collins (5) 5:43
Janet Devlin (1) 8:06
Misha Bryan (2) 8:00
Amelia Lily (5) 6:44
Melanie McCabe (6) 0:52
2Shoes (6) 6:03
Kitty Brucknell (1) 6:40
Johnny Robinson (2) 6:53
Clearly, James and Melanie have a vast screentime deficit to make up. The same applies to two of the manufactured groups who Judge has in the lives, too – Nu Vibe and Rhythmix. Only The Risk contains anyone who had respectable screentime in the audition shows (Derry Mensah got 6:39 and The Keys, featuring Charlie, got 3:25, both in show 2).
What does history suggest about the chances of overcoming such a hurried introduction to the voting public? Courtesy of youtube and The Bitch Factor audition show archives (and, while we’re at it, building on Euan’s great analysis suggesting that acts shown in the first couple of shows tend to do disproportionately well), here are the same stats for the eventual top four in the last five series:
Matt Cardle (2) 4:03
Rebecca Ferguson (5) 7:25
[One Direction] Liam (3) 6:11 / Harry (6) 4:11
Cher Lloyd (3) 5:55
Joe McElderry (1) 5:51
Olly Murs (4) 6:28
Stacey Solomon (1) 4:27
Danyl Jonhson (1) 6:30
Alexandra Burke (2) 4:48
JLS (1) 3:13
Eoghan Quigg (2) 4:18
Diana Vickers (2) 3:49
Leon Jackson (3) 2:48
Rhydian Roberts (6) 3:07
Same Difference (1) 3:03
Nikki Evans (1) 3:42
Leona Lewis (1) 1:02
Ray Quinn (2) 2:51
Ben Mills (4) 2:44
McDonald Bros (5) 1:14
The good news for backers of James and Melanie is that Leona Lewis’s audition got barely a minute in 2006, so there is a precedent.
The bad news is that we appear to have experienced Zimbabwean levels of screentime inflation since Leona’s day, when none of the eventual contenders got even three minutes. Part of the reason is the introduction of the live audience in 2009, which has turned auditions into much more of an event in themselves, with opportunities for judges and acts alike to milk the crowd. But the trend was evident before then (all of 2008’s eventual contenders got 3-5 minutes) and has continued since (this year we have Janet topping the 8 minute mark).
Comments to previous posts have featured a good deal of speculation about the possible explanations for James’s lack of screentime, in particular. Here are three theories that have been floated:
1. He was a late choice for the lives.
This explanation doesn’t wash, however – Steve makes the point that James’s audition was screened six days after judges’ houses for the boys were filmed. So even if James was a last-minute choice for the lives, producers must have had plenty of time to re-edit his audition and give him a more memorable introduction. They could also have started to make up for lost time with the bootcamp episodes edit, and they didn’t.
2. Producers are hoping for the “surprise factor”.
This one was raised by Rob. Perhaps James is being kept relatively anonymous not because producers are apathetic about him but so that, when he turns in an amazing vocal to justify his place in the lives, we can all be shocked as well as wowed. If this was going to happen, though, as Rob says, bootcamp would have been the obvious time. It is still a possibility for judges’ houses, but this would be leaving it rather late to build the initial fanbase.
3. The rest of James’s audition wasn’t that good.
Nicky in the comments notes that James’s vocals were less than stellar in parts during the second bootcamp episode, and wonders: “Maybe the sparse air time isn’t about disguising his ability, but rather his lack of it, as he is rather lovely!” Viewers of the Xtra Factor on Sunday night will have seen extended clips of James’s initial audition, from which it is clear that they showed the best bit on the main show.
Here at Sofabet, we frankly still don’t know what to make of James. In our opinion he’s comfortably the best-looking of the boys, and probably the second-best vocalist after Marcus. His “garden” response at auditions suggests he was in the queue when dry scouse wit was being handed out, though possibly behind Craig Colton. We regret not backing him at 25/1 straight after his audition (obviously, as we could then look to lay it off when the Betfair market opens), and we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him shape into a major player. But can we back him at around 8/1 given his lack of screentime?
As for Melanie, it is even harder to know what to think. In the comments, DJ Sunset’s Love Child notes that she “has the power voice that goes down well in this format”, as amply evidenced on youtube. But why has she been kept under wraps in the audition show and bootcamp edits, to an even greater extent than James?
One possible theory is suggested by a story which appeared in the press in late August, quoting an “insider” as saying that Melanie and Janet “have been getting on like a house on fire”. As we noted in our review of bootcamp episode 2, the evidence of the editing so far strongly points to Janet being this year’s Plan A. Could it be that Melanie is being lined up to be a bit-part player in Janet’s story, providing a heartwarming subplot of friendship transceding rivalry to occupy the VTs in the early weeks?
Then, if Melanie exits before Janet, we have a tearful goodbye that provokes sympathy for Janet and ensures the maximum possible crossover of Irish support south of the border. This theory is more than a little bit left-field, but it would explain why producers have evidently been so keen to avoid Melanie building up too much of a head of steam from the auditions.
Melanie going through also evidently means that Jade doesn’t (barring any wildcard-type shenanigans, which can never entirely be ruled out). So we also need to ask why producers have been building up Jade so assiduously, if she is to be knocked down again in this weekend’s episodes. Dramatic effect is the simple explanation, as Ron suggests, though Rob theorises that the most obvious place for Scottish votes to go is across the Irish Sea.
What are your theories? Are there alternative explanations for what producers are up to with James and Melanie? Can either of them (or indeed Nu Vibe or Rhythmix) overcome the initial lack of screentime? As always, we warmly welcome your thoughts in the comments box below.