The momentum is building on this season of X Factor. After this weekend’s double bill confirms the lineup for the live shows, we can expect Betfair to open its market on the final 16. This will allow punters to hedge any fancy prices taken during the audition shows, should we wish to do so, as well as start betting against those we feel are over-rated. We can also expect markets on the first elimination to get our heads around.
The judges’ houses stage of the competition is always an entertaining one, but it is worth remembering that this is a very different environment – with contestants performing just in front of their mentor and another celebrity in the intimacy of a front room – than the arena auditions, which are a much closer fit for where the acts will ultimately be tested. It might therefore be wise not to over-react if there are any apparent leaps forward in contestants’ vocal abilities.
As an indicator of producers’ intentions, though, judges’ houses should be full of clues. So what should we be looking out for?
1. Will they take the wraps off Melanie McCabe?
Our article analysing the limited screentime given to James Michael and Melanie McCabe sparked a flurry of speculation in the comments as to why the Dublin lass in particular had been given such short shrift in her audition edit and at bootcamp. As Ron mentioned, she received a standing ovation at her O2 audition for her rendition of ‘One Night Only’. But all TV viewers got to see was the very worst segment of her second song (come to your own conclusions from the audio of her full audition), as she fell slightly behind the beat on Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl in the World’.
What was the reasoning behind this? Do we run with the straightforward explanation that producers simply don’t want Melanie to do well? But if that’s the case, why put her in the lives at all?
Sofabet commenter tpfkar reckoned there might be some reverse psychology at work. By making sure she doesn’t look like a favoured candidate at this stage (especially compared to Janet Devlin), producers may be playing a long game, mindful of the public backlash that can occur against acts perceived to be getting too much assistance. After all, they’ve known of Melanie’s potential since her appearance on the show back in 2008 (the fact that she was eliminated at bootcamp there has not yet been mentioned, as it often is when contestants re-audition). So perhaps they are looking to reveal her talent slowly, relying on the Irish vote to keep her safe as the rest of the audience gradually cottons on to her ability.
In which case, will they continue to underplay her big voice at judges’ houses? If so, they may attach more controversy to our second point.
2. Why and how will Jade be rejected?
Sofabet readers who have been following the so-far accurate spoilers provided by our commenter, Judge, have been kept on tenterhooks about whether Jade or Melanie would receive the final place in the live shows among the girls category. Jade has featured far more prominently in the series so far, and even challenged for favouritism after revealing her heartwarming backstory and wowing judges during the third audition show.
She would clearly be the most surprising exclusion at judges’ houses, so it will be interesting to see how it is played. Will the editing try to heighten the controversy, as occurred last year in the same category when Katie and Cher were put through despite messing up at this stage? Or will producers try to avoid riling Scottish viewers by making it clear that Jade just happened to come up against some excellent rivals in a competitive group?
One thing we can confidently expect is for Jade to be one of the last two girls to discover their fate on Kelly’s sofa. But which other girl will be shown in the interspersed clips, her joy pointedly juxtaposed with Jade’s disappointment? Melanie would generate the most controversy given her relative anonymity so far; if it’s her, that will surely indicate producers want her to be a talking point of week 1, with a big performance to vindicate Kelly’s decision.
Or perhaps producers will be tempted to put the wind up Janet’s fans by editing an apparent Janet/Jade standoff for Kelly’s final place? That would certainly make for tense television for viewers who haven’t been following Judge.
3. Just what shenanigans took place in Mykonos?
Reports in the press after the filming of Tulisa’s judges’ houses intriguingly suggested that certain contestants were chucked out for romping. Judge tells us that Marlon McKenzie was thrown out of The Risk and replaced by Charlie, the lead singer of The Keys, with his four bandmates going home. Whether or not any of this occurred for romp-related reasons we have no idea; other media stories have burnished Tulisa’s urban credentials by claiming she rejected The Keys because three of them went to public school.
The big question for punters is whether we get more of a whiff of conspiracy or cock-up from the way this is handled on screen. Might producers conceivably have been angling for a way to get Charlie without his bandmates, for example? Or do we get the impression that Tulisa has been left with a weaker category by having to restrict her choice to non-romping contestants?
4. How will the new groups bed down?
And not in the literal sense. We saw various new groups created during bootcamp: The Risk, Nu Vibe, Rhythmix and The Lovettes. Whilst I would like to know who thought up these dreadful names, of more pressing interest is how well they perform together with more practice and which will get the most favourable edit this weekend.
If any of this year’s manufactured groups seem to be gelling vocally, we could see a significant plunge in their odds (currently we have Nu Vibe at 14s with Rhythmix and The Risk at 20s). A word of caution, however: last year, One Direction looked very promising when harmonising on the show for the first time at this stage, and then they notoriously failed even to attempt another harmony for the first eight weeks of the live shows in the more challenging environment of the studio arena.
It’s no surprise that the lowest-priced manufactured outfit is currently Nu Vibe, as they were most favoured by the edit at the bootcamp stage. Will the young lads led by Ashford Campbell again get the lion’s share of the limelight within this category, or will we get to see more of The Risk and Rhythmix this time around?
5. Will James Michael look like a flash-in-the-pan or a genuine contender?
Moving on to the boys category, James remains the most intriguing contender. Producers didn’t make up for his lack of audition show screentime with the bootcamp episodes edit, but still punters continued to back him down, from an initial post-audition price of 25-1 into 12-1 before bootcamp and now 8-1 at the time of writing.
As we see more of him, will that gamble begin to look like a very wise pre-emptive move, or may further evidence show him in a less flattering light? The jury is out in our comments section, with some such as Stableboyuk nailing their colours to his mast while Nicky suspects the live shows may show up vocal weaknesses suggested in the full version of his audition.
6. Will Craig Colton’s inclusion in the live shows cause some controversy?
Here at Sofabet, we can’t understand how Craig Colton has apparently managed to get into the lives, endearing guy though he appears to be. The Liverpool region is already well provided for in this category, thanks to both James Michael and Marcus Collins. Indeed, in the comments Noisy suggests the splitting of the Liverpool vote is an indication of how much producers want to avoid a male winner this year, along with the early exclusion of the impressive Lascel Woods and John Adams.
It was interesting that Craig’s name was the last one called of the eight through to bootcamp, meaning that for fans of Lascel and John, he already looks like the man who shot Bambi. We suspect most viewers who don’t follow the spoilers will be expecting the more vocally distinctive Joe Cox or the more vocally talented John Wilding to make the lives instead. Does the wisecracking biscuit factory worker perform brilliantly in front of mentor Gary Barlow to justify his inclusion? Or will we still be scratching our heads about why he remains in the competition?
7. How will the show play the withdrawal of Goldie Cheung?
Goldie Cheung looked like being a highly enjoyable cult figure for this series. Unfortunately, having been chosen at judges’ houses for the live shows, she has since pulled out. Tabloids initially suggested this was because she did not like being made into a novelty act (in which case one wonders what possessed her to drape a leg over Gary Barlow or writhe around on the bootcamp stage). In the time-honoured tradition of politicians resigning to spend more time with their family, however, the statement on the official website gives Goldie’s reason as “I knew I would miss my family so much.”
It is also suggested there that her withdrawal will be shown this week, and her replacement announced. How will this impact on the editing of the other acts? Will we see more bigging up of Johnny Robinson, now likely to be shouldering more of the pantomime burden?
8. Who are the other qualifiers in the overs category and can either of them help Louis avoid the wooden spoon?
Judge’s spoilers suggest that novelty acts Kitty Brucknell and Johnny Robinson are through to the live shows. Who will join them? The most likely candidates are barmaid Samantha Brookes and soldier Jonjo Kerr.
I don’t see either ensuring that Louis has a candidate in the final half-dozen acts this year, and having mentioned it when he was 7-4 and 7-5, I still think the current best price of 11-10 that the Irishman loses all his acts first is a decent bet. Then again, perhaps someone will come into their own from this category in Barcelona.
9. Will the mentors start to indicate who their favourites are among their acts?
The relationship between the mentors and their charges can be an important aspect of X Factor. Cheryl’s evident rapport with Joe McElderry, who hailed from the same neck of the woods, surely helped his chances. But any signs of favouritism have to be carefully handled – only a year later, Ms Cole faced criticism for allegedly being more interested in Katie and Cher than Rebecca and Treyc.
So which close relationships may emerge? Kelly and Misha appear to be a good fit, though the empathetic American seems likely to lovingly nurture all her acts. Tulisa has already shown some maternal affection for Nu Vibe, describing them as TLM (Tulisa’s Little Muffins) on Xtra Factor. It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops, too. Gary seems more likely to gel with one of his fellow north-westerners than with south coast resident Frankie, but which one?
10. Will there be a twist in the tale?
Last year, producers tantalised us with talk of a surprise, which turned out to be a wildcard that allowed each judge to select a further entrant in their category. This took the number of contestants in the live shows from 12 to 16. From a logistical as well as a punting point of view, it was a bit of a nightmare. Nonetheless, the twist made for good TV, as four acts rejected at judges’ houses received a sudden lifeline.
This time, we’ve not heard of any change in format to what we witnessed in 2010, with four qualifiers from each category. But you never know.
What are you looking out for in particular at Judges’ Houses this year? Do keep the debate going on Sofabet below.