The big news that emerged during the day and was confirmed in the second and final episode of judges’ houses, was the inclusion of Sophie Habibis for the live shows instead of rumoured finalist Melanie McCabe.
Sometimes, the obvious explanation turns out to be the correct one. Yesterday we observed that Melanie McCabe’s judges’ houses performance “was intercut with interview snippets, the treatment usually meted out to those in line to be rejected”. For all the theories we have been kicking around about producers playing a long game with Melanie – who had been reported as making the live shows in Judge’s spoilers and, earlier, in the Irish Independent – it turns out the opposite was true in this case.
Punters who have lost money on Mel (this includes us) should not be too harsh on themselves. We have to accept it is an occupational hazard when dealing with unconfirmed information, and Judge’s track record with his spoilers – in previous years, and this year at the final 32 stage – left little room for doubt that he has been passing on information from a genuine source in good faith. We feel bad for him that he appears to have been let down on this occasion, and remain grateful for the other accurate steers he has given us.
Ironically, a lot of the things we said about Melanie – that she had been kept under wraps and given little footage at auditions and bootcamp in order to create a sense of surprise – apply almost equally to Sophie. Our analysis of the length of first audition footage for each finalist sees Sophie (1m27s) at a huge screentime disadvantage against the other qualifiers in her category – Janet, Amelia and Misha. Bootcamp didn’t change that.
A shout out to some of our canny commenters, like JJ, who spotted her even at this stage. Fiveleaves and Rob picked up on her judges’ houses performance, where she was allotted more time than rival Melanie. The north Londoner was indeed impressive there and is now a best priced 14-1, although she has to overcome being previously below the radar and not having the regional base that Dubliner Melanie would have relied on.
Melanie’s continued low-key profile at judges’ houses may have been a clue that she would not qualify. However, James Michael, who was also shortchanged at the audition and bootcamp stage, was treated similarly in the first judges’ houses episode, yet qualified for the lives in the boys category, as Judge had indicated a few weeks ago. Like Melanie, his audition in yesterday’s programme was intercut with interview snippets. He was not afforded the luxury of an uninterrupted performance that was given to eventual non-qualifiers Luke, Joe and John.
Yet with mentor Gary Barlow making clear that this was his “gamble”, the show has tried to position him as an outsider. However, at a best-priced 8-1 in bookmakers’ lists, he is third favourite overall and best placed in the boys category ahead of Marcus, Frankie and Craig, so his odds hardly reflect this. Gary’s comments on putting through the other boys were also revealing. Of Marcus there was a sense that this was a solid performer and vocalist: “I wouldn’t have gone to the finals without you.” Craig was his “secret weapon” – a slightly leftfield but interesting package, whilst Frankie was, “not the best singer here …[but] you are my pop star, I’m not going to lose you”. This is how he has been positioned from day one.
The odds currently suggest an uphill struggle for any of this year’s groups to take the X Factor crown for the first time. Three out of four from this category have to overcome some rather botched manufacturing during the preliminary stages. Tonight we watched the rejigging of The Risk, with Charlie from The Keys replacing Marlon McKenzie as lead singer, ditching the rest of his bandmates in the process.
Charlie is a decent lead singer, and The Risk also have the engaging Derry Mensah on rap duty. Whilst producers gave more screentime to younger rivals, Nu Vibe, against a pre-Charlie The Risk during bootcamp, it will be interesting to see if there is still a sense of favouritism after the personnel change. I’m concerned that there’s not enough difference in vocal styles between these two boybands, and producers may look to push one over the other as a result. Commerical logic suggests the teenage Nu Vibe will more likely be favoured.
Bookmakers agree and reckon they offer the best hope in this category at 16-1, although we remain fans of 2Shoes, the only act in this section not to be manufactured in front of viewers’ eyes. The section is completed by Rhythmix, who impressed Oli and Fiveleaves in yesterday’s show, although they have to overcome being a new package and the curse of the girlband in X Factor. Female groups have a notoriously bad record in the live shows, though they have usually been dressed rather provocatively to secure tabloid inches, and Rhythmix are cultivating a different style. Quite whether I’d agree with Tulisa’s assessment that they have “an urban edge” is another matter.
I’m not seeing any possible contenders among the overs finalists. Some of our commenters have looked for crumbs of comfort, with Tim defending Kitty Brucknell, whilst Boki prefers Sami Brookes and also considered backing to lay Johnny Robinson, and Matt suggests that the forces vote could boost Jonjo. Personally speaking, I can’t detect much beyond the whiff of desperation from this category, but I reiterate that producers will do their level best to keep Kitty in the show for as long as possible.
With the last 16 now known, it’s time for punters to start taking a position on how they feel about each act. This year it feels like a head-scratching process. This may be because some of the strongest vocalists (Lascel Woods, John Adams, Melanie McCabe) haven’t even made it this far. At this stage last year, Sofabet managed to predict the four finalists, partly because we could identify the alpha male (Matt Cardle), the alpha female (Rebecca Ferguson) and the alpha group (One Direction). It feels much harder to do the same in each of these categories this year. Market leader Janet Devlin has clearly been pimped the most, both tonight and through the audition process, but doubts remain about her versatility. It’s an open race.
What are your thoughts on this and the weekend’s events? Do let us know in the comments section below.