Going into the first live show, it’s a case of “let’s twist again, like we did last autumn”. Very much like last autumn, in fact. Then, we thought we were getting 12 acts and we got 16. Now, we thought we were getting 16 acts and we’ll get 12. It was announced at midnight on Thursday that there will be no public vote this weekend, with each mentor instead eliminating one act from their own category in Sunday night’s show.
Through the course of Friday, markets were opened on first eliminations in the respective categories – and with plenty of differences of opinion among the odds compilers. This puts punters in the challenging situation of being able to bet on an outcome which is entirely in the show’s control, rather than an outcome which requires guessing not only the show’s preferences but how they will be refracted through the prism of the public vote.
Here’s how we see each of the categories.
Starting with the boys, we now have an obvious explanation for James Michael’s previously intriguing lack of screentime. This makes him an obvious favourite for the chop (best-priced 11/8 at the time of writing; odds-on in places).
Conversely, there is surely (and unfortunately) no way that Frankie is going anywhere after all the show has invested in him so far. It’s hard to understand why Skybet are so stingy at 4/1, and even the top price of 7/1 looks much too short.
We made the case in our 1-16 prediction article for why we think Marcus Collins (3/1 for an early bath) is the strongest of the boys – versatility, vocals and stage presence. However, we are under no illusions that producers would want him as the winner – he is a long way from being from the most marketable of the 16 acts as a recording artist. And, as has been widely commented on, everything this year points to producers wanting a girl to win it.
We can only hope that producers will want to keep Marcus around to put on a show for viewers week after week, rather than to nobble him before he gets the chance to build up a head of steam with the voting public. The song choice will tell us a lot here, as indeed it will for all the other acts – letting him loose on an upbeat, feelgood number on Saturday night will likely signify he’s being kept, while saddling him with something forgettable will be our clue that he may be about to be cut off at the knees.
William Hill briefly offered Craig Colton at 8/1 when the market opened, but we were too slow to get it. Still, the current top price of 6/1 with Skybet looks more than fair (he’s as short as 5/2 elsewhere), as we reckon it’s probably between him and James. If James is allowed his guitar and Craig looks as uncomfortable on the big stage as he did in his audition, that could tip the scales.
The lack-of-screentime argument is also a reason for thinking that Sophie Habibis (generally odds-on but evens in places) may not be long for this competition. But there is also a theory that the big twist may end up feeling like something of a letdown if it’s all the obvious acts who are dumped. And if there is to be a headline-grabbing departure, the exceptional strength in depth of the girls category this year means that this is arguably where it is most likely to be found.
Having said that, we would be amazed if Janet (16/1) is dumped for the sake of a day’s worth of cheap headlines after all the effort show has put into her so far. Could it be Misha (9/4) or Amelia Lily (9/1)? Neither would surprise us greatly, but equally neither is big enough to tempt us to get involved.
In the overs, Sami (currently top-priced 7/4 with Ladbrokes but odds-on elsewhere) is the obvious choice, as she was the late substitute.
But is she too obvious? After all, if we postulate that this twist was in the offing before the final 16 was decided, then she can’t have been the one originally intended to be sacrificed. The question is: who out of the original four would have been in line for an exit if Goldie had stuck around?
One of Goldie or Johnny (4/1) is surely a possible answer, as we always thought that two end-of-the-pier acts in one category was pushing it even for this show. Or perhaps nervous, lyrics-forgetting Jonjo was never intended to make it past the first week? If you forced us to have a bet in this category then we’d be on Jonjo at 7/2 with Coral, but we’re not confident enough in our reading of this situation to put cash at stake.
One thing we’re pretty sure about is that it won’t be Kitty, who has very curiously been installed by Coral as their 9/4 second favourite. Bet365 have her at 9/1, four times Coral’s price, though the signs are so strong that producers have lined her up to be one of the talking points of the series, we wouldn’t be tempted even at 90/1.
Finally, the groups. Rhythmix have been put in as one of Bet365’s 11/4 joint favourites here but they look like a lay to us – or they would if Betfair had opened a market on these per-category eliminations, which is not the case at the time of writing. [UPDATE: Betfair markets now open – girls, boys, overs, groups.]
Our slightly sordid reasoning is that, given all the effort the show have put into setting up Frankie Cocozza as a Don Juan, producers will presumably be hoping he will provide some juicy tabloid fodder by copping off with someone or other among the other finalists. While we have no idea about the Rhythmix girls’ tastes in arse decor, getting rid of them would approximately halve Frankie’s list of conceivable conquests. We don’t see the show doing it.
Besides, even without the Frankie factor, girl groups tend to be good for generating tabloid stories. That’s the only explanation for the otherwise dull Belle Amie being given some running order help early in the last series.
The other joint-favourites at 11/4 are our each-way selection for the whole competition, 2 Shoes, and here we feel the decision will rest very much on how producers are viewing Charley’s pregnancy. On the one hand, it could be seen as a great feelgood story. On the other, the show may not want to run the risk that the stresses of the competition could be suggested to be endangering Charley’s health. We simply have no idea what their thoughts are on this.
What we do believe is that two boy bands is one too many, and if they’re relaxed about Charley being up the duff, the most logical way to balance the groups category would be to get shot of either Nu Vibe or The Risk.
As we mentioned in our last article, the editing of bootcamp and judges’ houses suggests that Nu Vibe is the boyband producers are most interested in. So we’re surprised to see them at the shorter price of the two – as short as 15/8 with Bet365, biggest at 7/2.
The main reason to think The Risk will not be ejected that it could embarrass Tulisa, given that she personally cobbled them together from leftovers in Mykonos.
We don’t see this as too much of a problem, however. After all, Saturday night will be the first time this lot have performed together in public, and it would be easy for Tulisa simply to say that she’s disappointed they haven’t gelled. We reckon it’ll be either The Risk or 2 Shoes, and the only cash we’ve parted with today is to take a little bit of 4/1 about The Risk with Hills.
Three more observations about the big twist need to be made.
First, unlike last year’s twist, this one is great news for punters. Once we get past this week, it’s single eliminations all the way to a four-act final, or at most one double elimination if we are to revert to a three-act final. The threat of the lowest-placed act being eliminated before producers have had the chance to save them, which plagued the next elimination market last year, has receded. The show will remain in control.
Second, it is interesting that the show is willing to give up a week of phone vote revenue. What this suggests to us is that the phone vote numbers aren’t that big in the opening weeks, and build as the competition progresses. This is another reason to keep stakes small on the elimination markets in the early weeks, when the margins are tight and producer intentions still remain murky.
Thirdly, what does this mean for punters who had already dabbled in the first elimination market? Betfair quickly voided their market and refunded stakes – which is probably the right decision, as clearly anyone who bet pre-twist was betting on very different understanding of the situation.
Other bookies have pulled their markets, but are they all going to refund stakes, or will some let the bets stand? After all, one of the four acts eliminated on Sunday will be eliminated “first” – it depends on which mentor Dermot starts with. We are waiting to learn from bwin, for example, whether our very speculative, small-stakes pre-twist dabble on James at 40/1 will be refunded or left to stand.
If you have intelligence from other bookies on their policies, do share it in the comments box below. And, of course, let us know what you’re making of the twist and where you think the value lies.