We are kicking ourselves a bit about The Risk. Regular readers of Sofabet will know that when our commenter Judge’s excellent spoiler site first revealed the presence at judges’ houses of a boyband featuring Derry Mensah, we started speculating rather wildly about this potentially being Tulisa’s best hope. We couldn’t imagine that producers would want Tulisa to be embarrassed by the traditional weakness of the groups category, so we thought they must have something in mind for her – something, presumably, with an urban edge.
And yet, when bootcamp saw The Risk unveiled, they barely got any screentime. Nu Vibe seemed much the more favoured of the manufactured groups. Though bookies initially priced up The Risk at 25/1 – a price we would have gladly taken if they had featured in lists before bootcamp – we weren’t tempted.
Judges’ houses did nothing to change our minds. When news first leaked that Charlie from The Keys had been drafted into the group, we wrote: “We expect producers to milk Charlie’s transfer for all it’s worth – if there are no tearful scenes as he agonises about the prospect of leaving behind his disappointed bandmates to take up this opportunity, before graciously being given their blessing, we shall feel most let down.”
Well, there were no such scenes. Instead we simply saw Charlie delightedly leaping into a swimming pool. Disappointed former bandmates? What disappointed former bandmates? It did not look good.
On the basis that two boybands is one too many, we even had The Risk down as our first group out in our pre-twist 1-16 prediction article. In commenter Dug’s rather brilliant description in his own 1-16 prediction, The Risk looked like “the boat in the thought problem that gets replaced bit by bit with new parts whilst the parts taken away are mended and eventually rebuilt into a new ship. Which is the ship?”
As it turned out on Saturday, though, the ship floated. In a remarkable turnaround from their previously more favourable edits, Nu Vibe’s pre-performance VT referenced tabloid hints that they were squabbling like ferrets in a sack, while The Risk were shown bonding through a game of football. Nu Vibe were lumbered with much the worse song – in commenter Matt’s description, “basically a shouty dance track whereas The Risk got the wonderful Plan B”.
There’s no getting away from it. The Risk were very good, and it was no surprise to see their odds slashed to a fifth of the 25/1 we hadn’t been tempted by at bootcamp.
So why do we think they probably won’t win? It comes back to three arguments we developed at more length in our 2010 review article analysing what went wrong with One Direction and asking what would have to happen for a group ever to win this show. Notably, that “groups who appear to be genuinely close off camera seem to appeal more to the voting public”. Four out of seven seasons of the X Factor have seen siblings emerge as the top group (Journey South, The MacDonald Bros, Same Difference, Jedward), while second-placed JLS came across as having been genuinely good friends before the show.
Pre-show closeness is not a hurdle cleared by any of the three remaining groups after the irksome dismissal of 2 Shoes on Sunday night. We are not convinced that any number of footballing VTs will persuade the voting public that, with The Risk, they are watching a heartwarming tale of friends succeeding together. It became something of a running joke on Sofabet last year that Louis kept yelling “you’ve gelled as friends” at One Direction, but ultimately voters didn’t buy it.
Secondly, manufactured groups are composed of soloists who have been rejected, which does not establish them as winners in the public subconscious. In the case of The Risk, this is arguably a double problem as they have been rejected twice.
Finally, there is no regional base for manufactured groups such as The Risk, something which became a problem for One Direction in the final when Doncaster was rather randomly designated as their base for the purpose of gathering a cheering hometown crowd.
Having said all that, there are four reasons to think The Risk might actually be in a better position than One Direction. First, and not least, they appear to be considerably better than One Direction. Their performance of ‘Plan B’ on Saturday surpassed anything Cowell’s boys delivered in the lives last year.
Second, although they have no regional base, in Andrew Merry they do have the only Scot in the competition after Jade Richards failed to make it past judges’ houses. We expect one of Louis’s trademark shameless “I want everyone in Scotland to pick up the phone and vote” appeals at some point.
Third, in the now very likely looking event that they end up as Tulisa’s last group standing, they will presumably start to pick up some votes from viewers who like Tulisa – especially as they are being portrayed as Tulisa’s pet project. We very much doubt that anybody voted for One Direction because they like Simon Cowell.
Indeed, plenty of people probably didn’t vote for them because they wanted to stick two fingers up at Simon Cowell. Which is our fourth point – one risk The Risk will not face is that of a backlash against heavy-handed favouritism.
Add it all together, and we would not be at all surprised to see The Risk in the final three or even the final two. But winning will, we reckon, be just about a leap too far. The fact that no group has yet won this competition suggests that when push comes to shove the voting public prefer to bestow joy on a single individual, perhaps because their “journeys” are easier to empathise with. It will take something really special to break the group hoodoo, and we are not yet convinced that The Risk are special enough.
Disagree? Do let us know below.