Let’s face it, Johnny Robinson was the star of last Saturday’s X Factor. In a show full of mediocrity and negativity, his performance of ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ was one of the few joyful moments. It rightly brought the house down. As a result, his odds to win the whole show dropped from rank outsider to 25-1.
When Andrew made the offhand remark in an article earlier this week that “his shelf life is limited”, it sparked a flurry of debate in our comments section as to whether this was really the case. Opinion ranged from potential winner through top 3 contender to definite non-finalist. Before we explain why we’re in the latter camp, let’s analyse the three reasons for taking Johnny seriously as a potential winner or finalist.
The first argument for Johnny going far, perhaps all the way, is the weakness of the opposition. As commenter Whyalwaysme argued, given the flaws of all the other contenders, underestimating Johnny Robinson is “extremely dangerous… In an unordinary series, why shouldn’t there be an unordinary winner?”
The second argument is that Johnny comes across extremely sympathetically. Following on from his week 2 VT which showed him being taught how to use a “blueberry” to tweet Kylie Minogue, week 3’s VT portrayed him gamely agreeing to take on a song he thought he couldn’t manage and endearingly confiding in Janet about his doubts and insecurities.
Just as Johnny’s week 3 performance stood out, so did the likeability of his VT in a week where producers seemed to go out of their way to negatively portray some of the leading contenders – Sophie, Janet and The Risk all suffered from damaging VTs. Then, in stark contrast to a solid performance from Misha being overshadowed by the accusations of bullying in the judges’ comments, Johnny’s comments once again set him up for another enjoyable one-liner at Gary’s expense.
It’s impossible to dislike Johnny: his gratitude for being in the position he’s in; the obvious fact that he’s just being himself; his positivity towards Gary in the face of the latter’s bemusement; and those delicious ‘Carry On’-style one-liners, notably week 2’s “rub my lamp”. Johnny is Charles Hawtrey brought to life on the X Factor stage, and firmly in the Larry Grayson tradition of camp that’s long been popular with a Saturday night audience.
As one of our long-standing commenters, Mark, put it in making the case for taking 4-1 about Johnny to be in the final 3, “the country loves an underdog and he has the 2 most important things you need 2 do well a half decent voice and the likeability factor.”
Which brings us to the third argument in Johnny’s favour – he does have an effective falsetto, and it worked to great effect last week with an extremely smart song choice.
Now for the “but”. It seems to me that these three arguments rest too much on the evidence of one week. In the first live show, Johnny had looked to me to be a potential early casualty when sent out early wearing sunglasses and failing to convince with his rendition of ‘Believe’. The second week was better, with a big production for ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ and another entertaining post-performance interview. But there was no real suggestion that he could get near the final.
Everything came right for Johnny this last week: a perfect song choice, great slot in the running order, and looking good in comparison to other acts who suffered through poor performances or coverage. He will need to produce a week 3 kind of showing week-in, week-out from now on, and I don’t think that’s realistic, for a couple of reasons.
One is that Johnny’s week 3 performance completed already the main narrative trajectory set out for him during the live shows: Gary’s acceptance. The Take That lead man admitted that he “loved” Johnny’s latest performance. Now that there is no longer a need to win over a sceptical Gary, it takes away an edge from Johnny’s journey.
Another is that programme-makers will surely recognise the need to rehabilitate at least some of the more conventional contenders. Therefore, Week 3 seems likely to be as good as it gets for Johnny relative to the rest of the field.
I now have no doubt that programme makers will want Johnny’s presence for a few more weeks at least, but at the same time, I don’t think they will want him in the final. That’s because, as Euan explained, “He has no recording artist potential.”
As a few of our commenters have pointed out, producers can do a lot to ensure that acts they don’t want in the final don’t get there, as they managed with Wagner and Mary Byrne last year. As Euan said: “As we saw with Wagner they have ways of making people they don’t want fall into the bottom two. Leaked stories to the press, songs that don’t suit, take away his dancers and choreography.”
Plenty will feel that Johnny is more likeable than Wagner, and for that reason the comparison doesn’t stand, but I’m afraid that the tactics will remain the same if need be.
Last year there was a clear desire to get the more marketable Cher and One Direction into the final alongside Rebecca and Matt. Whilst the talent at the top of the field looks weaker this year, there’s no reason to believe that programme makers won’t try to big up the merits of the more marketable acts once the business end of the competition comes around. In our view those are probably Janet, The Risk, Misha and Marcus.
Belief that Johnny can make the final is based too much on one unusually unbalanced and negative live show. Give it a couple of weeks, and you too may find yourself agreeing, as I do, with Henry: “It’s not that unordinary a series”.