Despite the chaos preceding it, week 4 at least felt like an attempt to put the wheels back on this series; as Euan commented before the show, “Sounds to me like someone’s gone in and read a riot act to producers”. Rhythmix became Little Mix, Ashley became Ashford, and Kelly became Alexandra – and after week 2’s dumping on the boys and week 3’s dissing of the girls, everyone except poor old Sophie Habibis got broadly positive treatment.
After four weeks, the contours of the series should be becoming apparent. Though all the acts have more significant weaknesses than we would expect at this stage, nonetheless there are five acts it is possible to imagine winning, so this week’s review considers the key question regarding each of them in turn.
1. Is there any way back for Misha B?
On Saturday, producers could hardly have done more to attempt to repair the damage they inflicted on Misha B with bullygate in week 3. Given that ignoring the media storm in her VT would have looked very odd, they instead filmed Misha in wide angle, wandering pensively through a deserted park – a visual that cleverly suggested reflection, repentance and personal growth.
As in week 2, we saw her being liked and respected by an employee on the show. And in comments Tulisa backtracked, albeit in a nauseatingly self-serving way (“If I cynically character-assassinate you on live TV, it’s only because I care”).
Misha performed well once again, so it was a major surprise when she landed up in the bottom two. If she wins now, she will be the first to do so having been in a sing-off. Three acts have finished second after surviving the danger zone, albeit from later in the series – Ray Quinn (week 5), Olly Murs and JLS (both week 7). The best precedent for a sing-off survivor this early in the series is Danyl Johnson, a week 3 survivor who went on to finish 4th.
Is it just a coincidence that no sing-off survivor has won? Maybe, but there is a plausible case for it being significant – voters like to back a winner, and acts who have never faced the judges in a sing-off have more of a winner’s aura when it comes to the final than acts whose lack of popularity has been laid bare at least once.
After week 1’s show saw Misha’s odds plummet, we wrote a piece explaining why we thought she would not win the X Factor – essentially, as a strong and confident young woman, Misha contrasts starkly with the demure and self-doubting profile of girls who have typically done well with the show’s voters. Since then we have changed our mind about only one thing in that article – we started it by calling her one of the “few genuine stars” of this series, and now think she’s the only genuine star. She’s the best thing in this show by a country mile, and that offers a slim hope of her bucking the trend.
Perversely, it is also just about possible that bullygate and the bottom two could play to her advantage. After all, Misha no longer looked so strong and confident when too choked to speak to Dermot in her post-performance interview. Is it conceivable that, having done such a great job of demolishing the self-confidence with which Misha started the series, the show could build it up again in a format more palatable to X Factor voters?
If we were in charge of the show this week, we’d portray Misha in full-on meltdown mode, lacking the confidence to get back on stage. We’d show her talking to the show’s psychologist, and we’d develop the idea planted by her last VT – “music saved me” – by having her suggest that being on the X Factor itself is proving to be a transformative experience for her. She could VT that she feels the support from the show is making her into a better person, and she doesn’t want it to end. It would be horribly cynical, but it just might have the desired effect. Danyl lost all his confidence the week after his sing-off survival and managed to top the following week’s vote despite performing abysmally.
However, the trajectory needed to get Misha into a position of winning the show may not necessarily be the best trajectory for a post-show career, and for that reason the show may choose not to send her down the route of looking demure and belting out ballads. We think Dug may have it right:
I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I considered Misha’s styling to be dangerously alienating and the harsh look does nothing to help the girl in her upward climb from the Bullygate pit. I fear that whilst the Halloween theme should have suited Ms B, the scary makeup, growth-like horn-hair and evil cackling in the rap will have done nothing to soften her after last week’s debacle… The whole thing is a little fishy – perhaps they are planning a post-show career for Misha but think that being a nice girl and winning will do nothing for her ‘urban’ street cred?
We would love to be wrong that Misha’s current odds of around 7/1 look plenty short enough, as her talent deserves to shine through – but we fear that a bottom two experience this early bears out the doubts we rehearsed previously about her connection with the voting public.
2. What does Janet Devlin have up her sleeve?
After the last audition show, this is what we wrote about Janet: “In uncertain times, those who play the stock market gravitate to ‘safe havens’ such as gold or German bonds. Using similar reasoning, the Sofabet team took the last of the 13/2 on Janet Devlin after last night’s show.” Six weeks on, we stick by our analogy – while the German economy is flatlining, Janet just about remains a worthy favourite because her rivals have been about as impressive as Greek austerity plans.
The look on Janet’s face after her performance of ‘Every Breath You Take’ told you everything you needed to know about it – she seemed aghast as she stood back and contemplated the huge, steaming turd she had just deposited on the stage. She had not exactly stolen the show in any of weeks 1-3 either.
There are three ways to look at this. The first is that she just isn’t that good, and the show made a major goof in investing so heavily in her during the audition stages. The second is suggested by bunnyman in the comments, that Janet was never meant to be a Plan A: “I have seen her more of a pace setter intended as an early favourite, but incapable of keeping it going until the end.”
But if not to protect Janet’s chances, why ditch the much stronger Jade Richards and Amelia Lily to make way for the personality vacuum that was Sophie Habibis, whose presence in the live shows has seemed otherwise entirely pointless?
We’re thinking a third possibility is the right one. As Curtis puts it, “There is the possibility that they do not want her to peak too early… The thing that we’ve learnt from previous X Factors is that to win it, it’s not about how you start, but how you finish.” We reckon the show is relying on the Northern Ireland vote to keep her safe through some underwhelming early weeks that are designed to ensure the victory that programme makers are hoping to engineer for her doesn’t look too predictable for too long.
Speaking of “predictable”, that was the criticism Gary levelled at her this week. And it now seems all too obviously set up for Janet to come out and wow us with an uptempo number in club classics week. As nugget says, “There is no doubt in my mind that Janet can do an upbeat track. Check out her recording of Avril Lavignes Skater Boi on You tube. This is a card the producers are saving to be played at a later date when needed. The whole shy Irish girl thing is a bit of an act IMHO.”
In a weak year, we still reckon the betting is right to suggest that Janet is the most likely winner.
3. Does Ash to Ash mean The Risk are dead and buried?
If Janet is not Plan A, is it The Risk, as bunnyman‘s comment suggested? They would be an ambitious Plan A to win the show, when we’re already onto Plan C just in terms of the group’s composition. Surely tpfkar is right to say “what a hopeless job they did at putting the rejected soloists into groups”.
The reasons for Ashley leaving The Risk are certainly intriguing to speculate about. It casts a new light on a comment by Louis during the Week 1 strangling at birth of Nu Vibe: “Ashford, you’re the main man”. It seemed random at the time; was the switcheroo being contemplated even then? It also makes one wonder about Ashley’s “laryngitis” during week 3 – could this have been intended as the face-saving get-out (before Kelly upped the stakes in unlikely-sounding sore throat excuses)?
Sunday’s redtop story that Ashley’s religious beliefs made him uncomfortable with the Halloween theme is just about crazy enough to be halfway believable. The Halloween thing feels like a playful embellishment, but Ashley being ultra-religious would certainly explain the otherwise baffling sight in The Risk’s VT of a young lad being in tears as he wrestles with the question of whether he wants to be in a boyband, as if it were somehow of grave moral import.
At any rate, while the shots of Charley, Derry and Andy holding heads in hands on the sofa on Thursday and calling Ashford on the phone on Friday felt horribly staged, Ashley’s angst did not seem acted. It seems likely that this was a crisis management situation for the show, hence burying them in the Strictly overlap zone to get it out of the way with.
The fact that The Risk survived the death slot indicates they can’t be doing that badly in the vote, but we stand by our piece written three weeks ago on why we don’t think they will win. Although this is a weak year, we just can’t imagine this re-re-manufactured crew succeeding where the much more cohesive JLS and the much better planned One Direction failed.
4. What’s with the pimping of Craig Colton?
Could it possibly be that Plan A is Craig Colton, now down to a general 5/1 after his appearance in the pimp slot? Peter suggests so in the comments: “Keeping it simple surely Craig is the “chosen one”? Personality, reliable voice and vunerable. What’s not to like?”
It’s true, we don’t like Craig’s performing style – we find it irritating and mediocre. But the quest for self-knowledge is a vital one as punters, so we must ask ourselves whether we are blinded to Craig’s putative virtues by our backing for Marcus Collins and the fact that there is highly unlikely to be space for more than one Scouse lad in the final.
We therefore found it galling to see Craig not only in the pimp slot but getting the full-on Liverpool treatment in his VT, right down to the interview at his favourite Chinese takeway. As Oli pointed out in the comments, we wrote an article as part of our 2010 review series noting patterns in previous series of who appears in the pimp slot when:
What about the Week 4 pimp slot? In 2010 it was Cher, in 2009 Olly Murs and 2008 JLS. This seems to have been about a strategic boost for acts which were bubbling under in the vote – doing okay, but without yet hitting the top of the leader board. All three went on to be finalists.
Is the same in store for Craig? Obviously, as Marcus backers, we hope not. But we must admit that, while Craig is a one-trick pony against Marcus’s whole field of ponies, one thing Craig does have over his Liverpudlian rival is a more distinctive voice. Tulisa’s comment that Craig could sell albums was ominous.
We cling to the thought that the underwhelming post-show careers of male solo winners is becoming such a running joke for the show, it would amaze us if they would have chanced putting Craig in the pimp slot if he was doing well enough in the votes to be a potential winner. As bob asks, “let’s face it, what kind of career could he have?” Our speculative theory is that the show may have decided they can make a few bucks by releasing ‘Jar Of Hearts’ – which remains the standout performance of the series so far, and was nostalgically referred back to in Craig’s VT – and to do this, they can’t afford to lose him embarrassingly early.
Last year’s week 4 pimping of Cher with ‘Stay’ led us to write an article dismissing the widespread reaction that she was therefore the producers’ chosen one. As it happened, Cher was in the bottom two just three weeks after her pimping. We hope the same fate awaits the biscuit boy.
5. Can Marcus pull off a male version of the self-confidence journey?
As we have remarked many times before, the classic female path to victory in this competition is the one from self-doubt to self-belief. We haven’t seen that path trodden by a male before, which makes it intriguing that Marcus’s week 4 VT suggested this is the route they are going down with him.
Having tipped Marcus at 14/1 to win the show, we are obviously happy finally to see him at half those odds. His treatment by producers so far is hard to figure out – while he hasn’t had help in the running order for the last two weeks, his VTs and comments have been uniformly helpful. It could be that they aren’t that interested in him. Or it could be that, as with Janet, they are keeping him relatively quiet early on and plan to big him up in the later weeks.
We’d like to see a pimp slot and a suitable ballad for him in the next couple of weeks. At any rate, we stand by our view that Marcus is the most likely alternative winner to Janet at this stage.
Do you agree? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments box below.