The new judging panel has now made three singoff decisions and in each of them, programme-makers’ intentions have been (hat-tip Euan) “easier to read than Spot Goes For A Walk”. First we had Nu Vibe being led to the slaughter, then a clear desire to keep Kitty around, then the shooting down of Sophie Habibis.
So far, backing the obvious acts to be eliminated on Betfair during the singoff has looked tantamount to free money for those with the stomach to get involved at very short odds, yielding instant returns of around 20%, 20% and 8% respectively, as we have detailed in our weeks 2, 3 and 4 post-mortem posts here on Sofabet. Especially as the show has continued the trend of rescuing the second to perform that became a feature of the 2010 series.
Another four or five decisions will need to be made this series, and the question we want to ask today is: How concerned, if at all, should punters lumping on at short odds be about the possibility that programme-makers’ preferences, as suggested in the Saturday show, might not be carried through in a singoff situation?
Let’s unpack this question by looking at what it means to be an the X Factor judge – a timely question as Kelly Rowland’s unexpected grounding in LA with a throat complaint inevitably raises speculation about her comfort level with the role.
The job of X Factor judge is a complex one, as it involves wearing three hats. First, they are supposed to be rivals who are tasked with doing their best for the acts they mentor. Second, they are supposed to be credible music industry experts who can express authoritative opinions after live performances. And third, they are, in both of these capacities, employed by the show.
Sometimes, this third role can come into conflict with the first two: what’s good for the show, in terms of televisual entertainment – and the viewership and advertising revenue that brings in – may not be what’s good for a mentor’s acts, or for a mentor’s reputation as a credible music industry expert.
In such circumstances, should punters expect the judges to cleave fastest to their roles as mentors, as credible experts, or as employees of the show? To see why this is a crucial question for punters, consider the example of Sofabet commenter Pete D in week 2. Having astutely intuited that Frankie Cocozza would be in the bottom two – something which was far from obvious – along with Nu Vibe, Pete reasoned thusly:
if NV are going to stay rubbish (with no chemistry) it makes tactical sense for Louis and Kelly to keep them in another week for ballast to keep their own acts off the bottom… FC could improve and be a renewed threat with a right song and hard work under Gary’s tough love whip crack (as he won’t like to be beaten). Best that they jump on Gary’s mistake whilst it is still hot.
If you view the judges as above all else concerned with doing their best for their acts, this reasoning makes perfect sense. However, as Louis commented in reply:
the judges aren’t voting in a way to maximise their own acts’ chances – they’re voting in order to keep in the act the producers want. That’s the one which creates as much interest/headlines/exposure (and therefore £££) for the show as possible… Frankie is an interesting, recognisable act who creates headlines and has more potential to do so as the show goes on.
Actually, we can be pretty confident that the first role – championing their acts – will be the weakest in a singoff situation. Beyond expecting the judges to save their own act in a singoff (regardless of how badly they suck) the public does not really expect judges to vote tactically with their acts’ interests in mind.
The real tension comes when it’s the judges’ credibility as individuals that’s pitched against their role as employees.
Take, for example, the surprise semi-final singoff in 2010 which pitted Mary Byrne against Cher Lloyd. It seemed clear enough that the show was desperate to get Cher into the final. But as she was bottom of the public vote, this required a 3:1 majority verdict. Dannii Minogue’s more impressionable fans had expected her to prefer Mary, and erupted with shock on internet forums when she instead saved Cher.
In fact, we can’t think of a single example of a sing-off in which an act has been voted off who it seemed clear that the show wanted to keep. There are, however, some intriguing hypotheticals.
Take the singoff between Jedward and Lucie Jones in 2009. Lucie was the better singer; Jedward were more entertaining, and thus worth more to the show at that stage. Given the repeated disdain that Simon Cowell had expressed for Jedward, it shocked many (though not us) when he sent Lucie home, thus deadlocking the vote and sealing Lucie’s fate as she was bottom of the public vote.
But what if Jedward had been bottom? Keeping them around would have required Cheryl to send Lucie home, too. Would that have happened? We can only wonder.
Or ask yourself what might have happened if Wagner had sunk to the bottom two in 2010 before producers were ready to lose him. This could easily have happened in any of weeks 5-7, when Wagner proved to have been only just above the singoff zone despite their best efforts to bolster his vote. In these weeks, the show lost Treyc Cohen, Aiden Grimshaw and Paije Richardson – all better singers than Wagner, and all much less entertaining television than Wagner. Would the bongo-playing lothario have been saved in a singoff against any of those three acts?
This is a hypothetical we at Sofabet grappled with at the time. Louis, of course, would have saved Wagner. And we suspected Simon might have found a reason to do so, too, as he did for Jedward. This would have been sufficient had Wagner been second from bottom in the public vote. But what if he’d been bottom? That would have required Cheryl or Dannii to save him too. Would they have done so? We weren’t confident either way.
And this was with judges we knew pretty well. With three new judges around, it’s even harder to guess what are the limits to their willingness to put their personal credibility on the line in the interests of keeping an entertaining act around.
Louis, we reckon, can always be relied upon to take one for the team in a singoff decision. In Sofabet commenter Nicky’s words, “I think they keep Louis Walsh to do the dirty work. Who else could be relied upon to cull the likes of Laura White, or save someone like Lloyd Daniels?”
Indeed, the uncomplaining Irishman regularly proves worth his weight in gold to the show as a team player in his willingness to shamelessly shill for regional votes (“I want everyone in [insert city] to pick up the phone”) for other mentors’ acts as well as for his own, clumsily reminding us that we can download performances on iTunes, and helpfully furthering the cause of acts being groomed for post-show careers (1: Shout “you’re the next big boyband” at One Direction; 2. Repeat until true).
As the Jedward decision showed, Simon was also quite happy to sacrifice some personal credibility for the sake of the show. And why not? After all, it’s his show.
But Gary is not Simon. How much personal credibility is he willing to lay on the line? Some, it seems, judging by the praise he lavished on Frankie Cocozza before it became clear the public weren’t buying it. The Bitch Factor observed, on this subject:
Gary really has settled in to the Very Special X Factor Bullshit like he’s been doing it all his life, hasn’t he? Either that or he genuinely believes what he’s saying. Either way, it’s not encouraging.
Disarmingly, week 3 saw Gary admit to having lied on Frankie’s behalf in week 2, despite it being something “I promised myself I’d never do” when he accepted the X Factor gig. In a singoff between an entertaining joke act such as Jedward and a dull but credible singer such as Lucie, then, would there be limits to how far Gary is willing to suck it up for the sake of the show? Gary has much less invested in the show than Simon did.
What about Tulisa? We were intrigued by her body language as she announced her decision to keep Nu Vibe in the big twist and send home 2 Shoes – she seemed too embarrassed to raise her eyes to the stage. Nor did she look entirely comfortable to us when performing the character assassination of Misha B in week 3.
If anything, Kelly has appeared even more likely to be a loose cannon. In her very first singoff decision, she looked genuinely uncomfortable about saving Frankie over Nu Vibe – and it shouldn’t have been a soul-searching choice, given that Nu Vibe were almost as shit as Frankie. This was hardly a Jedward-Lucie situation. We have also wondered if Kelly might occasionally be veering from the script in the Saturday shows – on a couple of occasions, when Tulisa has had a pantomime dig at Gary, Kelly has stepped in to defend him with awkward effect.
We can, of course, assume that in general one wouldn’t employ someone to work in a sausage factory without first checking that they weren’t going to be horrified at the realisation that they are implicit in the slaughter of defenceless animals. And we can also assume that for a judge to send home an act producers want to keep would be what one might euphemistically call a career-limiting move. But does that mean we can be confident that it will never happen? Strange things can occur in the crucible of live television, after all.
We are interested to test your views on this. Are you confident that when programme-makers intentions seem clear from the Saturday show as they have done so far this series, they will always be carried through in a singoff situation? Or would you be worried about limits to one of more of the judges’ willingness to do what seems best for the show if that also involves sacrificing some personal credibility? If so, who?