The apparent producers’ Plan A is a young girl who yodels through her songs; there’s a black guy called Marcus who can sing and dance; a plump bloke who wowed with his rendition of ‘Jar of Hearts’; an urban artist whose ability to insert original raps into each song may be a hindrance; and not a Cocozza in sight.
This is not the UK show but X Factor USA, and it’s well worth watching, partly because the standard of talent is so much higher than this year’s poor UK crop.
The live show is aired Wednesday nights US time, with a results show the day after. You can watch in the UK on ITV2 on Thursdays at 8pm and Fridays at 9pm, just under 24 hours later. Betfair and other bookmakers are offering a full array of odds. But before I come to the main contenders, it’s worth looking at the differences between the US and UK versions, even though the format is exactly the same.
The American show is far more earnest. US XF doesn’t do cheesiness, as indicated by the loss of tweenie S Club 7-alikes InTENsity after the first public vote; and it doesn’t do camp or ‘novelty’ acts. What it does do is sentimentality – in spades. It’s even more important for each contestant to have a special ‘journey’ on the show.
It’s no wonder that amongst the rather relentless positivity, Simon Cowell’s presence can occasionally be a refreshing antidote. However, as an indication of the difference between the two versions, instead of Louis Walsh, the other male judge is music mogul LA Reid who may have written a gazillion famous hits, but would never dream of mentoring a Wagner or Johnny Robinson.
But there are plenty of similarities. The song choices are often pretty familiar: InTENsity used the One Direction songlist of ‘Kids in America’ and ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ in their short run. The first live show witnessed the judges vote off someone in their own category; the next one – the first with a public vote – saw certain acts stitched up with early draws, poor song choices, and diversionary bickering between the judges about costumes and the like. It’s already pretty clear who the chosen ones are.
Drew Ryniewicz is Simon Cowell’s self-professed favourite and tops bookmakers’ lists at 9-4. She’s a 14-year-old from Arizona (the age floor is lower is the US show than in the UK where it’s now 16). Her lilting voice has elements of folk and country, and she’s in the Taylor Swift mould, which given her talent seems more apt than comparing her to Janet Devlin. It’s harder to plot a journey for the younger ones, so producers have used the supportive parents line.
Second favourite is Melanie Amaro, a 19-year-old from Florida who has a Whitney Houston-esque big delivery. To my mind, she fits the bill as the likely winner more than anyone else, but to make it less obvious, the show had Simon “reject” her at judges’ houses only to realise his mistake and bring her back for the live shows. The beauty of this storyline is that it gifts her a “journey”.
Third favourite is grizzly Josh Krajcik, who has journeyed from preparing burritos in a fast food joint to croaking his way, Joe Cocker style, through the likes of ‘Jar of Hearts’.
It’s 16-1 bar which brings in three young-uns who have talent but less of a journey: Marcus Canty, the all-singing, all-dancing Bobby Brown clone; 13-year-old Rachel Crow who is all puppy fat and curls, like Shirley Temple; and the extraordinarily talented Brain Bradley, better known as Astro, a 14-year-old rapper / hip hop artist.
The outsiders who remain in the competition are: Stacy Francis, the middle-aged journeywoman with a big voice giving fame one last shot; girlband Lakoda Rayne – who look like they should be journeying to Miss USA; Chris Rene who has recently journeyed out of rehab; LeRoy Bell – whose main claim to fame on the show seems to be that he is 60, which is a very long journey indeed; and The Stereo Hogzz, a boyband who journeyed into last week’s first singoff.
When it comes to predicting the tastes of the American audience, I’m relatively inexperienced. What I do know from occasionally dipping into American Idol is that mainstream, safe acts go down best with middle America – and tend to win out. The most famous example was Adam Lambert, the talented rocker of ambiguous sexuality losing out to the vastly inferior but less threatening Kris Allen in the 2009 American Idol final.
This must be the reason for Brian Bradley’s double-figure odds. The diminutive rapper is arguably the most original and talented artist on display, and an obvious future star and recording artist. His confidence is not necessarily the biggest hindrance – it’s much more appealing to an American audience than a British one – but as an urban artist, his appeal is a niche one, just as Misha B has discovered.
Likeable though he is, I don’t think Josh Krajcik is strong enough vocally, which leaves me thinking it’s a two-horse race at the top of the market between Drew and Melanie. If someone gave me a free bet, I’d side with Melanie at 3-1. Her big voice, along the lines of Mariah or Whitney, is the most mainstream and ideal for creating magic moments on a show like X Factor. Drew’s delivery is more fragile, arguably more interesting, but maybe not such a vote-catcher when it matters.
However, my main interest in the US version is seeing how the X Factor franchise develops rather than trying to make serious money out of it – for now. Have you been watching the show so far, and if so, what are your ideas about who the likely winner is, and the way it’s different from the UK version? Let us know in the comments section below.