“Never ascribe to conspiracy that which can adequately be explained by incompetence”; Napoleon Bonaparte could have been speculating about season 8 of the X Factor. By this stage, it’s usually pretty clear what producers are hoping for. This time, you can legitimately debate what they’re up to with all six remaining contestants.
In the comments, BoomBoom notes “continuing confusion” about the overall plan. Matt reckons “I’m not sure the producers even have a firmed up game plan for the win”. Euan says “I don’t think they’ve a bloody clue what they’re doing”. While we got yet another singoff that was in the Spot Goes For A Walk league of easy reading, programme-makers’ intentions in the win market are harder to decipher than a James Joyce novel.
The treatment of Misha B this week is a case in point.
Misha again got a sympathetic VT featuring her family, helpful comments from the judges – significantly, Gary praised her attitude – and a late slot in the running order. We saw a continuation of the markedly softer styling of week 5, which strongly suggested that programme makers were again thinking primarily in terms of getting votes rather than positioning her with an eye to a post-show career niche, as they had appeared to be with the edgier and more urban feel of weeks 1-4.
On the other hand, they gave Misha B a cameo in Kitty’s VT which created the impression that she’d stolen Kitty’s song and made her cry. Were they intending to remind people of bullygate, or did it not occur to them how this would come across?
We might also have suspected an intention to remind people of bullygate from the story in The Sun on Saturday reporting that both she and Marcus had thrown a tantrum and been “unsportsmanlike” about the returning contestants. While we can only speculate about the nature of the mechanisms through which stories from the show reach the press, we have generally worked on the assumption that negative stories – such as the one about Johnny Robinson’s benefits claims that preceded his week 4 softening up – probably don’t appear by accident.
And while the obvious way to read the Manchester-centric VT was as an attempt to bolster her regional support, there was also a suspicion that it might have fed the impression of Misha as a niche act with a core appeal to Manchester’s urban black community and thereby risked alienating the broader, middle-England voting public.
But if this was intentional, why then carry on with the unthreatening styling of week 5 which seemed precisely calculated to move her out of that niche and broaden her appeal to middle-England? It seems to make little sense in terms of post-show positioning. As Dug explains, “I now question whether her marketability has dwindled. She’s seen as too hard for a winner but may now equally appear too self-compromising and apologetic to hold up her fierce signature style in the real world.”
While we struggle to discern any consistent thinking behind Misha’s treatment this week, it at least seemed clear that in the case of her fellow victim in The Sun story – Marcus – there was a concerted effort to slow his momentum from ‘Reet Petite’. He was shown finding his musical identity, then given a laughably unsuitable Queen song for a 1950s makeover (‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ would have worked much better) and criticised for becoming predictable.
Indeed, he was one of three acts – the others being Little Mix and Janet – to be labelled as boring or predictable. (A fourth, Craig, actually was). The reasons were likely different – we strongly suspect Gary was setting up Little Mix to shine next week by demanding a “game-changer”. But did it not occur to programme makers that telling viewers how boring and predictable so many acts are might make them wonder, as tpfkar asks, “so why should we watch the show”?
The treatment of Janet Devlin is so curious it merits an article of its own later in the week addressing it in more depth; we also plan a separate article this week addressing the continuing head-scratcher of who is in line to be Top Liverpudlian Boy. But the night belonged to Amelia Lily, so let’s focus on the conspiracy vs incompetence question as it concerns the big-voiced Smoggie lass.
Here we must start by wondering whether Amelia Lily’s return was, as Boki jokingly suggests, the fruition of a plan hatched long ago by a cat-stroking producer in a hollowed-out volcano, or a botched response to the considerable cock-up of having held a double elimination just before losing Frankie Cocozza. Or, probably most likely, something in between.
There is suggestive evidence either way. In the Sofabet comments box, Euan observes: “I bet her to win with Betfair before the live shows and noticed that the others kicked out all went to 1000-1 but hers never lengthened that much. I always looked at that and thought that someone somewhere must feel she’ll come back in a twist and go on to win it.”
Meanwhile nugget offers this nugget: “I can’t speak for the other acts involved but I have it from a very good source that Amelia Lily was warned some time ago that in the event of anyone dropping out there was a possibility she may be asked back to the show”.
On the other hand, if this was all part of a master plan then someone presumably forgot to brief Amelia about it before she told the Star after her week 1 elimination:
“I can be me and make it on my own – that’s what I’d prefer to do anyway.
“I’m not going to be made into a manufactured X Factor star now.”
Oops. Meanwhile, Amelia Lily’s mum was busy telling the Daily Mail that the show was “cruel” and “disgusting”. Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Oliver.
Despite her pimp slot pimping, we thought the longer-term signals on producers’ intentions for Amelia were intriguingly mixed. For example, Dermot made sure we knew she had 48% of the vote. Was this simply intended to confer greater legitimacy on her return? Because we suspect it might also (as AlexK points out) have had the effect of depressing her vote by making her supporters think she must surely be safe as houses.
Similarly, while Gary’s comment of “take it from me, the Great British public love a comeback” could have been intended straightforwardly as a Take That-themed self-congratulation, it also looked like the kind of classic vote-depression tactic used to good effect last year on Wagner and this year on Johnny Robinson – that is, informing the public that they love an act, rather than actually asking the public to vote for that act.
Was this deliberate? We would usually suspect so, but our presumption of competence has taken a battering this season.
The possibility that judges’ comments after Amelia’s performance may not have been well thought through is suggested by the amusing way in which Tulisa appeared to be dissing the show as much as praising Amelia when she said “all these other acts have had weeks to progress… you come in at the same level”.
A final suggestion that producers may not have been going all out to help Amelia is the stylists’ choice to send her out again with her Pink Hair of Doom, thereby reminding viewers of the below-par ‘Billie Jean’ that led to her week 1 elimination, rather than with the peroxide locks that would have called to mind her considerably more impressive pre-lives persona.
If we were the show’s producers, we would certainly have been hoping to prevent Amelia from building up too much of a head of steam on her return. It is still just about possible that the X Factor franchise can drag itself out of the Big Brother-esque downward spiral it has embarked upon with a back-to-basics year next year, but it seems to us that having Amelia go on to win the show would cause irreparable damage to the format’s credibility.
But then, this line of reasoning counts for little because if we were the show’s producers we wouldn’t have brought a contestant back in the first place.
A more convincing reason to think it may have been deliberate to attempt to inflict a couple of slow punctures on Amelia is the sense that her continued presence in the competition may not be conducive to the apparent desire to push Little Mix as far as they can go – which does seem to be the one thing we can be extremely confident producers are trying to do.
If producers do now try to deflate Amelia, will the voting public play ball? We reckon it’s likely. Amelia has a pair of lungs, but there is something about her that we find hard to warm to. As Rob points out, there’s “a hardness and neediness about her”. Or maybe Dug has it right? “Whilst she’s a seriously pretty girl, she has small eyes and nobody trusts a woman with tiny eyes. That’s why they love Devlin.”
In the comments immediately after Sunday’s show, Chris O made the case for 14/1 Amelia looking like value in this week’s elimination market (her best price is now 12/1 with Stan James). Double-figure odds do look tempting, though we reckon it’s probably more likely to take a week or two to soften up Amelia if that is indeed the show’s aim.
The closest analogue to Amelia’s situation is that of Diana Vickers, the only X Factor contestant so far to have been given a bye, albeit only one and in very different circumstances (in week 5 in 2009 due to laryngitis). On her return – coincidentally, like Amelia’s, in week 6 – she topped the vote. Then began a rapid decline – by week 8 she was a mere percentage point away from going home instead of Ruth Lorenzo, and she was comfortably last of the four semi-finalists in week 9.
There were many other factors in play, of course, but there was a sense at the time that Diana’s bye may have left a sour aftertaste following the initial rush of sympathetic goodwill. As has been pointed out, the example of Nikki Grahame’s return to Big Brother – an early favourite parachuted back in after a shock eviction – does not bode well for Amelia, either.
Ultimately, we’re into largely uncharted waters with Amelia, but our best guess is that while the Great British public may love a comeback, we’ll see soon enough that they also hate a queue-jumper.
What do you reckon the plan is now for Amelia, and will it succeed? Do let us know below.