It’s almost like the musical Blood Brothers: two young Scousers who grew up 15 minutes apart without knowing each other now fighting head to head for survival. Except of course, you’d never mistake Craig Colton and Marcus Collins for twins; and two more different performers it would be hard to find.
We’ve been asking ourselves which Liverpudlian would finish on top since the auditions. Our preference has always been clear. We’ve believed that Marcus ticked enough boxes to win the whole show before the lives began, and have always been sceptical of the chances of Craig Colton.
The producers? They seemed to be hedging their bets for a long time, with both boys benefiting from unremittingly positive coverage. Until last weekend. Then, just as Marcus seemed likely to be pulling ahead of his rival, they cut him down to size.
And now, just as it appears to have become clear that Craig is the Scouser of choice, he’s drifted in the Betfair win market quicker than a Greek ten-year bond yield.
It’s worth noting the various ways that Marcus was stuffed in last week’s show. His VT started with his response to praise received for ‘Reet Petite’, quickly undermining two of his biggest assets: his versatility (“I know my identity now”) and humility (“I’m starting to feel that I could become a pop star”). There was a return to the clips of his experimental teen days which we warned against re-showing after their airing at the audition stage (subliminal message: “he’s vain”).
The question of identity re-surfaced again and again. Marcus attributed it to watching Bruno Mars perform on the show a few weeks ago. As we’ve stated before, it’s best not to bring up the person you’re trying to imitate as you’ll likely come across as unoriginal and less talented. Producers did the same thing with The Risk and JLS.
As soon as the trombones kicked in for rock anthem ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, the title seemed prophetic for what producers had done. They had given him a carbon copy of the previous week’s performance for a song totally unsuited to it. If you were going to keep it 50s rock ‘n’ roll, there was a perfectly suitable Queen number for it, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’.
Tulisa and Kelly completed the coup de grace, the former saying that he had become “predictable”, the latter explaining “I want you to have more freedom on stage”, suggesting Marcus wasn’t totally at ease with what he was being asked to do. Even Louis’s continued praise contained the classic vote-dampening measure of breeding complacency: “You’re going to be here this week, you have to be.”
The 50s Little Richard vibe is having a bit of a moment right now, but it doesn’t feel like it’s actually good for anything other than, as Dug mentioned, getting the role of Seaweed in the West End production of ‘Hairspray’. That may be the point producers are trying to make: reminding us that Marcus’s not-so-distinctive voice and cheery personality are wonderfully suited to a West End role, rather than a career as a recording artist. As Euan said, “he’s starting to come over a little Ray Quinn right now”.
Meanwhile, producers did the polar opposite in positioning Craig. His VT concentrated on the idea that he’s always had a distinctive identity and that he sounds like a recording artist. Gary told him: “The important thing for you was getting that dance week out of the way. We’ve got to hone in this week and really tell people this is what Craig’s record will sound like… it’s time for him to be a pop star”; Craig responded: “I want to be unique, I want to have my own sound.”
After Craig had gurned his way emotively through another ballad, in a rendition that sounded and looked like most of what he’s done so far, Tulisa said “That was the best performance you have ever done… honestly.” The need for that addition told us all we needed to know about how unconvincing she sounded. Kelly reminded us how humble he is by asking “do you realise how great that was?”, and reinforced how distinctive he is being portrayed as: “you put your own stamp on it, you made that song yours.”
So what the programme did last weekend was to establish the ‘identities’ of Craig and Marcus at polar opposites. One – or so we are told – is distinctive, humble, surprisingly versatile, brings out emotions in the listener and sounds like a recording artist. The other tries on personas like Mr Benn, has been convinced by one well-received performance of a 1957 hit that the core of his being lies in copying Bruno Mars, and does not look totally comfortable while doing so.
Producers had dropped a strong hint that they might be favouring Craig in week 4, when he got the pimp slot, his VT pitched for the Liverpool vote and his comments talked about his recording voice, three favours they have never done for Marcus. Nonetheless, last week was the first time they had gone negative on Marcus. Why this timing?
There’s a simple explanation. All the indications from polls and social media, from our own analysts Toby and tpfkar, the Daily Star leak and the latest Sun poll, are that Marcus may have substantially widened his support over Craig after his week 5 performance of ‘Reet Petite’, and started to look like a serious contender for the win.
As the strong evidence from last weekend is that producers are uncomfortable with the idea of letting Marcus fly too high, we now suggest that those Sofabet readers who have taken double-figure prices about Marcus should at least hedge their bet at his now much shorter price. We recommended him at 14/1 and there is currently money waiting to back him at 4.2 on Betfair, so a hedge would give you a free bet of nearly 11/1.
Marcus may, of course, still overcome such treatment. When we tipped him at 14/1, we wrote that his “middle-of-the-road likeability, down-to-earth normality and manifest talent should also see him well positioned to pick up floating votes in the closing stages against potentially more divisive rivals.” We stand by every word. And, of course, X Factor producers do not always end up with the winner they appear to want.
But producers have been especially ruthless this year in de-ramping acts they don’t want – as Johnny Robinson, Kitty Brucknell, Sophie Habibis and Sami Brookes know only too well (although the later it gets in the competition, the harder it will be as allegiances solidify). Therefore, given Marcus’s treatment last weekend, we think it is only prudent to hedge and enjoy a free bet at what is still a very healthy price.
What of Craig? We must admit, we hadn’t seen it coming that programme-makers appear to see a potential recording artist in him. But that’s where we are, and we see no reason not to take at face value the positioning of him for a post-show album release. He would shift a few downloads of ‘Jar of Hearts’, if nothing else.
The suspicion remains that Craig may be only just surviving, despite the relentlessly positive treatment he has been getting. It’s much harder for producers to persuade viewers to support somebody than it is for them to dampen enthusiasm for a contestant – just ask Misha B, whom they damaged recklessly with Bullygate and have seemingly failed to rehabilitate. Paradoxically, though, we’re at a stage of the competition where this might actually work to Craig’s advantage.
Remember that JLS and Olly Murs both survived the sing-off in Week 7, and their subsequent sympathy bounce took them all the way to second place in the final. There was even a suspicion last year that producers deliberately engineered Cher into the sing-off at this stage, seeing that her support was weakening, in the hope of bouncing her to the final (they managed it, but only with the help of a second singoff save in week 9).
If we’re right to discern that producers would like Craig to be in the final over Marcus, and that he’s currently doing less well in the vote than Marcus, then engineering Craig into and saving him from a sing-off either this weekend or next might just be the best way for them to get him there. There is no reason to think that Craig wouldn’t bounce, and a sing-off save now could be the difference between making the final and dropping out in 4th or 5th.
It’s interesting that the market has started to discount Craig’s chances just at the moment when producers have made it clear that they want him to go as far as possible. We don’t know of any particular reason why he has drifted so much on Betfair in the last 48 hours (out from 5.0 to 7.6 at the time of writing). Perhaps there’s some kind of rumour we’re not aware of? Don’t forget Craig was reported last weekend as having packed his bags and quit, before Gary talked him out of it, and was also said to have had such a bad sore throat he couldn’t rehearse before Saturday’s show.
More likely the explanation is an innocent one, though it may be wise to tread carefully on any bets involving Craig until the reason becomes clear.
What do you think? Do you doubt the signals sent last weekend about programme-makers preferred Liverpudlian? Are we being too pessimistic about the endurance of Marcus’s appeal? Do let us know in the comments section below.