We have criticised the X Factor producers often enough this year, so it’s time to dish out some praise – they’ve done a brilliant job in keeping us guessing about who’s going to win this thing.
This is clear not only from the wide-open look of the market, with 2/1 the field and all five acts quoted at single figure prices. It’s also demonstrated by the answer to the “who do you expect to win” question in the recent YouGov poll, which featured a wide spread of opinion.
There are now three acts left whose vote performance we can only speculate about because they have never been in a singoff – Marcus Collins, Janet Devlin and Little Mix. Only producers know whether each of these acts is flying high or barely surviving, and perhaps it’s very clear to them which way this is likely to pan out. But it’s not clear to the rest of us. The public perception is of an open and exciting race, and for that programme-makers must be applauded.
Interestingly, only 8% of YouGov respondents said they expected Janet Devlin to win, a figure which would surely have been much higher before the lives. So if the theory we floated last week is right, that her treatment does not indicate a desire to get rid of her but a desire to hide how well she’s doing, then it has succeeded spectacularly.
Once again, Janet’s treatment this week makes sense only under one of two polar opposite interpretations: (a) producers are desperate to see the back of the Ulster lass, or (b) producers still want to keep her in and were confident she was as safe as houses. Which is it?
In the comments, bunnyman was convinced that Janet’s VT was intended to harm her – having “started off talking about her being boring and finished off talking about her being boring, it felt like an out and out crucifiction.”
We see the point about the repeated hitting of the “b” word – we pointed out when it was first used, in week 3, that it’s an elementary mistake in politics to repeat a criticism you want to deny, as it subliminally reinforces the criticism in voters’ minds.
Still, there is another way to read the VT. It developed a narrative about Janet which we analysed in our article about her last week, that she has a firm sense of her musical identity: “I’m definitely not your big, stereotypical pop artist. I’ve nothing against pop music, it’s just difficult to find songs that I like in the pop industry. I’ve strong ideas about what I want”.
You can read this as feeding the sense of Janet as being kooky and difficult – and the YouGov poll shows she has picked up plenty of negatives, being second only to Misha B in this respect and far ahead of her other rivals. This could increasingly become a problem as the competition continues and the votes of those who dislike Janet are split between progressively fewer acts.
Alternatively, you can see it as showing us a young girl who is apparently managing to keep her head, her identity and her integrity amidst the maelstrom of the X Factor silliness. Part of Matt Cardle’s appeal last year was a sense of authenticity, and the show is quietly doing a proficient job of conveying the same about Janet – as Louis said about her ‘Kiss Me’ in comments: “no tricks, no gimmicks, with you it’s all about the music”.
Janet’s VT then showed her talking about being in a posh hotel and having to have her hair and make-up done, saying “I’ll probably never get used to that”. We saw an X Factor stylist being exasperated by Janet’s disinterest in wearing anything elaborate and fancy. On the red carpet for the Twilight premiere, she found it “weird” that people were calling her name.
What impression do we get from all that? We see a down-to-earth girl with her feet on the ground and a healthy disrespect for fame, celebrity and the fickle world of high fashion. Is this really damaging Janet? It’s certainly making the Sofabet team warm to her more and more on a personal level (though admittedly we usually have a soft spot for the awkward ones).
This allegedly means we differ from Gary Barlow and Kelly Rowland, if we are to believe a piece of intelligence brought to us by Sofabet commenter Nugget, who writes that he was in the audience on Saturday:
I was close enough to hear the judges private non broadcast comments while the VTs were running and am now 100% certain that the judges will do everything in their power to stop Janet winning…It was in particular comments made between Gary and Kelly while the VTs were running about Janet being wierd and hard to work with. The impression I got is they really don’t like her
Under normal circumstances we would doubt very much that this would matter. As we have written in our article discussing the role of the X Factor judge when it comes to a singoff, one can query how much the judges’ private personal opinions – as opposed to their awareness of the thinking that goes on at a programme level – influences what comes out of their mouths when the mics are on during the live shows.
Having said that, with speculation in the press last week that Gary might not be back in 2012, we have to wonder if there may be a greater possibility of him going off-message in the remaining weeks. Certainly we were surprised by the harshness of his tone in voting to send Amelia home in Sunday’s singoff. And for anyone who watched Xtra Factor on Saturday, it did not appear to be pantomime anger in his spat with Tulisa over song choice critiques.
No doubt the X Factor is like any other workplace behind the scenes, with arguments and ego clashes and tiresome petty rivalries. Still, our critique of the show assumes that ultimately professionalism will prevail and a united front will be put on, so the more important question is what programme makers are intending for Janet.
And that – still, after week 7 – remains very much open to question in our book. After four weeks of negativity, her comments on Saturday were a whole lot more positive and, as Kate said, “she looked happy for the first time since the live shows began”. On the other hand, Dug wonders:
Were the nicer song choice and kinder words for Janet perhaps tactical? I wonder if the negative coverage so far is provoking further support from her hardcore fans and it’s time to go easier on her. Had producers actually wanted to rescue her with ‘Kiss Me’ it would have been the perfect opportunity for Janet to whip out her illusive guitar as Matt Cardle had done many times by this stage last year. I have to believe that the plan is still to dampen Janet oh so carefully in order than she be easily shiftable in the later stages of the contest.
This interpretation is backed up by some less-than-helpful visuals. As pointed out by Rob in the comments, camera angles are one of the tools in the producers’ arsenal – watch Janet’s performance back and notice how much time is devoted to sweeping wide-angle shots of a largely black (though not red) stage. The theory is that this matters because close-ups of an act’s face give them a better chance of making an emotional connection with viewers at home.
As with last week, the immediate reaction shot of the judges was also damning – no applause from Louis, Tulisa or Gary, and perfunctory applause from Kelly.
While there is an emerging consensus in the comments that we’re heading for a Janet-Marcus-Little Mix final, the most obvious explanation of Janet’s treatment remains that producers are manouevring her towards the exit door. If that happens in week 8 or 9, we won’t be able to say they didn’t warn us.
Nonetheless, despite this obvious explanation, we still wonder if the show’s intention may be to hold off on making a decision about Janet for as long as possible until it becomes clear to them whether or not they’re going to be able to make Little Mix fly. To entertain this theory you would have to postulate that producers would ideally like a Little Mix win, but would prefer a Janet win to a Marcus win if they perceive those to be their realistic options – a scenario which seems speculative but not implausible.
Under this scenario, what they did this weekend would make sense – start the process of backtracking on the negativity to make it credible if they do end up deciding to give Janet her guitar and the “this is why we fell in love with you at your audition” treatment, but without yet risking that they light a fire under her that they couldn’t put out.
We’ll come back to the question of Little Mix’s position and prospects in a separate post later this week. We’re also planning a separate retrospective on the battle to be top Liverpudlian boy – now won by Marcus – as the abrupt withdrawal of favour from Craig Colton on Saturday casts an intriguing new light on what has gone before.
For now, though, let’s simply observe that there are three ways to read the pimping of Marcus Collins. The most obvious is that Marcus is doing so well in the vote, producers have made their peace with the idea of him being the winner.
We think a more plausible interpretation, however, is that producers see Marcus heading for the final and they don’t want to risk chatter about how unfair it is that he’s the only contender left who hasn’t had a pimp slot. They may have decided to get his pimp slot out of the way with three weeks before the final so that they can safely ignore him from here on in.
A third possibility is that Marcus might not be doing so well in the votes at all – as tpfkar’s speculative tweaking of Toby’s Twitter stats suggests. If we assume that the show would like Gary to have an interest in the final, once the decision had been made to dump Craig, that left Marcus as his only hope – so is it possible that he needed the pimp slot as a strategic boost?
All of which speculaton brings us back to where we started – bravo, producers. For all that we’ve questioned and criticised some of their decisions this series, to have us speculating so furiously about the relative standing of the top three acts in the betting – and their intentions towards two of them – is no mean feat.
What are your thoughts on how the weekend changed the landscape? As always, your interpretations, impressions and theories are warmly welcomed in the comments box below.