In the spirit of “shot of the tournament”-type montages that are shown towards the end of major sporting events, we thought it would be fun to doff our caps to the X Factor producers by selecting our top ten favourite examples this year of how they have nudged the public vote towards their desired outcomes.
There are plenty of seminal moments we’ve left off this list, notably bullygate, either because we weren’t sure what they were trying to achieve or they didn’t seem to succeed. These are examples where the intention seemed clear, and the effect successful.
So, in reverse order:
10. “You’re the main man”
They discovered an effective new way to assassinate groups this year – imply that there is tension about who gets to be thought of as the lead singer. As part of the many tactics they used to strangle Nu Vibe in week 1, Louis said in his comments: “Ashford, you’re the main man”. This contrasted sharply with Gary’s praise for how all four members of The Risk shared the vocal load. This fed into a narrative in the tabloids and Nu Vibe’s VT about the group members not getting on well.
There had been no such rumours about The Risk – quite the contrary. So it came out of the blue when their fine bromance was brought to an abrupt halt by Louis in week 5 with: “Charlie, you’re the main man”. Gary followed this up by implying that all the other band members were refusing to acknowledge Charlie’s lead singership. The Risk sank like a stone to be automatically eliminated after finishing bottom of the public vote.
It came as a major surprise, then, when Gary effectively said “Perrie, you’re the main man” to Little Mix last Saturday. Were producers intending to dampen their support, or had Gary gone all mujahideen and turned on those who trained him? Or are we being lined up for a show-stopping performance from Perrie in the final?
9. Operation Kitty
Our friend Richard at Betsfactor has spotted a recurring theme in VTs when the intention is to dampen support for an act – subtly suggest that nobody from that act’s hometown is particularly interested in them. This is presumably intended to plant the thought in viewers’ minds that if the people we would expect to be most enthusiastic about an act aren’t bothered, why should the rest of us be?
The classic example of the genre comes in at number 2 on our list below, but this one is also worth an honourable mention. In the week that Kitty ends up departing, her VT starts with her telling us she “doesn’t have as big a fanbase” as some other acts. We discover she is from Cheltenham, hardly a place with a strong regional identity, and that her family have started “Operation Kitty” to drum up support.
Operation Kitty appears to consist of, as Richard puts it, “one geeky looking, middle aged dad… wearing a sandwich board and pestering Cheltenham shoppers”. We see people trying politely to ignore him as he cuts a lonely figure outside H Samuel in the gathering gloom.
8. “Everyone in Ireland is picking up the phone”
Louis Walsh must have been paying attention in Latin class at school, for he clearly knows the difference between the vocative tense and the present tense. The judge who’s famous for exhorting everyone in Ireland (or, indeed, any other named locale) to “pick up the phone” instead told Janet Devlin in week 8 that everyone in Ireland “is picking up the phone”.
A subtle difference, but a devastating one as it completely inverts the message. “I want everyone in Ireland to pick up the phone” = “this act needs your support”; “everyone in Ireland is picking up the phone” = “this act has loads of support and doesn’t need yours”.
7. Johnny Robinson has reached his destination
If you’ve ever dawdled on a late-night train when it’s reached its final stop, you may have heard an announcement along the lines of “this train has reached its final destination and is about to be taken out of service. Would all remaining passengers kindly get off now”.
Johnny Robinson’s treatment in week 4 carried a similar message. After the likeable Londoner had rightly brought the house down with ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ in week 3, the appearance of a tabloid story the following week alleging an incapacity benefits scam hinted that producers might be looking to dampen his support.
Sure enough, Johnny’s week 4 VT had a warmly valedictory feel. As we see Johnny being mobbed by wellwishers, he tells us “when I was growing up, I was never popular or accepted”, but “now it’s turned around”, and “I’m starting to feel quite popular”. At the end of his performance of ‘This Ole Devil Called Love’, his long-time critic Gary Barlow gets up and kisses him. Adored by the public, kissed by Gary Barlow. What is left now for Johnny to achieve?
In other words: “Johnny Robinson has reached the end of his journey. Would all remaining voters kindly get off”.
6. “I believe you can go all the way”
After the week 4 softening up, the week 5 VT was Johnny’s knockout punch. We again got the warmly valedictory end-of-journey vibe, with Johnny VTing about how lucky he feels to have been kept in for so long, and his interactions with the dancers demonstrating how popular he has become.
But it is Louis who delivers the coup de grace. One of the 28 tactics used to assassinate Wagner last year was Louis talking explicitly about him making it to the final. The same tactic is used again, as Louis says to camera: “I believe that Johnny can go all the way, I so do… the public love him”. Later, we see him saying to Johnny “I believe you can go all the way in this competition”.
The effect is to suggest to supporters that he must be doing really well in the vote for Louis to be talking this way, and therefore they probably don’t really need to throw a vote his way. The next night, Johnny was out of the competition.
Gary Barlow accused the Welsh lass of being a cruise ship singer in week 2. Sami probably didn’t endear herself to producers by wearing the label with pride and stating her admiration for Jane McDonald, the high priestess of cruise ship singers.
So how is Sami treated the following week? In her VT, she explains that she wants to get away from the cruise ship singer tag (just to remind us that she’s been described this way). She’s not happy with her song choice, but mentor Louis, who has defended her from the cruise ship line, is insistent. The song in question? It’s karaoke / cruise ship staple, Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’. The memorable original video to the song is, of course, set on a ship.
4. Estranged parents
When Misha B’s birth mother decided she wanted to get back in touch with her daughter, she chose the obvious way to do it: no, not a quiet phone call to X Factor HQ, but an open letter to Now magazine. By happy coincidence, this occurred in the week when Misha was most in need of a boost, having just been dumped in the bottom two for the second time.
By even happier coincidence, Misha’s mentor Kelly Rowland was in the “exact same position” with her father. And by happiest coincidence of all, when Misha and Kelly emotionally bonded over their shared experience of this intensely private family grief, cameras just happened to be there to record it from three different angles for her week 7 VT.
The result? Misha bounces through to week 8.
Much as Andy Murray is famously British when he wins and Scottish when he loses, the scope of Craig Colton’s hometown appears to vary with his position in the running order. When the biscuit boy got the week 4 pimp slot, Gary introduced him as “the voice from Liverpool”. As Craig begins his VT by talking about “back home”, iconic shots of the Mersey and the Liver Building appear on screen. Voxpops from Scousers tell us “we all support him in Liverpool”, and urge him to “do it for Liverpool!”
Fast forward to week 7’s VT, and Craig is sent out first with a dull song ahead of being dumped in the singoff the following night. His VT features another section from his hometown…
…only this time Craig is no longer from Liverpool (population 800,000), but Kirkby (population 40,000). Producers must have been tempted just to put up his postcode.
Poor old Sophie Habibis – it was painful to watch. Sophie’s week 4 VT shows her in a taxi heading to visit her North London home. She tells us “the X Factor is such a big thing, you don’t really realise how big it is until you go back home”. Sophie pauses outside her hometown pub and points out the poster in a doorway, urging people to support her. She goes inside, where she is greeted enthusiastically by… one person.
They sit down for a Coke and an orange juice. In a half-empty pub. “Everyone is supporting you, everyone,” Sophie’s friend assures her, as we see a handful of people in the background completely ignoring them.
Later in the VT, we see a headline from a local newspaper informing us that Sophie is “Popular, bubbly”. It looks like the kind of lukewarm, generic epithets you would trot out about the victim of a shooting. Which, actually….
1. The ‘Insecure Jesy’ VT
‘Daisy Girl’, ‘Tank Ride‘, ‘3am‘ – nobody knows better than US political consultants how to manipulate public opinion through brief television spots. Even the best of them would surely have been proud of ‘Insecure Jesy‘, the week 4 VT which preceded Little Mix’s ‘ET’ and set them on their way to the final.
How did producers do it? Were they just lucky enough to have the cameras rolling when Jesy broke down in tears about people on the internet commenting on her weight? Did they sit the girls down and say “time to film your VT, girls. Here, we’ve compiled some press clippings for you”? Had they even, as Sofabet commenter abs suggests, been planning such a moment right the start, when they put Jesy together with three slimmer girls to form a group?
Whether calculated or serendipitous, the result was what Sofabet commenter fiveleaves rightly called “one of the best vote-getting VTs I’ve ever seen on this show”. They even reprised it in week 8, as Jesy told a Radio 1 DJ “I’m not going on a diet… your insecurities are what make you who you are” (they really aren’t, Jesy) before breaking down in tears during ‘Beautiful’.
Agree or disagree with our list? Which ones did you enjoy that we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments box below.