There were two weeks during X Factor 2011 when we were surprised by Little Mix’s treatment in the running order – weeks 3 and 8. With the voting stats to hand, we can start to make sense of what producers were thinking at each stage of proceedings.
Week 3’s treatment strongly indicates to us that producers were not yet thinking of the girls as winner material at this early stage. At the very least, if they were, they took an incredibly reckless chance in sending them out in a relatively poor running order slot (fourth of eleven) and allowing the judges to engage in pantomime arguments afterwards, something which usually depresses an act’s vote.
Given these two factors, it was entirely predictable that Little Mix’s vote fell off a cliff from week one, dropping from 104% of the mean down to 66%.
It’s by no means unusual for votes to fluctuate this much in the early weeks – as the slope of their lines on the graph shows, both Sophie Habibis and The Risk fell off a cliff to a similar extent (131/94, 107/64). The steep upward slopes for Johnny, Misha and Marcus, meanwhile, shows how comparably they improved on their week 2 vote (78/188, 93/130, 82/123 respectively).
In absolute terms, Little Mix got 6% of the week 3 vote (the 66% figure expresses this as a proportion of the mean vote – which, with 11 acts, was 9.1%). This put them only 0.4% away from the bottom two – at this early stage of the competition, probably a matter of only a couple of thousand votes. Admittedly there were a clump of three other acts in the same position – Sophie, Craig and Frankie – but the girlgroup could easily have landed up in the bottom two.
And as a week 3 appearance in the bottom two would surely have scuppered their chances of winning, we find it hard to believe that producers thought of them as winners at this stage.
What were producers thinking in week 3? With the voting figures to hand, we can take a guess. They must, of course, have been in shock over Frankie’s bottom two appearance in the first vote, and worried about whether this relatively unsympathetic character would enjoy a sympathy bounce. As it happened, the gentle uptick of his line shows he didn’t bounce very highly at all – from 62% of the mean up to just 66%.
They must also have been deeply worried for Kitty, who – despite the week 2 pimp slot – had only just escaped the bottom two. Both Frankie and Kitty were acts they clearly wanted to keep around at this early stage, for the entertainment value.
They had a 15 minute overlap with Strictly, which gave them one chance to nobble an act. They chose Marcus – reasonably enough, given his unremarkable week 2 vote: roughly on a par with Craig and Johnny, only just above Sami. They must have thought that burying him while Strictly was on the other side, and shoving him down the memory hole by following him with big-hitting Janet (whose vote for both weeks 2 and 3 is off the above scale), might well have been enough to depress his vote sufficiently to get him below at least one of Frankie and Kitty.
However, they will also be well aware that in these early weeks, votes can bounce around like a dinghy in a hurricane. So they will have wanted some backup plans. Step forward Sami, Little Mix, Sophie and Craig, who occupied running order slots 3-6 in that week 3 show. In slots 7 and 8 came the two acts they wanted to save – Kitty and Frankie – and they will have expected that the lateness of slots 9, 10 and 11 would mean The Risk, Johnny and Misha were in no danger.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that slots 3-6 were a fishing expedition. In case Marcus wriggled off the hook – as he did, in some style – they must have been hoping that one of Sami, Little Mix, Sophie and Craig would do them the favour of sinking into the dropzone. Sami did so, of course, and the other three came very close indeed.
So we stick by our initial view that it was only in week 4 that producers started to take Little Mix seriously as potential winners, after the inspired ‘Insecure Jesy’ VT and the solid performance of ‘ET’ propelled them to second in the vote.
Producers then gave Little Mix the pimp slot in week 5, and they disappointed from it – just as One Direction had done from 2010’s week 5 pimp slot. Their rendition of ‘Please Don’t Stop The Music’ got 99% of the mean, which is hardly stellar from the most favoured position.
However, with The Risk gone in week 5, the girlband were now the only game in town if Tulisa were to get to the final. Lady Gaga/Queen week was a bit better for the girls, but not much – up to a slightly more respectable 107% for their mashup of ‘Telephone’ and ‘Radio Gaga’. But week 7 was the gamechanger they needed. Singing ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)’, they stormed to 156% of the mean.
It must have been this strong vote which persuaded producers that they could take the chance of sending them out first in week 8. We also assume producers were alert to the danger we had posted an article about a few days previously, that the increasing obviousness of how favourably they were being treated could start to backfire on them, just as it had done with One Direction. Sticking them on first was the perfect way to nip the “Little Fix” meme in the bud.
However, the early slot predictably brought the girls’ vote back to earth.
As the graph shows, the week 8 result was pretty close all round. Producers got their desired outcome, dropping Janet into the bottom two – but Little Mix were only four percentage points off displacing her, admittedly with Marcus as a buffer between them.
Given the closeness of week 8, it is somewhat surprising that Little Mix won the semi-final so convincingly without the help of a particularly stellar performance, although the weakness of some of the other performances may have had something to do with it.
Another possibility, suggested by Boki and taichou in the comments, is that a lot of Janet’s support transferred to the girlband. This makes some sense. Indeed, we have to consider whether producers had anticipated that the “sweet, shy girl” vote might be transferable, and that it contributed to their desperation to get shot of the Ulster lass.
Even with this convincing semi win under their belt, producers took no chances in the final, as we described in our first article of this series. And given that their split over Marcus was only 53/47 in the end, they were right to do so.