The audition shows are upon us! This is where characters are established, journeys foreshadowed, and narrative arcs set in motion – and we get our first clues about what producers may be hoping for this series. The first female soloist winner since Alexandra Burke, perhaps, as Dan surmises in the comments to our rumours round-up post? And if so, a Cher/Misha B urban type or, as Tim B reckons more plausible, an Adele/Leona power belter?
By this stage of proceedings, with bootcamp already filmed, producers must already have a pretty good idea of who they expect to become the leading players in the dramatis personae of this series. However, with judges’ houses not yet filmed, much can still change. It pays to tread carefully.
So, what should punters be looking out for as they watch the audition shows? Here are some thoughts based on the lessons of the last couple of years.
1. The first audition show is one to watch closely
It makes sense for producers to introduce some water-cooler acts in the first audition show – they’ll want to make a splash in the tabloids to make sure everyone’s aware that the show is back. Last year, for instance, the two stars of the first audition show were Frankie Cocozza and Janet Devlin, who it seems fair to assume were viewed at that stage as likely to be the leading man and leading woman of the series.
Their example shows, however, how much can change after the screening of this first show. Evidently, producers had not counted on Frankie being so unpopular or Janet so independent-minded. The example of 2010 is even more stark. Then, the two headline-grabbers from the first audition show were Gamu Nhengu and Shirleena Johnson, neither of whom even made it to the live shows amid media revelations about their issues with visas and mental health respectively. We can never know for sure, but it would be surprising if producers hadn’t edited this first show in the expectation of Gamu and Shirleena sticking around for the long haul.
If these examples suggest that not enough homework had been done by the time the first show aired in 2011 and 2010, no such problems afflicted the 2009 series, when the first audition show introduced no fewer than four of the eventual top six – Joe McElderry, Stacey Solomon, Danyl Johnson and Jedward.
We can reasonably expect Saturday’s first audition show to feature one or two acts whom producers are currently execting to progress into the latter reaches of the live shows – but it would be foolish to bet the house on this coming to pass.
2. The eventual contenders tend to get plenty of screentime
Some auditions are over in less than a minute – often as part of a montage – with just a voiceover introduction from Dermot, a line or two of singing, a word or two from one of the judges and a shot of the delighted act skipping off stage to the sound of cheers. Others are altogether more drawn-out affairs, with VTs, questions from the judges, a full performance and comments from all the panel. As you’d expect, the acts who make it through to the business end of the live shows tend to have had the latter treatment in their auditions.
How much of a handicap is it to have had a short audition segment? Last year, with rumours that James Michael and Melanie McCabe had made the lives despite the brevity of their audition screentime, we debated if an act could really succeed without having been helped off the starting blocks with a lengthy introduction to the viewing public. When the rumour about Melanie proved wide of the mark, and James was given his ticket to ride in the opening live show cull, the mystery seemed solved – you really did need to have had a long audition slot to be in with a chance.
Then, however, Little Mix went and upended this neat pattern by winning the show despite having barely featured in the auditions. Here’s a list of how much screentime the eventual top four enjoyed during the audition shows for the last few years (a general tendency to screentime inflation can be seen, especially since Joe McElderry’s year when the auditions started being filmed in front of a live audience – this tended to make the segments longer, as crowd reaction shots were included).
Little Mix (5) 0.28*
Marcus Collins (5) 5:43
Amelia Lily (5) 6:44
Misha Bryan (2) 8:00
Matt Cardle (2) 4:03
Rebecca Ferguson (5) 7:25
One Direction (3/6) 10.22**
Cher Lloyd (3) 5:55
Joe McElderry (1) 5:51
Olly Murs (4) 6:28
Stacey Solomon (1) 4:27
Danyl Jonhson (1) 6:30
Alexandra Burke (2) 4:48
JLS (1) 3:13
Eoghan Quigg (2) 4:18
Diana Vickers (2) 3:49
Leon Jackson (3) 2:48
Rhydian Roberts (6) 3:07
Same Difference (1) 3:03
Nikki Evans (1) 3:42
Leona Lewis (1) 1:02
Ray Quinn (2) 2:51
Ben Mills (4) 2:44
McDonald Bros (5) 1:14
* Perrie Edwards appears to be the only one (we stand to be corrected) whose audition was shown, briefly, on the main programme.
** The combined total of Liam Payne’s (show 3, 6.11) and Harry Styles’s (show 6, 4.11) auditions.
Does the success of Little Mix suggest that this year producers might fly their favourites under the radar? We suspect it’s more likely that Little Mix’s lack of audition screentime can be seen as evidence that producers didn’t see them as serious contenders while the audition shows were being aired, and that we can expect once again this year the finalists to come from acts on whom audition screentime is lavished.
Of course, getting lots of screentime in auditions is no guarantee of further progress – plenty of acts are heavily featured in lengthy audition segments only to disappear without trace at bootcamp (see John Adams, Lascel Woods) or be agonisingly dismissed at judges’ houses (see Jade Richards, John Wilding).
In parentheses in the above list, by the way, is the audition show in which each act featured. The fifth show was the lucky one to be on last year, but that seems like a fluke. Generally the above list seems slightly tilted towards the earlier shows, but also with plenty of examples of acts doing well having been introduced later in proceedings (there are six or seven audition shows in all).
3. Some juicy odds can be had, but keep stakes small
Betting in the win market during the audition shows is generally a bookies’ benefit. There are so many acts, most of whom will be culled before the live shows. Many of them, indeed, will have been culled – at bootcamp or judges’ houses – even before their audition is shown. There’s a decent chance you’ll be betting on someone who, unbeknownst to either you or the bookie, is already a non-runner. This isn’t a time to be betting big.
Having said that, there are sometimes some attractive bets to be snaffled if you move quickly. While some bookies price up the acts introduced in each audition show only after the show, a few of them offer prices during the show, after each act gets their ticket to bootcamp. And sometimes they get it wrong.
Last year, for example, Sofabet commenter Mike Quigley managed to get on Janet Devlin at 16/1 just after her audition had been shown, working on the very reasonable rationale that producers might not have bothered to film her at home in Northern Ireland unless they had big things in mind for her. In the second audition show, commenter Allan spotted Craig Colton available briefly at 80/1 and managed to get on at 40/1.
Of course, these prices tend not to last long – it will only take one or two bets to alert a bookie to the possibility that they’re out of line. If you want to try to get on before this happens, you’ll need to have accounts already opened with multiple bookies and to sit refreshing oddschecker during transmission.
4. In Judge we trust. But where is Judge?
It’s trivially easy for any random troublemaker to create an account at Digital Spy and post a “spoiler” in the forums, claiming to know if such-and-such an act has progressed to the live shows. While some will be genuine, take these with a bucketful of salt unless they come from a source who has build up a credible track record by being right in the past.
The best track record belongs to Sofabet commenter Judge, whose website xfactor-updates.com has provided punters with invaluable spoilers for the last few years. Judge was mortified last year when he ran with incorrect information about Melanie McCabe having made the live shows, but he needn’t have been – he was right with everything else, and anyone reading his site would have saved their money on acts such as Jade Richards, who was being offered at single-figure prices by bookies even as Judge assured us she hadn’t made the cut at judges’ houses.
So we are a little concerned that Judge appears to have disappeared. The last few times we’ve clicked his site recently, we’ve got a “403 forbidden” error message. An email to him has, so far, not received a response. Does anyone know where Judge is, and if he’ll be back this year? We hope he isn’t manacled in a dungeon underneath the headquarters of Talkback Thames.
A quick note on what you can expect from Sofabet this year. One of Daniel, Dug and myself will be reviewing each audition show as soon afterwards as we can manage – we will usually aim to get review posts up the day after. As always, we look forward to you sharing your impressions and theories in the comments – let’s hope that, between us, we can figure out what producers are up to this time around.