It’s bootcamp weekend. Here are the questions your Sofabet team (Daniel, Dug and myself) are most looking forward to having answered in Saturday and Sunday’s shows.
1. Does Ella Henderson still smell like Plan A?
So far, so Janet Devlin. Just like last year, a demure 16-year-old girl was pimped to high heaven in the first audition show, and six subsequent shows have failed to throw up anyone who seems obviously more favoured. We have fewer misgivings about Ella’s appeal than we did about Janet’s at the same stage a year ago. One also assumes that, after the Janet fiasco, producers will have had a good poke around in Ella’s head to ensure there are no signs of an independent mind.
So if you gave us a free bet at the moment, we’d put it on Ella. She’s trading at around 7/1, like Janet was last year before bootcamp. If she follows the Janet trajectory, she’ll be about half her current price going into the lives.
That’s far from guaranteed, of course. But for now, it looks to us like the girls category is by some distance the strongest – with the intriguing Lucy, and the likes of Jade Ellis and Amy Mottram providing strength in depth – and that Ella is in line to be the alpha girl.
2. Does it look like we’ll start to tire of Lucy Spraggan?
With eight series behind us and the same old tropes popping up time and again, it’s usually possible to find someone from previous shows with whom to compare an act and get an idea of their likely trajectory. Not so Lucy Spraggan. This is a first for the show – someone sings a humorous original composition for their audition, and it promptly shoots up the iTunes charts.
Where does Lucy go from here? As has been keenly debated in the Sofabet comments in recent days, she could prove to have been a one-hit wonder, with a shtick that grows old quickly when it meets the themed live shows. Or she could prove to be an enduring character the voting public take to their hearts.
There is also the thorny question of producers’ comfort levels with Lucy. Sofabet commenter KaraokeSauron sees Lucy as a “semi-novelty act with tremendous appeal but limited ability, who will – I predict – do a Wagner by getting a lot further than producers will have planned”. In explaining why he has backed her at 12/1, however, Louis’wig takes the opposite view, feeling that producers “may be rooting for an edgy act”.
Our tentative view is that if Lucy does gain a cult following, there’s no logical reason for producers to want to nobble her – she’s already shown more of an ability to flog records after a single audition than most live finalists do after ten times as much exposure.
3. Will James Arthur grow on us?
Somewhat hilariously, James Arthur’s mum has popped up in his local paper cheerfully debunking his sob story – far from running away from home and regularly sleeping rough, she says, he once had a bit of a strop and stopped over at a friend’s house. Not so much the brooding Heathcliff figure, then, more Kevin the Teenager.
It is fair to say that James Arthur was received lukewarmly by the Sofabet community, with reaction in the comments ranging from apathetic shrugs to appalled fascination. Can he grow on us? What will he do when it isn’t “rapping earnestly over Tulisa songs” week? Are producers thinking of him as the next Ed Sheeran, or as someone who’d likely be as commercially disastrous as is traditional for the show’s male winners but is mediocre enough not to risk becoming unstoppable?
4. Will producers continue to poke fun at Jahmene Douglas?
Who was the last ante-post favourite for the show to have been treated as a figure of fun in their audition? Sure, Jahmene’s vocals were hailed as the second coming, but only after producers had made sure to dwell on his nervous laugh, social awkwardness and fusspot mother. As Daniel noted in our audition show 1 review, he was dressed like Forrest Gump, and they played the Forrest Gump music when he got his pass to bootcamp.
Where is this going? You wouldn’t think that Jahmene would be the male winner to break the commercial mould, so producers should from the start have an eye on how to pull the rug from under him as and when the need arises. You would also think that he represents something of a risk for the show – he’s told the press about his strong religious views, which could set “Ashley from The Risk” alarm bells ringing. It’ll be intriguing to see how they play him.
5. Will we get to see more of Starboy Nathan?
Hugely touted in the forums, Starboy Nathan snuck apologetically into the final audition show as part of a montage. In the comments, Shoulders hopes that “producers are introducing him gradually because of his head start with an already established fan base and they don’t want the public to think he has an unfair advantage”. R makes the general point that maybe “the show has realised from LM’s win last year that they can get away with not giving their favoured act a big audition but can build them up throughout the series as other acts fall by the wayside”.
It’s certainly possible. But they can’t hope to get through ten live shows without explaining what on earth Nathan’s doing on the X Factor when he’s already had top 40 hits and toured with the likes of JLS, can they? And wouldn’t the best time to address this have been in his audition, rather than, say, having it come up in the week 2 VTs where everyone else talks about sweeping chimneys and selling bikes and restoring antique furniture?
It does feels worryingly reminiscent of James Michael. When the guitar-wielding Scouser made the lives last year after similarly little audition screentime, we all wondered if this was some kind of deeply cunning triple-bluff slowburn tactic – but in the first live show cull, the obvious explanation proved correct. They simply weren’t interested in him.
6. Is Rylan Clark going to be our only pantomime act?
The X Factor is at its joyous best when it features an act of limited ability and cult appeal who is championed by one mentor while being derided by another, Wagner and Jedward being the textbook examples. Where’s this pantomime fun coming from this year?
We’re expecting it to come from Rylan Clark. But is that it? We hope not. Poisonous Twin would be another obvious candidate, especially with Louis mentoring the groups, but the fact that their audition was relegated to the Xtra Factor doesn’t look promising. Nicola-Marie from week 3 would bring some much-needed fun to the overs, but she has been conspicuously absent from the (admittedly far from convincing) rumours on Digital Spy about who makes it further.
Or perhaps producers think that ostensibly serious acts such as Lucy and Jahmene will provide enough comedy and controversy?
7. Will Dr Frankenstein be let loose on the groups again?
Rumours have George Shelley being grafted onto MK1, which makes little sense. Why create a three-piece with a cute boy to compete with the three cute boys of GMD3? Then again, somebody has to be the week 1 sacrificial lambs – perhaps it’s them.
There was a distinct lack of credible girl bands on the main show during the audition process. We never got to see One Step Beyond, who had some internet buzz. Will one be manufactured, will one magically appear, or will Poisonous Twin get their moment after all?
Or, after last year’s victory and the current glut of bands out there, are the show simply investing less effort in the groups this year?
8. How heavily will producers invest in GMD3?
The market is unequivocal in its view that GMD3 are in line to be the alpha group, and despite the woeful vocals showcased in their audition, we currently see no reason to disagree. The big question is how much effort producers are going to put into them.
If – and it’s a big if – the rumours are correct that it’s Jahmene, James and Rylan who go through from the boys, the boys category will be conspicuously missing the traditional telegenic teen heartthrob. And if – another big if – Kye misses out in the overs, that would appear to leave wide swathes of demographics open to the GMD3 boys.
There’s an obvious case against the idea that GMD3 will be a producer favourite – Syco already have One Direction. But we don’t feel that argument’s conclusive. There’s always room for “battle of the boybands” hype, especially with the juicy added dimension of Louis Walsh taking on Simon Cowell.
9. Have the overs been thoroughly Borelow-ed?
After Storm and Wagner and Goldie and Johnny and Kitty, the overs category this year appears to have had all the fun sucked out of it without the injection of countervailing talent. Of the four main contenders for a place in the lives – Kye Sones, Christopher Maloney, Melanie Masson and Carolynne Poole – only the first, a poor man’s Matt Cardle, has the look of potential top-four material to us.
Carolynne seems perfectly nice and competent, but we’re struggling to imagine her catching the public imagination. Melanie and Christopher look like early-to-midway exits followed by a stint in musical theatre. Will bootcamp change our minds?
10. What happens to Robbie Hance?
The comments consensus was that the show sank to a new low in the way it exploited Robbie’s homelessness in last week’s audition episode. We’re still intrigued by the “show insider” who claimed to the press that producers were scouring the streets for him last week. If we find that Robbie was actually culled at bootcamp, as rumours suggest, the show will just have sunk a little lower.
Then again, maybe all the rumours this year are wrong, and we’ll end the weekend with Melanie McCabe and Joseph Whelan as our new market leaders.
Do let us know your thoughts on the above, and your own burning questions, in the comments.