Well, this is all very unexpected. When the wildcard twist was announced last week, there were a handful of plausible permutations for the contenders. But, knowing the X Factor, what seemed predictable was that it would be easy to guess who producers wanted back in. And if you’d told us last week that it would be Christopher Maloney vs Amy Mottram vs Adam Burridge vs Times Red, we’d have said “see? It’s obvious. They want Shaky Maloney”.
Now, we’re not so sure. Having been ignored in the edit of the bootcamp episodes, Amy Mottram received the most helpful coverage imaginable in the Judges’ Houses episodes. Extensively and sympathetically portrayed on both the Saturday and Sunday show, she did herself plenty of favours with a mature and graceful response to the bad news from Tulisa. More significantly, Tulisa went out of her way to emphasise how much she wished she could take Amy through as a fourth girl.
The contrast with the wildcards from the boys and groups was stark, and tells us pretty clearly that neither of these are the ones the show wants back. The screentime-starved Adam was put up instead of Jake Quickenden, who enjoyed a lengthy introduction segment in audition show 3 and would have been riding a wave of sympathy after he was shown at the weekend struggling with grief over his brother’s terminal illness.
Adam is cute – but, as we saw in last year’s wildcard vote with James Michael, being a cute boy doesn’t necessarily get you far if the audience haven’t been given the time or invitation to invest in you emotionally.
Meanwhile, having emphasised in his earlier deliberations that Times Red were older than their boyband rivals, Louis prefaced his wildcard decision by repeating the “older” epithet and then observing that “older girls” will like them. Got that, ladies? If you think of yourselves as old, vote for Times Red.
Producers saved the agonising rejection of Christopher Maloney till the end of the episode, then immediately invited us to phone in to reinstate the trembling Scouser. This did come across to us as part of a plan. You can almost imagine the production meeting in which they viewed back the footage of him convulsing on stage before his audition:
“This shaking man is TV gold! How can we make him tremble as much as possible in future episodes?”
“I know. We could repeat that bootcamp cull thing from last year, and leave his name till last.”
“Ha ha, great one. Then how about we reject him at Judges’ Houses, and put him up for a wildcard vote?”
“Genius. We’ll get Dermot to pause for at least 30 seconds before revealing who’s won. That’ll bring the studio down. Perhaps literally”.
“And the great thing is that if he later breaks down with nerves while singing, it won’t be our fault but the public’s for bringing him back.”
But if this was indeed the thinking, then why all the help for Amy Mottram in the Judges’ Houses edit? Take your pick from three possible explanations:
(a) they want Amy to win the wildcard vote;
(b) they’re confident that the sympathy/sadism vote will be strong enough to propel Shaky to the wildcard regardless of Amy’s portrayal;
(c) they don’t much care either way, as long as Shaky provides some entertainment by juddering up and down on stage like a pneumatic drill as Dermot’s “and the wildcard is…” pause enters its 20th second.
We incline towards the latter explanation. If it is Christopher Maloney, it seems likely that his intended role in the series will be to provide a couple more weeks of good TV before being quietly jettisoned. After all, as Dug said in his review of Judges’ Houses, “the man is mediocre community theatre at best”.
We saw with Amelia Lily last year that the comedown from a wildcard win can be steep – she was in the bottom two the week after her return. So it shouldn’t be too big an ask to nobble him – especially considering The Sun have already reported on his past as a (not-so-nervous) cruise ship singer, setting him up for the Sami Brookes tactics.
As for Amy – well, it seems pretty clear that she’s not supposed to be the alpha girl, doesn’t it? We’re currently thinking that producers are likely to be thinking of Jade Ellis as their “Ella spare” – a pleasant alternative who can be activated if something looks like going wrong with the hot favourite, and Sophie Habibised if not. If Amy wins, we’d bet she simply becomes the new Ella Spare. We suspect producers won’t have a very strong preference between Jade and Amy as gamma girl.
Another reason to lean towards explanation (c) is that it’s hard to see how the show could be certain about what result they will get. Unlike the dozens of live show eliminations they’ve been through, they have only one experience of running a wildcard vote – and that one was so one-sided, they may not have learned a great deal from it.
It must be a different dynamic, with lines open for a week. Are voting totals lower? Are voting demographics more skewed towards X Factor obsessives than casual voters? Is there more scope for multiple votes to influence the outcome? We don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise us if the answers to these questions are yes.
To our minds, Amy appears the most deserving candidate, just as Amelia Lily did last year. Opinion in the Sofabet comments is certainly leaning her way. Highlighted expects her to advance, while eurovicious thinks she’ll sail it. Tim B is leaning towards Shaky, but won’t be surprised either way. Boki, Nugg and KaraokeSauron all reckon Amy’s odds offer better value.
We agree. If you put a gun to our heads and forced us to have a bet at current odds, then we’d much rather be on Amy at 5/2 than Shaky at 1/2. However, punters can always take the safe option of sitting out events where they feel less than confident, and for us this one falls into this category. Are you getting involved? How do you read what producers want and what they’re likely to get? As ever, do let us know below.