In the first show of this year, when we realised that the phone lines being open at the start of each show meant that Dermot was telling us the full running order upfront, we thought this would be a great help in figuring out what producers were up to before even the first act had performed.
Sod’s law, then, that the phone lines being open from the start should also have thrown into confusion all our old assumptions. It took only a show or two to make clear that the “early bad, late good” heuristic which has served us so well over the years was going to need updating. But to what, exactly?
We’re now four weeks into the new system – enough for us to start drawing some tentative conclusions. To start with, here are the stats for the first four public votes over the eight series that have had at least 12 acts – it shows the position in the running order of acts finishing in the bottom two (or three, as applicable).
Week 1 – 9, 12 (of 13)
Week 2 – 7, 12 (of 12)
Week 3 – 2, 9 (of 11)
Week 4 – 2, 8 (of 9)
2011 (no public vote week 1)
Week 2 – 1, 5 (of 12)
Week 3 – 3, 7 (of 11)
Week 4 – 3, 5 (of 10)
Week 5 – 1, 4, 6 (of 9)
Week 1 – 1, 10, 12 (of 16)
Week 2 – 1, 7, 12 (of 14)
Week 3 – 2, 7 (of 12)
Week 4 – 3, 9 (of 11)
Week 1 – 1, 2 (of 12)
Week 2 – 4, 9 (of 11)
Week 3 – 3, 7 (of 10)
Week 4 – 4, 7 (of 9)
Week 1 – 1, 9 (of 12)
Week 2 – 3, 4 (of 11)
Week 3 – 1, 2 (of 10)
Week 4 – 1, 2 (of 9)
Week 1 – 1, 9 (of 12)
Week 2 – 4, 6 (of 11)
Week 3 – 2, 7 (of 10)
Week 4 – 3, 4 (of 9)
Week 1 – 7, 8 (of 12)
Week 2 – 6, 8 (of 11)
Week 3 – 2, 7, 8 (of 10)
Week 4 – 3, 8 (of 8)
Week 1 – 1, 3 (of 12)
Week 2 – 2, 3 (of 11)
Week 3 – 1, 4 (of 10)
Week 4 – 2, 4 (of 9)
Over the seven preceding series, we’d had only one act singing either last or second last (Ashley McKenzie, week 3 in 2006) hitting the danger zone in the first four public votes. That’s now happened three times in four weeks under the new system (Carolynne Poole, Melanie Masson, Jade Ellis). In all, six of the eight acts who’ve hit singoffs so far this year have sung in the second half of the show.
Jade’s treatment on Saturday suggests that producers may be getting to grips with this new reality. Having attempted to nobble District 3 and Chris Maloney from early slots, they stuck their week 4 target, poor old Jade, second-from-last.
But if late is the new early, we can’t equally say that early is the new late, as the other two of the eight singer-offerers this year both sang second. Going close to the start of the show is clearly not the near-guarantee of safety that going close to the end used to be.
So far, the safest place to be has been early-to-middle. It’s possible to dream up theories about why that might be – maybe that’s when most people are watching given how late the show has been on; maybe some viewers feel like after five or six acts they’ve seen enough to vote for their favourite so far – but these hardly seem compelling. With limited data so far, it might easily be coincidence.
So if we no longer have any easy heuristics based on position in the order, what else should we being look at?
The memory hole and the big-name sandwich
All credit to Sofabet commenter JScouser2002 for quickly spotting that if where you are in the order matters less, who you’re next to in the order may matter more.
The memory hole has long been a staple of our analysis on Sofabet – when a vulnerable act is immediately followed by a big-name act, they’re quickly forgotten. It’s a tactic that in previous years worked especially well in combination with an early slot, when lines didn’t open till the end of the show. But it still seems potent. Notably, MK1’s bottom two appearance came in the week when they were immediately followed by the exceptionally powerful VT about Jahmene’s troubled upbringing.
Unfortunately, it’s not always immediately apparent from the running order announcement where the memory holes will be. At the start of show 3, for example, you wouldn’t necessarily have expected Kye to be memory-holed by District 3, but an unexpectedly strong performance from the boyband made it feel that way as the show unfolded.
It’s also looking like coming after a big-name act may have become more unhelpful under the new system. District 3 and Melanie in week 2 both hit the singoff after immediately following one of the two more talked-about acts, in the shape of Lucy and Rylan respectively.
Logic thus dictates, and many have noted in the comments, that it may be especially disadvantageous to be sandwiched between two big-name acts. Carolynne’s surprise singoff appearance in week 1 came after she was wedged between Ella and Jahmene.
Again, Jade’s treatment appears to indicate that producers have come to the same conclusion – when they set out to get her on Saturday, they stuck her in a Jahmene-James sandwich. Interestingly, this is exactly what they’d done in week 3, when the triple-J of Jahmene-Jade-James sang in positions 3-4-5 compared to 7-8-9 this week. Perhaps producers were hoping to isolate the effects of early-to-middle running order from the effects of the big-name sandwich?
Is the older demographic now more powerful?
In a comment last week, TommySauce offers some fascinating thoughts about how the new voting may be playing out. One of them:
In the old days the “lines open now” used to immediately cause the system to clog and (certainly in our experience) you’d have to try multiple times to register your vote. Might the new system have changed this, spreading the load over the whole show? If so, uncommitted viewers who might have voted on a whim in previous years, but given up the attempt after being unable to register their vote, might be adding to the totals this year (will be interesting to see the total votes cast comparisons to last year under the new system). Might this mean some demographics – the older and technophobic are having their votes counted more?
The fact that all the acts most obviously aimed at a younger demographic – District 3, MK1 and now Union J – have hit the bottom two suggests there may be something in this. And if we give credence to the Star’s leak that had Maloney topping the first two votes, that would fit, too.
Is the previous week’s performance now important?
Here’s a theory for which we see a little bit of evidence, albeit tentative and inconclusive – does an act’s performance in the previous week’s show influence how well they do in this week’s vote?
The thinking behind this theory is that some voters may now vote for their favourite act right at the start of show, as soon as lines are open. If their favourite act did well the previous week, they may be more fired up to do so; if their favourite act disappointed the previous week, they may not.
Evidence? District 3 hit the bottom two in week 2, after their disappointing performance in week 1. MK1’s Glee-style performance didn’t land them in the singoff in week 2, as many expected – but they were there a week later, in week 3. Their singoff opponent in week 3, Kye, also had a dreadful performance in week 2. Many of us were surprised that Rylan avoided the bottom two in week 3 after a mediocre showing; could he have been helped by clocking up some start-of-show votes inspired by his fun-filled week 2 performance?
This week, District 3 were down to joint-favourites for the chop after the Saturday show, but escaped the singoff; could they have got some votes in the bank at the start of the show from fans remembering their week 3 barnstormer? Similarly, Union J had a relatively forgettable week 3 – might this have led fewer fans to dial in right at the start of the week 4 show?
Of course, there are counterexamples (Rylan’s survival this week, to name just one); there are many other factors involved in each case, and it’s very early days to be placing any weight on this line of thinking. But it could be something worth bearing in mind. If there’s anything in it, you would think District 3 might be vulnerable in week 5 on the basis of the week 4 performances.
Agree or disagree with any of the above? What are your own tentative conclusions about the how lines being open from the start might have changed things? As ever, do keep the conversation going below.