Yet again this weekend Union J were referenced as the “next big boyband”, and yet again the public vote put them in the bottom two. Instead, if we’re to believe the Daily Star (and results seem to be bearing out the leaks), Christopher Maloney and Jahmene Douglas, who appeal to an older demographic, are leading the phone poll week in, week out.
A similar thing has happened in this year’s US X Factor. The finals were overloaded with acts intended to please a young demographic, but topping the vote each week are those with a different appeal: Tate Stevens, Carly Rose Sonenclar and Vino Alen. Tate and Vino are in the overs category, singing country and soul respectively. Carly Rose is 13, but she’s 13 going on 43 and at her most comfortable covering Celine Dion. Her more contemporary-seeming young rivals are trailing in her wake.
In the year that One Direction are proving Simon Cowell’s biggest cash cow to date, the Svengali must be tearing his hair out at the disconnect between the acts with teen appeal the show is trying to push and the voting public who are refusing to play ball. So what’s going on? Do dropping viewing figures reflect a growing disinterest from young viewers in the franchise, or was it ever thus?
A fantastic comment from ChrisR brilliantly sums up the Christopher Maloney phenomenon in this year’s UK show. It’s worth quoting at length:
My olds (lets call them Norman and Norma from Norfolk) are about as Shaky demographic as you get. Pensioners, mum loves Cliff Richard, dad loves anything pre status quo.
We put it on part of the way through James Arthur’s 1st song. Dads reaction… ‘he can’t sing, thats a load of screeching. Rubbish.’… Jahmmene was on, their reaction was ‘ I wish he wouldn’t do all that wabbling around with his voice, its cos he can’t hold a note’…Rylan… ‘christ he’s terrible.’
Union J… ‘not as good as one direction’. Funny, because they are far stronger singers in my opinion. Then Shaky gives it some Fernando, my old man says ‘Thats much more like it. I like this one, he’s a proper singer, singing a nice song.’ Mum agreed, ‘yeah he looks nice.’ I told them that he gets the full treatment to be got rid of, I stopped short of explaining camera angles and red n black, but their reaction was ‘Why are they being horrible to him, he looks really nice and normal.’
Is Christopher’s apparent dominance in the phone vote evidence of a changing demographic watching the show? This was Panos’s hypothesis after MK1’s exit in week 3: “Maybe those millions of viewers the show has lost were mainly young ppl who couldn’t be bothered anymore, so the grannies are taking up a greater market share.”
Esme responded that the viewing demographic breakdown for the show in 2012 is, in fact, the same as before: “I work in TV and have access to all the viewing stats and data. And while ratings have fallen off a cliff the % of the core younger demographic remains exactly the same as 2011 suggesting the fall off is across all age groups.”
We’d love to hear if this is still the case, given the interesting decision at this late stage of the live shows to have a week centered on Abba and Motown songs. While Nicky mooted the theory that it was intended as a leveller – ensuring all of Chris’s rivals would also sing songs appealing to older demographics might help skim off some of his vote – it might also suggest that producers had almost thrown in the towel with regards to getting back younger viewers and were shoring up ratings among an older demographic. This is not generally what advertisers want.
Abba plus Motown came straight after guilty pleasures week, where the uneasy juxtaposition became very stark between a show that strives to be ‘relevant’ but has an audience that doesn’t give a rat’s arse on this matter. Tulisa, whose recruitment to the show was no doubt meant to encourage more teen viewers, said to Ella after her rendition of ‘You’re The One That I Want’, “That’s what guilty pleasures is all about, taking a cheesy loveable classic and making it current.” The public mightily disagreed.
It’s the best example of what Nugg describes in his following comment: “The reason Chris is doing so well is surely because he is singing songs people are familiar with , the way they were supposed to be sung. No twists, slowing down, speeding up or vocal acrobatics, no raps in the middle, or mash ups, just simple solid performances that appeal to the demo. Xfactor is a middle aged thing these days, young people are increasingly seeing it as ‘something mum and dad watch’.”
The irony is that Ella, with her sensible, conservative nature and 50s styling, could have easily appealed to this older demographic if treated differently. I’d go so far as to say that she would at least be in the final if producers hadn’t tried to make her so current by slowing down arrangements of modern songs.
Nugg’s remarks echoed a comment EM made in week 4 after Union J’s first appearance in the bottom 2: “the Guardian yesterday pointed out that if you’re 14 now you were 5 when the X Factor started making it that old fashioned show you remember mum and dad watching.” I responded by noting that the three acts most designed to appeal to younger voters, MK1, District 3 and Union J, had all been in the bottom two by then.
But is the strength of the older voting demographic such a new trend? After all, X Factor has always been Saturday night TV entertainment, which by its very nature is a conservative, cheesy affair, as eurovicious reminded us after Ella’s shock exit: “The show’s authenticity drive has led to ratings plunging off a cliff (compared to the, erm, incredibly authentic Strictly Come Dancing which is soaring in the ratings on t’ other side).”
It’s worth remembering some of the phone votes in the 2010 series, the year when ratings were at their highest. In the first two weeks, boyband One Direction, conceived with maximum teen appeal in mind (which they’ve since proved to have in spades), only received half the votes of 50-something Mary Byrne. The latter liked nothing more than belting out Shirley Bassey or Dusty Springfield songs in a manner of which I’ve no doubt Norman and Norma of Norfolk approved.
Admittedly, she also had a regional vote on her side, as did Eoghan Quigg who had plenty of gran appeal and generally polled strongest up to week 7 in 2008. Still, it does beg the question that perhaps the grey vote, more constant as it may be, is at its most powerful before the semi-final.
However, producers dampened Mary’s appeal with a series of poor song choices that forced her into a more modern oeuvre unlikely to ‘delight the demo’ before she was ousted in the penultimate week. Having not done this against Maloney (he’s still delighting the demo with the likes of Fernando), programme makers will presumably be much less hopeful of managing the same result this week if he was still leading the phone vote in week 7.
Meanwhile in 2010, One Direction continued to be pimped heavily into the final but could never live with the broader demographic appeal of Matt Cardle or Rebecca Ferguson. Does this prove that the show has always had a problem trying to foist teen acts on a generally more unwilling public? The show has a long history of seeing middle-of-the-road acts winning or doing well. One only has to look at the 2007 top four of Leon Jackson, Rhydian Roberts, Same Difference and Niki Evans. It doesn’t get much less ‘relevant’ than that.
But the one year we have so far avoided talking about is 2011, which of course did see an act with teen appeal win, with Little Mix beating out the more nan-friendly Marcus Collins in the final.
Some people – including ourselves, having tipped Collins before the live shows – felt that this may have been partly due to falling ratings leading to fewer phone votes tilting things in favour of the tastes of multiple-voting teens. We cited a usually reliable predictor of the result, the YouGov poll on the day of the final, which suggested Marcus Collins was marginally more popular thanks to his broader demographic support.
Incidentally, it’s interesting that YouGov haven’t published any polling on X Factor this year. Can we take this, perhaps, as an indication that they feel voting turnout has become so low, the show has become too difficult to poll with confidence?
However, this series – with its even lower ratings – doesn’t seem to be bearing out the multi-voting teen theory of Little Mix’s win. We’ve seen #voteUnionJ trending on Twitter virtually every week and they’ve still been in the singoff three times. So perhaps Little Mix were a false dawn for the teen vote, their victory owing more to the unusually brutal effectiveness of producer assassinations of other acts.
Or perhaps the teen vote was indeed more powerful last year, but voting lines being open from the start of the show has tilted the balance back towards grey power? It would be unexpected, as we’d assumed that if anything this voting change would motivate the multi-voters. But a few weeks ago, TommySauce offered this theory:
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… Might this mean some demographics – the older and technophobic are having their votes counted more?
Could this be a factor? And what are your thoughts in general on the potentially changing demographics of X Factor voting? As ever, let us know below. And make sure you check back on the site this Wednesday for Richard Betsfactor’s latest state of the union address.