There are just four more hours of earnest ballads, sob stories and comments like “you made that your own” before this series of X Factor limps over the finish line as the winner is crowned.
I would never have said this a few months’ ago but thank the Lord that Christopher Maloney is in the final. His endurance against constant flak from the judging panel and press has become the most interesting story of the season. I applaud his dignity in the face of this onslaught, and those Sofabet commenters who realised earlier than we did that he could get this far.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the prize will be his. Instead I think James Arthur will break the bottom two hoodoo and take the ‘£1m recording contract’ tomorrow.
I should start by explaining the position I am coming from. In terms of personal taste, I agree with my colleague Dug that James is my preferred act among the final three. Also, as I explained before the week 7 show, I had backed him at 7/1 in the win market before his week 4 pimp slot. But I’ve also hedged my bets by backing Chris and Jahmene in recent weeks to leave me currently in modest profit no matter the result, with James my biggest ‘green’.
It’s a tricky little final and I’m thankful that my profitability for the series doesn’t depend on getting it right. What I really focus on are the elimination markets week-by-week, and having got my fingers burnt in week 2, I’ve clawed back those losses in subsequent weeks to hit my target profit for the series.
Nonetheless, my starting point for analysing this weekend’s final is the overnight publication of the YouGov poll for The Sun. I strongly recommend you read our interview with YouGov’s Joe Twyman at the start of this year that helps explain their methodology for the poll.
Two years ago they predicted a straightforward Matt / Rebecca top two with One Direction and Cher trailing in their wake. Last year, Marcus Collins’ three-point lead over Little Mix was within the margin of error and the two acts were level pegging in the head-to-head, leaving them with a “too close to call” conclusion.
These results suggest that in recent years, YouGov were in the right ballpark but not as laser sharp as Nate Silver in their ability to predict the result.
That’s fair enough given what Joe wisely said in our interview: “You have to remember that the X Factor is trickier to predict from polling than political elections, in the sense that on a political election day itself nothing typically happens to change voters’ minds. In contrast, what happens during the X Factor final programme itself can obviously have a big effect on the vote.”
It will have to in order to overturn the difference between each of the acts, with James on 50%, Jahmene on 35% and Chris on 15%. Nonetheless, there’s usually around a fifth of respondents not included in these percentages who are in the ‘don’t know’ camp, so that’s a further caveat.
However, it’s worth noting that YouGov chose to double again the size of their sample: 1566 people were asked in 2010; in 2011 that had risen to 2955; and this time 6363 viewers were asked. Also, if there have been underestimates in recent years, it is the acts with a younger fanbase such as One Direction, Cher and Little Mix that have performed better in the phone vote compared to the poll. This is in James’s favour.
The main bone of contention with the poll’s findings is that it seems to go against the grain of the Daily Star’s leaks that suggest Chris outpolling all opponents in the actual phone vote every week up to and including Week 7. Jahmene has apparently been his main challenger up to that point. James finished in the bottom two that week, so had plenty of ground to make up with Chris at the time (just how much we don’t know). If the YouGov poll is to be believed, that has been completely turned on its head.
That’s not so impossible if you look at past series. Admittedly, no one has come from the bottom two to win the show, and with James it was as recently as week 7. But Little Mix and Alexandra Burke were both well behind the trailblazers in their respective years until building up momentum when it mattered most. Let’s not forget that the final offers a genuine incentive for plenty of people to vote who may not have previously done so – so-called ‘floaters’.
The last two weeks have seen James give a standout performance of ‘Let’s Get It On’ and Chris arguably have his worst moment with ‘Haven’t Met You Yet’. Meanwhile the semi-final was a good day at the office for Jahmene, who got to reprise his audition number ‘At Last’ to excellent effect. In fact, it’s a shame on his part that this silver bullet was used in the semi to get him here rather than in the final itself.
Still, in the circumstances each act and their supporters will find a reason for thinking there’s everything to play for in this weekend’s final, and they’d be right. But anyone who carefully watched last year’s event will know that it helped cement Little Mix’s pole position given the difference between their treatment and that afforded to Marcus Collins. Producers can’t control the result, but they can choose to play to an act’s strength or not, and that can make a difference.
I’m assuming that programme makers will be playing to James’ and Jahmene’s strengths this weekend and not Chris’s. That’s not necessarily the case with the mentor duets, as ‘Rule The World’ with Gary Barlow seems a perfectly solid choice for Chris, as does James and Nicole’s ‘Make Me Feel Your Love’.
But at this stage I can only speculate that Chris’s other alleged song choice tonight, ‘What A Feeling’ isn’t going to help. If it’s the Flashdance theme, that’s a song from a movie about dancing with numerous dancing references that appears from rehearsal pictures to have plenty of choreography. We speculated in our article a few days ago on what producers might do to dampen Chris in the final, and taking him out of his comfort zone by making him dance was on our list. If it turns out to be Kelly Rowland’s ‘What A Feeling’, that’s even more unsuitable as a modern dance tune. Either way, it doesn’t bode well.
Jahmene’s rumoured choices of ‘Angels’ and ‘Greatest Love of All’ seem far more designed to play to his strengths than Chris’s do for him. James’s other song is apparently Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ (in more recent times covered by Michael Buble). This gives him a decent chance of a repeating the kind of performance we saw for ‘Let’s Get It On’, covering a well-known classic without being too safe, and as we pointed out after week 8, smartening him up with a suit in the process.
The running order will be fascinating to see. I like Tim B’s idea that the fact Nicole is in two of the three duets will mean Chris is on second to give her a break. If that’s the case, which of James and Jahmene comes on afterwards may suggest who the chosen Anti-Chris is. They have been very happy in following Chris with Jahmene in three of the last four live shows, as someone with an extraordinary background chasing after a similar demographic. Will that mean he is most useful in the pimp slot, and how much would that boost his chances and diminish James’s?
They could of course still put Chris on first, followed by Jahmene then James. This would be a real statement of intent on the part of producers.
Overall, I don’t think Chris will overcome the poll ratings that place him in third based on his treatment tonight. My prediction is that his glorious run will come to an honourable end, leaving us with a James / Jahmene duel on Sunday. I think producers would be happy with this as a lovely, feel good-y, isn’t Nicole wonderful-y, bromance-y, one-part credible one-part old-fashioned climax.
Moving on to that duel, I don’t underestimate the power of Jahmene’s backstories, and let’s not forget that as Joe Twyman pointed out before last year’s event: “Compared to earlier rounds the final has relatively few songs and so a greater amount of time will be devoted to backstory. A particularly powerful narrative for any of the contestants could quite easily sway public opinion as much, if not more so, than a particularly strong song belted out on the…stage.”
YouGov’s poll indicated a 55-45 split in James’s favour for a head-to-head between them. That’s much smaller than the 53-33 split they had Matt leading a head-to-head with Rebecca in 2010, and the Liverpudlian managed to reduce that to 45-39 in the final tally.
In Jahmene’s favour, if Chris goes out first, that support may be more minded to switch towards him. The flip side of the coin is that both Jahmene and Chris will have been chasing after a more similar demographic on the Saturday, and one has to assume that the votes will be carried forward.
Jahmene’s winner’s song is rumoured to be The Beatles ‘Let It Be’ as opposed to James’s far less well known ‘Impossible’, although the latter is a good choice for the Saltburn lad’s singing style. I can’t rule out a Jahmene victory, though it’s worth bearing in mind that whilst he can hit those money notes, he is also a less consistent singer than James, more prone to suffer from nerves that can affect his performance
In conclusion, it’s not cut-and-dried in any way right now, but my heart and my head marginally prefer James to Jahmene with Chris an honourable third. Give us your thoughts below and let battle commence. We will try to post an analysis of tonight’s events on the site as soon as possible. Good luck to you all.
1. James Arthur
2. Jahmene Douglas
3. Chris Maloney