The graphs in Andrew’s piece yesterday illustrated the continued importance of the sympathy bounce in this year’s X Factor. The orange lines move upwards without exception, sometimes sharply, often to an act’s highest point all series.
There are only two examples of an act receiving a sympathy bounce who performed better in a different week. That’s Union J in week 1 and District 3 in week 5. In both cases, the performances were panned by all but the mentor. The impact of this sharp and widely held criticism was to motivate the fanbase of both acts even more than a sympathy bounce did.
On the other hand, acts that ended up being eliminated or seeing their support drop were often given a string of empty platitudes that didn’t motivate viewers. As Richard Betsfactor pointed out to me over milkshakes at Ed’s Diner in Euston station (don’t go into this business for the glamour), Melanie in week 2 and Kye in week 3 were fine examples.
This is not a new concept but the 2012 series offered some interesting examples. The treatment of both boybands in week 1 being a case in point.
We now know for sure that Union J were the preferred group, as the week 6 sing-off showed, but it seemed pretty obvious from the treatment of both in week 1. As we mentioned at the time, District 3 had a name change that wasn’t handled positively whilst Union J had their moniker writ large across a plinth.
The production book was thrown at District 3. They were damned with the death slot, green ‘Nu Vibe laser lighting’ and a slow arrangement of an old song. Afterwards, they were given praise that was the epitome of lukewarm. Gary Barlow put it brilliantly when he said, “I reckon you’re going to be about middle [of the pack]”. By adding, “you won’t be going home tomorrow night” he wasn’t giving the band’s fans any incentive to vote.
Dermot rounded things off by saying to the boys that he liked the old name. Talk about twisting the knife in their backs. It was not the only time this series that Dermot indicated he should be considered a fifth column of the judging panel for the way he handles the post-comments interview.
All the judges, even mentor Louis, agreed that it had been a bad day at the office for Union J. But in doing so, their comments were much more inclined to motivate supporters. Tulisa was utterly unimpressed with what Louis had done for the boys, blaming him and not them. She sounded worried when she said, “If you get through this week.”
Gary and Nicole were also aghast by Louis’s choices whilst giving nods to the boys’ potential. “Guys, you are a good band,” Barlow explained, just in case viewers weren’t aware with all the negativity flying around. Louis took responsibility and said, “Let’s hope everyone votes for you and we’ll do better next time.” Dermot – once again Simon Cowell’s secret weapon – added to the chorus by pointing out, “They’ve got to get through this week first.”
The result? Union J in fourth with their best relative performance all series despite three subsequent sympathy bounces (one of which with the full-on pimping for ‘Love Story’ in week 5), whilst District 3 struggled in eighth.
The journey of District 3 illustrates well the power of harsh judges’ comments to motivate a fanbase. Week 2 saw their first appearance in the bottom two after another unhelpful production (the one with the tall grass and giant poppies backdrop). Sharp criticism came from Gary who was damning of their harmonies, but other judges disagreed with him on this point. So whilst Barlow’s disappointment had been firmly registered, it didn’t look like the boys were being ganged up on.
Whilst Nicole and Tulisa were generous on the whole, the former worried about their need to loosen up whilst the latter compared them unfavourably in terms of charisma and individual singers to Union J. Even Louis admitted that there needed to be more personality put into the performance. These were further morsels of doubt in a sea of lukewarm praise. The overall effect was not to offend the boyband’s fans. It was enough for them to drop into the danger zone.
Going with the grain of the sympathy bounce, District 3 were universally praised for their high-octane performance in week 3, easily their best in terms of putting on a show. Yet they managed a significantly higher phone vote result for the mismanaged production of ‘Dynamite’ in week 5, which the neutral judges all hated, perhaps too passionately if they were intended to be eliminated that week. Nicole summed up the general reaction by telling the band, “No, Baby, No!”
This kind of treatment only served to boost them into third place. To a lesser extent, the same thing had happened a week previously. Another unflattering production, this time with a Clockwork Orange theme, picked on by all the judges except their mentor saw District 3 barely tick down from their sympathy bounce showing and move up to fourth in the phone vote.
It was only when the praise returned in week 6 that their vote turned sharply downwards. Perhaps those that had previously phoned in to support the group were lulled into a false sense of security by the fact the performance brought tears to Nicole’s eyes, had Tulisa saying it was her favourite from them and Louis’s giveaway, “I know the public are going to vote for them.”
Interestingly, it was once again left to Gary to sound the biggest note of doubt by saying he felt Union J had the edge. As in week 2, Barlow’s concerns in a generally positive set of comments were enough to put District 3 in the singoff, from where they were sent home.
Moving onto other eliminations, it’s worth bearing in mind the following: in weeks 2-4 the act that just avoided the danger zone the week before dropped to the bottom of the public vote. Given the sympathy bounce for the singoff survivor, that’s exactly what you’d expect. In week 5, it was Kye who finished last, coming off a sympathy bounce. He lost a duel with Rylan, who had just avoided the danger zone the week before. Therefore, results among these struggling acts largely followed expectations according to the week-by-week statistics.
Nonetheless, for those acts that the show seemed to have no interest in keeping around, there was plenty of lukewarm praise. Melanie in week 2 faced a series of comments that were as boring as the performance itself, along the lines of “an absolutely brilliant job, the performance shows us that you can do everything”. The only thing of note spoken by the judges here was Tulisa’s use of the word “milf”, and her age was reiterated by mentor Gary who reminded viewers she was “the oldest contestant in the competition”.
Kye hit the bottom two in week 3 after sitting atop a funeral pyre and being compared to Chris Martin by Nicole and Tulisa. Clearly the audience reaction wasn’t, yes he is the next Chris Martin and I should vote for him as a result. It was more like, “really?!” The comments after his week 5 performance were also blandly welcoming in a way that failed to incentivise voters. Nicole looked highly sceptical of herself when saying he “did a good job”, and there were two Robbie Williams references. Again, viewers were unconvinced by the comparison.
MK1 are a more difficult case to decipher. They were given really positive treatment in week 1, suggesting that producers wanted to keep them around for a bit, but only managed tenth of 13 in the phone vote. A debate among the judges about how true to their urban roots they were being in weeks 2 and 3 was probably an attempt to motivate support but it wasn’t enough. Tenth and eleventh in those weeks, their niche just wasn’t one that appealed to X Factor voters.
Jade was never far off the danger zone either. Judges’ comments were critical for her week 4 elimination, although only harsh when Nicole described her performance as “frightening”. This remark seemed designed to make Jade feel as awkward as the production she had been given, just as had happened to Sophie Habibis at the same stage last year. It’s worth bearing in mind that the sharpness of this criticism didn’t seem to stir sympathetic support in either case. Perhaps boybands are better able to motivate a stung fanbase than female soloists in whom the show has invested little time.
The treatment and elimination of original Plan A Ella Henderson was the source of much comment in the Sofabet forum. Was she being deramped and if so, why? Her trajectory as shown in Andrew’s piece yesterday was pretty conventional: a good start followed by a slow decline. A slight uptick in week 6 coincided with Tulisa’s table-thumping admonition that “she’s not safe…if you believe in Ella, now’s the time to vote”. She urged action from girls and northerners too.
Tulisa was far less forthright in her plea for votes in week 7, when Ella was eliminated. Tomorrow, Andrew delves deeper into the machinations of that live show, in particular the boost it gave Rylan Clark based on his exchange with Gary. The banter took him beyond his second sympathy bounce performance in the phone vote.
The following week was a textbook case of demotivating judges’ comments for the Essex lad. Gary finally accepted Rylan’s success in the competition having done so much to stoke controversy around it in earlier weeks. Rylan’s neutral supporters Tulisa and Louis became rather more lukewarm, and the overriding message repeated after each performance was an incredulous, “It’s week 8 and you’re still here!” Even Nicole, rather than pitching for votes, simply thanked “all the Rylan lovers out there”. It was as valedictory as it gets and his vote turned sharply down as a result, leading to his elimination.
Overall then, this series provides another reminder that reading between the lines of the judges comments is an incredibly useful exercise for X Factor punters. What do you think of the points made above and were there any other examples during the 2012 series that you would add? Do let us know below.