The most shocking bottom two of the series – arguably, of any series – came in week 7 as Ella Henderson and James Arthur faced off. We speculated at the time about what producers might have been trying to achieve and what went wrong. With the stats to hand, we can revisit that.
Our thesis was essentially that there were three of the six acts they wanted to keep – James, Ella and Jahmene, having been namechecking them as their desired finalists since week 5. And there were three acts on the “disposable list” – Christopher, Rylan and Union J. All they had to achieve was to get one of the three from the disposable list into the singoff.
Now we have the voting percentages, we can see that one element of our speculation that week was awry – we had thought that the hilarious demon eyes treatment of Christopher indicated that he was their preferred target. But we can now see that producers must not have been holding out any hope of getting him into the singoff this early.
This graph shows the trendlines of the acts on the public vote going into week 7:
Looking at Christopher’s inexorably downward trend, they must have been sanguine about him coming back to the pack – but it would have been a big ask to get him below four of the others this week. At this point, we reckon producers were still hoping for a James-Jahmene-Ella final, with the cheesy Liverpudlian ditched in week 8 or 9.
That leaves two on the disposable list: Rylan and Union J. They’re all bunched together at the bottom of the graph there in week 6, so let’s zoom in:
Remember that Union J were due a second sympathy bounce after surviving the week 6 singoff, while Rylan was due to come down off his second sympathy bounce after surviving the week 5 singoff. And, looking at this, it becomes perfectly clear what they were hoping to achieve, doesn’t it? Bye bye Rylan.
Rylan was already underneath Jahmene, James and Ella in week 6, with the benefit of his sympathy bounce after week 5. Sympathy bounces, as we have often observed, tend to last only a week – especially a second bounce, as this was for Rylan, his first having followed his week 1 survival. Producers must have thought he was certain to tick downwards in week 7 compared to week 6.
Which meant all they had to do was hold two out of three of Jahmene, James and Ella steady. They could afford for one to drop below Rylan in the vote, but not two.
But then this happened:
Start watching at 5:15. Dermot reminds us that Rylan used to be in a Take That tribute band in Ibiza. They play the clip of him. Dermot throws to Gary with “I think he’s nicking some of your dance moves”. Gary says: “I want to know which band member you were.” Rylan shoots back: “I definitely weren’t you, I’m too skinny for that, G”. The audience erupts. It was one of the moments of the series.
In the Sofabet comments at the time, it was widely speculated that this repartee must have bagged Rylan some votes. And it was also hotly debated whether or not the line was scripted. Only those involved will know for sure, though we stand by our reaction at the time – we’ll eat our sofa if that wasn’t set up. Why choose to play the tape, if you weren’t confident of the punchline? Surely you wouldn’t take the risk of it falling flat if either Gary or Rylan were lost for words. It seems to us that producers, confident a Rylan bounce comedown would see his psychic’s prediction of a week 7 exit come true, had decided they could afford to take their last chance for some Gary-Rylan comedy gold.
However, there’s something else in that interview that might have bagged Rylan some votes, and that we’re willing to believe might not have been scripted. Now start watching at 4:28. Dermot softballs to Rylan “how was that for you tonight, mate?” Rylan grabs the mic and says:
“You know what, I’m going to lay it right on the line with you now Gary… I’ve never, ever claimed that I was the best singer in the competition. People in the pop industry that do exactly what I do on stage, mime. This is a live performance, Gary. I have to sing live, babe.” Gary suggests that Rylan should mime in future, to which Rylan laughingly responds “I’d love to”.
Why are we willing to think this might not have been scripted? Again, of course, we can’t know for sure – but take a look at the expression on Dermot’s face at 4:39. That suggests a man who has a producer yelling in his earpiece.
It’s not hard to believe that this exchange might have been as much of a vote-booster for the likeable Rylan as his weight dig at Gary – or, indeed, that it was the combination of quips that motivated his fans to the phones. The stats for that week show us that in a tight finish towards the bottom, Rylan finished third in the vote with 15.7%, Union J fourth with 14.7% and James fifth with 13.7%. We reckon Rylan might have been very roughly 10,000 votes above the bottom two.
Let’s update our graph with those week 7 results:
We can see that Rylan got as much of a boost compared to week 6 as did Union J – remarkably, since Union J were on a bounce and Rylan coming down from one. While the sharp downward ticks of James and Ella suggests that producers also misjudged their treatment, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it was Rylan’s banter that made the difference.
So what would have happened without that banter, if Rylan had drifted below James? We’d have had a bottom two of Ella and Rylan, with Rylan departing gracefully and Ella enjoying the bounce instead of James. We can debate whether it would have been enough to carry her to the win, as it did James – but with the weakness of Union J, and Christopher inexorably deflating, it would surely have been enough to get her safely to the final.
James would then have been in an interesting position – he’d have looked strong, but been only just surviving. Producers might have faced a struggle to lift him to the final ahead of Union J and Christopher Maloney, had they ditched the singoff – and if they’d managed it, it might have been by the skin of their teeth and resulted in James finishing third.
Or they might have decided to go for a week 8 singoff, expecting it to be James versus Union J – in which case, we’d likely have been headed for a James-Jahmene-Ella final, and with the later sympathy bounce James might have won it anyway.
The story appears to have a couple of morals. First, a singoff appearance around week 7 can be a viable strategy for bouncing an apparently-strong but actually-struggling act to the final. Whether this is what they were hoping to achieve by engineering an Ella-Rylan singoff we can’t know; it would have been a high-risk strategy, but it surely would have worked if they’d hadn’t let Rylan loose with the amusing post-performance interview. That’s moral two.
How do you read it with the benefit of hindsight? As ever, do let us know below.