X Factor 2012 Review Part 4: Rylan’s Week 7 banter with Gary

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.

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8 comments to X Factor 2012 Review Part 4: Rylan’s Week 7 banter with Gary

  • Howard

    What is apparent is that the Judges were not aware of the votes. Neither was Dermot. The publicity and the opinions placed Ella as the favourite and this was repeated again and again. So the public perception was of a one horse race! James was a different case holding his own but not a clear front runner until after this sing off. The shock wasn’t James in the bottom it was Ella. Why because Ellas own work is being covered. Even her versions of covers are being covered. She is an original talent. A massive find and with huge potential. She had so much more to bring to the table as she has since proven. This X Factor has broken the mould and produced some fantastic talent. James No 1 single is proving enduring and not a rebound wonder! When the dust settles this series has produced and found genuine original talent and this has clashed with the Producers of entertainment! A better format would be to have the judges separate from the mentors. The problem here is the Producers neither the judges nor the contestants.

  • Curtis

    I definitely think with hindsight, that the decision the judge’s had to make between saving Ella and James turned out to be a case of the judge’s deciding who the winner was going to be, as I feel Ella would have gone the same way – perhaps even more dramatically – if she had been saved.

    I also believed at the time that an Ella-Rylan singoff was exactly what the producers wanted to achieve. However, they were careless. They believed that Rylan’s time was inescapably up – they were clearly wrong.

    One thing that’s sort of irrelevant to this article but I want to point out now is that whilst this has been a bad year for the show, there are two things which I think are helpful to the format. The first is that James Arthur’s song has been a chart success, even moreso than the winning song usually is. The other (slightly related to the article) is that finally an act who has entered the bottom 2 has won. For me that has been a bit of a demon hanging over the series up until now, much like the whole group thing until last year, because you generally knew that once an act had entered the bottom 2 they were out of the running. Not so anymore, and I think that that’s something that if they play on it, could keep a bit more interest in the show. We’ll see.

  • tpfkar

    This was the biggest example of the incompetent assassins of all, as in missing Rylan they were forced to put down Ella instead.

    I think it’s too easy to blame it all on the banter though. Why did they allow the stories about the psychic’s week 7 prediction to circulate? (This the week Rylan really needs your vote folks.) Why did they continue to give him a decent production? Why did they let him go 4th out of 6?

    I’m sure the banter helped, it was more memorable than anything he sang, but it wouldn’t have been enough by itself.

    Had James done better than he did in week 7, here’s how I think it would have played out:
    week 7 bottom 2 would be UJ vs. Ella – UJ gone.
    week 8 would have been Ella, Christopher, Jahmene, Rylan, James, with Rylan eliminated on majority.
    week 9 (semi) would have been close but I think James, Ella, Jahmene, Christopher. They might have added a sing-off to make sure.

    My guess for the final would then be James, Jahmene, Ella, so the same 1:2 as actually happened

    • I think Curtis is right, tpfkar – they must have thought Rylan was sinking regardless and so they could afford to take the chance to put on a show one last time. No point in hobbling your most entertaining act with a sober outfit, death slot, no production and “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo” unless you absolutely have to.

      I wonder how motivational the psychic thing was… maybe also some people might have thought “hmm, psychic says Rylan’s time is up, no point voting for him”?

      I guess they also thought James’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ would have done more for him, which would have allowed UJ to be the backup fall guys as you say.

  • Tim B

    It is worth pointing out that one of the reasons James’s winner’s single is doing so well is that it is also a charity song. Usually the charity single sells several hundred thousand copies, as does the winner’s single. Now that they have combined them it gives the winner’s single a bit of a boost.

  • EM

    That all only holds true if you accept the judges and Dermot always tell the complete truth and say what they mean rather than stick to a “script”.

  • lolhart

    The thing that confused me about Ella’s treatment in Week 7 was why TPTB didn’t do more to help her. Her song choice was dreadful and her VT and judges’ comments (though positive) didn’t really stand out. She had been in decline for weeks and they thought the best strategy was to try and bounce her into the final. They didn’t even need to nobble Rylan a la Wagner to get him in the bottom 2. Send him out with the usual fun performance minus the banter and I’m sure he would have landed there.

    I think Tim B makes a very good point about James’ winner’s single. There’s a reason they went for a charity single after the lukewarm response to Little Mix’s effort. The show itself has bigger problems and I feel that unless James maintains his success (which I personally doubt) people are not going to suddenly tune in again en masse. I do agree with Curtis that losing the stigma of being bottom 2 would be a good thing. The winner of X-Factor Australia this year was in the bottom 2 three times, including the first week.

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