Since the Jai McDowell fiasco, producers of Simon Cowell’s flagship UK shows are three-for-three. In the shape of Little Mix and James Arthur, the last two X Factors delivered the winners the show seemed clearly to want, at least in the latter stages. And while we had thought before the finals that last year’s BGT was all about launching Jonathan and Charlotte, with hindsight it’s clear that it was on Ashley and Pudsey that the finger of favour had alighted.
BGT is back on our screens tonight, and we can surely expect that producers will be keen to extend this winning run to four. But what kind of act might they want to win in 2013?
We can offer only wild speculation at this stage, of course, but that’s never stopped Sofabet before. And as we now have six seasons of form to go on, we thought it might be fun to see if we could get some clues by deliving into Wikipedia and seeing which kinds of act have proved most successful for the show in the past.
2007 winner Paul Potts, the operatic Carphone Warehouse salesman, has been a success by any standards – his first album went to number one in multiple countries, went double platinum in the UK, and sold a million in Germany. He doesn’t seem to have done anything Wikipedia-worthy since 2010, but as the article claims he was worth £5m in 2009, one suspects he might not be too distraught. His website says he’s working on an album, and a biopic starring James Corden is in the works.
Third-placed Connie Talbot, then aged six, is apparently big in the Far East – her debut album charted at 35 in the UK, but 1 in Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong, and she was touring in Asia last winter. The things you learn on Wikipedia.
2008 winner, teenage dancer George Sampson, went on to advertise for NatWest in a deal allegedly worth £1m – and it’s interesting to wonder what proportion of such deals might accrue to the show, in comparison to the proportion of record sale revenue? He released a single which got to number 30, then the article talks about dance DVDs, and West End and TV acting work.
Third and fifth place Andrew Johnson and Faryl Smith both got album deals and both reached number 4 in the UK charts.
2009 winners Diversity have one of those gushingly enthusiastic Wikipedia pages that reads like it was written by one of their mums – “On 11 November, Diversity conducted several hours of signing autographs and posing for photographs with thousands of fans”; “they brought out their own fitness DVD which was bought by millions” (how does one go in to add “”?). It says they filled the O2 in 2012, and there’s a list of TV and advertising work. It’s hard to get much of a feel for how lucrative they might have proved for the show.
Runner-up Susan Boyle is, of course, the show’s big success story to date – worth £22m as of last year, according to Wiki.
2010 winners Spelbound, who since seem to have undergone plenty of personnel changes, “have since performed at numerous venues and have been featured in advertisements”. The only other finalist to have made it to Wikipedia is impressionist Paul Burling, who got a one-off ITV show and has since been doing panto and voiceover work.
What has happened since poor old Jai McDowell beat Ronan Parke in 2011? Well, for a start, Scots have been conspicuous by their absence from the X Factor live finals. Jai himself released an album which reached 54 in the UK charts, and told the Daily Record (great choice of picture) that Simon Cowell is “anti-Scottish” and “I don’t like him any more”.
Ronan Parke didn’t fare much better, also being dropped after one album, which reached 22.
After these relatively fallow two years, it’s no surprise that the show reached for popera again in 2012 in the shape of Jonathan and Charlotte. They haven’t been propelled into the SuBosphere after finishing second, though a top-five album is respectable enough and they got their own ITV fly-on-the-wall documentary.
As for the winners, Cowell is apparently filming Pudsey: The Movie for Christmas release. Fourth-placed Loveable Rogues got a deal, too, touring with Olly Murs and with their first single out later this month.
Where does this leave us for guessing producers’ intentions for 2013? It seems a safe bet that Cowell won’t want to create competition for himself in the adorable dog department, and surely the “unpreposessing person has surprisingly good opera voice” trope needs a rest for at least another year.
After popera, it seems that the most commercially successful genre has probably been the child singers – Connie Talbot, Andrew Johnson and Faryl Smith all appear to have done okay, and it’s interesting to wonder if Ronan Parke might have fared a little better had he won, and had there not been the controversy alluded to on his Wikipedia page.
Of course, it’s not always the most commercially viable act who makes the best winner. It’s perfectly possible to launch a successful career as a gallant loser, and there is also the health of the franchise to consider – the Cowell brand will surely have been done no harm by Pudsey fronting campaigns against animal cruelty for PETA and Vets4Pets.
We’ve so far had four dance acts, if you count Pudsey, and two singers win. In the name of variety, is it time for a musician? Might they be tempted to launch a stand-up comedian? Or perhaps another singing winner is in order? For what it’s worth – which is probably not much – it’s been reported that Louis Walsh is angling to manage this year’s winner.
Might it be worth wondering about the extent to which a Justin Bieber-shaped hole may be opening up in the young teenage heartthrob market? Bieber was only 14 when he hit the big time, and a lot more innocent-seeming than today.
Singers of that age don’t have the alternative route of the X Factor in the UK, given the lower age limit of 16. That age limit reflects the longer and more gruelling nature of XF, which must also have implications for how the audition shows are approached. XF producers, casting for up to twelve further weeks of appearances (boot camp, judges’ houses and ten live shows), must be forced to make choices about individuals at a relatively early stage.
BGT producers, in contrast, are introducing acts who will be seen a maximum of twice more (live semi and final). They must presumably have more leeway to think initially in genres and make last-minute decisions about which individual acts to push.
In other words, it makes sense for X Factor producers to ensure they go into the live shows with 12 easily distinguishable acts appealing to different demographics (Union J and District 3 being the exception that proves the rule). But BGT producers can go into semi-finals week with several collections of interchangeable acts.
Even greater caution is therefore required from punters during BGT audition shows than their XF equivalents – a situation compounded by the relative lack of reliable leaks. In 2011, two days before the first live show, bookies’ lists featured prominently two girls – Taylor Fowlis and Arisxandra Libantino – who had each been reported in the press as having wowed at their auditions. In the end, neither even had their audition screened, so they were a bookies’ benefit. In the XF, at such a late stage of proceedings there is usually much less uncertainty about who has and hasn’t made it to the lives.
For these reasons, we won’t be doing reviews of each audition show – we’re planning to check in again at the live semis stage, if nothing remarkable happens before. In the meantime, do follow Dug’s audition episode reviews for The Voice, and feel free to use the comment thread below to let us know your thoughts on this season of BGT, and what you’re making of the auditions shows as they unfold. What kind of winner do you think they’ll be angling for? Do let us know.