In terms of the elimination, it was one of those damp squib Sundays we’d worried the flash vote might create. Having dodged two bullets, Miss Dynamix’s bottom place on Saturday meant the only drama left for Sunday’s show was who would be saved over them.
That honour surprisingly went to Hannah (well done for calling it JScouser). Her singoff appearance lends credence to the theory that staging involving fire can leave an act burned – and leaves her with an uphill journey to complete if she’s to re-establish herself as a serious contender for the win. For the third week running, the act to be saved got blue lighting and the act to be ditched was red-and-blacked.
All logic dictates that Abi must be in the crosshairs as the week 4 target, assuming the panel can manage to avoid provoking sympathy votes again by reducing the poor girl to tears (and assuming she doesn’t take eurovicious’s advice: “I want to give Abi a hug and tell her to quit, and I want to punch every member of the jury in the face with a barbed glove”).
Abandoning the flash vote is reportedly one of the possibilities being considered by producers as they panic about falling ratings. And without much to analyse ahead of the singoff, we’ve had plenty of time today to reflect on the reasons why viewing figures are down.
A couple of comments on last night’s show sum it up: as cfahrenbach puts it, “the general level of contenders seems even lower than last year”; meanwhile tpfkar “was underwhelmed. The decent acts got dragged down, the average ones got daft praise. Too much negativity all round.” Even the judges looked unimpressed (thanks, Heisenberg). As well they might be. Let’s face it. This series is pretty dull, isn’t it?
Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the ratings trend for the first live shows and the final over the course of the X Factor’s life so far. After a steady climb to a peak in 2010, the trend from 2011 is downwards.
We reckon the nub of the problem this year is that the series is not enough like 2010, and too much like 2011. So perhaps one way producers should be asking themselves what’s gone wrong rating-wise in 2013 is to ask: what was so good about 2010? Here are our five suggestions.
There’s no point denying it – Simon Cowell on the judging panel is a big attraction, as shown by the boost in BGT ratings when he returned. Gary Barlow is much less adept at working the crowd, and for all of Nicole’s many virtues in the role of head judge, she lacks Cowell’s gravitas.
2. 16 acts
Is it a concidence that the only season they’ve gone into their first public vote with 16 acts is the season with the highest ratings? We think not. There are two great things about having 16 acts. First, you can pepper the live shows with some surprise double eliminations to keep an element of suspense, and to deal with situations where there are two acts whose time is up – does anyone doubt they’d have enjoyed the chance to get rid of both Miss Dynamix and Abi this weekend?
Second, you can afford to make one or two mistakes in casting – presumably Storm Lee and Nicolo Festa were lined up to be “characters” of the series, before becoming surplus to requirements when the awesomeness of Wagner (initially ditched at judges’ houses before being reinstated in the twist) became apparent. Which brings us on to:
Jedward, Wagner and Rylan all made their respective series. The show needs someone to come out and do ridiculous, fun-filled, flamboyant productions with dodgy vocals before getting chopped off at the knees two or three weeks before the final.
4. Katie Waissel
We need a love-to-hate figure, too. Katie’s monstrous self-belief and multiple singoff saves make her the best villain the show has yet produced.
5. Strength in depth
Let’s not get carried away, here – producers in 2010 still did their damnedest to help their favoured acts, notably Cher and One Direction, as well as Katie and Wagner until week 8. But more acts got a fair-ish crack of the whip than has been the case since. They never really tried to nuke Matt Cardle. Rebecca Ferguson was basically given every chance throughout. Even poor old Tesco Mary had a respectable innings before being nobbled at the last.
Contrast 2011, when they ended up nuking every single act except Little Mix.
Sofabet commenter HenryVIII has been vocal this year about his belief that producers have been sacrificing ratings at the altar of making it easier for themselves to manouevre the winner they want. As he puts it, “they’ve just gone too far this year by packing the show with poor singers. Suicidal really.”
There does seem to be an awful lot of fodder. When we debated our 1-12 prediction, it seemed to us there were basically only two acts with significant enough natural strength that they would need heavy artillery to stop them making the final: Nicholas and Sam Bailey. Imagine the show had eleven equally crowd-pleasing acts: instead of debating how big a battering ram they’d need to get Tamera to the final, we’d have been wondering if they could flog her past halfway.
Not that we saw eleven acts that strong in the auditions. But based purely on what they chose to show us in those audition shows, how might they have boosted ratings? Here are five suggestions:
1. Putting Joseph Whelan through instead of Lorna Simpson
As we said at the time, Tamera’s and Hannah’s presence in the big-voiced black girl niche rendered Lorna redundant. And given that she wasn’t even shown till bootcamp, it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that she was put through only to give their favoured acts a bigger safety cushion in the early shows. Surely it would have been a better ratings decision to go with Joseph, an act with a fanbase and wide appeal to female demographics.
2. Running with Souli Roots as a proper novelty act
What, in the end, was the point of Shelley? We all assumed she’d be shoehorned into the novelty role: why did they play it straight in week 1? Perhaps because they were hoping to get Miss Dynamix into the sing-off and didn’t want to save an obvious novelty act over her if Shelley was there too? Week 2’s ‘Single Ladies’ was more fun but barely registered on the Wagner/Rylan-ometer.
Sorry, Shelley, but we’d have cast Souli Roots instead. She showed promise for the role: as Dug put it at the time, “she combines something of the madness of Wagner with the gracious self-awareness of Rylan Clark.”
3. A wildcard
We still can’t quite believe they didn’t do some kind of wildcard twist this year, given that – as noted above – having more than 12 acts gives them so much more flexibility. (We’re not alone. Sofabet’s biggest traffic spike this year has come after judges’ houses with Google searches like “X Factor 2013 wild card” and “Melanie McCabe wild card” leading people to our article speculating about a possible twist). It would also have added some spice in week 1.
4. Giving Luke and Sam Callahan better audition edits
Having introduced us to Luke’s unwashed hair in the first show, producers then ignored him. Sam fared even worse, montaged in both room and audition in the final week. Sam and Luke both have their merits. But based on audition screentime, surely more viewers would have been tuning in to see, say, Paul Akister and Alejandro Fernandez in the lives?
Of course, we understand that producers need to make us invest emotionally in acts who are destined to be jettisoned at bootcamp and judges’ houses. But think about it: if they have 3 acts per category in the lives, they just need to make us care about another two acts in each category, one for an agonising rejection at each of those stages. With four weeks of audition shows, that’s an average of five acts per week they have to cover in detail, in two hours of room and audition screentime.
It shouldn’t be hard. And from a purely ratings perspective, it is bizarre bordering on the perverse to put through two out of three boys who barely got any audition screentime.
5. Giving Melanie McCabe her chance instead of Abi Alton
Poor Melanie. Poor Abi. It’s hard to know which has been more hard done by. Melanie must have found it hard enough thinking she was one of four strong contenders who just missed out, but now we discover she was passed over for an act producers seem primarily interested in reducing to a quivering wreck.
With hindsight, Nicole’s “one-trick pony” comment about Abi suggests there was an agenda to dampen her even as judges’ houses was being filmed, let alone edited. Abi’s vocals were always going to be an acquired taste, so why include her if you’re not going to help her? Melanie would have created an interest for Ireland, and, although she was hardly packaged as the most sparkling of personalities, people would at least have been interested to see how she’d have fared having finally been given a chance.
Discussion of the girls category brings us on to the similarities with 2011, the series when the ratings rot set in.
At this stage of the series in 2011, we wrote a piece asking where the series had gone wrong, in response to a truly bizarre show in which they nuked their entire girls category – then, as this year, seen as by far the strongest going in. They called Janet Devlin and Sophie Habibis boring, and called Misha B a bully from the pimp slot.
Something oddly similar – though less extreme – happened this week. They called Abi boring, gave Hannah staging that sent her up in flames, and deflated Tamera’s pimp slot by calling her a soulless Beyonce impersonator.
Tamera’s treatment is especially puzzling: it was interesting to watch her price contract on Betfair until the judges started speaking, at which point it boomeranged back out again. Lolhart suggests the hope may be to create the impression the judges are being unduly harsh, or set up a story of redemption. We wondered if they might be setting her up for “you’ve found your soul, your identity” comments later on – but it’s odd timing, as these comments are unlikely to come in disco week.
Looking back to our 2011 piece after week 3, we wondered, apropos Janet (and little suspecting that this was the start of a six-week campaign of unpleasantness): “If you’re worried about falling ratings, what would possess you to plant the thought in viewers’ minds that the heavily-hyped golden girl of the series is too dull to be worth tuning in for?”
We’re similarly puzzled this year. If you’re trying to pull in viewers, why would you tell them that one of the acts they’ve chosen to watch is less interesting than making a cup of tea? Why would you tell them that your golden girl should be on Stars In Their Eyes? It’s a dangerous game. These thoughts, once planted in viewers’ minds, aren’t easily erased.
(Should we perhaps consider the possibility of judges going rogue? Gary’s already announced he’s leaving, so he has little left to lose. Sharon constantly gives the impression of being three sheets to the wind).
In 2011, we suggested emphasising Marcus Collins’s sunny personality as an antidote to the negativity. But this year’s problem isn’t negativity so much as mediocrity and dullness, and there just doesn’t seem to be much hidden strength in depth, in terms of talent or interest, among this year’s crop. When asking ourselves how producers could make the series more ratings-worthy, we’re reminded of the old joke with the punchline “I wouldn’t start from here”.
Do you agree that this year’s series has suffered from casting decisions that seemed to be based on maximising the chance of getting Tamera to the final, rather than on maximising ratings? Do you see any ways for producers to get ratings back up, or is 2013 already a lost cause? Do let us know below.