Following last week’s events, the win market is now dominated by Sam Bailey (best-priced 5/6) and Nicholas McDonald (11/4). It’s 8/1 bar the pair, bringing in erstwhile favourite Tamera Foster and Rough Copy, then 28/1 Luke Friend and 50/1 Hannah Barrett.
Last Saturday morning, The Sun claimed that Sam had been polling on average more than a third of the votes, whilst her nearest rival Nick was currently polling less than half that in second. It was the biggest consistent lead in the show’s history, alleged the source. However, The Sun is the paper which once claimed Jedward had topped a public vote when the post-final revelation of the percentages showed they were barely avoiding the singoff.
The paper with form for accurate leaks – including correctly calling Christopher Maloney’s early vote-topping last year – is the Daily Star. The only voting leak they’ve run with this year is the claim that Nick won the Week 2 vote. And on Saturday evening, Nick shone from the pimp slot with his rendition of Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’. It put him back in the game.
While I take The Sun’s story with a pinch of salt, I can easily believe that Sam and Nick between them are hoovering up most of the votes, leaving very tight margins among the others towards the bottom of the vote. So, as we approach week 7, can any of the four apparent also-rans come with a late surge, or is this a two-horse race? Let’s start by looking at some historical precedents.
The Sun claims Sam Bailey is polling on average even more than Matt Cardle, the runaway leader at the halfway point in 2010. In week 5, Matt polled more than two-and-a-half times as much as an emerging second-placer Rebecca Ferguson (33.4% against 12.8%). His margin was much smaller in weeks 6 and 7 (when he polled 23.1% and 18.4%), but he pulled away again in week 8 as producers were unable to get either of their most favoured acts – One Direction and Cher Lloyd – anywhere close to him.
Other historical examples are more encouraging for this year’s market trailers. In 2008, it was only in week 8 that Alexandra Burke and JLS emerged from the polling shadow cast by Eoghan Quigg and Diana Vickers. In 2012, James Arthur hit the bottom two in week 7 and promptly bounced to the top in week 8, well above previous leaders Chris Maloney and Jahmene Douglas. In 2011 at the same stage, Little Mix passed early leader Janet Devlin for the first time.
The problem with the 2012 and 2011 examples is that the producers had been doing everything they could to take the wind out of the poll leaders’ sails. By this stage of the competition both Janet Devlin and Chris Maloney had already been tarnished by weeks of criticism and unhelpful treatment.
In weeks 2 (Louis’s “Screwbo” comment) and 3 (the cruiseship VT), it looked like producers were taking the first steps down a similar road with Sam Bailey. But since week 4, she has received nothing but ringing endorsement. She got the tickertape “winner’s staging” from the week 4 pimp slot, and raving from the judges in week 5 for a rendition of ‘New York New York’ which they could conceivably have claimed was mum karaoke had they been disposed to be unhelpful.
It was as if producers had taken a look at the numbers after week 3 and reconciled themselves to the narrative of an Overs victory. As has been discussed in the Sofabet comments section, there is a compelling case for this being a good thing for the show: a feelgood victory for the tenth anniversary, and the first for a female over, re-establishing the point of the category. And if Sam doesn’t shift many records? No matter: we presume Simon Cowell will be riding back into town next year, suggesting that his return will get the show back to unearthing global talent.
The only point of concern for Sam’s fans last week was that Sun leak, and whether it could create complacency – indeed, whether it was intended to create complacency. Sofabet commenter Roxie wondered if the “over hype is going to be damning”.
But if producers are intending for Sam to have peaked too soon, I would have expected to detect some evidence of a deramp on last Saturday’s show, and I didn’t. Nicole’s negative note was on a positive subject – what songs should and should not go on Sam’s album. As for her VT, I was most amused by Heisenberg’s comment that “you know you’re the chosen one … When a cameraman climbs into your oven“.
Nick had a low-key couple of performances leading up to last weekend’s pimp slot standout, though staging and judges comments continued to be helpful. It’s worth remembering that this is the stage of the competition when you want to be gathering steam – James Arthur and Leon Jackson also had their first pimp slots in week 6, while Little Mix, Joe McElderry and Alexandra Burke had their first in week 5.
Given the regional and demographic advantages he also enjoys, producers must have known that giving him such a boost in week 6 (whilst doing the opposite for Luke and Sam C) is going to make it very hard to oust him from the final, which would require him being out of the top three in week 8 or 9.
Sam and Nick are both crowd-pleasing acts, and stronger than their nearest-equivalents from last year, Chris Maloney and Jahmene Douglas. Nonetheless, the extent of James Arthur’s surge in the closing three weeks of the competition – from 13.7% of the vote in week 7 to over 40% in weeks 8 and 9 and 50% in the final – suggests there may be some kind of a demographic gap among young adults who start voting only towards the end of the show and who may not be impressed by the rather old-fashioned appeal of the two market leaders.
So if someone makes a late surge – following historical precedents set by the likes of James Arthur, Little Mix and Alexandra Burke, plus runners-up Rebecca Ferguson and JLS – who is it most likely to be?
The acts I mentioned in the last paragraph arguably had three things in common. Firstly, in terms of judges comments and other factors, they had been treated well by producers throughout. Their brands in the context of the show hadn’t been tarnished.
Secondly, they were unthreatening and undivisive (James Arthur has become really controversial only since his victory). And thirdly, none of them had hit the bottom two by this stage of the competition. In fact, week 7 is historically a pretty good time to have your first bottom two appearance if you haven’t yet set the phone lines on fire – James Arthur bounced to the win from his singoff save over Ella, and both JLS and Olly Murs bounced to second place after a week 7 singoff.
Which of this year’s current market trailers fit this template best? Whilst I, like many, have failed to be impressed by most of their performances, it’s Rough Copy.
They have been given nothing but good staging and praise so far, and are the only act beyond the two market leaders not to have been in a singoff. Producers have also done their best to distance them from an urban tag with a series of anodyne song choices and the backing of housewives’ favourite, mentor Gary Barlow.
They’ve been namechecked as possible finalists in week 5, whilst talk of their album came in week 6. The problem is that there hasn’t been a standout performance from them since week 1, and their harmonies have been especially weak. If producers have ambitions for Rough Copy to overcome either of Sam or Nick (let alone both of them), you sense that this would have to change. But it wouldn’t be surprising if, given that losing did JLS and One Direction no harm, producers saw it as job done getting them to the final weekend.
What of the others? Luke Friend’s promising “dark horse” narrative from week 4 came to a crashing end over the last two weeks. It started when he was damningly described as “a busker from Devon” by his own mentor in week 5, and he subsequently dropped into the danger zone after some distracting staging and a poor running slot in week 6.
While Luke is due a sympathy bounce this week, his treatment over the last two weeks suggests producers will have him in their crosshairs in week 8 when he’ll be due to come down from the bounce.
Like many commenters, I have been puzzled by what producers have been trying to achieve with Tamera in the live shows, and where they take her from here. There have been constant references, from judges houses onwards, to her inability to connect. The answer hasn’t proved to be impersonating Beyonce, nor singing old-fashioned songs, even with an urban twist. Last week’s reported switch from one bizarre song choice (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) to another (‘Diamonds Are Forever’) added to the impression that they are genuinely confused about what they should be doing with her.
Was last week’s lyrics flub – mirroring the narrative from her arena audition, which provoked some scepticism at the time – a desperate attempt to engender sympathy votes, or a genuine mistake? It’s hard to tell. Gary Barlow’s comment that she hasn’t stolen the show at any point up till now may have been intended to set up the narrative of it happening this coming week.
Tamera is probably more capable of a big moment than Rough Copy, although she’s tarnished as “controversial” and divisive in a way that the boyband aren’t. Producers should still be able to get her to the final if they’re willing to push for it hard enough, but getting her to win looks like a very tall order from here.
There has been some fascinating debate in the comments this week about whether Hannah could pull off an unlikely rise from the ashes. She’d been written off by many, including myself, before last weekend. The graveyard slot, VT and initial staging for ‘Satisfaction’ seemed to suggest the bus was coming, but she managed to turn it around with a strong second half that drew a positive response from the audience and judges.
When we did our pre-lives 1-12 prediction, we surmised that producers might find themselves turning to Hannah if they found Tamera too hard a sell. Unfortunately, having come across highly sympathetically in the audition, bootcamp and judges’ houses edits, Hannah hasn’t helped herself in the live shows by occasionally looking and sounding too fierce.
She repaired some of the damage with her upbeat performance last week. But as she goes into week 7 with two singoff appearances to Tamera’s one, it’s hard to see why producers would want to jump ship to her at this late stage of proceedings. I’m struggling to envisage why they would want to save Hannah in a singoff against Tamera or Rough Copy. And even if she manages to avoid the singoff this week, I fear she has become too divisive a figure to hold out any hopes of a late surge.
Richard Betsfactor and myself ended the most recent Friday podcast by increasingly seeing a two-horse race. The events of last weekend did nothing to change that opinion. There is still just about time for producers to start pulling the rug from under Sam or Nick, should they choose to do so, although if that’s their hope then I’m not sure why they would leave it so late. I’ll be looking for clues this weekend, and also to see which of Rough Copy or Tamera producers seem keenest to shepherd to the final weekend.
With three shows left before the final, do you see either Sam or Nick falling short? And who do you reckon will join them? Let us know what you think below.