Sofabet’s review of 2013’s X Factor series is going to be shorter than our reviews of previous series – this is the first of a planned three articles, which we will publish over the course of this week.
We just don’t feel there’s that much to write about this time around. Usually the revelation of the voting statistics casts interesting new angles, but this time we reckon the theories floated in our pre-final journey pieces (Sam, Nick, Luke) stack up pretty well having seen the stats. And the things that had us scratching our heads before the statistics still have us scratching our heads, such as: when and why did they cool on Tamera? What on earth possessed them to pimp Nick so much in week 6? Were they subsequently hoping to dislodge the wee Scot before the final? Why the semi-final singoff?
With the help of some graphs, let’s try to reverse-engineer producers’ thought processes throughout the live shows.
It seems clear enough that giving the first three pimp slots to Rough Copy, Hannah and Tamera respectively indicates that producers were initially hoping that at least one of these acts would catch fire. None really did. Rough Copy did best from their chance at closing the show, polling third in week 1, and were given the penultimate slot in week 2 to try to continue the momentum. But they slipped back, and Hannah misfired from the pimp slot.
Tamera, though, did pretty well in week 2’s vote, so producers must have had high hopes when giving her week 3’s closing slot for ‘Listen’ (while also not helping her fellow girls, sending Hannah up in flames for ‘Skyfall’ and reducing Abi to tears after ‘Moon River’). But she bombed, doing significantly worse than her week 2 vote. As we surmised in our piece on Sam’s journey, we presume this was the point at which producers gave up on getting Tamera or one of the Croydon acts to win, and settled for pushing Sam instead.
We had had wondered if there might have been something of a split on the production team regarding Tamera, with perhaps some resistance to an edict from above that she was to be pushed. Certainly week 2’s vote figures suggest producers must have been hoping for a week 3 breakout performance, which makes it all the more plausible that Gary was singing from his own hymn sheet when dismissing her as a Beyonce impersonator. (One might almost doubt the power of the illuminati.)
Week 4 seemed to see a couple of new narrative lines being wheeled out – winner’s staging for Sam Bailey, and Sam Callahan reluctantly recast as the novelty act. Let’s look at what producers were seeing going into week 5:
Presumably producers felt the need to give Nick a pimp slot at some point, for plausible deniability against accusations that they didn’t want him to win; we reckon there must have been some debate ahead of week 5 about whether they could afford to do it then, given how sharply his trendline is pointing downward. In hindsight, his ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ might have given him much less of a pimp slot boost than ‘Someone Like You’ ended up doing a week later.
But you can understand why they felt the need to put Sam Callahan in the pimp slot instead. This was the week they set out to get Abi, and it would have been awkward to ditch her in a singoff against Sam given his new role as Gary’s punchbag. (This, of course, was another instance of Gary delivering an unexpected critique – or, rather, non-critique – after the pimp slot). With Sam’s trendline flatlining, it must have seemed that he could have been in danger had he been on any earlier.
Now here’s what the picture looked like going into week 6:
What they were up to in week 6 still puzzles us. There was the leak in the Sun that Sam was walking the vote every week (clearly an exaggeration at the very least), and Nick’s pimp slot pimping combined with nuking both the other two boys. It’s odd, and it gave producers this headache coming into week 7:
Week 7 is the only week out of weeks 6-9 that we feel we understand. Clearly they were hoping to get Nick back below Sam; give Tamera a second chance at a breakout week, which she fluffed; work with the grain of Luke’s bounce, and Hannah’s comedown; and guide Rough Copy into the bottom two, from where they could be saved.
But as for longer-term thinking at this point, who knows? We would guess that going into week 7 producers might still have been gameplanning scenarios in which they could get a final three of Sam, Tamera and Rough Copy. Such a scenario would have looked something like this: a breakout performance from Tamera in week 7, with Rough Copy getting the historically-significant week 7 singoff save bounce; Tamera saved over Luke in week 8; and Nick coming into range in week 9.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out like that. After Tamera had messed up, the picture going into week 8 was as follows:
Considering Rough Copy were due a bounce, Tamera would have needed lots of help to escape the bottom two, and didn’t get it – producers must have regarded it as impossible to keep her safe even if they’d wanted to. This was the week Nick was backed for elimination down from 16/1 midweek to 3/1 after Satuday’s show. So were producers hoping to get Nick into the singoff?
Based on the above graph, you would have to say it looks plausible. That gentle application of brakes that started in week 7 had brought Nick’s trendline pointing sharply down; they might well have thought it’d be possible (challenging, but possible) to pimp both Luke and Rough Copy above him. That’s certainly consistent with their treatment in the show.
However, it implies that they’d have intended to save Tamera over Nick had they got those two in the singoff. And that’s not consistent with the fact that they saved Luke over Tamera. If they were always going to lose Tamera, and held out no hope of getting Nick, why put such effort into pimping both Rough Copy and Luke, rather than choosing just one of them?
Going into the semi-final, here’s how it looked:
A lot closer than most of us would have guessed at the time. Which makes it all the more surprising that the story of Sam’s “diva demands” appeared in the Sun on the morning of the semi Saturday – at the time we assumed she was so far clear they could afford to plant such stories simply for the column inches, but as it turned out she was only 3% off the singoff in that semi vote.
The closeness also makes it all the more surprising that they held a singoff – with Rough Copy having barely beaten Luke in week 8 with the benefit of a bounce, it must have seemed inevitable that they would drift to the bottom in their comedown week. And if producers had been willing to lose Rough Copy, you would think they’d have desisted from dicking around with the format.
There’s a reason, after all, why they usually go to public vote only at this stage: to go into the final with tension about who has momentum. Even in season two of the US X Factor, where they experimented with announcing the order every week, they didn’t do so at the semi-final stage. So producers must have had some compelling reason to sacrifice this time-honoured part of the format.
As described by Rob at entertainmentodds, the line on whether there would or wouldn’t be a singoff kept changing throughout the week. There are two obvious ways to interpret this. One, proposed by Richard Betsfactor, is that they were simply keeping the singoff in reserve as a way to fill time on the Sunday show if a hoped-for special guest didn’t come through. But it’s a possibility every week that an intended Sunday guest might cry off at the last moment. Surely they must always have some kind of backup plan for filling screentime, that they could have wheeled out instead of a singoff?
The other explanation is that they kept changing their minds about what they wanted to achieve, or thought they could get away with, and ended up failing to execute any kind of plan cleanly.
Which leads us to the final headscratcher of the season – why did they save Luke over Rough Copy in that semi-final singoff, when all logic suggested it would be a more diverse, balanced and entertaining final with Gary still in the game? Four broad possibilities have been argued for in the comments, none of them entirely satisfactory to us:
- The singoff was merely for time-filling reasons, and they always intended to deadlock it. (But surely they could have thought of a better way to fill the airtime, given that having a singoff at this stage reduces dramatic uncertainty about who has the momentum going into the final);
- They were spooked by how close the semi-final result was, and felt that having Luke around would help split Nick’s vote in the final. (But they hardly made any attempt to help Luke on the final Saturday, and Sam’s margin over Nick actually increased once Luke was out);
- They felt Rough Copy were so far behind Luke in the vote, it would have been embarrassing to have saved them once the figures were revealed. (But embarrassment has never stopped them indulging in favouritism before, and it would have been easy enough for the judges to have spun a decision to save Rough Copy over Luke as “fair” given that it was Luke’s third singoff appearance and only Rough Copy’s second);
- Sharon was supposed to have saved Rough Copy, but went off script. (You can make a case that Sharon, Gary and even Louis – in the extent of his anger about Tamera – were occasionally dancing to the tune of a different drummer this year. But the working assumption that judges save who they’re supposed to save has served us so well in the past, we’re reluctant to abandon it now).
Do you have a clearer view on what producers were up to in weeks 6, 8 and 9, having seen the figures? Do let us know below.