During the last series we wrote an article about why we were finding 2013 boring, and why we thought 2010 was great. Producers evidently feel the same. The parallels between this year’s series and 2010’s are so far uncanny.
Simon is back, as is Brian Friedman. We have 16 acts, with wildcards, and presumably some potential for fun with last-minute double eliminations. We have a manufactured 8-piece boyband playing the role of One Direction. We have Chloe-Jasmine starring as Katie Waissel. Stevi Ritchie appears to be an inspired piece of casting as Wagner. We even have an eccentric Italian in the boys, albeit Andrea Faustini looks likely to last longer than Nicolo Festa. Blonde Electric fill Diva Fever’s shoes as the annoyingly chirpy double act.
But there are also some intriguing differences with 2010. Here are five things we’ll be looking out for at judges’ houses for clues as to how producers see this series panning out.
1. How are the 8-piece gelling?
All the evidence so far points to this season of X Factor effectively being a 16-week launching pad for the 8-piece boyband’s intended post-show career as the replacement One Direction. Just watch the hilariously heavy-handed use of audience and judge reaction shots in their bootcamp performance. It’s bordering on Kim Jong-Un levels of messianic fervour.
Producers have already done a more thorough job of introducing their “pieces of eight” than they’d done at the same stage with One Direction, when we’d seen Harry and Liam in auditions and seen Simon putting an avuncular arm around Zayn at bootcamp, but didn’t yet know much about Louis or Niall. All our eightpiece have now had some significant screentime at some point and are recognisable to viewers.
Producers also introduced free app voting, which you would think should benefit acts appealing to the younger demographic. They clearly want this boyband to work. The question is, will it?
2. Who’s lined up as the girl wildcard?
The girls category has already been subject to confusing spoilers this year, as it was wrongly reported from bootcamp that Kerrianne was swapped out for Chloe-Jasmine’s return, whereas it was Chloe O’Gorman who made way.
Usually by this point in proceedings the betting tells its own story, with bookmakers having pushed out the odds on acts rumoured not to have made it. But here we have Kerrianne, Lola, Lauren and Emily all trading in the 10/1 to 16/1 range, and at least one of them must miss out as it would be a major shock if Chloe-Jasmine isn’t in this for the long haul. There have even been longstanding rumours of Steph Nala making it, though this has looked less and less likely as her paucity of screentime has seen her drift to 40/1. Kudos to producers for keeping us guessing.
Arguably more interesting than who does make it is who misses out, given the reported format of this year’s wildcards: each judge chooses for the one to their right – so Simon chooses for Cheryl, Cheryl for Mel, and so on. Presumably producers wouldn’t have come up with this unless they intended to weave at least one or two of the choices into the series narrative. And having Simon be able to say “she’s your best girl, Cheryl, and I chose her for you” seems a likely contender for a recurring theme of judgely banter. We therefore wonder if the alpha girl might actually prove to be the wildcard, rather than one of the three who make it this weekend.
The likeliest contenders, about both of whom there have been conflicting rumours, seem to be Lola (given an alpha girl edit up to her bootcamp disappointment) and Lauren (about whom Simon has said nice things). They got contrasting judge reaction shots at bootcamp – rapt and smiling for Lauren, wincing for Lola. On the face of it, the edit pointing out Lola’s poor performance in this way isn’t a promising sign for her – but could it possibly be part of a narrative that sees her dramatically rejected only to be reinstated by Simon?
If this is the plan, we want the full Melanie Amaro treatment, please. Let’s have Cowell driving to South Shields, donning a disguise, entering Lola’s fish shop and asking her to gut a gurnard. As she does so, tearfully reflecting on what might have been, he takes off the dark glasses and fake moustache and tells her she’s in the lives.
3. Who are looking like the other wildcards?
Spoilers in the other categories seem to be more settled – though, of course, they could still be wrong. The three chosen in the overs this weekend are rumoured to be Jay James, Ben and Fleur, whose deeply unpromising treatment continued at bootcamp: billed again as a “nightclub singer” while introduced sitting with legs spread and singing “all I wanna do is take your money”.
Louis then chooses Simon’s wildcard, and we will be sorely disappointed if it isn’t Stevi Ritchie, the former Pontins bluecoat who gives every indication of being well up for seven weeks of gloriously ridiculous Brian Friedman performances before being sent out first to sing ‘Creep’ with no backing dancers. Here again the wildcard format offers scope for long-running judge banter, of the “why did you lumber me with him, Louis?” / “People like him, Simon” variety.
In the boys, it’s Andrea, Paul and Jake who spoilers have in the final 12, and Jack Walton joining them as a wildcard chosen by Cheryl. It’s hard to believe producers will want Jack hanging around for too long, as the act closest to the 8-piece’s niche.
Spoilers have the 8-piece, Blonde Electric and Only The Young making it from Louis’s groups. It has been claimed that Overload, the boyband rejected at bootcamp, could possibly get the wildcard here, which would be odd – partly because previous wildcards have all come from judges’ houses rejects, but mostly because why would they want another boyband? True, FYD were included alongside One Direction and quickly nobbled in 2010 – but as District3 showed two years later, boybands can survive early nobbling attempts.
In our view it would make more sense for Mel to put the manufactured girlband through as Louis’s fourth act, to fulfil the pre-Little Mix traditional function of girlbands on the show: some tabloid titillation followed by, a la Belle Amie, being sent out to perform in coffins.
4. What’s the thinking with crowding Jay James’s niche?
The big difference so far with 2010 is that there are not one, not two but four or arguably five acts auditioning to play the role of Matt Cardle. Jay James has been shown most producer love so far, but the inclusion of Ben Haenow in his category presumably indicates that producers feel the need for a backup for Simon in case Jay James fails to fly with the voting public.
Then we have two mid-20s males in the boys, too – Paul and Jake – and we can arguably even throw in 20 year old Andrea as competing for the same demographic, given that he doesn’t look likely to be fishing too much in the teenbait pool of the 8-piece.
What gives? Possibly the plan is simply to give each of them a moment in the sun in the first half of the series, keeping it interesting and rotating the momentum to ensure nobody streaks clear in the votes as Cardle did, while the boyband has time to bed down.
5. What happens with the wildcards and the betting markets?
The revelation of the final 12 on Sunday night is usually the starting gun for those looking to lay and trade on various Betfair X Factor markets. But the picture may not be clear by then as presumably the wildcards won’t be revealed until the start of the first live show, as happened in 2010.
Bookmakers have a couple of options here: just to include all the judges’ houses acts, as Betfred do in their top in each category markets. But as we’ve been told, the wildcards may not be acts rejected at judges’ houses. In which case, bookmakers may be safer stipulating “wildcard” or “any other”. Either way, careful monitoring is required.
What are your thoughts on these issues, and what else should we be watching out for at judges’ houses? Let us know below.