Andrew and myself are now in the fifth year of our traditional first-to-last list before the live shows begin. It’s always fun to imagine one of the millions of scenarios that could come to pass. No doubt the crystal ball will start to crack with Saturday’s opener, as the journeys of various acts twist in different directions to those envisaged below.
A word on the wildcards, which are yet to be officially confirmed. All the signs suggest the acts we have included. Unless you have conflicting information, we suggest you assume the same when posting your own full prediction in the comments section, for the sake of consistency.
Here we go …
1. New Boy Band (current best odds 6.5)
One Direction are getting old – literally if not yet metaphorically, though that too is only a matter of time. And when the market demands fresh teenaged faces, Simon Cowell wants to be the one to supply and profit from them. Trusty old servant Louis may have been assigned the mentorship role – wisely, as Simon doing it would have looked too transparent, and Louis is the ultimate team player – but the footage of the judges putting the eight-piece together left little doubt that this is Cowell’s baby.
1D showed that finishing third is no bar to commercial success, but producers would surely rather send New Boy Band into the big wide world with a win if possible. And so far the impression we’ve been getting, right from the extended screentime given to Reece Bibby in the historically-significant first audition show, is that they’ve set themselves the challenge of rerunning 2010 and getting the result they want this time.
Clearly, getting viewers to remember and identify with eight members adds to the challenge – although already six of the eight (Reece, James, Jake, Charlie, Tom and Barclay) have had decent chunks of individual screentime, with only Casey and Chris remaining relatively ill-defined. Arguably an even bigger worry is how One Direction went backwards during the lives: compare their judges’ houses version of ‘Torn’ (very good) with their grand final rendition of ‘Torn’ (not very good). We’re trusting producers to have got to the bottom of whatever went wrong there, and to have had some clever ideas about how to create the all-important breakout moment that One Direction never quite managed.
At bootcamp we saw repeated cutaways to girls in the audience choosing their favourites. At judges’ houses we were introduced to each by name and heard about how they had bonded (a reminder of how Louis kept banging on about how 1D had “gelled as friends”). It all points to them being Plan A this year, and we look forward to seeing what manner of heavy artillery producers wheel out in their support.
The obstacles to be overcome should not be underestimated, but this is a percentages game and 6.5 looks to us like reasonable odds against the plan coming off this time.
2. Lola Saunders (Wildcard Girls 11.0 with Skybet)
It seems a strange thing to say about someone who is not yet a definite for the live shows, but producers have invested more in Lola’s journey than any other act so far. Two audition pimp slots featured her humble job, emotional grandparents and problems with nerves. The bootcamp car-crash felt too bad to be true, and sure enough helped set up her agonising rejection at judges’ houses, followed by probable wildcard reprieve. There are elements here that took Chris Maloney to the final, and Melanie Amaro to victory in the US show.
Why should the show invest in Lola? She is the most commercially viable voice and overall package in the girls category. Her vocals have more power and relevance than Cheryl’s picks. They’re not perfect; but they remind us of Ella Henderson, who is fresh from selling over a million copies of debut single ‘Ghost’. As with Ella, we’ve been told to buy into Lola’s passion for music, as well as her supportive grandparents.
Ella was an initial plan A in 2012 before crashing out in sixth place. We’re thinking that Lola’s progress will show that lessons have been learnt from that failure. One problem for Ella was a funereal set of song arrangements. Secondly, despite the show thinking that Ella being “only 16” was an advantage it could harp on about, as is often the case it came with a lack of personality and backstory. Sixteen, more often than not, is just too young. 20-year-old Lola, with her fishmonger’s job, shouldn’t have the same problem.
Add to this strong regional support from the north-east, an otherwise weakish-looking category for alpha female judge Cheryl, and Lola has plenty going for her. The main concern has to be the nerves that have made every audition so far an edge-of-the-seat experience. There is a possibility that they could derail her progress; but overcoming them as part of her journey would see her go far, and that was why we were taking the 15.0 on offer for the win last weekend.
3. Andrea Faustini (3.0)
We’ve loved Andrea from the moment he announced in his room audition: “Yes, like pugs, definitely!” But our tastes can be a little niche, and we merely allotted Andrea a novelty role in the lives at this point. Simon seemed to do the same when summing him up as a “funny little thing”. Louis reinforced the sense that Andrea was no Plan A at the arena audition by commenting, “he’s the best boy we have” – about Paul Akister.
But with each round, it’s become ever clearer that audiences have taken to Andrea more than anyone else so far: his ability to elicit tears from the watching judges being the most obvious indication. He’s modest, funny, vulnerable, charming and huggable. Every time he powers out a song is a Subo-esque exercise in transformation and wonder.
How far does the show want to run with him? They could accept him as a feel-good victor even if he’s not the most commercially viable prospect. Andrea’s expressive, winning personality means even perceived weaknesses could be turned on their head. Take the fact he’s foreign. He’s already expressed a desire to become “perfect English”, so why not a VT of him learning to love drinking tea, eating fish and chips, all the while thanking the British people for supporting him. This kind of treatment could take him all the way to victory.
However, at almost a third of the price of any of his rivals, he’s no value to be our tip. His foreign status and diva-ish style of (over)performing could be used against him at a later stage of the competition, as the show pushes more commercially viable acts instead. Any end-of-journey VT (that is, suggesting that now Andrea has won the UK public’s acceptance, he has nothing left to achieve) would indicate producers are attempting to halt the juggernaut. They’ll have to be careful not to overdo criticising someone so loveable though. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to monitor.
4. Ben Haenow (6.5)
Ben has lots going for him. His voice is strong and distinctive, and with his looks and age he should appeal to a wide range of female demographics. He also comes across as likeable and – a quality not to be underestimated – humble: note his mid-song acknowledgement of the guitarist during bootcamp’s ‘Hotel California’, and his appreciative nod to the backing singers at judges’ houses on the lyric “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”.
How well Ben is allowed to do will largely depend on producers’ plans for his rival in the category, Jay James. Right up to judges’ houses the suspicion was that Ben was the beta over, included as backup only in case the initially more heavily pimped Jay failed to fly with the voting public. However, the extent of the battering meted out to Jay last Saturday makes you wonder if the passing of the alpha mantle might even have happened already.
Time will tell, but in any case we’re comfortable with backing Ben to strike more of a chord with the public. While Jay looks like the act central casting might send you – war hero, perfect teeth, wife with lingerie model looks – to us Ben comes across as more real and relatable, with his van-driving in Croydon and a long-term girlfriend who looks surprised when he casually mentions marriage on the arena audition stage.
No doubt Simon will want a horse in the final on his return, and with 16 acts there’s no reason why – as in 2010 – we can’t have a four-act final, all the better if all four mentors are represented. We’re slating Ben for fourth in our imagined final as we suspect the boyband and Lola might be seen as more commercially attractive and thus get more of a closing push.
5. Paul Akister (8.5)
Paul rounds out our trio of capable male vocalists who are also easy guys to root for. His story of rejection, by Louis and an ex-girlfriend, will have won him an early place in viewers’ affections. And his emotional, disbelieving reaction to getting through – unsure whether to go in for the hug with Mel, he instead awkwardly cuddles a cushion – will also have warmed some cockles.
At the arenas, producers gave him ‘Let’s Get It On’, the song which propelled James Arthur’s post-singoff surge to invincibility, and had Mel and Cheryl perform a lapdance. It all smacked of alpha boy treatment, at that stage. Unfortunately for Paul’s prospects, Andrea since appears to have won promotion from the novelty beta role for which he seemed destined at the room auditions.
Paul still seems in line for a good run – with his battle to keep his weight under control, his proudly supportive welder dad and carer mum, and power-packed vocals, he’s got plenty to endear him to ITV-watching Middle England. But with his post-show commercial viability looking limited, we reckon he might prove to be this year’s Tesco Mary, falling just short of a four-act final.
6. Stevi Ritchie (Wildcard Overs 101 with Skybet)
“Seriously?” you may be saying to yourself. We speculatively have probable overs wildcard Stevi reaching the novelty heights of Wagner’s sixth and falling just short of Rylan’s fifth place, not least because so far he seems to be combining the best features of each – Wagner’s flamboyance with Rylan’s likeability. There’s plenty of competition in the novelty/villain category this year, but Stevi is the one who promises to bring the most unashamed fun, which means we have him topping this particular cast.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this kind of character in the competition: once they exit, the show loses lots of its magic. It happened in 2012 when Rylan left in the quarter-final. Wagner himself was brought in as a wildcard in 2010 before heading up some of the most memorable routines in X Factor history. We’re banking on returning choreographer Brian Friedman doing the same for Stevi.
Producers will be doing their best to help him avoid the bottom two in early weeks, which means getting plenty of early mileage from the storyline of Simon being lumbered as his mentor. And as a former Pontins Bluecoat, Stevi is not quite the novice entertainer that is portrayed.
7. Chloe-Jasmine (41.0)
You can tell when producers are more than usually nervous about how an act will be received by the viewing public, as they ramp up the use of audience cutaways. Chloe-Jasmine had four in her room audition alone: we cut to an orange-clad couple commenting on her poshness as soon as she starts to talk; we’re shown a thoughtful-looking man and happily-smiling woman nodding away to themselves when she starts to sing; after her four yeses, we see the audience applauding enthusiastically; and then it’s back to the orange couple talking about her poshness again.
Producers were at it again during judges’ houses, with a cutaway to the other girls nervously commenting on how good her vocals are. They might more accurately have been saying “she’s so much like Katie Waissel, isn’t she? She’ll be lined up for the villain role, then. Sigh. Only two places left for the rest of us”.
When doing this prediction ahead of the 2011 live shows we allotted Kitty Brucknell the “Katie Waissel Memorial Position” of 7th, and lo! It came to pass. We see no reason to depart from Sofabet tradition with Chloe-Jasmine, who so far seems to rival Katie in the monstrously fame-hungry department and to be a more malleable personality than the delightfully batty but brittle Brucknell.
We could debate how much of Chloe-Jasmine’s posh girl schtick is put on with the encouragement of producers, but why bother? Let’s just enjoy the ride, which we’re assuming will involve an early singoff (it happened to Katie, and almost to Kitty despite the pimp slot, in the very first vote), a controversial sing-off save or four, and plentiful tears about what she has to do to connect with the voting public.
8. Jay James (10.0)
This is a lowly position for the act who looked like a plausible Plan A until last weekend. We’re not just basing it on the judges’ houses car-crash, though we’re still amazed the show went as far as it did in bringing him down last Saturday. We’ve already mentioned that on the surface, Jay has every advantage with his military background, perfect teeth, pretty wife and baby. As a result, conveying a sense of vulnerability was potentially problematic. Perhaps that was the grand plan behind his disastrous rendition of ‘Everybody Hurts’ last weekend.
However, the criticism touched on another problem we have with JJ: his nasally way of singing. From his first audition onwards, there was a certain disconnect between the vocals showcased and the hyperbolic judges’ comments that followed. What’s more, each performance felt very similar: Jay keeping his eyes closed and clawing his face as his voice overemotes.
We don’t discount an experienced performer like Jay, who has supported Rebecca Ferguson on tour, bringing it back for the lives. Mentor Simon Cowell may have just decided to mix it up a little and play a few mind games in bringing him down last weekend. A bromance with Stevi is in the works too. But even bearing all this in mind, we still prefer Ben as a vocalist and a character in the overs category.
9. Lauren Platt (10.0)
With Lola’s presumed wildcard setting her up for alpha girl status and Chloe-Jasmine requiring longevity as a series talking point, that doesn’t leave much oxygen for Lauren. Her treatment has been kind throughout, without ever suggesting that the show has especially big plans for her – other than her being 16 (now 17) and her X Factor experience having reunited her estranged parents (aah), the show hasn’t told us that much about her, or invited us to emotionally invest.
She’s a solid vocalist, but on current evidence at least, she comes across as a bit vanilla. Consequently we’re currently seeing Lauren in the mould of a Sophie Habibis or a Jade Ellis – included as a reliable backup in case the alpha girl implodes, and otherwise to be quietly disposed of mid-series.
10. Jake Quickenden (29.0)
“He’s not the best vocalist but…” has been the most frequently heard comment about Jake so far. It’s fair enough – there’s a certain key that Jake stays in for every song, and weekly live performances seem likely to expose his vocal limitations, much as they did for Sam Callahan last year.
However, it’s worth pointing out his many endearing qualities. No one minds Jake’s penchant for waterworks because they are utterly genuine, and even he has started to make a joke of it. He’s already building a bromance with Andrea, whom he has twice referred to as “my Italian bear”. All this, his Geordie Shore good looks and smiley demeanour may help him through a good few weeks.
11. Only The Young (34.0)
“We’ve given up school, college, university”, says one of Only The Young at judges’ houses, as we see photographic evidence of their 12-year friendship. We’d learned in the rooms that they live together with one of their mums, and when asked if there were any relationships they replied with a “eurgh”. There’s a children’s-TV-presenter cheery asexuality about them, somewhat reminiscent of Same Difference without them being actual siblings. It’s all a bit… odd.
The wholesome, toothsome foursome have built up an existing fanbase and were given a promising introduction in the second room audition show, but Simon’s parting comment that “I actually would like to find another Steps” sounded alarm bells about possible cheesification. They haven’t been afforded much momentum since: unsighted in the arena auditions, they featured only briefly at bootcamp before being overshadowed by the chaos that ensued when Louis initially gave them Overload’s seat before staging a singoff. At judges’ houses, Louis could come up with only “consistently good” and “reliable” when defending them from Tulisa’s comments about their lack of edge. He then repeated the “no edge” line before putting them through.
It’s not exactly the most promising of slingshots into the live shows. Producers are likely to give them a couple of weeks to see if they capture the public’s attention, but their fanbase will carry them only so far and we’re currently struggling to see where broader votes are coming from.
12. Overload (Wildcard Groups 19.0 with Skybet)
This is a puzzle. With all signs pointing to the eight-piece boyband as this year’s great white hope, it would seem strange for producers to reinstate a rival boyband – especially one rejected twice at bootcamp, following an arena audition that was turned into a joke about Simon needing a pee.
Producers do have some form in the puzzling inclusions of rival boybands. We still haven’t got to the bottom of the 2012 decision to include District 3 when all signs pointed, correctly as it turned out, towards Union J being the favoured group: producers tried to kill off District 3 early, failed, half-heartedly ran with a “battle of the boybands” narrative for a while, and then finally succeeded in killing off District 3 only after Union J had been tainted by a singoff appearance. As with District 3, Overload’s existing fan base may be enough to preclude the kind of immediate kill that was performed on the manufactured Nu Vibe in 2011 and for FYD in One Direction’s year, especially with this year’s free app voting.
The most worrying explanation for Overload’s reinstatement is that something has gone awry backstage with the eight-piece. Or perhaps they’re thinking of picking off a bit of Overload to frankenband the eight-piece, a la The Risk? Let’s hope not. On balance we’re running with the theory that Overload are supposed to be some kind of foil for the eight-piece’s journey, perhaps initially praised, but ultimately eclipsed. The District 3 scenario remains, however, a concern.
13. Jack Walton (Wildcard Boys 21.0 with Skybet)
We thought Jack showed some promise in his short room audition, but worried about where he stood in the show’s plans as a 17-year-old fishing in the same pool as the mooted boyband. Sure enough, his profile has remained low up to and including judges’ houses, when Mel stopped him mid-song to offer advice for a non-existent problem, only for Jack to continue singing much as he had done before.
Beyond being a Castleford boy, there’s very little we’ve learnt about Jack. With not one but two boybands in probable competition, he really has an uphill struggle to emulate another young WGWG, Luke Friend, in going from outsider-to-contender. Jack’s wildcard reprieve may help him through the first week, but if he doesn’t gain any further traction, he may not stick around much longer.
14. Fleur East (34.0)
Until last weekend, producers seemed to be setting up Fleur East as week 1 elimination fodder. We didn’t see her at all until a brief, urban performance at the arena, when we were reminded that she has tried the lives and failed before – as part of Addictiv Ladies in 2005. This was followed by a similar, sunglasses-clad routine at bootcamp. As a confident, post-teen, black, female Londoner, Fleur fits the demographic that struggles most in this competition – just ask Lorna Simpson.
So, as surprising as Simon turning on JJ last Saturday was the pimping of Fleur, who gave her most convincing performance yet singing current American Number 1, ‘Bang Bang’. Was this a reordering of the overs or just Simon playing games? Whichever it is (and the latter wouldn’t surprise us at all), Fleur is still going to struggle for the reasons given above.
15. Steph Nala (34.0)
So far Steph’s trajectory has been a cautionary tale in reading too much into reports from those who attended the filming of the arena audtions and bootcamp. By all accounts Steph was well received in both venues, but what matters is what producers choose to show the television audience, and in Steph’s case that has been virtually nothing – brief clips from both venues, after no sighting of her at all in the rooms. In judges’ houses, her chief role was to be not-Lola in a show-closing decision edit intended to catch the audience by surprise. She’s undoubtedly had the most gamma edit of all the acts – indeed, Lola’s presumed return may relegate her from gamma girl to delta.
It’s always possible that Steph will still be given a chance to fly – wildcard girl Treyc, after all, was somewhat surprisingly given the first show pimp slot in 2010. But if producers continue their lack of interest from the auditions into the lives, as they did in 2010 with John Adeleye, Steph’s trajectory may be a short one.
16. Blonde Electra (126.0)
We’ve placed Blonde Electra last with a heavy heart. As teens in the 90s, we remember girl duo Shampoo, and think there’s a place in the music world for a pair of manic female popstars. Unfortunately, the show hasn’t handled Jazzy and Ruby very well up to now, constantly tagging them as “annoying” and failing to focus on what they have to offer, not least an amazing backstory involving fundamentalist parents. After a promising rooms round, getting the first slot in the first audition show, they’ve been disappointingly undersold in the edits of subsequent stages.
Their American-accented, in-your-face antics are just the kind of thing that struggles for votes with an ITV Saturday night audience. We have to assume a double elimination for the first live show based on programme length and precedent in a 16-act field. That usually means bottom of the phone vote automatically leaves. Unless producers do a much better job of selling Blonde Electra, they sadly look the most likely candidates right now given that scenario.
Now it’s your turn. We look forward to comparing your various 1-16 lists below. Whether you’re a regular commenter or a lurker who fancies gaining some bragging rights, feel free to give it a go.