It felt like a curious series of Britain’s Got Talent. In the first two semi-finals, producers seemed keen to dampen down discussion of the significance of the running order by putting the most-pimped acts in the early parts of the show – five of the six podium finishers were among the first five of nine acts to perform, most untypically for BGT. In the last three semis, normal service was resumed, as five of the six acts who performed either last or second last finished in the top three – and the final was, again, won from the pimp slot. But the Monday and Tuesday shows had minimised any traction the running order might gain as a talking point.
It’s interesting that producers evidently felt this was something they needed to be concerned about. People sometimes ask us whether we think the kind of analysis of shows that takes place among the Sofabet community meaningfully changes the environment in which the shows have to operate, and we’re usually inclined to believe that it remains a niche enough pursuit for producers not to have to worry much about. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the running order decisions on Monday and Tuesday indicated some sensitivity that the knowing cynicism characteristic of this parish might penetrate far enough into the mainstream audience to affect the franchise.
The reveal of the voting statistics added to the sense that this was an untypical year.
None of the semi-final winners scored more than about a third of the vote in their heat. This contrasts sharply to previous recent years, when at least one act has typically grabbed the public imagination enough to storm to a convincing semi win. Last year Collabro got 62% of the vote in their heat (and every single semi-final winner won with more than 40%). In 2013, Richard and Adam garnered 66% and Attraction 59%. In 2012, Jonathan and Charlotte got 75% and Ashley and Pudsey 50%. In 2011, Ronan Parke scored 61%.
This year, Jamie Raven’s 33% from the pimp slot was the handiest margin of victory – although it is fair to assume that Jules and Matisse would have beaten that handily with more help from the running order. They scored 29% in their semi having performed second of nine, only just edging out Old Men Grooving with 27% from the pimp slot. The margin between them in the final – Jules and Matisse (now in the pimp slot) scored 22%, Old Men Grooving (performing 9th of 12) got 10% – is an indication of just how much of an advantage performing late is in this show.
It’s always an interesting exercise to look at the semi-final votes and try to reverse-engineer what producers were thinking when they put together the running order for the final. Clearly, the late slot for Isaac Waddington (who only just scraped home in his semi ahead of Boyband and The Neales) was not because they wanted him to win, but because they knew he didn’t have a chance.
It seems clear with hindsight that when producers decided to put the two pre-show favourites – Côr Glanaethwy and Callum Scott – in the relatively early slots of 8th and 7th of 12 respectively, they will not have been expecting either to win from there. Even considering they performed only 5th of 9 in the first semi-final, Côr Glanaethwy’s 21% of the vote will surely have been seen as a disappointment. Producers will have seen Callum’s mere 25% after his pimp slot pimping in Friday’s semi as even less impressive.
While the margin was close in the final – Jules and Matisse beat Jamie Raven by only a couple of percentage points – it seems likely that producers will probably have expected the finishing order they got. If they’d wanted their first magician winner rather than their second dog, they would presumably not have given the dog the pimp slot.
Going into the week, most in the Sofabet comments assumed that Côr Glanaethwy were Plan A, having been featured in the historically-favoured first audition show and first semi-final. It’s possible that was the case, but that a disappointing vote in the semi-final led producers to decide it wasn’t worth the effort it would have taken to get them over the line.
As for Callum Scott – the other headline act from the first audition show, Simon’s golden buzzer and given every chance to make his mark with favourable treatment in the last semi-final – frankly, we could never understand producers’ apparent interest. He struck us as an inferior version of the kind of act they’d normally be trying to nobble on the X Factor in favour of someone more commercially viable.
How do you read producers’ intentions this year, with the benefit of hindsight informed by the statistics? Did they initially favour the choir but give up on them after the semi vote, or has Simon been hankering after another crack at making a movie starring a dog? Does the evident sensitivity about making things less obvious in the first couple of shows portend anything for this autumn’s X Factor? As ever, do let us know your views below.