X Factor returns for its twelfth series this Saturday – you can expect the usual coverage here on Sofabet. Falling ratings over recent years have created a sense that this is a show in decline. What’s more, its current contract with broadcaster ITV is due to expire in 2016; and said broadcaster has created a scheduling headache this autumn with its rights to the Rugby World Cup.
The show’s response is an eyebrow-raising one – only seven live shows, rather than the usual ten; if we assume the usual three acts from each of four categories, this implies we can expect three double eliminations on the way to a three-act final. Boot camp, including the six-chair challenges, is strung out over five weekends. The rugby semi-finals, on October 24-25, lead into judges’ houses, which will this year be screened live; and the rugby final, on October 31, leads into the first live show.
Perhaps because of these unusual circumstances, the pre-rehearsal PR stories have been more numerous than ever. More than their fair share have featured Rita Ora, new to the judging panel this year after a stint on The Voice for the BBC. She’s been ubiquitous in recent months, appearing in the charts, other artists’ music videos, Samsung ads and the occasional American TV mini-series.
Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw is also new to the judging panel, replacing veteran Louis Walsh. This appears to confirm an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic. Various other tweaks have also been announced, among them that viewers get to decide which judge mentors each category. Here are our thoughts in advance of the new series.
1. Look, new faces!
It’s not just Grimshaw and Ora who will provide fresh blood for the show. Hosting stalwart Dermot O’Leary has been replaced by former Xtra Factor duo Caroline Flack and Olly Murs. This again feels like an appeal to a younger demographic. However, we at Sofabet are gutted to be losing Dermot, whom we dubbed the “silent assassin” for following a script which highlighted an act’s weaknesses or strengths as required.
We could fill a book with our favourite “knifed by Dermot” moments. For just one representative example of how he deftly aided the producers’ narrative with his choice of words and post-performance questions, you could remind yourself of points 1 and 21 of our analysis of Jack Walton’s elimination last year. O’Leary was such a professional in subtly guiding viewers’ perceptions that most will surely never have thought of him as anything other than the impartial host. Will Flack and Murs prove to be as smooth, reliable and useful to the betting community in signposting producers’ intentions?
Exactly the same can be said about the exit of Louis Walsh, and his replacement by “Grimmy”. Louis’s longevity on the show was down to his apparent absence of ego and uncomplaining willingness to do producers’ bidding, which meant it was always worth paying particular attention to his comments. Again, to give just one example among hundreds, waiting for the Irishman to announce which version of the finalists’ winner’s singles “sounds like a number one hit record” was typically a reliable pre-emptive crowning of the winner about ten minutes before Dermot officially announced it.
Both will be sorely missed – as indeed will voiceover legend Peter DICKSON, who is also no longer with the show. Quite how the dynamics of the new line-up will work will only become clear as the series progresses.
2. Same old tricks?
Cory Spedding represented the UK at Junior Eurovision in 2004, coming second with ‘The Best is Yet To Come’. Eleven years later, her experience at the X Factor auditions belied that song title; Cory explained on social media how she felt she’d been set up for a fall.
According to her version of events (developed further in a blog post by Steve Brookstein which is also worth reading), much was made on the panel that she had been at school with Rita Ora. Spedding says she was confused by leading questions which suggested the pair had been close friends, before having her audition criticised, the implication being that she had tried to use her acquaintance with Ora to get ahead.
It will be interesting to see if the audition ends up being aired, with this backstory already online – is it wise for the show to draw the general public’s attention to the workings of the sausage factory? Stories like Cory’s leave an unpleasant taste: in contrast to the live shows, where the public vote at least gives the quarry a chance of escaping, in the audition stages producers are very much in control of the script.
At any rate, despite the promise of “more fun” in this year’s series, it seems that the occasional humiliation of a contestant is still going to be par for the course. We suspect the suggestion of “no more sob stories” – which we seem to get every year – should be taken with a similarly-sized pinch of salt.
3. Live judges’ houses
We are intrigued by this. At first glance it helpfully removes the need to pore over Digital Spy in search of rumours about who’s made the lives (although there will always be those claiming to already be in the know). We’ll still need spoilers about who makes judges’ houses, of course, but assuming the six-chair challenge at bootcamp is filmed in front of a live audience again, those spoilers tend to be fairly reliable.
We’re more surprised that producers are willing to make such a leap with a step in the audition process which so heavily relies on the edit to shape viewers’ perceptions going into the lives. Indeed, we have always wondered about how much post-production goes into the judges’ houses edits. A couple of times, it’s felt to us as if some voices have later been given a boost in the sound studio – Chloe Jasmine and Miss Dynamix spring to mind. There’s less leeway in a live audition, though it’s worth bearing in mind that varying quality of song production plays a part in the live shows, and can do here too.
We’d love to think that a live judges’ houses might overturn the best laid plans if, say, a producers’ favourite has an absolute nightmare live audition which makes it look ridiculous to put them through. Though thinking back to Katie Waissel and Gamu in 2010, that may just see the CONTROVERSY card being played for the headlines. It’s certainly an interesting development.
4. Second Direction?
News that X Factor’s best cash cow, One Direction, will be taking a “hiatus” from March leaves an obvious gap in the Syco portfolio for a boyband. Yet recent attempts to create the “next One Direction”, most notably Stereo Kicks last year, have failed miserably. Still, with Little Mix showing commercial endurance, we can probably expect another attempt to find Britain’s “next big group”. Whether that comes in the form of a boyband, an urban girlband along the lines of Miss Dynamix (without the pregnancy), or a mixed group remains to be seen.
We’ve now had two successes in a row for the traditionally-weak Overs category, and it will be interesting to see if the younger panel and presenting team see this category once again falling down the priority list. Meanwhile, after a few failed pimpings – in 2012 with Ella, and 2013 with Tamera – the girls’ category felt far more low-key last year, with producers uninterested in last-girl-standing Lauren Platt making the final after presumed alpha girl Lola Saunders had fluffed her opportunity.
It will be interesting to see if Ella’s chart hits will remind producers that the girls is the other category which has traditionally gone on to more significant post-show success.
5. Mentor mind games
In the past, we have speculated about which judges will be favoured by the category they are chosen to mentor – in the equivalent preview piece last year we pointed out that the Overs shouldn’t have been priced as high as 7.0 pre-rehearsals given their steerage under selfish Simon’s return. That continued the trend of the most-heralded new or returning judge taking the crown: Tulisa in 2011, Nicole in 2012, Sharon in 2013.
Rita seemed the most likely fit into this pattern in 2015. However, earlier this week it was announced that viewers would decide which judge mentored which category, throwing these theories out the window. To be fair, there’s no reason for producers not to mix things up like this now that they don’t have to ensure that the joke act is entrusted to the safe hands of Louis.
It also leaves open opportunities to engineer a personality clash or two. We predict that the opening audition shows will feature the occasional instance of a judge saying “I hope I don’t get your category” to an act, setting us up for the public to vote to make that happen. Last year’s auditionee Raign, rumoured to return this year, and her nemesis Cheryl, are an obvious uncomfortable pairing. Simon would also play the part of the reluctant mentor with aplomb.
The start of a new X Factor series is always an exciting time for the Sofabet community. What will producers be trying to achieve? Will they succeed? And how can we make some money on it? Welcome back, and let us know your thoughts on it all below.