Going into the six-chair challenges, Louisa Johnson is hot favourite at 11/4. Is that a reasonable reflection of the Irons fan’s chances of hammering her X Factor rivals? Or will there be a surprise giant killing at Wembley (studios) this season?
Louisa Johnson photo courtesy of Dave Smith
Some context here. For three of the last four years, consensus in the Sofabet community was that the show’s producers seem initially to have hoped to engineer a young teenage female soloist as their winner. For vaying reasons, it didn’t work out with Janet Devlin (2011), Ella Henderson (2012) or Tamera Foster (2013).
Last year they eased off the girls in a failed attempt to position Stereo Kicks, in anticipation of One Direction’s hiatus. But this year we seem to be back to having a young teenage female soloist as Plan A. What can X Factor history, and Louisa’s portrayal so far, tell us about producers’ – and Louisa’s – chances of justifying her position at the top of the market?
Let’s start by briefly running through why punters have made Louisa favourite. Producers introduced her in the first audition show, which traditionally they pack with acts they expect to have a good run into the lives. She got the coveted pimp slot in that show – last to perform, lingering longest in the memory. She also got the first bootcamp episode pimp slot, along with 4th Power, and was in the last segment of the second bootcamp episode.
The girls category seems to be where it’s at this year: there is strength in depth, it’s the category the judges were most shown as wanting to mentor, and they’re going to Los Angeles for judges’ houses while the others stay in Europe (in the boys’ case, Manchester). But the five girls rumoured to make it to judges’ houses with Louisa have all either had less screentime or had some doubt expressed about them already: her closest category rival in the betting, Kiera, drifted sharply after Cowell remarked “I don’t like her voice” in the second bootcamp episode. Louisa has had plenty of screentime, and nothing but positivity.
Furthermore, as has been discussed recently in the Sofabet comments, none of her leading rivals in other categories fit the typical profile of a winner. The shortest-odds boy is a drag queen; the shortest-odds group are foreigners; the shortest-odds over is a mature black gospel singer. The act who most closely fits the typical profile of a winner, Simon Lynch, producers poured cold water on through the bootcamp edits.
That’s enough to explain Louisa’s position as betting favourite. But there are other intriguing hints of big plans ahead. Louisa’s Twitter handle is the impressively memorable @louisa. Did she just happen to be the first Louisa to sign up to Twitter, or has that handle been recently acquired? A little Twitter digging reveals that her boyfriend, @ellisstevens7, was tweeting her at the now-defunct @louisajohnson0 until a few months ago; she also appears to have used @louisavocal.
A quick Google suggests it would be impossible to find out exactly how Louisa acquired @louisa, but there is apparently an informal market for memorable handles, with five-figure sums being bandied about for the most coveted. Louisa is also @louisa on Instagram. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that somebody has been taking pains to streamline her social media presence in anticipation of a high-profile post-show career trajectory.
So what might Louisa – and producers – learn from the last three failures to get a young teen female soloist over the winning line?
There’s arguably least to learn from 2011’s Janet Devlin, who appears to have been a straightforward casting error on the show’s part: somewhere around three weeks into the live shows, producers evidently decided their erstwhile favourite was more difficult to work with than they’d anticipated and trained their guns on her, switching their support instead to 80/1 outsiders Little Mix and pimping them to a famous victory.
That said, Janet’s demise does contain one cautionary note for Louisa: if a career is what you want from the X Factor experience, you’d be well-advised to do whatever producers suggest. All the evidence so far indicates that they’ll be trying to help you. Lesson one for doing well in X Factor? Play ball.
Lesson two involves dealing with nerves. Nerves ended up being the final downfall for Tamera Foster in 2012 and last year’s alpha girl Lola Saunders. For both it was a problem that first manifested itself at the pre-lives stage. Tamera forgot her lines at her arena audition, and went on to do the same in weeks 6 and 7; Lola went to pieces in week 3. Louisa will have to continue giving secure and confident performances beyond her tender years, as she has up to this point.
Tamera had some PR issues too, among them newspaper stories alleging shoplifting. Assuming there are no such hurdles for Louisa, then 2012’s Ella Henderson represents her closest analogy. Like Louisa, Ella was introduced in the opening audition show pimp slot. Despite being consistently pimped, she never set the public vote alight, bobbing around between 3rd and 6th before being eliminated in a surprise singoff with James Arthur in week 7. As with Tamera, here was a Plan A who never got close to the top two in the phone vote.
Looking back at her performances, nerves played a role in Ella’s failure too. Like Tamera, they caused a lack of consistency. Check out the bum notes in the final 30 seconds of her week 1 effort from the pimp slot, and her rendition of ‘Firework’ in week 5. In both cases, the judges’ gushing praise didn’t ring true.
Ella’s other main problem was one that’s common to most 16-17 year olds – they just don’t have enough life experience yet to have developed relatable, well-rounded personalities. The voting public can more easily latch on to the likes of nice-guy van driver Ben Haenow, jam tart-baking prison warden Sam Bailey or bedsit-dwelling tortured soul James Arthur. It’s simply a fact of life that most 16-17 year olds haven’t yet accumulated a great deal more to talk about than living with their folks, going to school and doing teenagery stuff.
That’s not such a problem for boys, who have a more natural appeal to the show’s mainly-female voting demographic – it’s no coincidence that seven of the eleven winners have been male soloists. But the show’s attempts to add definition to their younger female contestants have sometimes appeared a little bit desperate: Ella’s inspirational grandfather, Amelia Lily’s “supportive dad”, Lauren Platt’s dancing brother.
Based on Louisa’s portrayal so far, this might also be a problem for her. She comes across as perfectly nice, it’s just that she’s been a little less individually defined so far than, say, Labour club barmaid Kiera, once-rejected youth worker Monica, market trader Chloe, and so on. Pretty much all we’ve learned about her as a person is that she loves her mum and didn’t enjoy school.
Without knowing more about Louisa’s life, it’s hard to know how much scope producers will have to make her live show VTs memorable. Given that she’s a West Ham fan, maybe the show can persuade Karren Brady to invite her to a midweek kick-off at Upton Park to lead the crowd in a rendition of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’?
Otherwise, we’re relying on her vocal ability and how she comes across during the process. Here, X Factor history does suggest some further counsel for Louisa. The most successful girls have tended to come across as either endearingly ditsy (Alexandra Burke, Stacey Solomon) or demure (Leona Lewis, Rebecca Ferguson) – and Louisa doesn’t seem particularly ditsy, so it’ll have to be demure. In particular, she needs to remember what Tulisa famously said about Little Mix: “they won’t steal your boyfriend”. She needs to stay humble, show us she’s grateful to be there and enjoying the experience, and avoid any hint of entitlement.
Will it be enough? Possibly. The truncated schedule – seven live shows, not ten – should help producers to sustain momentum. Ultimately, her chances of success may come down to how willing producers are to go nuclear on her rivals – something they did for Little Mix in 2011, whereas in the last couple of years they’ve seemed more willing to acquiesce in a feelgood winner who probably wasn’t their first choice. Ella is the most recent act to prove that you don’t have to win to have hits. But with the franchise starting to creak, it’s arguably becoming more urgent for them to have another commercially successful winner.
In conclusion, we reckon it’s pretty clear that Louisa is Plan A at this stage – but there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip, given the recent record of previous acts who were Plan A at this stage. Her odds of 3.75 may shorten even further on Sunday night if, as expected, she does well in the six chair challenge. Are you a Louisa backer or layer at current prices? As ever, do let us know below.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA