“This competition is ridiculous”, said Cheryl at the start of Sunday’s episode. Yes, Cheryl. Yes, it is, as today’s name changes across her category reiterated. At long last, though, it’s nearing the interesting part – this weekend we get the live reveals of the final three in each category. Cheryl filmed the groups’ judges’ houses in Rome earlier this month, with guest judge Jess Glynne.
Following on from the girls and boys, here’s our attempt to read the runes of what producers might have been thinking as the groups jetted off to Italy, based on the edits so far. The usual disclaimer: producer priorities can change quickly, and the judges’ houses performance edit might tell us something different.
Suggested Alpha: 4th Impact
Previously: 4th Power
Current Odds: 6/1
There has seemed little doubt about the identity of the alpha group since 4th Power, as they have been called up to now, were given a starring role in the opening audition show – traditionally packed with acts producers envisage having a good run in the competition. They got more screentime than their rival groups in the montage that closed the last audition show, and along with Louisa Johnson they then shared the pimp slot in the first bootcamp show. These are all statements of intent.
While the second bootcamp episode had Cowell muttering that it “wasn’t as strong” as their first two songs, there’s no point pretending their vocals will never suffer for their choreography, and they still very much felt like the centre of attention in the category. And it was back to all-round gushing in the six-chair, with Cowell telling the Filipino foursome “I’m thrilled that you’ve chosen this show, this country, to compete in, and I think the British public are going to fall in love with you”.
It’s not difficult to see their appeal to producers: they’re a polished, professional outfit who already have plenty of experience on talent shows back home, and can therefore be relied on to put on a high-quality, entertaining performance every week. As with Andrea Faustini last year, discovering life in London should provide plenty of VT fodder, while the strictness of their mother – they have reportedly never touched a drink or kissed a boy – offers plenty of possible storylines.
Suggested Beta: Alien Uncovered
Current Odds: 33/1
It’s generally a hopeful sign for a group when producers give them a VT introducing them all by name and sketching out some kind of individual personalities. Little Mix got that boost in live show 5; week 7 last year saw a classic of the genre for Stereo Kicks, but by then they were a lost cause. Alien were granted that honour at their first audition, which had Cheryl complimenting them on being “ready-made” while Cowell hinted at further potential with “I don’t think we’ve heard the best of you”.
They didn’t have the most promising of bootcamps, however – in the performance alongside other acts, Cowell’s praise for “making it all about you” (because “that’s how you succeed in this business”) added to the vague impression of them as coolly-calculated, sharp-elbowed stage school wannabes, which is hardly a recipe for success in a show on which voters traditionally reward humility. In the second bootcamp episode, Cowell expressed justifiable reservations about their vocals.
However, the six-chair seemed to establish them as clear betas in the category, Cheryl saying they were “one of the reasons I was so excited to get this category” and it was her “easiest yes of the day”. In this week’s Xtra Factor, Cheryl added to this impression by calling them “the future”. Cowell’s six-chair comment, “in terms of selling records, the potential, this is one the best groups”, points to them being given every chance to see if they can connect with the voting public. If they do, Cowell’s “as a British group you should be doing British music” suggests how producers might try to play any changing of the alpha.
Suggested Gamma: BEKLN Mile
Current Odds: 100/1
The gamma group is rarely long for this world on the X Factor – the show needs some cannon fodder for the first week or two to protect the favoured acts. It’s usually the lowest-priority group and over who are the first to be sent out of the trenches: last year the show’s failure to identify a clear early target among the overs, after Fleur’s evident promotion from this role at judges’ houses, led to an unwanted second week singoff of Chloe Jasmine and Stereo Kicks. Whoever the gamma group is may be especially vulnerable to a first week exit this year, with the truncated live show schedule likely to mean we start with a double elimination.
With this in mind, our suspicion is that producers may be lining up Bekln as the last group to make the lives, and the first to face the line of fire in the opening live show. Right from their first audition, they have been introduced as a pair with Silver Tone. This continued on Sunday, with the brother-sister link between the two again being hammered home. Narratively, this all points towards televisual drama this weekend with heartbreak for one sibling and joy for the other. And with two girl groups plus a female gospel soloist already looking set for the lives, it makes sense for producers to go with Bekln as the sacrificial lambs.
Cowell told Bekln at their first audition that “there’s never been a better chance for a British R&B group to do something different”; since then, however, there’s been little sense that the show has any long-term plans for them. They weren’t pushed in the two bootcamp episodes, and Cowell’s six-chair “before you were better than the girls, today the girls were better than you” felt like it was playing into the narrative of building up to an agonising choice between the two, while ensuring they don’t develop much momentum with the viewing public.
Suggested Delta: Reggie N Bollie
Previously: Menn On Poinnt
Current Odds: 100/1
Of the three acts who we suspect may be missing out on the lives, if we were casting the show, we wouldn’t hesitate to find a place for Menn On Point. The cheerful Ghanaian duo put smiles on our faces at the arena audition, and did the same again at the six-chair challenge. We’d have a lot more fun watching Menn On Point on Saturday nights than most of the acts likely to make the final 12.
We don’t entirely discount the possibility of producers following this line of reasoning – Cheryl praised their “energy” when giving them a seat, and Cowell’s “love you two” reinforced his arena audition comment that they bring “sunshine”, although it was rather undercut by his overall verdict of “what the bloody hell was that”. However, they’d be a dangerous act to put through as intended first week fodder, as they could easily strike a chord with enough voters to survive. And the fact that they were relegated to the Xtra Factor for the second bootcamp show, and absent entirely from the first, doesn’t suggest producers are interested in having them around for longer.
Suggested Omega: New Kings Order
Previously: The First Kings
Current Odds: 100/1
“Good first audition, guys,” was Simon’s welcome to The First Kings as they came on stage for the six-chair. “You going to top that?” And therein lies the problem. After a polished arena audition which saw them being pimped by the judges (and taking the trouble to bring their own VT which introduced them all by name), there’s been no sense of progression for The First Kings. Absent from the edit in the first bootcamp episode, they were described as dated in the second.
After their six-chair performance, Cowell called them “probably the best-rehearsed band” but added “you are corny, whether you realise it or not”. Rather than leaping to their defence, Cheryl chose to expand on what Simon meant by “corny” – “typical boyband formation” – before adding “but your choreography is so current”. Making the lives as the gamma group seems the best they can hope for, with no sense of the show being interested in them commercially or setting them up for a journey.
Suggested Zeta: Melody Stone
Previously: Silver Tone
Current Odds: 200/1
Silver Tone have provided some amusing moments: the contrived arena audition brainstorm for a black gospel song that led them to Simon and Garfunkel; the “we all do different jobs” attempt to make them interesting in the bootcamp VT; and on Sunday, singing ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and Caroline and Olly clunkily pointing out the relevance of the lyric to the battle for a chair.
Silver Tone have won praise for their vocals, but their storyline has been all about roots and authenticity rather than potential commercial success. Their odds reflect the sense that there are two girl groups ahead of them in the category plus Jennifer singing their style of music in the overs. That said, if we’re right that the narrative points to either them or Bekln making it to the lives before being thrown under the bus in week one, you could argue that it doesn’t matter much which one producers choose.
Agree or disagree? As ever, do keep the discussion going below.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA