Sofabet’s traditional speculative attempt to predict the 1-13 finishing order has felt unusually tricky this year. The new judges’ houses format gave everyone roughly equal screentime, with no montages or standout mid-song cuts to interview, reducing its usefulness as a pointer to who goes into the live shows with most and least producer support. The seemingly greater use of post-production, here and at bootcamp, has made it harder to judge whose vocals will stand up in the live shows.
It feels like a relatively open year, so we expect to see some very different lists among commenters. Saturday’s show – with its “This Is Me” theme – will tell us so much more, and could easily change the landscape dramatically. For now though, these are our shots in the dark; we look forward to seeing yours. If you’ve never joined in before, please feel free. As always, it’s treated as something fun, before the curtain opens and narratives fly in different directions on Saturday night.
1st place: Ché Chesterman
Current Odds: 13/2
Ché has impressed with his vocals in each round – and while we all know that the X Factor is anything but a simple singing competition, it does help to be one of the better singers. In his first audition he said he wanted to bring back “old-school soul”, before being persuaded to sing Jessie J. Since then he has indeed fallen back on old soul classics, but in a way that has elicited a “wow” from the watching judges each time – and an encouraging four-judge ovation from the pimp slot at the six chair challenge.
Ché is unassuming, in both looks and character. This has its advantages. Just as Ben Haenow started his journey last year with a dodgy-looking goatee, Ché has the potential to look a whole lot smarter at the end of the competition than he did at its start. And while Ché may not quite be blessed with Ben’s good looks, style makeovers can serve as a useful visual marker of how the show is transforming an act’s life.
Three of the last five winners were male soloists who behaved with humility throughout the competition, and so far the former Tesco shelf stacker appears to remain similarly grounded: for example, he was the only one of the boys to thank his family and supporters on getting through to the lives. That kind of polite deference goes a long way with the X Factor audience.
We do have some doubts about Ché. He admitted at judges’ houses that he “finds it hard to show his emotions”, which could either herald a journey or hamper his chances of making a connection with enough of the voting public. And Mason’s return has raised question marks over the pecking order in the boy’s category. We don’t see Ché as the producers’ first choice of winner, by any means.
But our view of the bigger picture this year is that the acts we think producers will likely be most interested in from a commercial perspective – probably, in our view, Louisa, Alien Uncovered and Mason – will be hard sells to X Factor voters. We reckon they’ll likely end up looking for a compromise winner who is easier for ITV-viewing Middle England to get behind, and has at least some record-selling potential.
Cheryl Cole’s namechecking of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran in Ché’s first audition is a reminder that there may be a place in the market for someone like Ché. We’re taking a chance that as the series unfolds, producers will come to see him as the best option they can realistically get over the winning line.
2nd place: Lauren Murray
Current Odds: 10/1
Lauren is another initial backup option we’re taking a chance on moving up in producers’ favour. In all honesty, we didn’t expect Lauren to be in the final 12 at all. Vocally she seemed too similar to producers’ presumed Plan A, Louisa, while offering more obvious back story and personality spark. We assume her inclusion indicates producers’ own doubts about putting all their eggs in the Louisa basket if, as seems likely, they want to make sure that new star judge Rita will be represented in the final.
We learned at judges’ houses that dental receptionist Lauren lives with her family but has to sleep in the living room, so cramped are their conditions. “I’m doing it for them,” she said, a line that reminded us of Ben Haenow’s similar semi-final bid for viewers’ hearts. The judges’ houses edit – with Lauren being last to perform, and called second in the live reveal – indicates that she goes into the lives as beta girl.
Lauren rivals Anton as the show’s most likeable and relatable contestant, a sense reinforced by her singalong reaction to watching her judges’ houses footage. And she is in a category that the show pushed more than any other in 2011, 2012 and 2013, without getting anyone beyond comeback kid Amelia Lily to the final. The act of whom Lauren reminds us most is 2009 third-placer Stacey Solomon, combining talented vocals with an endearingly ditsy, down-to-earth personality.
The main fear with Lauren is her performance skills. She flubbed a lyric at boot camp, went briefly blank before her six chair challenge song, and was repeating the first line of her judges houses song as she stepped up to the mic. Mentor Rita Ora expressed the same fears at judges’ houses. If she can manage to hold her nerves together, we can see her taking alpha girl status from Louisa as the series progresses.
3rd place: Anton Stephans
Current odds: 8/1
Mature, nervous and blessed with a strong theatrical voice, Anton strikes us as a more likeable version of Chris Maloney, the poll leader for so long until dragged down to third in 2012. For all Simon Cowell’s initial complaints about getting the overs, he has never failed to have an act in the final, and Anton looks like the strongest act in his category.
Viewers have been persuaded to root for Anton from his arena audition, which also featured his dog Honey. Since then he has pulled silly faces through a host of strong if over-affected vocal performances. We’d worry more about those faces were it not part of his narrative of wearing his heart on his sleeve. And in this Anton is TV gold. There are potential back stories galore about his days as a backing singer and his difficulties with drugs – already mentioned in the tabloids – whilst the dog has already made a return appearance on Xtra Factor.
Simon said “the competition wouldn’t be the same without him” last Saturday; on Sunday he was only the only over granted a few words, and after he gushed his appreciation, presenter Caroline Flack couldn’t resist saying “I love him”. We reckon that lots of viewers will feel the same way. But, like Maloney, his theatrical and rather uncommercial style may see producers wanting to put a halt to his charge for the crown.
4th place: Louisa Johnson
Current Odds: 9/4
Producers have done everything to indicate that Louisa is their Plan A up till now. What history has taught us is that their best laid plans can come undone when going up against the phone vote. We ran through the doubts about Louisa at article length before the six-chair challenge, and those doubts remain.
Louisa has a very powerful soul vocal that has been deployed so far on classics from the soul canon, and we expect the same for Saturday, followed by a super-pimping. However, she seems only to have this one way of performing, and it’s a manner which belies her claim to have confidence issues. Consistently belting out big soul numbers meant for more mature women – without any apparent back story of her own – creates the possibility that Louisa fails to connect, despite her big voice.
And she now has someone in her own category who has a big voice and seems, at this stage, more easily relatable than her – Lauren Murray. Of course, there’s a chance that Louisa does poll very well, and producers don’t feel the need to push Lauren instead as a back-up. It’s in their favour that they have only seven live shows, rather than the usual ten, to pimp her through. But we think there are too many doubts to recommend Louisa at current prices.
5th place: Seann Miley Moore
Current Odds: 8/1
Seann has polarised opinion in our comments section, as he likely will among viewers. On paper there’s plenty going for him: a strong voice, producer favour, a big character and a determination not to conform to gender norms, which is particularly topical right now. His performance of ‘This Woman’s Work’ at judges’ houses was his strongest to date.
We have a couple of issues with his chances. Firstly, the kimono-heels-and-baseball-hatted Seann is a divisive personality in the context of an ITV primetime series, and divisive personalities don’t tend to win X Factor. It’s not just his clothes which signify “different”, it’s his foreign accent.
Beyond this, we haven’t found Seann particularly likeable or humble yet. Producers can help soften his image during the live shows, and there’s a chance that a setback and a few sympathetic VTs could win more viewers round. But that only did so much for the likes of big-voiced Kitty Brucknell or Misha B, and we fear the same kind of fate for Seann.
6th place: Fourth Impact
Current Odds: 6/1
Fourth Impact are another hyped foreign act that we think will struggle to connect with viewers. In early auditions, the four girls from the Philippines had been afforded high billing and excellent edits for their high-energy routines. Those routines were sometimes at the expense of shouty vocals, but the visual distraction of a cheering audience camera or impressed judges helped overcome this.
There was less hiding for their stripped back performance at judges’ houses, where the vocals were more obviously unimpressive, bested by the following Alien Uncovered, and Cheryl made a cryptic remark about not being sure what would happen come “week 3, week 4” of the competition. That’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear about an act producers were thinking of as a potential winner.
They do have a few back stories to mine, such as the illness of their father, and the typhoon that recently hit their homeland. But there isn’t yet much sense that we’ve even got to know them as individuals, let alone take them to our hearts as we had already done at this stage last year with fellow foreigner Andrea Faustini. Their ability to deliver polished routines may continue to win them producer support, but they feel like an act that could deflate quickly if and when producer support is withdrawn.
7th place: Max Stone
Current Odds: 33/1
Max was the most surprising inclusion in the final 12, on which basis he’s got some catching up to do. He hadn’t featured prominently until his yo-yo experience at the six chair challenge when branded “half-dead” by his own mentor, then cast aside for most of the performances before finally being reinstated. But he’s a clean-cut White Guy With Guitar, who has a really good voice, and that plays to the X Factor demographic. You don’t normally get a WGWG propping up the phone vote in the first week.
Treatment will make all the difference for Max. If Simon retains his apparent newfound enthusiasm, and Max continues to be portrayed as the plucky underdog as he was at judges’ houses, he could go on a run. The press this week reported that Max has a backstory of bullying, depression and self-harm that could win him viewer sympathy if played up in VTs.
However, it is hard to imagine him being an act who excites producers’ commercial sensibilities. A couple of weeks of faint praise, or distracting talk on topics such as song choice, would allow the “boring” tag to gain the upper hand and bring his journey to an end.
8th place: Monica Michael
Current Odds: 25/1
Betfair activity and a cryptic tweet had suggested it during the week, and the first ever Thursday night Xtra Factor confirmed Monica’s return to the show as a wildcard. She had been portrayed on Sunday night’s live reveal as narrowly missing out on the final place in the girls category, when mentor Rita went with Kiera instead.
Monica is a big character with sympathetic back stories of tragedy and rejection. She gave an emotional rendition of her own song at judges’ houses, and it will be interesting to see if she also gets to use any of her own material in the live shows – something which only Lucy Spraggan has managed to date, and then for only one week.
History suggests that returning wildcard status should see her safe for at least the first vote on a wave of goodwill. Chris Maloney rode that wave all the way to the final, but he had the boost of having been reinstated by popular vote rather than Cowellian whim. Monica’s urban RnB niche is less of a natural fit with the usual X Factor voting demographic, and for that reason we don’t expect her to last to the business end of the competition.
9th place: Alien Uncovered
Current Odds: 25/1
On the surface, Alien Uncovered would appear to be a very hard sell – a girlband of six aggressive-looking backing dancers with colour-vomit hair, whose vocals have on occasion sounded ropey and whose judges’ houses song choice tagged them as ‘Bad Girls’ – and we’re not talking Donna Summer. This would normally be the stuff of first week exits.
But it was interesting that they followed supposed alpha group Fourth Impact at judges’ houses, and their vocals sounded better – indeed, suspiciously so. This suggests some producer favour going into lives, which is hardly surprising given that Alien Uncovered look like a commercial proposition.
Their mics malfunctioned when pleading for their place in the live shows on Saturday’s judges’ houses episode, but they managed to say something about “ostracised for being different”. This could suggest how producers will try to make them relatable to a segment of the voting audience. The first week or two will be crucial: if they can manage to gain a toehold, they could go further than many anticipate. But producers have a tough job on their hands.
10th place: Kiera Weathers
Current Odds: 18/1
Kiera’s momentum has stalled since her highly promising first audition. Whilst her judges’ houses performance once again showed an engaging performer, Rita wanted more from the vocal. This was disappointing to hear, on the back of Simon’s boot camp comment that “I don’t like her voice”.
Rita admitted on Xtra Factor last Sunday that her third choice had been between Kiera and Monica, clearly marking the St Helens lass as the least favoured among the three girls originally put through. Kiera should get enough of a regional vote to save her from a first week exit, but historically producers don’t tend to give the gamma girl too much of a chance to shine.
If the early votes show that Kiera is striking more of a chord with viewers than Louisa and Lauren, she may yet be given the chance to go on a run. But in comparison to Lauren’s cheery demeanour of being permanently on a hen do, there have been hints of a flintier side to Kiera’s personality which we fear may make it harder for her to connect with enough viewers to climb up the category pecking order.
11th place: Mason Noise
Current Odds: 22/1
Just what is going on with Mason Noise? We don’t buy the idea that his six-chair strop and controversial return was scripted all along – for a start, how could producers have known that Tom Bleasby would drop out? It smacks more of an opportunistic grab for short-term publicity, a tactic which has succeeded. Whether they also have a longer-term strategy in mind for Mason is the question.
Our initial thought was that Mason would play the role of pantomime villain. Instead, the judges’ houses episode bent over backwards to show us what a decent guy he is. Mason has a commerical RnB sound, good looks and no shortage of confidence, and it’s not impossible that a redemption storyline – perhaps with some controversial singoff saves – could see him progress deeper into the competition. But having already been branded as unlikeable, and booed at judges’ houses, he may find it hard to win over enough viewers quickly enough.
12th place: Reggie n Bollie
Current Odds: 100/1
On the face of it, a Ghanaian duo now living in the Home Counties wouldn’t appear to be a natural fit for the ITV voting demographic, and neither are Reggie and Bollie’s vocals particularly strong. However, the likeable pair have put smiles on our faces every time they’ve performed, and it’s feasible that enough voters will feel the same to see them at least escape being the first act out.
Unfortunately for Reggie n Bollie, their non-appearance in either bootcamp episode strongly hints that producers aren’t intending them to last too long, and being the last group to be called in the live reveal reinforces the impression that they are the category gamma. The gamma group rarely lasts for long.
13th place: Bupsi
Current Odds: 150/1
“You want nasteh, I’ll give you nasteh.” Bupsi Brown has come up with one of the best quotes of the series. Unfortunately, it also sums up everything that makes her it hard to see her striking much of a chord with the voting public, who tend not to respond to hints of sexual voracity – a suggestion in evidence both at the arena audition and again at judges houses – or getting ahead through feminine wiles.
Actually, she’s not a bad singer, with a decent Tina Turner impression. But the first elimination is more often than not a contest between the weakest over and weakest group, and it’s one we reckon Bupsi looks likely to come off worst in.
Now it’s your turn. Last year we had 37 commenters posting their own predictions, with Donald winning bragging rights by being closest to the actual finishing order (thanks again to Mech for doing the calculations). Do post your 1-13 predictions below, and feel free to include some explanation, or not – whichever you prefer. The deadline is the start of Saturday’s show at 8pm.
Who will be this year’s prediction king or queen? Best of luck to all.
X Factor images ©SYCO/THAMES TV/PA