It usually feels harder to guess pre-show who producers will want to win a BGT final than an X Factor final. One reason for that is simply that BGT is so much shorter: just one audition and one live show before the final. On the X Factor, if producers are going to give up on an initially favoured act or promote one in whom they’d previously shown little interest, that normally happens by around week 2 or 3. With BGT, it has to happen between the semi and final: being pimped in the former is no guarantee you won’t be under a bus in the latter.
Another reason is that commercial prospects are (a) harder to figure out, because you’re comparing different kinds of act, and (b) seemingly less important. Sure, XF also has to embrace a feelgood winner at times when the commercial act fails to fire, and mix up the winning categories a bit. But while XF tends to feel more driven by “who’ll make us most money?”, with BGT there’s more of a sense of “how about the dog?”
So, as with the semis, it’s hard to be too confident of what producers are intending until we see the running order and treatment of the acts. Even then, there’s room for doubt – an act can be given a late slot and kind treatment not because producers want them to win but because they know know they’re no threat, something which becomes clear to punters only when the semi voting percentages are released after the final.
With all that said, what should we make of this week’s semi-finals?
Sunday brought us a win from the pimp slot for 100 Voices of Gospel. It may be worth remembering that last year’s X Factor auditions featured a gospel singer – Jennifer Phillips – who looked set for a good run in the competition before being surprisingly cut after disappointing at judges’ houses (as well as a gospel group, Silver Tone, although they never looked likely to go far). Perhaps it’s a market Cowell has been looking to get into, one way or another?
In nine years of BGT, the winner of the first semi has never yet missed the top three in the final, winning four of them. That’s unlikely to be a coincidence, given that featuring in the first audition show is also traditionally a sign of favour in BGT and XF – presumably there’s some benefit from lodging yourself in viewers’ minds at an early stage. Still, records are there to be broken.
Monday’s semi was surprisingly won by Wayne Woodward – surprising given that he was second in the running order with ‘That’s Life’, a song choice that is notoriously the kiss of death on XF. Wayne was treated kindly enough in judges’ comments, without any sense that producers were keen to big him up or expecting him to do especially well.
Sofabet commenters have debated whether Wayne’s show of voting strength from a weak position might persuade producers now to run with him. However, Coben made the point that Tuesday’s show featured David namechecking 100 Voices of Gospel as by far the best act from the first two days, which presumably wouldn’t have happened if Wayne had been promoted in their plans. Unless there’s been a rethink since, Wayne may find it’s a case of “That’s life (That’s life), that’s what all the people say / Riding high on Monday, shot down on Saturday”.
Tuesday’s winner was the favourite for the overall win, magician Richard Jones – flagged in the comments section by Sagand on April 16, even before his audition screened. In the comments this week, Guildo made the case that producers might see a soldier as an appropriately feelgood winner for the franchise on its tenth anniversary, reminding us that the XF also seemed keen to mark its tenth anniversary in feelgood fashion via Sam Bailey.
Also in Richard’s favour is that we haven’t had a magician winner before, and that’s another variety box producers might like to tick – Jamie Raven came within a couple of percentage points last year, so they’ll know what’s required. As Sagand also pointed out in this week’s comments, it’s noticeable that all four of the week’s other semi winners were singing acts, of some description or other, which may help Richard to stand out in the final.
Wednesday’s semi was won from the pimp slot by Richard’s closest rival in the market, Beau Dermott. We haven’t had a child singer win yet, so she’s another who offers box-ticking options.
History tells us that singers from BGT can have respectable careers without winning – not only SuBo, but the likes of Richard and Adam (third in 2013, who recently released their fourth album with Sony) and Jonathan and Charlotte, (second in 2012, who released two albums with Sony then both got solo deals). So victory may not be deemed essential to realising Beau’s record-flogging potential. But producers will have the benefit of seeing Beau’s and Richard’s respective margins of semi victory when deciding who to push.
Thursday’s semi winner was singing impressionist Craig Ball, who divided opinion in the comments – and punters made him the longest price of the week’s semi winners, reflecting the sense that he wouldn’t be the most obvious choice for producers to want to push to the win, while nor does he seem likely to have built up unstoppable momentum with the voting public.
Indeed, he’s even longer than the act who went through in second, Jasmine Elcock, a rival for Beau in the child singer category. Jasmine didn’t get as much producer love as Beau, and it will be interesting to see how producers play them: if they’re going for a Beau win, the obvious tactic would be to bury Jasmine early and praise Beau late; if they’re wanting to help the magician win, it might make sense to put them closer together in the hope of splitting their vote.
In the nine previous series of BGT, we’ve had 25 acts finishing first through third (only the winner, Paul Potts, was revealed in the six-act final of series one). Of those 25 podium finishers, 22 won their semi-finals, so the second-place finishers (joining Jasmine are Mel & Jamie, Alex Magala, Boogie Storm and Balance Unity) face an uphill struggle. Only Diversity, who turned the tables on SuBo with a better running order position in the final than semi, have won after falling short in their heat.
We’ll also have two wildcards in the final, one chosen by the public from the five acts who made top three in their semi but didn’t make it through the judges’ vote, and one chosen by the judges, from any of the acts. We’ve had judges’ wildcards for the last four years: they’ve finished, respectively, 12th, 7th, 4th and 7th. Last year was the first time the public have voted on a wildcard, and their choice finished 8th. All the wildcards so far have been given early slots in the running order. So, again, precedent is against a wildcard making too much of a splash.
The running order, as ever, will be all-important. For reference, here’s where the first, second, third have come from in the nine finals:
2015: 12/12, 10/12, 8/12
2014: 10/11, 11/11, 5/11
2013: 11/11, 9/11, 8/11
2012: 10/11, 11/11, 9/11
2011: 8/10, 6/10, 10/10
2010: 10/10, 1/10, 7/10
2009: 9/10, 8/10, 10/10
2008: 7/10, 10/10, 6/10
2007: 6/6 (places not revealed)
Seven of the nine winners performed either last or second last. And only two of 25 podium finishers performed in the first half of the show.
So, as with the semis, it takes some bravery to get involved before seeing who’s performing where. As the market suggests, Richard seems to make most sense from a franchise perspective, but it’s hard to be confident and he’s now very short – meanwhile, does the historical record of the first semi winner make 100 Voices of Gospel worth an each-way look at double-figure odds?
As ever, do keep the conversation going below.