Producers have done a good job this year of changing things up a little: going into the lives, what they want to achieve seems much less clear-cut than it did at the equivalent stage of the last two series.
We can reasonably debate who producers are thinking of as their Plan A. That’s unusual. So is the fact that, in the girls category, you can make a valid argument for alpha, beta and gamma in any order. We have Emily as alpha girl, and overall winner in our traditional pre-lives attempt to predict the finishing order. More on why below.
But there’s plenty more to ponder. There are two novelty acts – three if you add Comedy Foreigner Who Can Sing, Saara Aalto. Which, if any, will get traction? Four of the 12 acts – Saara, Honey G, Samantha Lavery and Ryan Lawrie – have already made a Lazarus-like return from rejection. Will we get another, as a 13th act? Betfair punters have been nibbling at James Wilson all week.
Sofabet’s 1-12 prediction is a chance for all our readers to get involved – you have until the show starts, at 8pm this Saturday, to post your prediction in the comments section below. It’s a bit of fun at a stage of proceedings when hopes and fears can quickly turn on their heads. Bragging rights are at stake, as always. Good luck to all!
1st: Emily Middlemas
Current odds: 9/2
Emily has a lot going for her, not least Scotland and Simon. Beyond that, her girl-next-door demeanour is ideal for the voting demographic. “She’s adorable,” we were told by an audience member as soon as the 18-year-old appeared in white in the second audition show. That’s been the case right through to her adorable reaction to Simon’s news that she was in the lives.
We’re not too concerned that she wasn’t featured in the single bootcamp episode, which was a bit of a mess, as it’s hard to fault her edits in the other stages. In the cauldron of 6CC she was more vocally secure than any other girl, and her standing ovation was milked like no other in her category. She raised her game again at judges’ houses, and the evidence so far suggests she’ll be able to take the pressure of the lives.
One obvious concern, given the songs she’s sung so far, is that she gets pigeonholed into slowing down faster songs into acoustic versions with her guitar, and labelled a one-trick pony. It became a problem for the likes of Janet Devlin and Abi Alton. Emily does have the versatility, as she showed for example with her performance of Ellie Goulding at 6CC in 2014. The question is whether producers will let her showcase it.
We’re betting they will. Syco have seemed to be running scared of Scottish acts since Jai McDowell’s 2011 BGT win; the regional vote had previously delivered one of XF’s least commercially-successful winners in 2007’s Leon Jackson, and we felt they kept the lid firmly on Wee Nick in 2013. So the fact that they’ve treated a Scottish act so sympathetically going into the lives feels significant.
We’ve also been intrigued by the way her boyfriend, Ryan Lawrie, has been shoehorned back into the competition. As we reckon Ryan’s limited vocals will make it hard for him to reach the business end of the competition, our suspicion is that he’s been brought back as a supporting act for Emily – to give her an extra emotional connection to the audience, and sympathy when he’s voted off before her.
There are doubts. At judges’ houses, we saw Simon admit that there are already other musicians like her – but then, you could also see that as suggesting her John Lewis-y commercial potential – and usually it’s the big-voiced belters among the girls who do better on these shows. But we reckon there are enough signs of producer favour to tip the likeable Scottish lass for the win.
2nd: Matt Terry
Current odds: 9/4
There’s no doubt that Matt Terry ticks a lot of boxes. He’s had more producer support than any other finalist during the audition stages. Simon compared him to Olly Murs at the room auditions, then said about him at bootcamp: “One of the best boys we’ve had in a long time”. The edit of his category at judges’ houses left little room for doubt that he’s the alpha boy, at the very least.
We wonder to what extent Matt is in on his favourable treatment. There was the highly contrived drama at 6CC, where he had to sing a “half-step” lower and sing again for his place alongside Christian Burrows – we reckoned the way he took it all in his stride suggested he might have been tipped off about what was going to happen.
Then there’s his audition sob story, the distressing split from his girlfriend. It was subsequently reported in The Sun that the two split “briefly” but are now back together. Does “briefly” encompass the several months between the filming of Matt’s room audition and the filming of judges’ houses? Because he was happy to milk that story again for ‘She’s out of my life’. It’ll be interesting to see if, and when, the show tell us whether they’re back together again.
The point of that sob story, of course, is that portraying Matt as single raises the hopes of watching girls. Looks and personality wise he’s the unthreatening type many girls would happily date, and of whom their mums would approve. With his supportive nan again shown in the judges’ houses edit, they’ve even been working on the grandma vote.
His vocals are at their best when he goes into a higher register. They’re good enough for a show like X Factor, without being amazing nor particularly distinctive. But there has been some inconsistency in his performances – there was a rather painful Xtra Factor performance of ‘Wake Me Up’ at the end of the 24th September episode.
And his treatment hasn’t quite been all positivity, either. At the weekend Nicole said about him to Calvin Harris: “Do you think he’s distinct enough, interesting enough?” For a young male soloist, being rather vanilla is no bar to taking the X Factor crown. But would Matt be any more commercially successful than previous such winners? That’s enough of a doubt for us to wonder if producers will really back him to the hilt in the lives, and it stops us tipping him for the win at a short price.
3rd: 5 After Midnight
Current odds: 9/2
There’s been nothing but positivity about 5 After Midnight, and with the “limited” tag applied more than once to fellow boyband Brooks Way, the threesome go into the live shows looking very much like the alpha group. This is not to be underestimated, given the cash cow that certain groups have been for the franchise, among them JLS, 1 Direction and Little Mix.
Each time 5 After Midnight have performed, the dance moves have been slick and the vocals decent enough. Their gestation just before auditions means that they’re not seen as manufactured by the show, which may have been a factor in the public’s refusal to take to Stereo Kicks two years ago. But it means they’re still fresh and readily malleable. Simon seemed to reflect on that when he talked of their potential at the room auditions, also saying: “I genuinely believe the next big boyband is going to be one that can dance”.
In their interviews at judges’ houses they again came across as likeable individuals with an easy, natural chemistry, and JLS-type levels of Middle England-friendliness.
One problem with groups can be to build emotional connections with the audience. Judges’ houses showed Nathan, Jordan and Kieran starting to build individual identities in order to achieve that. We expect this to be ramped up from the start of the live shows. Another caveat is that groups rely on occasional harmonising that has the potential to be inconsistent, especially during energetic routines. But producer favour can paper over this with extra audio help, as happened for the likes of 1 Direction.
4th: Gifty Louise
Current odds: 9/1
Fourth place often goes to more edgy urban acts, such as Cher Lloyd and Misha B. It’s therefore where we’ve felt safest placing Gifty, whose abilities we respect – despite a temptation to claim that Fleur East and Reggie N Bollie have now clearly established a trend for second-place finishes for acts with a Ghanaian background.
At judges’ houses, Simon said that putting Gifty into the lives was a “relatively easy” decision. Judges’ houses also set out what we can expect from her in the lives. We were told she had “brought the party”, and she agreed that it made her stand out. We can therefore expect some big upbeat productions of the like that propelled Fleur to the final two years ago – it was no coincidence that ‘Sax’ was the background music for Gifty’s 6CC intro.
Gifty has a more powerful voice than Fleur, though hasn’t shown yet whether her dance moves would match what the latter displayed for ‘Uptown Funk’. What’s interesting will be whether and how producers try to soften her edges for the Middle England demographic, something at which they never quite succeeded with Misha B. News stories like this one in The Sun, tying an unfortunate incident in her past to the tragic death of her mother when aged just 10, felt like getting the bad news out early in a controlled way.
Gifty is now an active gospel singer in a suburban London church, and has shown humility throughout the audition process. We expect that she’ll get every help from producers because she’s one of the most marketable acts in the competition.
5th: Samantha Lavery
Current odds: 10/1
Like Americans in the civil war, the Sofabet comments section has recently been divided on the issue of SLavery. Some believe that Simon’s dressing-down dressing-down at judges’ houses marks her out as the alpha girl, and we can see the reasoning. It certainly felt like some kind of baton was being passed to her from the previously-hyped Caitlyn Vanbeck.
Both, you’ll recall, had been introduced in the first audition show – traditionally a sign of favour. Both are big-voiced teens. But while Caitlyn was styled throughout the auditions as a normal kid, Samantha was glammed up. Before she sang for Simon at the weekend, he sent her away with the insulting implication that she’d been putting on the slap with all the expertise of an eight-year-old who’s just discovered her mum’s make-up bag.
As we waited for Samantha to return, on walked Caitlyn, now herself looking unrecognisably glammed up. Had they done this to her as part of a planned storyline to accentuate the transformation we were about to witness with Samantha? Or was it simply the flubbing of words which persuaded Simon not to run with the erstwhile market leader? We can only speculate.
It will be interesting to see where Samantha’s journey goes from here. Ultimately, we can’t help but be sceptical that producers will want another winner who has so much in common with last year’s 17-year-old belter, Louisa Johnson. Samantha’s rivals in the girls category offer more variety in that respect. And the make-up storyline provides some kryptonite for Samantha, should they choose to use it: send her out in Monica Michael’s gold dress and tell her “I feel like you’ve put the mask on again”.
6th: Honey G
Current odds: 40/1
From the coveted pimp slot of the series opener, Honey G was introduced to viewers emerging from a North Weezy Sainsbury’s Local, declaring herself as “a genuine urban artist”. The accompanying Gangsta’s Paradise soundtrack was punctuated with extended comedy pauses as Honey is seen ‘surviving’ on the mean streets of Harrow. In our week 1 review we dismissed the act as a one-trick joke, but could there be more to the H to the O to the N to the E than meets the Y?
Honey G’s bootcamp edit was a much briefer affair but did remind viewers of Simon’s disapproval, “Oh my god, she is completely mad,” with Louis adding, “I think we should keep Honey G,” as Dermot giggled on the sidelines.
Honey was back in favour at 6CC where she received a generous amount of screen time and positive edit. Gangsta’s Paradise was again used in the intro VT before her rendition of Missy Elliott’s Where They From received rapturous applause. Nicole then orchestrated a game of “When I say Honey, you say G” much to the crowd’s delight, a routine likely to be repeated with live show studio audiences.
Before Honey’s judges’ houses segment, Robbie W reminded us that being able to sing isn’t the only thing. “No, it’s not,” said Sharon, “you’ve gotta have that personality.” Robbie also recounted a recent LA video shoot where all he could hear around him were people discussing Honey G.
Gangsta’s Paradise was then cemented as Honey G’s signature theme as she performed the Coolio track with a trio of backing singers. Before viewers could decide for themselves if they should be feeling happy, we were shown all the other acts feeling happy as they got into the vibe and threw down some moves. Robbie then told us how happy he was, in case there was any doubt, and that he would always remember Honey G.
The question of authenticity surrounding Anna Georgette Gilford’s alter ego is a theme we think producers could play with during live shows. The ongoing “is she, isn’t she?” enigma coupled with outlandish Stevi Ritchie-esque stage productions and inevitable judges banter could be enough to see Honey G squeeze into the top 6. We don’t, however, expect to see her dining out with Simon at the local Harvester.
7th: Ryan Lawrie
Current odds: 16/1
What producers have been intending re Ryan intrigues us. With his cute looks and limited vocal, he’s always seemed more suited to a boyband than as a soloist – something Nicole and Calvin Harris reiterated at judges’ houses, which was hardly a promising sign.
And indeed Ryan was boybanded after bootcamp rejection, along with Ed Goacher, Jamie Miller, Josh Marshfield and Talis Eros. By the time 6CC came around, we assume producers had decided the boyband wasn’t working but that they still wanted Ryan in the live shows picture. It seems possible that they dreamed up the whole idea of judges’ houses wildcards to achieve this. We doubt it was coincidental that Ryan was styled so differently to his bandmates at 6CC, or told to dart off so rapidly at the start of that performance.
It’s intriguing that none of this backstory was aired on the main show, instead being sneaked out at the end of an Xtra Factor. That doesn’t suggest producers are too interested in getting viewers invested in Ryan’s journey. He’s tweeted that he and Emily have been together for a year, something producers will presumably have known. So our guess is that he’s in the live shows for the sake of whatever plans they have for Emily.
As a cute young male from Scotland, Ryan should have the support to see him through a few weeks. We reckon they’ll run with the lovebirds story – a new angle for the show – with the intention that Ryan’s eventual departure will help to define Emily for the closing stages.
8th: Brooks Way
Current odds: 16/1
Things looked promising for Brooks Way at the start of the series. The identical twins looked even more like Justin Bieber than they had done two years before when rejected at judges’ houses aged just 15. And there were accusations of favouritism before their first audition was even shown.
But it’s not quite worked out that way during the audition process, which has seen any praise qualified by concerns. They showed up on the third weekend of room auditions, Josh with guitar and Kyle without. After some kind words, Simon said: “To really do what you wanna do, you’ve got a lot of work to do.” They weren’t shown performing at all during a hurried bootcamp, but Simon repeated his concerns at 6CC when he questioned their “commitment and professionalism”.
All of this can be a springboard for overcoming doubts with hard work during the live shows. But the critique at judges’ houses was arguably more damning of their longer term prospects in the lives. Guest judge Alesha Dixon explained after they sang: “Do you think their performance is as good as how cute they are?” Louis replied, “They are a little bit limited, I know that.” We’re surprised to see so marketable an act given this kind of appraisal. It marks them very much down as the beta group at this stage of proceedings.
9th: Saara Aalto
Current odds: 33/1
We thought Saara would make a good choice for the lives after her decent room audition rendition of ‘Chandelier’. Our reasoning for it was that, whilst no Andrea Faustini in terms of relatability, she seemed like an interesting foreign character who could actually sing. She ended up being a surprise inclusion, having been brought back from a humiliating 6CC rejection as a wildcard in Sharon’s category.
The Finn has one of the better vocals among the finalists, but her judges’ houses edit didn’t seem to suggest producers would be investing in her for the live shows. Guest judge Robbie Williams admitted he got a bit bored during Saara’s performance of ‘Winner Takes It All’, although that might have been included in the edit primarily to suggest to us that Saara is a bit delusional, as it was juxtaposed with her telling Dermot she thought she brought a tear to Robbie’s eye.
We do know her first live show song is ‘Let It Go’, which she should be more than comfortable with having voiced Princess Anna in the Finnish-dubbed version of ‘Frozen’, as well as performing the song in 15 different languages in a popular YouTube video. One could see her provide a wow moment for the judges, or it could be portrayed as an end-of-journey moment for her. Given that we’ve not been encouraged to relate to Saara, an earlier exit than we’ve predicted would be no surprise – but given her vocal ability and kooky character, it also wouldn’t shock us if she proves to have more longevity.
10th: Freddy Parker
Current odds: 40/1
We thought that Freddie’s rendition of ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ at room auditions was quite pleasant, and were surprised that the telegenic lad wasn’t given more build-up. But things haven’t got better for him – with the obvious exception of getting through to the lives. His coverage at bootcamp was perfunctory and unimpressive, whilst at the 6CC he was forced to fall back on his first audition Amy Winehouse song. Nicole felt the need to spell it out at judges’ houses: “Is he versatile enough?”
This all came after unfortunate drink-drive revelations. With Matt Terry being portrayed as the clear alpha in this category, and Ryan having both a Scottish vote and the storyline of his relationship with Emily in his favour, it looks to us like Freddy is most probably first boy out. His good looks and charm might get him through a week or two against the other fodder.
Current odds: 80/1
The camp-as-Christmas double act is not new to X Factor, although Bratavio have taken things to imaginative new levels of styling. The pair seemed destined for a role in the live shows after their long introduction in the room auditions, when their performance played second fiddle to a contested backstory about undercooked chicken.
Bootcamp was again about the drama and the outfits rather than an attempt to engage with the song, and that carried on into judges’ houses, when the most memorable thing about them were the pom-pom outfits and Bradley pushing Ottavio into the pool. (There was also very generous audio assistance for their production of ‘Candyman’.) This is not the stuff that endears acts to the ITV audience, as Rylan’s first week bottom two appearance showed.
We can expect a huge first-week production for these two, and maybe a controversial singoff save like Rylan’s is in store. But whereas even at this point Rylan was halfway towards showing himself to be endearing, a singular problem Bratavio have is their occasional evident antipathy towards each other. This has usually meant a limited shelf-life for any group, and we expect it to stymie the pair’s attempts to get much of a sympathy bounce if they are indeed saved in the first singoff.
12th: Relley C
Current odds: 66/1
“I say Relley, you say C!” “Relley!” “C!”. No, wait, that’s the Honey G thing. They haven’t done that with Relley C. Indeed, they haven’t done much of anything with Relley C. Of all the acts in the lives, it’s Relley who’s been most short-changed in screentime so far. We didn’t see her audition at all. In bootcamp we saw her only as she was occupying the same stage as Bradley and Ottavio. She was hardly showered with attention in the 6CC or judges’ houses edit. Viewers have been given no reason to invest in her.
That’s not necessarily fatal – we were saying some of the same things about Fleur East at this stage two years ago, although Fleur at least had put herself on the map with a memorable judges’ houses performance. Relley will need an even more remarkable turnaround if her X Factor trajectory is not instead to resemble that of Lorna Simpson, who was left lamenting her lack of screentime when she was the first act voted out in 2013.
Since the screening of judges’ houses, Betfair punters have continued to nibble at some of the acts we saw being eliminated. That’s especially true of James Wilson, who has traded at prices around the 30-70 mark during the week. There have also been some nibbles at longer prices for the likes of Christian Burrows, 4 of Diamonds and Caitlyn Vanbeck.
Do these represent inside knowledge or over-optimism? Time will tell. One clue is that Saturday’s show is 2 hours long, and the following week’s is 1h 50 mins. That’s what you’d expect for 12 and 11 acts respectively. They could probably just about squeeze in 13 and 12, so one wildcard seems possible – but surely not one from each category. Of course, after Amelia Lily, you can’t rule out eliminated acts returning further down the line, though that’s not a twist we’d hope to see repeated.
If we were running the show, we’d bring one act back now: James. The precedent for judges selecting one wildcard was set last year with Monica Michael, and to us it makes a lot of sense to have 13 acts for a 10-week run – it gives a cushion for an unexpected departure, or the chance for a double elimination. And James is the obvious candidate. The overs category makes much more sense with him in it – without him, it looks like two novelties and a sacrificial lamb, with a risk of Sharon being out embarrassingly early.
The reason given at judges’ houses for James’s departure did seem to leave the door open: while James said he was gaining confidence all the time, Sharon said she thought he still wasn’t quite ready yet. We’d have Dermot explaining that the other judges thought James deserved the chance to prover her wrong. Then we’d cut to James in his Dales caravan, wondering why it was rocking from side to side, and looking out to see Mrs O landing in an X Factor helicopter and scattering the sheep.
In previous years, there have usually been firmer-seeming rumours at this stage if there is indeed to be a wildcard. For the sake of simplicity, even if a wildcard is confirmed between now and showtime, we’d suggest the bragging rights competition be limited to predicting the finishing order of the 12 we already know. Do post your predictions in the comments section below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor