X Factor 2017: Coming Up Roses

What a difference a year makes. After last year’s final, we were scratching our heads about what exactly producers had been trying to achieve. There was no such uncertainty this year, and we have to doff our caps again to producers for what they’ve managed to pull off. It’s pretty amazing that we had a final Sunday involving two acts each performing two original numbers, rather than belting out ‘Proud Mary’ or ‘Feelin’ Good’ for the zillionth time. Will it be enough to revitalise the franchise? Let’s hope so – we’ll see next year.

Rak-Su won comfortably in the end, though the voting statistics showed why producers weren’t taking any chances: they’d beaten Grace by only 1.3 percentage points in the semi-final Sunday, admittedly from second slot in the running order with Grace performing last. They were ahead in the final by 41.7% to Grace’s 35.4% at the vote freeze for Kevin’s elimination, and widened their gap when the vote re-opened. By our calculations, the split was 54/46 while Kevin was still in it, and 57/43 when it was head-to-head.

We say they took no chances, but it’s not as if Grace suffered any indignity – for casual viewers, Grace’s treatment will have seemed perfectly positive. It’s only from a Sofabet perspective that you start to spot the oh-so-subtle dampenings for Grace that accompanied the not-so-subtle ramping up of positivity for the Watford lads. It’s always especially fascinating to try to discern what dampening tactics producers deploy in the final, which has to feel celebratory overall. Sunday’s show brought a couple more of interest.

There was, for example, the tying of Grace to the north. Sharon introduced Grace’s first song by appealing for “everyone in Blackburn, Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool… everybody up north” to pick up the phone. We discussed in our week 1 review why “the north” is probably not a very helpful vote shoutout. Is there really anyone in Manchester, Liverpool or Blackpool who thought to themselves “oh yeah, she’s from within an hour’s drive of us, let’s vote for her”?

London-born Sharon was at it again before the second song, calling for “everyone up north” to “show them down south”, which may have had the additional effect of dissuading southern admirers of Grace from picking up the phone. After the second song, she referred to Grace having played “every pub and smelly old club that there is up north”, which is hardly a helpful stereotype to associate with the people for whose votes you’re appealing. It’s not exactly a helpful image to associate with Grace, either.

More intriguingly, we wonder if there was a theme of portraying Grace as small. Her first song had her against a backdrop of handwritten lyrics, which made her look the height of a few lines of a notebook.

Both Louis and Simon used the word “small” in their comments, Louis saying “you’ve done all those small gigs, all those years” and Simon referring to “the small space of time I’ve got to know you”.

Staging for the second song again had Grace looking Lilliputian, this time against a prop of giant thorny roses. Louis returned to his theme, embellishing it for good measure: “you started years ago playing all those small clubs, with nobody listening to you”. Simon said: “I actually think the roses got bigger as the song got bigger”. A mental image of the roses getting bigger would be hard to distinguish from a mental image of Grace getting smaller.

This is speculative, and – to repeat – everything was ostensibly nice and positive for Grace. There won’t have been any talented songwriter-performers watching at home thinking “hmm, they’ve associated Grace with smelly pubs, subtly dissuaded southerners from voting and used backdrops that made her look small. Nope, I don’t think I’ll enter next year”. But it’s these kind of drip-drip-drip subliminals that make this show such fun to analyse.

Kevin n’allait jamais gagner

The voting statistics lend credence to the theory that Kevin was selected for a push to the final because he posed no threat to Rak-Su or Grace, the intended final two.

Admittedly, the Frenchman’s week 1 result was impressive in the circumstances – second in the running order, with staging like a dingy bedsit and a “sorry no vacancy” sign above him: his 11.1% put him fourth of the eight acts, although only a couple of percentage points above second-bottom. Meanwhile, TracyLeanne’s meagre 10.3%, having been on second-last with great positivity, sealed her fate and she was allowed to drift to the bottom in week 2.

In week 3, Kevin beat Rak-Su by only 0.1 percentage point, despite having been on last with high praise and Rak-Su opening the show. In week 4, put on second in the running order and with the praise dialled down a touch, he fell behind Matt Linnen. They put him back in the pimp slot for the Saturday semi-final and he still got less than three-quarters of Rak-Su’s vote. The semi-final Sunday’s positivity for ‘Voodoo Child’, from second-last in the running order, only just kept him ahead of Lloyd Macey, who was just 0.7 of a percentage point away from reaching the final.

In hindsight, producers may not have been too fussed which of Kevin or Lloyd left in the double elimination alongside the Cutkelvins: Lloyd’s vote suggests he would also have been easy enough to ease out in third place in the final. The Valleys lad managed only third from the week 1 pimp slot and finished well behind Rak-Su in weeks 2 and 4, sandwiching his week 3 win.

Beta testing

Holly and the Cutkelvins were the two acts whose vote went most backwards over the course of the live shows. They each finished a respectable second in their heat in the first week, from unpromising running order positions. By week 4, Holly was five percentage points adrift of Kevin and Matt as she departed in the double elimination, and the Cutkelvins’ first original barely secured them half the vote of Rak-Su; they were well adrift in both week 5 votes.

In the big picture, that’s not too surprising: both acts went into the live shows looking like they were probably the betas in their category, and those strong first week votes will reflect the amount and positivity of their auditions-stage screentime. In the case of the Cutkelvins, it will also reflect a regional vote. But it’s the fate of a beta that when nothing goes wrong with the alphas, you’re generally not allowed to develop much further momentum.

Bragging rights for Chatterbox

Many congratulations to Chatterbox5200 for winning Sofabet’s just-for-fun pre-lives finishing order prediction competition – here’s his entry – and many thanks as always to Mech for calculating the results.

Covers blown

We’re fascinated to see what the new direction in 2017 portends for 2018. It’s hard to imagine they can go into the lives again with two favoured acts showcasing multiple originals and 14 others restricted largely to covers – it’ll look a bit too much like a foregone conclusion. But would they be happy to countenance live shows with every act doing a song viewers have never heard before? If not, how will they strike the balance? They may need to do even more behind-the-scenes expectations management than usual.

The other big question is whether they will bow to public pressure to bring back the singoff. We weren’t huge fans of the prize fight format, but we appreciate that it was part of an overall push to accentuate the positive, and that’s a good thing. Do feel free to send TPTB your format suggestions in the comments below.

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26 comments to X Factor 2017: Coming Up Roses

  • Anglia Chu

    A FEW THOUGHTS

    1. One thing this year has in common with Louisa’s year is the relatively straightforward narrative arc for the winner. Both series also had shortened lives. Can TPTB pull this off in a ten-week Live Show?

    2. This year, brandishing an original is a sign of favour. That said, when I see The Cutkelvins having only 10% of the vote in Week 5 when they did an original that was given high praise, it tells me an original not an assurance for survival (considering that Matt was thrown under a huge bus that night). How will the show pivot to allowing acts to go on their original without making future contestants lose trust in them?

    3. Last year, there was a fellow who compiled YouTube stats. http://sofabet.com/2016/12/12/x-factor-2016-voting-stats-matt-terry-accidental-winner/#comment-81011 This year’s numbers are terrible; the most-viewed Live Show video is Little Mix and CNCO’s duet in the final.

  • Ben Cook

    Regarding what Sharon said about the North – I prefer to believe that whether Sharon was told to say it, or she came up with it herself, she didn’t twig that it was potentially harmful to Grace.

    I know the show is largely scripted, but surely when it comes to the final, the “mentors” care enough about their own artists to not deliberately sabotage them. It’s a matter of personal pride as much as anything else.

    I just can’t imagine the conversation where Sharon is told that she has to slip in all these sly comments in because her act is not allowed to win this year. I know she’s paid a lot of money to do as she’s told, but as you’ve conceded before, there has to be a degree of pandering to their egos somewhere, to allow them to feel like they do have some say in what happens, and surely that includes being able to support their own artists – especially when they’ve made it to the final!

    • Martin

      I think it’s somewhwre in the middle. I’d expect that the judges and Dermot are briefed on the narrative prior to each show – I’d imagine Sharon’s brief would have been to show support and be motivational to Grace, whereas for Rak Su, it may have been to go completely over the top. These four judges are seasoned professionals and I highly doubt they’d all be asked back unless they were completely complicit in what they were doing. Let’s not forget, Grace was still supported, just not as much as Rak Su. There’s nothing I’d describe as harmful to her.

      • Ben Cook

        Daniel is suggesting though that Sharon happily went along with trashing her own artist’s chances by deliberately putting off the whole of the South of England from voting for her. Perfectly possible that she was told to say it, but if she was, I think she was too dumb to realise what she was doing by saying it.

    • India Marie

      The “North” thing seems a lot more innocuous than some are making it out to be. I don’t think Sharon (or anyone else) is saying that to alienate Grace’s fans in the south. It merely establishes that she has support from “the north”, which depicts her support as wide-reaching without necessarily encouraging Northerners to vote extra hard as a response.

      • Alan

        No I think the article has it spot on. The implication is that she only needs your support if you live in the north and that anyone in the south should naturally vote for RakSu.

        How much influence something like this has on the vote is debateable though. Not a huge amount in my opinion. Only the most floating of voters can be put off by such tactics surely. If you are a huge Grace fan and live on the south coast its not going to stop you throwing your votes her way. It must chip away at support though to some degree.

        That said I do think sometimes on here we over-emphasise the minor things assuming that they have a significant impact when in fact they’re negligible. This series more than ever has shown TPTB control the vote brilliantly with the age old tactics of running order, production – song choice, sound and staging – VTs and judges comments. Beyond those things the impact is minimal and do TPTB really need to worry about subliminal messages? If you want to get rid of Hollie you dont do it with a dodgy typeface you get Louis to say “I think you’re in trouble tonight”. I think people credit TPTB with a sublety that they dont deserve but maybe Im wrong. It would be fascinating to speak to someone who’s worked on the team and is party to the decision making process.

        • I think if we disproportionately emphasise the minor things, it’s not because we assume they have more than a marginal impact, it’s because we find them more entertaining to analyse and debate. For example I’m sure Rak-Su being on last in the running order had more impact than anything Sharon said about the north, but it would be boring to spend two paragraphs on it.

          Why would they bother with subliminals? I think two reasons. One is that it’s surely not much extra hassle for them. They have to come up with creative staging concepts and write a script anyway, so why not have concepts that both involve magnifying everyday objects and then work big/small references into Louis’s and Simon’s scripts (if that was indeed what they did, it could of course have been a coincidence).

          The other is that it’s funny. If we were running the show we would absolutely amuse ourselves by coming up with creative little ways to reinforce overall narratives about an act, like giving Lloyd a classic serif font and having Nicole compare him to plain spaghetti. We just assume that TPTB find these things as entertaining as we do, even if it is ultimately a case of marginal gains.

          • Chris Bellis

            As I’ve said before, when I worked in publicity we would spend hours discussing whether a font was “warm” “cold”, “heritage”, “wild west”,”art deco”, “art nouveau” or whether a picture group had the right mix of ages and ethnicities etc. This was because there is plenty of research to show that it matters. Since most of the production staff will have gone to the same universities as I and my former colleagues, it’s improbable that they would ignore such things. It is true that they would prefer that the audience doesn’t realise that they are being so manipulated. TPTB have now learned how much of each subliminal spoonful to add to the mix, so that the de-ramps are not so obvious. You can have a load of positive statements, but a sick making backdrop with a girl on a rocket to Mars, with creepy dancers, odd font, weird colours, add that to a poor running order and bingo. That’s if you want to totally de-ramp somebody. Bu if you are happy for them to still be in there, but damaged, then you don’t have to use all the weapons. I bet by now TPTB know exactly how much of a percentage de-ramp each weapon in their armoury produces. This makes for even better opportunities when betting. This year was fantastic, especially since so many people still seem to believe the de-ramps are at least partly accidental or unintended – in a sensible world RakSu would have been pulled out of the betting, so obvious was the intention of TPTB.
            Really entertaining article Andrew BTW.

          • Alan

            I was referring to the comments rather than the articles, which are always excellent. People latch onto your ideas and take them to ridiculous extremes.

            Chris proves my point.

  • Martin

    Excellent coverage this year, thanks for makIng the series as enjoyable as ever. I’ve said it before but without sofabet, there’s no way I’d be watching anymore. That said, this has been by far the most enjoyable series in years.

    I think it’s possible that The Cutkelvins were also used to illustrate that presenting an original song is not a guaranteed sign of favour. Granted, little negativity was sent their way during the weeks they performed their own material but to the casual viewer, at that point it may have seemed unfair that rak sue and Grace were the only ones doing it. The Cutkelvins treatment may have offset that slightly whilst tptb still controlled the vote.

    I’d suggest going forward, to extend the lives to the same as Louisa’s year. Ratings come first and obviously the reduction made no difference so there can’t be any harm in having more next year! I do like the new format as a whole, though – we just need more time to develop the acts and less double+ eliminations.

    Re: original material. I’d say this year worked quite well. It seemed as if acts could perform original material if they wanted to. A few more weeks, a few more strict themes like George Michael to please the covers fans, I don’t see any need for deviantion. It’s up to tptb to provide more acts whose own songs can cut it in the live shows more than anything .

    • India Marie

      One thing that went against TCK in their second original may be the theme: having their own material during “Cool Britannia” may have rubbed people off the wrong way.

  • Chris Bellis

    Alan thinks my ideas are “ridiculous”. All credit to him for being so trusting, but great news for betters like me. The more people think the way Alan does, the more dead cert bets there are to make, at better odds. If only horses were as easy, or football matches. You have a whole host of clues in X Factor you don’t get in any other show or sport. You know that TPTB want a certain act to win, and you get the clues every week. Alan is either a bookmaker who doesn’t want the punters to know they can make money, or just a very decent chap who hasn’t worked with the sort of devious bastards that I have. Is it a serious suggestion that TPTB don’t manipulate the result, and have an armoury of weapons to achieve that? Some obvious, some subtle, that only work when added together. Re subliminal persuasion, it’s not an invention, it’s bombarding you all the time. Advertisers wouldn’t pay millions if it didn’t work. You may think you’re immune, but you’re not. . Even more so when you think you’re not, like the bloke I saw at a hypnosis demonstration who said he was “unhypnotizable”. The hypnotist had him under in 20 seconds. Then took him back to his 5th birthday party where he acted out what presents he’d got. Then left him with a post hypnotic suggestion to bark like a dog when he saw the word “applause” on the stage cue-card. We are all a lot more gullible than we think.

    • Alan

      But when you assess the value of a clue you also need to assess the impact it’s likely to have on voting. Analyse typefaces all you want. It won’t make a scrap of difference in the grand scheme of things.

      I’m sorry if you took offence to my previous post. It was probably out of order. We clearly see things very differently. Sometimes it is difficult to express a difference of opinion without it appearing rude.

      I want to contribute to the site but I don’t always agree with some of the conventional wisdom. It can be hard to put that across without seeming to be contrary or argumentative.

      • Chris Bellis

        Sorry to be so sensitive, but I thought the word “ridiculous” was over the top. I never said eg a font on its own would make much difference, that was just a bit of joking around, but when the other subliminal and not so subliminal messages are added together it does. I have a friend whose daughter works as a producer on a rival reality show, and I can assure you that they really do discuss the most petty of presentation issues. It’s not a Syco production, so it’s a bit more honest and open, but they have many ways to get what they want, some obvious (running order, lighting, choice of material etc) some a lot more subtle (music hall font, tinny sound quality, references to past failures etc). But no doubt we will agree to differ. I’m glad you’re not a devious tosspot like so many of the people I worked with. A world with people like you is a better place, but don’t ever believe that chap that rings you up out of the blue and tells you that your computer is infecting the internet. Joke — I know from your comments that you are pretty savvy.

      • EM

        Alan, you seem to be reading the thoughts here wrongly. It’s not about the impact any one subliminal will make on the audience. It’s about spotting which act is getting the negative ones and which act is getting more positive ones.

        Learn to read it well and you’ll have a very solid indication of which acts are favourited by the producers and which are less so. THEN you factor in if the audience will play ball (using measurable metrics and gut feel) and then you have a punting strategy.

        And as Chris seems to be getting it in the neck let me back up what he says from his experience of audience manipulation by content providers. It absolutely does happen to the extremes in many cases and in ways that can’t even be spotted.

        A chat with a one time finalist led to some astonishing revelations about their VTs. In a nutshell the scenario the VT depicted (which made them look awful) didn’t actually happen. The first they new about it was when they watched the show back. Us mere viewers were never any the wiser.

        • Alan

          Thanks EM I know you mean well but I’m entirely happy that I’m reading nothing wrong here. There’s just a difference of opinion about the methods employed to manipulate votes.

          In this series just gone you didn’t need to look beyond the tried and trusted methods to identify producer intent. It was clear as day all through the live shows. I believe that looking beyond those methods is more likely to hinder any betting strategy as you might end up seeing manipulation where there was in fact none. And I think that is a trap that posters fall into all the time.

          • Bad news, Alan, we’ll definitely be analysing the typefaces next year 😀

            Thanks for the kind words above, guys!

          • RandomLincs

            Not so much Grace’s typeface but when I saw what’s been described as a little kiss between her first name and surname, my first thought was of the BGT red ‘X’.

          • Alan

            It’s very ambiguous. Two people have said they thought the X was off-putting but surely the font wasn’t designed to put people off voting for her. She was the second most favoured act.

            To me an ‘x’ next to someone’s name means vote for this person. That’s what you would do on a ballot paper.

            These kinds of messages are too open to different interpretations and that’s one of the reasons I dont believe TPTB employ them.

          • Alan

            Ha! I’d expect no less. It would be much more useful for the analysis to be undertaken at the start, or ideally, before the lives though.

            Thanks for a great series of articles this year. You read producers intentions correctly from day one all the way through to the final. See you next year for BGT.

    • Jessica Hamby

      No-one’s even mentioned the tricks that can be used by the camera – whether or not the performer benefits from the intimacy of a close up or is kept away from the viewer with long- and mid-shots.

      We are all a lot more manipulable than you think Alan.

      https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/08/yale-psychologist-john-bargh-politicians-want-us-to-be-fearful-theyre-manipulating-us-for-their-own-interest

      • Alan

        Absolutely. People are definitely easily manipulated. The show is living proof of that. This year more than ever. I’ve never suggested otherwise. Certain tactics will be a lot more influential than others and you need to have a sense of proportion when identifying these things. That is all Im saying.

  • India Marie

    From the XF YouTube channel: Becca Dudley’s Top 5 Nicole Moments. Interesting that four are deramps; the fifth is Nicole pandering to the British.

    https://youtu.be/yPVn-g2rHnI

  • Chatterbox5200

    Anyone got any thoughts on the most viewed TV show over Xmas? The Strictly speaci is odds-on, but the first appearance of a female Doctor could make Dr. Who value at 5/1.

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