Midweek refleXions: A-Waisseling we will go

Unlike my sofabet colleague Daniel Gould, I don’t have the balls to risk six-figure sums on light entertainment. The pleasure I take from shows like X Factor lies more in the fascination of trying to reverse-engineer the producers’ script by observing how they appear to be trying to manipulate public opinion. In this “Midweek refleXions” (see what we did there?) column, we’ll be taking a step back to survey this broader X Factor landscape.

Parts of last week’s first live show were as reassuringly predictable as ever. In our preview article discussing the then-final 12, we suggested John Adeleye and FYD would be lined up for early exits; sure enough, FYD were given the doom slot of opening the show and were duly eliminated. John Adeleye, meanwhile, was sent out in third position with low-key staging and between two much higher-profile acts, and how he escaped the bottom three remains a mystery.

I was, however, genuinely surprised by the addition of the four wild cards. Here’s my reading of what happened – I’d love to know if you agree.

I suspect that in the original script, the first live show was intended to revolve around Katie and Gamu. Recall that both were introduced in lengthy segments of the very first audition show, thus linking them in the public subconscious and giving them maximum tabloid time. This was probably no coincidence: the two most headline-generating acts of the last series, Jedward and Danyl, were also introduced in the first audition show.

With Rebecca and Cher up their sleeves as relatively uncontroversial picks, the producers presumably planned all along that Katie would be cast as the pantomime villain who denied Gamu her rightful place. And the original rumours – which had the public choosing one wildcard from judges’ houses rejectees – made a lot of sense. This would have been a plan redolent of the evil genius we’ve come to expect from the show: manufacture outrage by excluding Gamu; allow the public to express their outrage through a phone vote; profit!

Circumstantial evidence that this was still the plan until relatively late in the day comes from the outright betting market. When the final 12 had been widely leaked, bookmakers were happily offering 50-1 about any act outside that 12 – except for Gamu, who was no bigger than 8-1.

So was it only when the Border Agency rendered Gamu a non-starter that the producers decided instead to roll the dice on a final 16? It certainly smacks of a hasty decision – the opening show felt rushed, bloated and with an end-of-the-pier quality to it. It also looked like the kind of barrel-scraping stunt you expect from a tired format, which is an odd impression to give as they prepare to launch the show in the US. Then again, they may simply have seen this as their last chance to try something new before the US launch.

Whatever, I think they took their eyes off the ball with two of the bottom three.

If they intended to sacrifice Nicolo this early, then it was a bizarre decision – he had the potential to develop into one of this series’s defining acts. As for Katie, as Dan noted, we can make two assumptions from the fact that the judges saved her rather than going to deadlock: that the producers didn’t want to lose her, and that she got fewer votes than FYD so she came very close to going instead of Nicolo.

Looking ahead to this week, two questions intrigue me.

First, how can they save Katie again? They will surely want to: as the ever-excellent Bitch Factor note, Katie “equals drama equals headlines equals ratings equals ££££££££”. The original script presumably called for her to go on a “journey” to humble likeability, but this now looks like a tall order. One would assume that a waterworks-filled VT and a prime slot in the running order beckon; will it be enough?

Second, how quickly will they want rid of the wildcards?

On the one hand, if the four wildcards start outlasting most of the acts chosen ahead of them, it could start to look embarrassing. We know the show cares somewhat about this, because whenever a rejectee from a previous year reauditions they are made to undergo the ritual humiliation of agreeing that the judge was right to reject them as they “weren’t ready”. That makes sense if the rejection was a year or two ago, but not if it was last week.

On the other hand, this show undoubtedly has the brass neck to spin an embarrassment as a triumph: it’s easy to imagine a strong showing for the wildcards being hailed as a vindication of the wildcard concept.

I can’t call which way they’ll take it. But if they do care about saving face on the initial choices, the fact that it’s Cheryl who has most face to lose makes me wonder if they might just be tempted to try to throw Treyc under a bus this week.

Finally, it’s worth noting an overlap in the TV schedules. X Factor starts at 7.30, and Strictly finishes at 7.45 – so whichever contestants the producers send out in these opening 15 minutes will presumably be more vulnerable.

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