Midweek refleXions: Not the Cher-sen one

The big mover in the outright winner betting markets over the weekend was Cher, now down to 11/2 after her tearful rendition of ‘Stay’ – a performance which Simon Cowell dubbed the best in the history of the universe (or was it just the series?)

Naturally, it wasn’t all that. And you didn’t have to venture far onto internet forums to find outraged fans of other acts jumping to the conclusion that this unsubtle hyping of Cher suggested she must be the “chosen one” to win the entire show.

I think this is an over-reaction and misunderstands how the show works, for several reasons.

For a start, there’ll be no such thing as a chosen “one”. Sure, we have argued that One Direction are Plan A, but whether we’re right or wrong about that, there will undoubtedly be plenty of overlapping backup plans. There will be shades of grey in terms of how happy the show would be with each act as a winner.

Moreover, it’s not all about the winner. Of course, it’s better to win than not to win. But as the likes of JLS, Olly Murs and Diana Vickers are demonstrating, plenty of money can still be made from acts who fall short.

The show will therefore be keen to cover their bases by building up several acts as possible recording artists. They can do this by rotating the spotlight from week to week – a tactic which also has the advantage of keeping the show more fresh and interesting for the viewing public.

I think the hyping of Cher in week 4 should be understood in this context. As a classic Marmite contestant – one who polarises opinion – Cher seems to me, at this stage, a highly unlikely winner. Marmiteness is great for getting through the early and middle stages of the live shows, with the support of an enthusiastic base. But when it gets down to the final two or three, it’s all about picking up the floating voters.

Never say never, of course, but Cher does not currently look like the kind of act who will pick up floating voters.

The praise for Cher was really about two things, I think: motivating her base, who will consequently pick up the phones to vote more, as well as potentially becoming a more lucrative market for her records in due course; and deflecting heat from other acts for a while.

One act with a plausible recording future who was noticeably less in the spotlight last Saturday was Matt. His rendition of Bleeding Love was fine but nothing we hadn’t heard from him before, and as a result he’s slipped in the betting from 7/4 out to 11/4.

I speculated last week that Matt could eventually struggle to maintain momentum, with no obvious “journey” to go on, and you could view Bleeding Love as perhaps the beginning of a slow retreat. Alternatively, you could simply see it as the show turning down the gas on him for a while, intending to bring him back to the boil when other acts have had their turn on the front-burner.

(In terms of his chances of winning the competition, though, I tend to agree with Nick’s comment to last week’s post that Matt’s REM vibe is not the most natural fit with the voting public who crown X Factor winners.)

Meanwhile Rebecca is simmering away nicely and down to 10/3. I would bet that if she and Cher had swapped places in the running order last Saturday, Rebecca would now be the clear outright favourite as her comments were arguably even better than Cher’s.

Simon Cowell compared her to Leona Lewis, as we ourselves did four weeks ago when our pre-live shows preview identified Rebecca as being set up to follow the “ugly duckling” narrative arc – a staple of reality TV, of which Leona is a prime example, in which a talented-but-shy contestant journeys to the swanhood of self-belief.

We noted in that article, however, that Rebecca’s lack of confidence had been emphasised more heavy-handedly than you would expect during the audition shows. I was reminded of this on Saturday night when Cheryl wheeled out two of the most potent compliments in the X Factor arsenal: “world class” and “ambassador for Britain”. You expect these to be used more in the later shows, in attempts to pummel the voting public into submission. It was somewhat disconcerting to hear them make an appearance as early as week 4.

Is it possible that Rebecca’s narrative arc is being accelerated, and she may run out of steam by the final? Rebecca hasn’t been in the pimp slot yet (the first four shows were closed by Treyc, Matt, Katie and Cher), and it will be very interesting to see how soon she features there.

I still believe that all the signs are pointing in One Direction, now joint favourites with Matt at 11/4. I commented last week on Simon choosing to praise them for their hard work, and it was interesting to see this theme being developed again on Saturday both in the VTs and in Simon’s comments.

What I think we’re witnessing here is the show patiently laying foundations. If they emphasise now how hard the boys are working, viewers are more likely to think they have earned and deserve the torrent of hype that I expect to come their way when the show decides the time is right.

I also mentioned last week a theory that the key to success as a group is being perceived to be genuinely close off-camera, so I was delighted to hear Louis yelling at them “you’ve gelled as friends” during his comments. I expect we’ll hear more about this in the weeks to come.

The critical moment for One Direction will come when these fledglings are pushed out of the nest with a big song in the pimp slot, helping the producers to decide whether or not they will fly. That might happen as early as this week, although I would suspect week 6 or 7 is more likely.

A final word on Mary, about whom my crystal ball appears to be malfunctioning badly. Two weeks ago I wondered if she might make the final. Last week I thought her odds in the outright market might rebound with a good performance. Instead she’s drifted further, to 20/1.

I haven’t quite given up on Mary. She can probably afford to fly under the radar for another week or two given the presumed strength of her core votes – the Irish and older demographics – and she still has time to put in a game-changing performance, if she has it in her.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments box below!

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7 comments to Midweek refleXions: Not the Cher-sen one

  • Daniel

    I agree with the theory here, Andrew, but I disagree on two fronts. Firstly, I think Matt does have the common touch required to win. He is also more likely to provide a killer, spine-tingling moment in a final than either Rebecca or One Direction. Secondly, Mary has been tanking ever since a great start, and was embarrassingly bad last week. Even her mentor Louis seems uninterested in backing her.

  • MarinaMau

    Very well exposed. Could not agree more. Daniel, I think a final three of Matt, Rebecca and One direction could be quite interesting. Not sure who would win though. I think Rebecca has much more potential that it has been shown so far. And both could really do amazing performances if the productions are spot on.

  • Penny Jackson

    I think the voting public have already begun to see how much help ie backing vocals, auto tuning Wand Erection are getting, and their problem will be if they make the final I doubt they would pick up the floating voter (who historically tend to go for the act who can actually sing without any help) !! For that reason I think Matt will win because he has a broader fan base and doesn`t need any enhancement to make him sound good !!

  • Andrew

    Thanks, MarinaMau! I reckon the most plausible path to victory for One Direction, if they make the final, is not so much an amazing performance (which both Matt and Rebecca are likely more capable of) but working up the young female fan base into a state of multiple-voting hysteria. Agree with Penny though about the risk of a backlash if they’re perceived as getting too much help (hence, I think, all this “working hard” stuff). If they’re going to win, it will have to be a perfectly-timed run to the finishing line…

  • I think you are spot on with most of your comments. I also think One Direction will need to show they can actually sing without backing help, if they can do that they could very well win this show. I think the final 3 are likely to be Rebecca, Matt and 1Direction, and if that is the case I think I am hard pushed to say who will win, I do know Matt appears to have a very large and loyal fan base and should pick up floating voters along the way as other acts leave the show.
    Your points are interesting on Cher, who although was good I did not think was the best on the night, Matt did not in my opinion have the right song, lets hope this week he has something more fitting to him as a singer. Rebecca has a lovely voice but I do think they need to make her look her age and not some 40 year old, she may sing with a Jazz voice but that does not mean she has to look OLD. Matt needs some clothes that fit him as well, as they always look a bit “grand dads” wardrobe and not young trendy and he is only 27 not 47! I think both Matt and Rebecca appeal to the wider audience whereas 1Direction appeal to the younger audience, and the latter seem more inclined to mutiple vote which is why I think they stand a good chance of winning.

  • Nick

    I am still looking for publicly available stats that will help predict the voting. Pure analysis isn’t going to work as I was completely wrong last weekend so I’m going to look for trends rather than specifics from now on. I think the iTunes figures are a guide but the users of iTunes are too small a sample of the X-Factor audience for the figures to be taken on their own. Twitter is tricky so instead I’m going to factor in You Tube views and see what happens when comparing week on week.

    If you look at the official X Factor page on You Tube, clips of all of the acts from each week are listed along with the number of views. I’ve just had a look at the figures and, as of 3pm today, there are some interesting observations.

    1. Only 3 acts have achieved more than 1 million views. Two of these are no surprise – Cher Lloyd and Matt Cardle. However the third act is Aiden Grimshaw with nearly 1.4 million views of his first live show performance.

    2. Cher Lloyd’s performance from last Saturday has achieved nearly 1,273,545 views where Matt Cardle’s performance from the same night has only 262,378 views. Matt is behind One Direction who have 317,919 views and are in second place. It is staggering that the difference between Cher and the rest of the pack is close to 1 million views.

    3. If you add up the views for the clips from all 4 live shows, Cher is way in front with Matt behind her as his early clips scored very highly. One Direction, Aiden Grimshaw and Mary Byrne follow in that order.

    4. Paije, TreyC and Wagner have a very weak performance on You Tube if you look at the stats across all 4 weeks.

    If the You Tube views relate to the voting, Cher is a very strong contender. iTunes shows a similar trend but is less dramatic.

    • Andrew

      Thanks very much for this, Nick – hoping to see you in the comments box before Sunday’s show!! I’m instinctively unsure of how much you can conclude in terms of predicting the whole show from the occasional performance that seems to hit a nerve, like Aiden’s ‘Mad World’ and Cher’s ‘Stay’. I would guess it’s more likely to be consistently strong views from week to week that would bode well for overall chances of winning, but maybe not – time will tell.

      Please do keep all the different statistics, because in the last two years the show has released voting %s for all weeks soon after the final, so that will allow checking back to see how closely each metric actually did predict the vote that week. Won’t be any help this series, but would be very interesting for the next one!

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