Midweek refleXions: Our X Factor finishing order prediction revisited

Almost two months ago, after judges’ houses, Daniel and I put our heads together to predict the finishing order of the then-final 12. It was a bit of fun, and inevitably we didn’t get everything right.

But seven weeks into the live shows, we’re struck – although we say so ourselves – by how well much of the reasoning still stands up. It’s time for an update on what we’ve learned since then (you can read the original finishing order prediction here).

We had One Direction as our winners, having surmised that they were Producer Plan A this year. And as regular readers of this weekly column will have gathered, we are still as convinced as ever that One Direction are the act the show wants to win.

They have been very cleverly marketed, not least during this week’s ‘All You Need Is Love’ with the shamelessly brilliant gimmick of sending a posse of girls on stage to dance excitedly behind them. No question what symbolism that was subliminally reinforcing in Beatles week.

As we’ve got to know the five boys more during the series, we’ve come to appreciate what in the original article was only an assumption on our part: that they must have been extremely carefully chosen. (They were not, of course, cobbled together as an afterthought at bootcamp – they will have been singled out for this project from a very early stage).

As well as Liam’s strong vocals and established fan base from his previous exposure, another strong vocalist in the cheekily cute Harry has evolved into arguably the group’s main sex symbol. The equally cute Zayn also happens to tick the box of an ethnic demographic, while baby-faced Niall brings in the Irish demographic (and if Mary doesn’t make the final, expect Niall to feature prominently in One Direction’s homecoming VTs). Niall also brings out the mothering instinct. Louis, meanwhile, weighs in with his sense of fun and likeable personality.

Our doubt with One Direction in the original article was whether the producers would succeed in manoeuvring them over the finishing line – they don’t always get the voting public to give them what they want. But the continued media focus on Katie and Wagner has been a huge boon for One Direction, minimising the time left for any anti-Simon backlash to develop against them, as could easily have happened if they had been too blatantly favoured for too long.

There will now be only one show at most between Katie’s and Wagner’s eliminations and the final – and if they get through this week, no gap at all. We fully expect One Direction to get the works in those last couple of weeks: the pimp slot, standing ovations, great comments, an all-out attempt to manufacture a tidal wave of support.

Their main potential wavebreaker is Matt, who we had finishing second in our original preview. Matt has now been favourite for a long time, and as we pointed out a month ago, long-time market leaders (Ben Mills, Rhydian Roberts, Diana Vickers, Olly Murs) have a habit of being overtaken.

As undoubtedly the most talented of this year’s crop, Matt would be the natural beneficiary of any anti-Simon backlash if one were to develop. So it’s likely no coincidence that Matt hasn’t been getting a great press of late. In particular there has been a drip-drip-drip of stories about his alleged annoyance at Wagner’s continued survival while more talented singers depart.

You may think this is doing him no harm. But consider the subtext: by appearing to stand up for the more talented singers, Matt is implicitly making clear that he counts himself among their number. And so he is. But this could easily become a perception that Matt thinks he’s entitled to win because he’s the best singer. And while the voting public like to reward talent, they also like to reward humility.

In a One Direction vs Matt final, the boys could struggle against a more talented Matt who comes across as humble and nice, as he did in the early shows. They would stand a better chance against a more talented Matt who comes across as a bit full of himself. Such a public perception is arguably what did for Ben Mills, who went out against the likeable but vocally weaker Ray Quinn in Leona’s year, and to whom we compared Matt in our original article. Is this what Matt’s recent press portrayal has been about, and will it work? Time will tell.

Our original preview had Rebecca in third. That’s where she is in the betting again, after her brief flirt with favouritism in week 6, but her ‘Yesterday’ continued a downward trajectory following that pimp slot disappointment. Back in week 5, all her troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they’re here to stay.

We compared Rebecca to Leona, as the classic “ugly duckling” contestant who journeys towards self-confidence. Rebecca is not, however, noticeably developing much presence or charisma, and she’s coming across as resembling Leona more in an evident lack of personality than in her vocal ability. Time’s running out for Rebecca, as we don’t expect the show will now be inclined to help her develop into a serious contender against One Direction. Being saved in a sing-off this coming weekend is probably the best thing that could happen to her at this stage.

Before the live shows we slated Cher for a fourth-place finish – about the ceiling, we thought, for a Marmite act who has her devoted fanbase but would likely struggle to broaden it among floating voters. That still seems about right, but as Daniel said on Monday the sympathy bounce Cher is due after finding herself in the week 7 sing-off could easily now be enough to carry her into the final three.

In fifth we had Nicolo Festa – remember him? Poor Nicolo, eccentric diva, we never knew ye. With the wildcard twist, his ecological niche on the show was suddenly very crowded (Wagner as a competing eccentric, Diva Fever as competing divas) and he paid the price in the opening show. Without the wildcard twist, we stand by our view that he could have gone far.

We put Mary next, and despite a return to form with ‘Something’ at the weekend, our original assessment – that her core demographics would carry her through the opening shows, but she’d struggle to broaden her appeal enough to make the final – looks right enough.

After that we had Belle Amie outlasting Aiden. Oops. But we were broadly right about Aiden not doing as well as many had expected, and although we hadn’t anticipated the whole Scary Aiden persona, our reasons – vocal weakness, lack of a strong regional vote and competition for the cute boy niche from One Direction – still seem sound in retrospect.

Then we had Storm Lee Gardner outlasting Katie Waissel. Again, oops. But as we argued when he was thrown to the wolves in week two, Storm Lee was a victim of the wildcard twist, like Nicolo. He might have fared a bit better if it’d just been the original 12.

We were somewhat perceptive about Katie, at least, writing: “We struggle to see where her votes are coming from”. Despite her survival this week off the back of the pimp slot, her four sing-off appearances in seven shows would suggest that our vision wasn’t at fault. We didn’t foresee Katie being saved quite so relentlessly, but we did correctly identify her designated role as being this series’ hate figure, a role she has fulfilled with remarkable aplomb. Check back tomorrow for further thoughts from Daniel on why Katie has been getting a raw deal.

Finally, we had FYD and John Adeleye down for 11th and 12th. John Adeleye stuck around for longer than we expected, but in both cases the logic stood up well enough.

Cast your minds back eight weeks to before the live shows – what did you expect then, and who has surprised you? Let us know in the comments box below!

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