X Factor: Why I’m switching to Matt Cardle

Andrew laid out yesterday why he thinks that our original prediction, One Direction, can still be crowned the winners of X Factor 2010. We think producers have wanted them to win from the beginning, but the plan is going to fail, in my opinion. Instead, I’m backing Matt Cardle for victory.

I should start by saying that I like One Direction: they are five personable, nice-looking lads who are ideal for their demographic. There’s always a place for boy bands in the music industry and thus a competition like this. That’s why producers put them together in the first place.

But there are two main reasons why the plan to crown them may not be successful.

The main problem they’ve faced this series is accusations that they get too much help from backing tracks during their performances. Often, the guys have been drowned out in the chorus.

This had led to the idea that they can’t really sing. Actually, two out of the five – Liam and Harry – are adequate enough vocalists, and that’s about par for the course with any boy band. But thanks to the caution of producers in turning up the backing track, the public perceive the group to be vocally weak.

Trouble is, when we get to the X Factor final, a wider range of viewers are voting, often for the first time, and they’re looking to reward the most talented vocals. A recent piece of market research on X Factor by Survation (admittedly asking those aged 18 and over), found that over 78% would vote based on this criteria.

When the boys have had the chance to prove themselves vocally, they haven’t taken it: in week 5, they got the pimp slot and ‘Kids In America’ but the backing track did all the work; nor did they make the most in weeks 6 and 7 of weaker performances from Matt (‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘Come Together’) and Rebecca (‘Candle In The Wind’ and ‘Yesterday’). Likewise, in the semi-final they were presented with a double pimp slot, and a below-par Matt, but were somehow unable to build up a head of steam from it.

Earlier today, Iain reiterated these points in his great response to Andrew’s article: One Direction are only third in all the major surveys, have not had a more popular song on YouTube than their Week 1 performance and do not have a standout song during the live shows or auditions to rely on – as Matt, Rebecca and even Cher do – if one of the final songs is a reprise of an earlier one.

And herein lies the rub. Matt and Rebecca in particular are both perceived to be better vocalists with a distinctive style. The boys don’t seem to have a style of their own. Until the semi-finals there was no harmonising at all, which for a group of singers is what people are expecting.

Actually, the harmonising, when it finally came, was OK. But producers needed to train them quicker and get them displaying it far sooner in the competition. By last weekend, the perception of the band as poor vocalists carried forward by favourable treatment was well ingrained.

Which leads us to their second main problem. As soon as Simon Cowell took control of the groups category, it became clear the raison d’etre for doing this was to nurture One Direction. But looking like Simon’s poodles won’t ultimately do the boys any favours in the final. In retrospect they would have been better off under the maternal gaze of Dannii or Cheryl.

Simon has become increasingly smug about their chances. Marry that to the growing outcry about the way the elimination process has been manipulated – culminating in the surprise semi-final sing-off – and you dampen the One Direction vote because it also seems like a vote for Simon Cowell.

For these two reasons, when I ask people who watch the show (usually aged over 18) who they want to win, they usually say Matt, with Rebecca as an alternative. This indicates that due to the problems outlined above, which producers could have done more to rectify, One Direction are not connecting enough beyond their core teen demographic.

Part of the problem is that there are five of them. We haven’t really had a chance to get to know them well enough in the short space of time since the live shows began. Carefully controlled in the X Factor house, we know about Harry being the cheeky one the girls like, but I reckon most viewers would be hard pressed to remember the names of all of them.

This is not the case with Matt and Rebecca, who are two strong rivals in the final. Matt may have had some issues with the media suggesting he has an attitude of entitlement. This doesn’t seem to affect the opinions about him from X Factor viewers I talk to, who rightly take these stories with a pinch of salt and seem to favour him most of all. He comes across as a good bloke, and has an everyman quality.

In terms of talent, Matt is still the only act to have provided goosebump moments for me during the live shows – with ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. I commented on this as far back as November 3.

If he manages something like that again, it would in my view be the money moment that sways enough voters and wins him the prize. He could have a couple of opportunities to provide it: by reprising one of those two numbers, or in his celebrity duet (an early rumour put him with Christina Aguilera on ‘Hurt’, which would promise a special note or two).

The fact that he is seen as a musician – able to sit there, sing and play the guitar (during an excellent rendition of ‘Nights in White Satin’) – makes him in people’s minds the antithesis of the manufactured One Direction.

As well as talent, Matt’s chances are enhanced by having Dannii as his mentor, and by not being perceived as the candidate Simon Cowell wants to win. I speculated about this back on October 27, and it’s worth quoting again:

Cowell will be desperate to ensure One Direction are in the final. In doing so, he may create a backlash. It’s early days for such a theory, but Matt Cardle is the most talented performer and yet could still also become the anti-Simon underdog in the final. A role which enabled Will Young to beat Gareth Gates. Let’s see how it plays out.

How has it played out? Any Cowell backlash may be more related to the way Mary was eliminated last Sunday, rather than the preferential treatment given to One Direction, but as public opinion fulminates against the show for what they see as its manipulation and falseness, Matt is able to strike a note of authenticity. That will work hugely in his favour.

He suffered a wobble during the semi-finals when hindered by a sore throat. This is not ideal, as most previous winners have gone into the final with a measure of momentum. But the latest Survation report indicates towards the end that “it seems that the public did feel some genuine sympathy for Matt performing while ill and still rate him their clear favourite”.

It therefore appears that he’s still the most popular contestant, even when not on top form. This is because he has the vital mixture of passion and talent – and he’s not seen as being controlled by Simon Cowell. All this makes his prospects very strong: ultimately, if he hits the heights we know he can achieve, it’s his to win.

Rebecca can also claim to be a more authentic artist than One Direction, but her main problem is that she doesn’t have any stage presence – hence the comments from the judges that she has a ‘great recording voice’. She has been virtually static throughout her performances, until looking slightly uncomfortable making a couple of strides in her semi-final rendition of ‘Show Me Love’.

Partly for this reason, I have found Rebecca to be a rather uninspired performer at times during the live shows, and even speculated that she could be in danger of falling into a sing-off situation in Weeks 8 and 9. But she is clearly popular enough not to have found herself there.

What’s more, her performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ gave her much higher levels of activity on Twitter and YouTube, and seemed to indicate that she had some measure of momentum going into the final week. Her smoky vocals clearly have plenty of admirers and we cannot underestimate the fact that she is the most likeable of the finalists. Her story is genuinely heart-warming.

I just struggle to see her providing the spine-tingling moment that we got when Alexandra Burke duetted with Beyonce. If she provides it this weekend, and Matt fluffs his opportunity, that could prove a gamechanger, however. Early rumours suggested she would be partnered by Robbie Williams, which wouldn’t do her any favours; it’s also been rumoured she could snatch Christina Aguilera from under Matt’s nose for a rendition of “Beautiful”, which would be altogether more promising for a gamechanging moment.

Having survived a second sing-off thanks to the judges, the strong likelihood this coming weekend is that Cher will be eliminated first. I think Andrew said all that needs to be said about Cher’s chances in yesterday’s article. Duet rumours so far this week have variously linked her with Avril Lavigne and will.i.am, neither of whom seem especially likely to give her the necessary turbo-boost.

This would leave us a One Direction / Matt / Rebecca contest. And if that’s the case it will be interesting to see what happens next, because producers will be making it much harder for One Direction if there’s a further elimination and another public vote on the final two acts standing.

This is because I believe that if either Matt or Rebecca are eliminated next, their supporters are more likely to switch to the other more musically talented candidate rather than go One Direction’s way. This is why I reckon we will probably have a three-way final vote. It splits the anti-Simon, anti-One Direction vote.

So despite all my reservations, I’m not saying the boys don’t have a chance. I, like Andrew, fully expect producers to pull out every stop for them this coming weekend, including the second pimp slot in a row. (If Matt gets the pimp slot, it would be an early admission of defeat by Simon Cowell.)

But, given that they were Plan A from the beginning, I’m surprised the plan hasn’t been executed more effectively. As a result, I expect One Direction to fall short, and Matt Cardle – the most popular and talented contestant – to take the crown.

9 comments to X Factor: Why I’m switching to Matt Cardle

  • if matt gets pimp spot fill ur wheel barrow and get 2 the bookies asap but i say if, i believe if mr cowell finally relises that 1direction are not as popular as everyone thinks he wiil revert to plan b and champion rebecca ferguson esp if the rumours were true and she topped the semi final vote as i believe he thinks matt will be a 1 album wonder and rebecca has a far superior recording voice either way paddy power are offering 15-8 for a matt rebecca 1-2 in any order thats 1 ov the best bets ive ever seen in xfactor history fill ur boots i av and if matt gets that pimp spot and sings the first time i ever saw ur face lump on he,ll be unbeatable

  • Wagbo

    Evening all.

    Rebecca – Rihanna
    Cher – Will I Am
    Matt – Christina A
    One Direction – possibly Robbie

    Not 100% confirmed but from a good place. Could explain why Rebecca’s odds have come into to round about the same as One Direction’s.

    Press has been quiet so far this week so nothing to read into which acts are being promoted/talked down.

    It’s just not happening for One Direction. I predict they’ll go for Rebecca to get the good slots, killer duet, big Christmas song and Matt will be portrayed in a press “leak” are arrogant or nasty.

  • Andrew

    Hm. If those duets are confirmed that would almost certainly tell us they’re giving up on 1D, and presumably also – as you both suggest – swinging behind Rebecca. Interesting.

  • hanna

    I’m very surprised that you don’t really consider (or did and I just didn’t see) what I think is rather important in the outcome of of the final : he winner’s single. I think the song choice and the arrangement used was was defining the winner. Last year’s the Climb was clearly playing on Joe’s strengths (rich powerful voice) than olly’s (stage presence, entertainment). would have been interesting to hear what stacey’s version sounded like, i don’t think very good. Hallelujah was a masterpiece coming from Alexandra, not too exciting from JLS or Eoghan (his version was on YT for a bit) . And Leona shone in Moment like this while Ray barely made t through the song. (…yet come to think Leon wasn’t really killing Rhydian with his When You believe, another aspect where that year is an exception to the rule 😉 )The producers already know how the winner’s songs are working out for each, so it will be interesting to see how they build momentum for that performance. I think the duets are part of this process, bigging up someone for the winner-song performance.
    The separate winner song for each is also a big gamble. It should theoretically be to suit each act best but it will obviously mean that some will simply get better songs than others (and despite the opinion that some people can sing the phone book and amaze the truth is that a good song makes possibly even more a hood artist then a good voice). It’s rumored on the DS forum that OneDir’s winner single wil be Forever Young, which to me sounds perfect for them, quite powerfull song , Liam’s and Harry’s voice can handle the verses and the chorus calls for it to be drowned in backing track…
    It looks almost certain that cher won’t reach that final stage, so it’s very exciting what they prepared for Matt and Rebecca.

    • Daniel

      Hi Hanna,
      Thank you for making these excellent and relevant points. I agree with you that in past years, the winner’s song has suited some acts more than others, and thus had an impact on the result. We will be posting on this issue as soon as we hear what has been lined up for the others. My gut feeling is that having different songs for different finalists makes it harder to compare. It may also suggest that producers are unsure about which act to push in the final, and have decided to hedge their bets so they can make a late decision. We will see, and update with a relevant comment or post when we are more sure – please keep us informed with anything you hear likewise.

  • hanna

    ps. Some newer, more ‘insider’ spoilers say

    Matt- Rihanna
    Cher – Avril Lavigne
    Rebecca -Christina Aguilera (doing Beautiful, which I find bit unfortunate, it’s a very good song, but lacks a peak moment, just like many of rebecca’s previous performances)
    One Direction – Robbie Williams (doing she’s the one )

    this come from a user claiming to have previosly correctly posted spoilers about one direction ( i didn’t follow up to see if it’s so)…

  • marinamau

    This year we have been hearing a lot of judges comments and mentions about “recording artist”, “credible”, “recording voice”… which looks to me that they are clearly thinking of sales of singles afterwards. It could be all smoking mirrors, but then again it could be an indication of their intentions.

    There is data that producers (namely Simon Cowell) may consider this year for pushing the finalist and/or the winner. That date is the actual iTunes sales for each and every contestant performance, not ratings and comments, but every single sale.
    Those numbers will be a relative yet probably will be more accurate forecast on how the contestants are going to fare as selling recording artists after the X Factor,those numbers should be more accurate than just voting figures.

    As we don’t know that data, we don’t know the implications of it for the final. That data could indicate many different things, including that One Direction is not selling as many songs as they should and surprisingly Rebecca is, or the opposite.

    I kind of get the feeling that this year once that they kept Wagner and Katie as long as they wanted, got rid of Mary, producers will look at the numbers in terms of who can more likely bring more revenue in a short term and help that contestant. That larger revenue looked at the beginning of the show like it would definitely come from One Direction but the iTunes sales figures may prove otherwise.

    I don’t think the X Factor TV program cares much about success post X factor of the contestants. However with the launch of X Factor USA next year and last years winner underperforming in alarming numbers, I think the people in charge of X Factor the brand this year need a good winner credible in terms of sales.

  • Martin

    The leak of Matts ‘winners single’ a cover of Biffy Clyro has caused some excitement and given him a boost – its seen as a new direction. Also there seems more of a buzz about the Rihanna diet now than the Xtina one probably because matt is involved… he has that excitement tagged around him. Matts odds have shortened again today so I think you’ve called it right. The guy does deserve to win after all, all the bad press Syco could throw at him hasnt slowed him because people respond to him. Only failure to recover sufficiently from his illness will rob him though as you suggest we should still expect some dirty tricks from Simon to get the win for 1 Direction or Rebecca. Great analysis!

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