X Factor 2012 – Despatches from the Water Cooler

Imagine, if you will, a member of the typical X Factor viewing audience. Did you picture an ex-military single parent eating pork-pies impaled with miniature St George flags? Or perhaps a hormonal, double-dialling tweenybopper high on pixie-sticks? I imagine that the words ‘ITV demographic’ will conjure a different image for everyone.

In my mind, the figure is a sort of dumpy, overly talkative and borderline racist Northern female. In fact – and I have realised this only as I type – the figure is not a hundred miles away from Gillian Duffy.

I don’t mean to be a snob about those viewers who watch the X Factor with less hubristic cynicism than I. The stereotype of lobotomised working-class heroes playing along to the tune of Cowellian bullshite may be a little harsh. Still, since stumbling across Sofabet in 2010, I have found X Factor-related chit-chat with day job colleagues has become a near impossibility. Water cooler moments are utterly devoid of even rudimentary analysis.

They do, however, offer us punters our most personal insights into the thinking of viewers who aren’t given to using terms such as “pimp slot” and “sympathy bounce”. In this spirit, I offer – anecdotally and unscientifically – despatches from my own workplace’s water cooler.

Finding Number 1 – People are rooting for Ella

Of course everyone around my water cooler thinks Ella is fantastic. What they don’t seem to have realised is that everyone else thinks the same thing. Despite Ella having dominated a favourable and lengthy segment to close almost every stage of the competition, people feel like Ella is their hand-picked favourite. They see something special in her.

Finding Number 2 – Most people seem to like James and/or Lucy too

Both seem to receive a lot of praise around the water cooler, although both are capable of drawing an uninvited yet more than occasional ‘yeeeeesh’ from the corner of the room. Both are praised for their musicianship, yet both are divisive – even grating – acts.

Finding Number 3 – Everybody’s talking about Rylan

Rylan is the subject of much damnation around my water cooler. Regular comments focus on how talentless he is or how little he deserves to be in amongst better singers in the competition. Of course, these comments in themselves validate Rylan’s very purpose in the competition, but the water cooler is not to know that.

Finding Number 4 – The boybands aren’t liked, but respected

Union J and District 3 are regularly mentioned in ‘who do you think will win?’ conversations but rarely raised as an answer to questions such as ‘who do you like?’

After Ella, James, Lucy, Rylan and the boybands, the conversation usually turns to other topics or else descends into awkward silence until a single yet sizable air pocket wobbles upwards through 25 litres of Mountain Spring and the working day resumes as normal.

No Jade, no Christopher, no Kye and – most intriguingly, given his position in the betting – rarely a Jahmene. They are almost eerily absent from my water cooler. What I am intrigued to know, dear Sofabet commenters, is how my findings compare with the discussions around your own (literal or otherwise) drinking stations?

As I return rehydrated to work, I tend to draw a couple of conclusions. First, the public do seem to be playing ball rather spectacularly this year. Hooray for independent thought!

And second, this year feels more like 2010 than 2011 to me. Remember that at this stage last year, the big hitters were Janet Devlin, Craig Colton and The Risk. By the time the final rolled around, however, they had morphed bizarrely into Amelia Lily, Marcus Collins and Little Mix – all of whom had previously looked like early weeks fodder.

2010 was quite the opposite – Matt, Rebecca, One Direction and Cher were pimped from the outset with Katie Waissel playing the unwilling pantomime villain. Cher and Katie took a little extra pushing but producers had no problems getting the public to bite with their top 3.

I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to say that ‘Frankella’ has an immeasurable lead on her fellow dobbins (and at prices like 4/5 would you really want to chance it?) – especially as, with the travesty of Brian Friedman having been flown back to the US, we may now see six weeks of her doing slowed-down Adele covers in couture until every member of the production team has committed suicide or been pecked to death by doves struggling for premature release.

But a top 3 featuring Ms Henderson besting James ‘performance of the entire series’ Arthur with Union J in third feels just as viable – if not more so – as when we published our pre-lives 1-13 prediction piece.

In that piece, we had Lucy slated for the 4th spot occupied by Cher two years ago. She’s almost trebled in price since then, to 50/1, but judging by conversations around my water cooler I can still see her getting that far, as long as producers continue to see her as less disposable than Jade. I’m not yet seeing any reason to doubt that.

And what of the disposability of boybands? There has been much debate in the comments about whether last week’s treatment might have portended a switch of horses. I’m still inclined to agree with the Guardian’s Stu Heritage in his excellent description of District 3 as “Never Let Me Go-style organ pods that exist purely in case anything nasty happens to one of Union J”.

District 3 certainly put on the more exciting show last Saturday and were generally more memorable. Union J were, nonetheless, blessed with pyrotechnics (golden shower, anyone?), the expense of which Dermot pointed out, almost in the manner of a Sofabet commenter.

Ultimately, as many have said, District 3’s early appearance in the bottom two has marked them as damaged goods/ sloppy seconds / nobbled pie / pavement pizza / soiled briefs or something of such description.

So I’m sticking with the gut feeling that we’re on course for a final four of our front-running golden girl; two likeable, original – if slightly irritating – troubadours; and the makings of One Direction 2.0.

Is my water cooler causing me to underestimate the appeal of Jahmene (whose vocal gymnastics are not so much McKayla Maroney as Barbara Mosely), or the oft-debated necessity for Gary to take an act to the final? As ever, our comments section awaits.

30 comments to X Factor 2012 – Despatches from the Water Cooler

  • Lia

    Great piece Dug! I think our water coolers are very similar.
    And if I go home, my husband hates Lucy and my daughter (6 years-old) loves Rylan for all the wrong reasons. She is now convinced he can’t sing but does it matter? Big NO!
    Checking back on past contestants, they didn’t get mentions around my water cooler either. No one was really bothered by them leaving with one colleague even saying “Carolynne is irritating with that cowboy accent she does when singing”.
    The absence of Jahmene is noticed but being the big voiced awkward kid, though something that might have worked on earlier series but not now. It’s very easy to determine the best vocalist (a couple of auditions with vocal gymnastics would suffice) but that’s not what people want in a world full of Rihannas and Katy Perrys. You also get the Adeles, but her music is bloody good to survive.

  • TommySauce

    Very noticeable here has been how little it’s talked about round our “water cooler” (certainly compared to previous years) and when it is mentioned often the conversation dies because a lot of the group “haven’t got round to watching it on-demand yet” or “just saw half that act on Youtube” rather than the whole show. A lot of colleagues also say they only watch the auditions and don’t bother with the lives because they’re “boring”.

    Indicative of a wider trend perhaps?

    When XF conversations do occur, while they may not use the same language as Sofabet readers, increasingly “civilians” do seem to have noticed a few things. I’ve heard reference to “they’re just the comedy/controversial one to get us watching” and discussions about how it seems to be more scripted and set up than before.

    Voting wise, what I’ve gleaned seem to support some of the cague theories I put forward on a previous post. Those who do watch it on the night either vote for someone they’ve already decided they’re supporting (for whatever arbitrary reason – often previous weeks tabloid/twitter coverage) as soon as the lines open and vote immediately, or wait until they’ve seen their favourite and then turn over. Many saying it’s too long and they can’t be bothered to watch the whole thing on the night – but will view online clips if they’re told something amazing/controversial happened.

  • Henry VIII

    I only know one person who watches it 🙁 (More watch strictly).

    I agree Dug that it’s more like 2010. For other reasons too – the distance in quality between Ella and the rest is like the distance between Matt + Rebecca and the rest. If the Daily Star is correct then I’d guess Ella’s votes to be more like 2010’s Rebecca – a steady progress throughout the series (except with no Matt to compete against).

  • Kevin O Reilly

    With a view to your comments on Jahmene the 20/1 for bottom 2 is a big price. it is probably too soon for that to happen but it is a bet that may pay off at a good price in the next couple of weeks. The novelty has worn off with him, I actually dread hearing him sing for fear of embarrassment. I wonder is this a commonly held view? I backed James for top boy a few weeks back so may be a rose tinted observation on my part.

  • Jake Kl

    We might have a similar trend to 2010 but the public votes are slightly different imo.
    First we’ve got Chris topping the votes and not Ella for 2 weeks, meaning even if they do manage to bring down Chris, it’ll take a long time and Ella might not have enough votes to guarantee her a win. I’d say its slightly similar to 2009 where Danyl was winning the votes in the 1st weeks with Joe not too far behind till Joe manage to gain more support in the last weeks.
    Jahmene is a tough one cos we’ve never hard someone like him till now. Im not expecting a shock exit from him mainly b/c i cant see him leaving against any1 else in the sing offs (except James, Ella and UnionJ obviously) and contrary to James he’s had 3 good weeks up to now which reminds me abit of past X factor winners, giving great performances every week but staying out of the limelight for at least the 1st half of the competition. (so Ella’s deff not a winner in my books)

  • This is hilarious and insightful. In terms of sampling, could I ask what’s the rough age makeup and ethnic makeup of your workplace? I figure Jahmene would be more popular among older people and non-white viewers, and Jade more popular with the gays and with black viewers (and Rylan and Maloney among orange viewers, haha…).

    I had to laugh (a lot) at your mental image of a “typical ITV viewer” – I’m from the north-west and I almost feel I should be offended at your description, were it not for the fact that my mental image of the average ITV viewer is exactly the same! I had the pleasure of doing the famous Granada Studios Tour as a kid – the one where you get to visit the set of Coronation Street etc. – and also had a friend who did her high-school work experience there. In just 2 weeks guiding people round Coronation Street, she had to deal with several visitors who thought that it was real and that the characters were real people. And I’ve been in HMV in Warrington on the Saturday before Christmas (*never again*) when all the unkempt waddlers and pasty, betracksuited kids were clamouring over the X Factor winners’ single. (I feel bad writing things like that because I really care about the ingrained deprivation in the north of England, but I have to say what I see.)

  • lolhart

    My “water cooler” conversations are not too insightful, as a lot of my work colleagues either no longer watch the X-Factor or only watch it if they are in on a Saturday. One thing they have commented on is that Ella is either (a) a good singer but boring like Leona, or (b) Ella is talented but they wouldn’t vote for her because “it’s so obvious she’s going to win”. I think it’s this complacency that TPTB that be need to be careful of if they want an Ella win. The only other thing I’ve picked up on is that people seem to be a lot more aware of the manipulation on the show, which has resulted in an attitude that they’ll watch it but not vote. It has been reported that voting has dropped the last couple of years and from a punting point of view it could explain why it’s been difficult for TPTB to take out their targets.

  • stoney

    sofabet.com- over rating ella, and under rating jahmene since august 2012

    for the record no one i speak too would touch ella at 8/11 with a barge pole, hideous odds, id rather take fakey at 10/1 than ella at 8/11

    • I’m not backing Ella at tiny prices either but I disagree on Jahmene. As far as I remember, the weekly creationagency and anly.tk stats show limited resonance for him – noticeably less than the other favoured acts (Ella, Lucy, James and the boybands) but slightly more than the unfavoured acts. If I had to guess which of the favoured acts apart from Rylan would be the first in the bottom 2, I’d guess him. After a week 1 pimp slot and a week 2 “opening” pimp slot, a mega sympathy VT in week 3 (including gory press stories) would seem to suggest his vote needed a sympathy boost to keep him flying. I’m not sure his “where does it hurt?” singing style will fit a lot of people’s taste; Gary was right to critique his oversinging. I have a lot of time/sympathy for Jahmene as a person (after Saturday I kind of want to mother him) but it’s like someone torturing Joe Pasquale.

  • Quick, off topic thought about Shakey. Similar to Mary. She topped the votes, early weeks. Maybe that older, crooner, belter type appeals to the older demographic. In the early weeks when all the young vote is heavily split perhaps that demographic sees that type of act ride fairly high. If so, he’ll be hear for a few more weeks yet.

  • Tim B

    I’m worried about Kye’s ability to bounce this week. Does anyone know the statistic of how often someone bounces after their first appearance in the bottom 2?

  • Roach

    It’s about 80%, Tim. Has happened 25 times out of 33 or thereabouts…

    • Tim B

      Thanks, Roach. And of course it also depends on producers’ intentions to assist or suppress the bounce as and when they see fit. Personally I’m hoping for one of those VTs for Kye that starts with him saying “Being in the bottom 2…” 😀

  • Roy

    Much less chat in my (southern) office this year, the few that are still quite interested don’t ever vote until the final, so I guess despite all the intrigue and analysis the live show weekly vote is more and more decided by the Northern ITV viewers who like to phone vote, watch loose women, and watched the cup final on ITV (when there was a choice)
    As the viewing figures dropped all that remains is this hard core voting group. Perhaps there’s a plot line for Coronation Street? Someone in it enters next year…. That’ll boost viewing figures :o)

  • Rad

    I only have one colleague openly admitting to watching. She loves Ella and Jahmene and quite likes Shakey but no idea if she’s voting.

    My Facebook feed is full of love for Ella and Lucy, neither of which count as I’m from Grimsby and live in Sheffield, so that’s just the local vote. Several people like James, Rylan and Jahmene split opinions, none of the others get mentioned much.

  • Wideofthemark

    fortunately my water cooler chat is with a similiarly informed colleague. our main observation is
    1. That Ella has drifted from 1.8 at betfair to 1.94 over the last 48 hours
    2. That we were complete plonkers for thinking it couldn’t go under evens and laying at that (ah well nearly back in the money)

  • Butterscotch

    Around our “Water cooler” the only view is this: If Ella DOES NOT win this, then the show will lose ANY scrap of respect it still may have.

    To have her win the thing, amongst a field of thousands upon thousands of entrants seems an entirely fair and honest result and people will nod their heads sagely and admit: “Fair result.”

    However, if the crown goes to ANY other contestant it will be seen as absolutely ridiculous.

  • Mick

    I still find it hard to believe Chris is doing so well. I’m using his twitter following as a guide and he has a smaller following than MK1 or Carolyn Poole.

    Now I realise that his fan base may not be the usual twitter type but neither are they the vote 100’s times in a week-end type. (More like answers on a post card).

    It’s a method that won for me with Melanie and MK1 so I’ll keep to it this week and put Chris and Jade in the b2.

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