X Factor: Track records

The Sofabet readership are well aware of the importance of song choice, especially after the debate that has raged in the comments over whether Ella’s “wedding song in the style of a funeral” (in tpfkar’s summary) was intended to harm or misguidedly intended to help. However, programme makers don’t just pick compositions at will. There’s a legal team asking permission for use of tracks. This is one reason why certain songs get repeated from series to series.

The repetition of certain songs can be an indicator of producers’ intentions. We at Sofabet are firmly of the belief that programme makers prefer to run with tried and tested methods of pimping or deramping acts. This means songs that have worked well before are more likely to be used to help an act and vice versa.

Here we point out some classic examples before looking at what this year’s repeats tell us and delving into the coming weekend’s possibilities.

In 2008 a moody, guitar-led version of Billie Jean help to propel David Cook towards the American Idol trophy – showing that, in contrast to Ella’s ‘You’re The One That I Want’, in the right hands it can work well to take a iconic pop classic and slow it right down. Later that year, a similar arrangement was given to Austin Drage on X Factor UK to vastly more polarizing effect. Louis and Cheryl hated the number, while Simon optimistically hailed it as the performance of the night. It was only two weeks later that Austin hit the bottom two and left the competition to pursue a career in taking his top off at G.A.Y. bar.

In 2011, Amelia Lily tackled the barbiturate version Billie Jean from the opening death slot of a quadruple cull-a-thon (each mentor had to eliminate one of their own acts – and although there was no public vote, the usual tactics were employed against the least favoured). At the expense of Queen Misha (never forget!), Pixie McTwee and the internationally acclaimed Sophie Habibis, Amelia was sent packing.

So what do we read from this kind of song choice? We can debate whether it was meant to help or hurt Austin (as we can with Ella). But with a history of unhelpfulness established in the UK X Factor franchise, there seemed no doubt that the choice was being used to help bury Amelia Lily.

In the same series, Misha B received two helpful ‘by association’ numbers. Firstly, and immediately preceding bullygate, was Purple Rain – the belter that propelled Ruth Lorenzo on her first of two double week bounces and also played a part in steering Danyl Johnson well clear of the bottom after his first and only singoff appearance. It’s an anthem of salvation – one that might have done well to rescue Ella Henderson should the producers have wanted to recover her fully.

Two weeks later, Misha B performed Proud Mary, which famously saw Rachel Adedeji propelled from bottom two to one of the most impressive vote tops in the first half of a series. Proud Mary was a song that saw both Rachel and Misha praised for their regeneration and warmth. It saw Misha B live to die another day.

The 2012 series has thus far seen a fair few repeat numbers. Week 1 looked superficially positive for the overs with Kye performing the popular Man In The Mirror, as previously interpreted by Diana Vickers. Melanie busted out a series 6 stonker in the form of Danyl Johnson’s With A Little Help From My Friends. But ultimately neither prospered. Ella, on the other hand, had no such early problems coming off a rendition of Rule The World that trumped Stacy Solomon’s version.

Week 2’s most obvious songbook standard came in the form of Union J performing Bleeding Love, the holy grail of X Factor alumnus number ones, also covered with simpering tedium by series 7 winner Matt Cardle. At this, pre-damaged goods stage of the contest, it seemed a benediction upon the favoured boyband. Also singing was Lucy Spraggan, who performed a remix of Kanye West’s Gold Digger – Aiden Grimshaw’s ‘artistry’-laden audition number.

In week 3, Jade was lumbered with Free, a number previously butchered with a cabaret-cleaver by cruiseship warbler Sami Brookes. Whether or not it was an intentional burn, sending a middle-ground act out with such a track cannot create a positive association. Jade left the following week.

Tulisa’s Little Star, however, sang You Got The Love, as previously performed by Tulisa’s Little Muffins in last year’s live final. It was, in my humble opinion, Ella’s standout performance of the series. It wasn’t too wet, warbly or piteous and altogether constituted a proper, strong, pop moment without sacrificing her vocals. The association can hardly have hindered Ella.

In week 4, Kye opened the show with Let Me Entertain You, as did Rachel Adedeji in series 6. Love him or hate him, Robbie Williams is a very individual and charismatic performer and Let Me Entertain You is a hard song to cover in its original style. My feeling is that the selection was motivated by deliberate sabotage.

In the same week, James Arthur performed Sweet Dreams.There has been debate over the mixed messages in the production he was given, but historically, it wasn’t a bad song choice. It was done by HRH Kittke Brucknell to help her bounce in week 4 of 2011 (with a stage show that included Kitty’s incredible spinning wheel of death), and it made Rebecca Ferguson look as dynamic on stage as she ever had when singing it in the 2010 final.

Similarly, week 5 saw James singing Don’t Speak but the association clearly had more to do with guest stars No Doubt than with Katie ‘Sod It’ Waissel. Ella on the other hand, got to interpret Winner Cardle’s Firework which can’t have damaged the implication that she was perhaps on the road to victory. Funky Davros Jahmene perfomed Listen, echoing one of X Factor’s greatest moments in Alexanda Burke’s winning duet with Beyonce. Project Pimp Jahmene continued in full force.

In week 6, Union J performed a more than slightly dull arrangement of Coldplay’s Fix You, as covered in the previous year by Janet Devlin. Upon hitting the sing-off the boys performed Set Fire To The Rain a la Craig Colton. Whether any particular feeling from producers motivated these associations is dubious but if anything they reflect ambivalence. Both numbers were praised during series 8 but neither saw an act to the final.

There weren’t any repeats last week but this week we get Motown and Abba. A word of warning for Motown song choices. In the two previous shows which have featured a Motown theme, the eliminated act has sung Dancing in the Street (Misha B in the 2011 semi and The Unconventionals in the opening week of 2006). As a song choice, it’s a kiss of death.

What might producers look to as a good Motown choice? Well, they were obviously helping Little Mix as much as possible last year and chose Keep Me Hangin’ On, though it’s not as suitable for the all-male cast left this year. Leona Lewis sang I’ll Be There from the pimp slot in that 2006 Motown week, and it’s one of a number of songs that would suit Jahmene.

As for Abba, we’ve only ever had one such themed week in X Factor history, also back in 2006. Tim B has already suggested Winner Takes It All for Christopher Maloney, and producers may agree. If they decide to switch tack and make it seem like Maloney is on his way to win the competition, there’s no better title. They may also remember that the same song saw Ashley McKenzie eliminated six years ago.

Beyond this, the song references nervousness (seeing me so tense / no self-confidence) and loneliness, which may also please programme makers out to get him. Though if producers wanted to go the whole hog in making the Liverpudlian appear needy for votes, they could always give him One of Us (one of us is lonely / one of us is only / waiting for a call).

With the competition entering its final stages, it’s worth bearing in mind the track record of the tracks selected. They are often a further indicator of producers’ intentions. As ever, do let us know your thoughts on this subject below.

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32 comments to X Factor: Track records

  • X Factor Bosses now plan to reveal the Voting figures.

    I havent followed the US X Factor, how has this effected the results?

    What are the pro’s and cons?

    I havent much though ton the matter. Would assume its negative for those at the top? Since more likely to assume safety

    • Daniel

      So far, the top 3 has remained the same three acts for each of the three weeks the order has been revealed. In weeks one and two of the system, it was 1. Tate 2. Carly 3. Vino. and in the third week just yesterday it was 1. Carly 2. Tate 3. Vino. Emblem3 have gone from sixth to fourth and fourth again. So remarkably little change at the top.

      We’ve been able to measure the sympathy bounce, it’s taken the two acts saved in the singoff up to 5th and 6th the following week. The two eliminated last night were the ones who only just escaped the singoff the week before.

      The voting has never been this steady in any series of X Factor in the UK. I’m not sure whether that’s just the way this year’s US show is panning out rather than a result of the revelation each week. I somehow imagine it having a bigger impact if introduced to the UK, but maybe not if this is anything to go by.

      • Would it have an impact of.. if someone tops the vote, it sets a subliminal message to the viewer that That Act is Superior from the rest, theirfor “you like that act too”


        Having a roll on effect, especially in the final weeks?

        • Daniel

          People do like to back a winner.

          One greater effect I think it will have in the UK, where we have had plenty of time to get used to the XF format, is that it will make it even more obvious what producers are up to.

          It was suggested they started this system in the US to get Tate off the top by making his supporters complacent or motivating fans of those behind him. In the last two weeks, they have put him on second and then first, and the judges gave him very mixed comments this week.

          It’s the Christopher Maloney tactics all over again, except this time we know he’s been topping the votes instead of having to guess if the Daily Star leak is true.

          • annie

            it was so obvious this week, they death slotted tate and show was closed by carly. i think they were testing to see if these extremes can turn the votes around. and they did. I am sure that the teary tate song choice would have topped the vote again easily from a little later slot.

          • Jake Kl

            I might b wrong but i had a feeling they wanted Vino to be ahead of Tate (and behind Carly) on the votes. L.A himself said he thought Vino would come 1st after the patriotic song and the support from the troops.

          • lolhart

            To give Tate Stevens credit, he still came 2nd in the voting despite the attempts to deramp. His fanbase are the type who will continue to vote for him as long as he gives half decent performances.

      • Steven

        Two other theories on why the US isn’t responding much to the vote reveal, beyond the already mentioned fact that the US public likely isn’t as adept in noticing producers’ intentions:

        1) The viewing figures are abysmal, substantially lower than the UK show’s by now. I think that vote manipulation tactics work best on those who are floating voters not committed to any given act, and those will be the most casual viewers and the most likely to tune out.

        2) In the US, virtually every vote is free. So suppressing the votes of a given act’s supporters is more difficult.

  • Marty

    This week’s elimination. .I can’t see any of the bottom two combos going to deadlock

    Jahmene vs Union J = Clearly No Deadlock
    Jahmene vs Rylan = Again clearly no
    Jahmene vs Chris = No again
    James vs Union J = Gary would clearly vote for James and surely Tulisa too.
    James vs Rylan = Easy no again
    James vs Chris = No
    Jahmene vs James = Would think that it may not go to deadlock with Nicole refusing to vote
    Union J vs Rylan = The most important one. UJ saved by Louis, Gary and presumably Tulisa especially after last week’s bumping of Ella. She has not saved them before vs D3 but surely worth saving over Rylan at this stage
    Union J vs Chris = Louis, Tulisa save UJ. Nicole the key here but she would save UJ I’d think. Doubt they won’t take their chance at knocking Chris over
    Rylan vs Chris = Nicole & Tulisa saving Rylan. Gary with Chris. I’d think Louis has more positive comments about Rylan and may well save him over Chris.

    All in all, some certain NO’s along with 2-3 cases which look more likely to go to NO. No deadlock has to be the bet of the week for me

  • Heisenberg

    Interesting about the song choices, I’ll be looking out for ‘Dancing In The Street’ in particular.

    A prediction for Christopher’s weekend…

    1. Saturday’s themes see him well out of his comfort zone (especially Motown) and this is reflected in judges’ comments. I expect Tulisa to be especially unkind – probably indirectly via a scripted argument with Barlow. I would be amazed if this doesn’t follow the narrative of “Ella’s gone and you are still here” – Tulisa once again bangs out last week’s favourite word, “ridiculous!”

    2. On Sunday Dermot shockingly says, “…in order of voting” (cue gasp from studio audience) and after an agonisingly long pause Christopher’s name is announced as the vote topper.

    Producers are surely confident that Christopher will top the vote for them to employ this tactic and they want this to happen – because…

    It will be his moment of glory and a victory for those who voted for him. TPTB are giving his voters exactly what they want ‘now’ rather than in the final – a deliberate attempt to nip it in the bud – will Christopher’s public be as inclined to continue voting so passionately after this point if they have a subconscious feeling of ‘job done’ following such a climactic weekend?

    Christopher to be called safe first (top of the vote) will be my only wager in a weekend that offers little value elsewhere.

    • Kevin O Reilly

      If this is designed to undermine Chris does it stand to reason they expect him to be close to top of the vote? If so Rylan may be a shoe in for elimination at 5/4. I am going to invest on that and take a little 4/1 Chris first named as you suggest.

      • Guildo Horn Forever

        Yes, I too see Rylan as burnt toast this week. After the hysterical screeching and finger pointing over the Elle of a tragedy last week, the XF must ensure Rylan’s time is up. If he survives this week the cat will have sang just posed his way through a double-hammy of songs, will have reached week nine, and be in the final 4, for heaven’s sake! Any XF claim to credibility finally flushed away.
        Even in a face off with Christ., I could still foresee the Judges having to wash their hands of Rylan. The ‘you may the better singer but Rylan has the fun factor, is my guilty pleasure’ line will not fly after this week’s sound and fury.
        The added bonus with rolling out a public “choice” to save Christ. is that the X Factor brand then puts clear blue water between itself and the growing belief that they have (allegedly) orchestrated a smear campaign (with potentially dangerous consequences) against Christ.
        Even better, this ensures that the anti-XF vote for Christ. runs out of steam and that a bottom-two appearance by him is cemented as on a par with a stay of execution.

        For song choice for Christ. tomorrow I hope for Super Trooper as the Abba song. As he sings the opening line of: ‘Super Trooper, beams are going to blind me’, a hologram of that infamous giant mosaic image of Christ.’s face and danger eyes appears in front of him, hitting him with their laser beams. Bedazzled, Christ. stumbles blindly about, until his eyes recover, fix on a figure costumed a la the classical Western interpretation of God in the audience, and then sings ”Cause somewhere in the crowd there’s you”, as the camera zooms in on the smug face of Simon Cowell.
        The sequence culminates with it being demonstrated that Simon is keeping the laser beams’ fire power source burning by fuelling it with wads of his own cash from his pockets.
        The denouement is completes with Simon down on his knees begging Christ. for forgiveness.
        Christ. forgives Cowell and thanks him for the win.

        I wonder what odds Paddy Power would offer for all that to take place tomorrow?

  • Jake Kl

    Tbh I remember Sami getting full praise from the judges for her rendition of free.
    Good point on “you got the love” taking into account 2 winners (LM and Matt) sang it in the past.
    Also, I recall the judges saying Robbies track was Kye’s best performance. Same with Danyls audition, judges even saying during live shows he was missing that spark they first saw in him, which imo could have helped Melanie.
    For this week, I really hope no1 sings “keep me hanging on”, mainly because I remember LMs Leigh Anne forgeting the words and it wasnt one of their best performances, as well as Arins take on it this year in the US which got him mixed reviews.
    Gimme Gimme Gimme got both Rylan and Hope (2007) in bottom2 but it was already used this year.

  • tpfkar

    It’s an interesting article but there are so few data points for each song, and song choice is only one factor of many, that I’d be very cautious about relying on this history to make future predictions. The history of ‘Dancing in the Street’ caught my eye as well though, and I’ll be looking out for this.

    I’d also be very cautious on the ‘No deadlock’ bet, as it hugely depends on the order of the Bottom 2. Going to deadlock adds a minute’s tension onto the show, so if they’ve got the act they want bottom, they can easily engineer this. Last week is probably a good example of this – would they have saved James 3:1 if they needed to?

  • George

    if they start releasing the voting won’t that kill any value in the markets 🙁

  • lolhart

    The Winner It Takes It All would be the perfect song to land Chris (or any act) in the bottom 2. It’s actually a very difficult song to sing, as has been proven a couple of times on these shows. Apart from the already mentioned Ashley McKenzie performance, there’s Rosie Ribbons from Pop Idol’s rendition on YouTube which saw her eliminated. I can see Union J getting Dancing in the Street this weekend.

    I think apart from song choices being used to pimp and deramp acts, I have also suspected that they are sometimes used to “test” them out. I remeber TreyC in Matt Cardle’s year being given decent song choices like One and Purple Rain but her vote polling was still mediocre. The producers then seemed to lost interest in her. Also, Cher in the same year (definitely a favoured act) was given an unsuitable song choice with Imagine and landed in the bottom 2. I don’t think this was a case of straighforward deramping of an already polarising character, but testing out the strength of her fanbase.

    I don’t know if this has been discussed before, but I thought it was interesting that Frankie from last year claims the judges are given four songs to choose from for their acts. I was actually surprised they were given that much freedom. Also, if Gary chose Starships for Carolynne and Tulisa selected Freak Like Me for Jade, the other options must have been truly terrible.

    • Frankie’s claim reminded me of the line in Yes, Prime Minister where Sir Humphrey explains that the Foreign Office always present you with three options – “two of which are, on close examination, exactly the same, and the third is completely unthinkable, like bombing France”.

      I bet three of the choices are always Agadou, The Wheels On The Bus and 4’33”.

      • Nicky

        Apparently, Ella had been planning to do her own version of 4’33” at some point, 7’54”.

      • Lia

        There was some explaining on how songs are chosen after the JLS x Rachel song nicking mess up.
        Producers will come up with a pre-cleared list of about 20 songs that (poorly) match the theme. Judge’s will take turn in having the first pick for their acts.
        Imagine being judge number 4 in the first weeks, especially those with 16 contestants. All good songs are gone and you have to make do with what you’ve got. There will obviously be people singing songs not suited for them.
        As a “mentor” you could:
        a) ask for another song to be cleared but it may not be cleared in time
        b) not bother as you’ll get paid anyway
        Somehow I think b is a lot more common…

        • EM

          Don’t swallow that one for a second.

          In Simon’s day they were very good at acting as if the ‘mentors’ picked the songs personally and acting as if they were very in debited to their artists. Now not so and you can see the XF machine dishing out the songs as they see fit

  • EM

    Here’s a little secret. Record companies know the nation’s faviourite tunes comprehensively. The spend a lot of time looking into which songs are popular with which sections.

    So X Factor can give the acts they like VERY popular songs and the ones they hate VERY unpopular songs. My question is that if 90% of the country love You’ve Got The Love will they like someone else’s version of it? It might be an adequate version of it but if it’s not as good as the version they know then will they actually think it’s rubbish?

    From what I know of the numbers the songs mentioned above pretty much follow the expected pattern.

    It’s a very easy way to see which acts they’re trying to sink but as ever not the whole picture!

  • Alen

    I remember that it has been about 2 or 3 times the case this year that fans couldn’t buy the performance because of legal problems.

    So I do wonder, do they even need the permission to perform it? I thought you don’t need it except you want to release it and profit from it.

    I know it was once Lucy and once Union J, I don’t know if there were more cases. Chosing those songs and knowing they couldn’t release it (cause they’ve changed boy to girl for example) isn’t that another way to manipulate?

    At least fans couldn’t buy those songs so it was less promo etc.

  • Does any1 know if releasing the voting had the effect of propelling higher acts that were considered favourites and presumed to be at the top, but were not? i.e. would it have saved ella and can it boost UJ?

  • annie

    I think it would have saved ella. I think both ella and james were actually in the bottom 2 cause people thought of both of them as quite safe. they didn’t think they needed that much multivoting as of yet…

  • EM

    According to the reports I’ve seen they’re not going to reveal the voting order till next series.

    Might add value as it’ll mean we’ll get a win and elimination market each week plus in early betting the second and third from bottom will be favourites for elimination the next week.

  • Lia

    You have to see the context of the whole competition and previous references. When David Cook did his Billie Jean, it had hardly been heard, as it was an obscure track on Chris Cornell’s album. Only a true rock fan would know it and it suited David and his image to a tee. He was also very good at mixing up his performances (tempo and arrangement) and the fact that he is a very good singer would only help. Austin Drage’s was just copycat and he didn’t execute it that well. Cookie’s runner up David Archuleta was arguably the best vocalist but he suffered from Ella-itis, doing ballad after ballad, which got very boring and people just started losing interest. Ella took it one step further and decided to slow everything down, even songs that were already slow became a dirge. The only exception was You got the love but that was a million years ago (and funsponge borelow criticised her for not doing the same thing as always). Imagine Ella coming out with a full on Bring me to life: it might have had the power that Alone had for Carrie Underwood on AI.
    Another point to consider with songs being done time after time is how does the new performance stack up to previous ones. For me Misha’s Purple Rain paled in comparison to Ruth’s, Danil’s and even TreyC’s. I remember thinking just that while she sang: yes, that’s good but I’ve heard better.
    Back to Billie Jean, Amelia sang a power rock version, which was new to me. Vocals suffered a bit with the arrangement and the production, but if it was me I would still have picked her over Sophie Habibis terribly boring Teenage Dream. Sophie kept the boredom high and was out a couple of weeks later,but what do I know? 😉
    Again, the whole context needs to be looked at, but it is very easy to make a mistake on these transfers.

    • Help!

      Now that you’ve mentioned Idol, wouldn’t Ella have suffered from the Pia Toscano ‘ballads-every-week’ syndrome? I’ve yet to see Ella being called a singing robot but they are both pretty similar. Except in this case, the end result is reversed. Ella exited with a dirge and Pia exited on her attempt to try and raise her tempo. Both are considered shock exits.

      • Lia

        That’s why I said “maybe”. Balladeering every week is definitely not the way so you have to try something else. And I wouldn’t consider Pia’s River deep mountain high exactly a change just because it was uptempo.

  • Kevin O Reilly

    Ella was going to the theme of Cornation Street next week.

  • Donald

    Song choice has done for a few fancied singers over the years, last weekend being another example, on the show rolls to another week, intrigued what they do tonight with two songs and two sets of comments..

  • Song hint spoiler so far for tonight from tellymix.
    Rylan Clark – Mamma Mia by Abba / Medley of The Supremes hits
    (No doubt it will include Dancing Queen)


    Union J’s song choice this week will be Jackson 5, the boys have revealed. Their Abba track will be about “Winning”, so we reckon it could well be The Winner Takes It All!


  • anon

    About Proud Mary…it was sung by contestant Jennel Garcia on the US X Factor on the week 3 where she was eliminated. It was her best performance, but she fell from 7th -> 10th/11th. Way against the song’s usual track record…probably because she was lumbered with the death slot that week?

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