How to Watch the X Factor

Sometimes we worry that our articles on Sofabet are not accessible enough to readers who are new to our way of viewing the show. For example, regular readers intuitively grasped from watching Saturday’s show that producers were trying to get Abi into the singoff. But perhaps it wasn’t obvious to the general viewer. Regular commenter Dean asked “Can someone do a breakdown of every tactic used to get rid of Abi? I will show it to my gf. She may believe me.”

With thanks to Dean’s girlfriend for the inspiration, we’re working on a newbie-friendly case study of Abi’s entire journey, to publish in a day or two. But first, we thought we’d do an article that goes right back to basics about how we watch the X Factor. If you have friends or family you want to initiate into the fun, we hope this will help.

Although we analyse the show from a betting perspective, we know many of our readers don’t bet – and we firmly believe that you don’t have to bet to enjoy our way of analysing and predicting the show. If you watch the X Factor purely as straightforward entertainment, you’re missing out on a whole other level of enjoyment to be derived from it. If you dismiss the X Factor as a fix, you’re missing out on analysing a fascinating battle of wills between producers and the voting public.

This article makes explicit our top five assumptions underlying how the X Factor works. Remember, these are assumptions, not assertions – as always, we may be wrong, and welcome your differing opinions in the comments section.

1. The show’s producers want certain acts to do well

Our starting point is the observation that people behind the X Factor also get to manage the acts commercially after the show. Therefore the show’s producers (sometimes colloquially referred to as “the powers that be”, or TPTB), would like to get the most commercially viable acts as far as possible in the competition, to give them the best launching pad for a post-show career. They want commercially viable acts in the final, and ideally to win it.

Unfortunately, they face a problem: if you were to draw a Venn diagram of the kind of people who vote in the X Factor, and the kind of people who buy music, the overlap would be small. Often, acts that naturally appeal to phone voters turn out to be disastrous commercially (think Joe McElderry, Leon Jackson). And often, acts who promise to be commercially lucrative can be a hard sell to phone voters (think One Direction).

This is where the fun comes from. Producers can’t just give every act a level playing field and see who does well, or they’d end up with a final packed with commercially disastrous propositions. They have to try to steer their chosen acts towards the final, and nobble acts who threaten to displace them.

2. The phone votes are scrupulously fair

We absolutely believe that the phone votes are fair. We have two compelling reasons for believing this. First, it would be insanely, suicidally risky for producers to attempt to interfere with the vote in any way – it would spell curtains for the show if they did this and were found out.

Secondly, there are plenty of examples of bottom twos which we believe the show would not have wanted (for example, Carolynne Poole and Rylan Clark in week 1 of 2012, both acts we believe the show intended to be around for the long term), and where the margins were so small it would probably have been trivially easy for them to get other acts in the singoff had they wanted to risk getting involved in the kind of vote-buying shenanigans that allegedly plague Eurovision.

The X Factor isn’t fixed. It’s steered – fallibly. That’s a totally different thing, and much more interesting.

3. Producers, not judges, make decisions

A superficial viewing of X Factor would lead you to believe that the judges choose their acts for the live shows, decide what to say in response to each audition and live show performance, and choose for themselves who they want to save in singoffs.

Our assumption is that this makes no sense. The judges are employees of the show. We assume that they, like any employee, will have some expectation of having their views taken into consideration in meetings – but that, ultimately, these decisions tend to be taken centrally, by the show’s producers.

To start with the auditions, the way the show is edited suggests that people turn up off the street, stand in a queue, and are ushered straight in front of the judges. Of course that’s not what happens – it would take far too much time. Instead, most acts are jettisoned after initial brief auditions in front of backstage production staff. Whether they walked in off the street or were invited to audition, acts who get in front of the judges are already known to producers. Producers will have primed the judges on what questions to ask, to elicit any sob story, and how to react to the audition.

Analysing the ways in which acts are presented during the audition stages can help us to identify which acts the show’s producers are hoping to turn into the stars of the series. How much screentime did their auditions get? Did they get a lot of filming backstage with Dermot, with friends and family, at home, doing their jobs? Does there appear to be an attempt to set up some kind of narrative “journey” for them to go on, such as having self-confidence issues to overcome?

As we get to bootcamp and judges’ houses, it beggars belief that judges and their celebrity helpers are solely resposible for choosing the acts in each category, in isolation from consideration of which acts will be on the other categories. This is an entertainment show, and it demands a balanced cast of 12 acts who will appeal to multiple demographics. You want a mix of commercially viable acts, feelgood vote-magnets, entertainers, and cannon fodder for the early weeks. We assume that casting decisions therefore surely have to be taken centrally.

In the live shows, who gets to survive a singoff is also a casting decision. We assume that judges save who producers want them to save.

The one area where we wonder how much scope there is for unplanned things happening is judges’ comments in the live shows. Things go wrong in live TV, and there are examples – such as the Misha B “bully” comments – which make no sense if they were planned, but make sense if they were accidentally blurted out in the heat of the moment. Generally, we would guess that judges’ comments are scripted in production meetings – whether in broad brushstrokes or word-for-word – but that sometimes the judges may extemporise, or banter may take an unexpected direction.

Of course, there is nothing to stop judges “going rogue” – saying things they’re not supposed to say, saving acts they’re not supposed to save. Nothing except, as with any employee, the threat of getting sacked and finding it hard to get another gig in the same industry.

You can never be absolutely sure if something was in the script or not. Gary’s non-critique of Sam Callahan last Saturday is the strongest case we can remember for believing that a judge has gone rogue. (Some astute judges in the Sofabet comments section disagree). We suspect the script called for him to deliver another withering attack on Sam’s relative lack of vocal prowess, thereby spurring Sam’s supporters to vote, keeping him safe, and generating controversy. Which brings us onto the next point.

4. Controversy = publicity = ratings = advertising revenue

Producers aren’t interested only in getting the most commercially viable act to the final. They also have to care about putting on good enough show to attract viewers. Advertising revenue is the show’s primary source of income – by our calculations, far outweighing revenue from phone votes – and how much advertisers are willing to pay depends on how good the ratings are.

That’s why most series contain some controversial acts – think Jedward, Wagner, Katie Waissel, Rylan Clark. Their purpose is twofold: to entertain through outlandish big productions, and to outrage when they outlast better singers. The show thrives on the kind of controversy that is generated when judges are shocked – SHOCKED – to find their competent but boring singers being outvoted by the novelty acts.

Producers generally do their best to help these kinds of act avoid singoffs, because it can be slightly uncomfortable when they have to save them – Simon Cowell’s and the show’s credibility among the more innocent segments of the viewing public took a bit of a knock with the singoff saves of Jedward over Lucie Jones and Rylan over Carolynne Poole, respectively.

When we get to the later stages of the show, there becomes more of a tension between the imperative to keep the entertaining acts around for ratings and to pack the final with acts who have a chance of post-show commercial success. Wagner’s trajectory – given every help for seven weeks, and ruthlessly cut down in week 8 – remains the textbook example.

5. Producers employ various tactics to motivate votes for their favoured acts, and demotivate votes for ones they want rid of

Analysing these tactics is what Sofabet does on a weekly basis, and it’s an understanding of these tactics that convinced regular readers that producers were trying to get Abi out from her treatment on Saturday. These tactics include the running order, song choice, how acts are portrayed in their VTs and in stories placed in the tabloids, staging and lighting, and judges’ comments.

In our forthcoming case study on Abi’s journey, we’ll explore the most important of these tactics in further detail.

There’ll be nothing new in the above points for our regular readers, but still we’d love to hear if you disagree with anything or if there are fundamental assumptions we’ve missed. For new readers, do check out the comments – the wisdom below the line on Sofabet dwarfs that above it – and, if you choose to get involved, you will find it a friendly and welcoming place.

76 comments to How to Watch the X Factor

  • EM

    Can’t disagree with a word there, excellent read.

    It’s great to get a reminder of the basics, it helps with clarity, sometimes we seize on an idea or fad and ignore the subtleties.

    Like why distracting staging can be bad for Abi but good for Sam B. Why stars show a lot of intent but might also signal danger.

    Anticipating the Abi assassination article already.

  • eurovicious


    My view on 3 is that Louis’s comments are a lot more closely scripted that those of the other jury members. He’s there to toe the producers’ line, plant certain seeds and spin performances a certain way. Watching since 2011, I’ve generally found the reactions of the other judges (Gary, Kelly, Tulisa, Sharon, Nicole, and notably Alex Burke that one time) far more sincere and believable – for better or worse. For instance, Sharon’s week 3 “attack” on Abi – her coming out with that “put the kettle on” line seemed like a spontaneous off-the-cuff reaction and it was what I was thinking, just the tone in which she delivered it was miscalcualted. (But we know Sharon is a loose cannon from Brooksteingate and other TV appearances.) Part of the reason I think the other judges have more freedom in their comments is that they often react to performances exactly as I would and say things I’m thinking. So I’m of the “broad brushstrokes” school. I do think they have guidelines on who to push and build up and who to do down, and I’m not sure how much further it goes than that. But we’ve seen bad performances by Frankie and Hannah get loads of jury praise, so it’s clear there’s something going on. Similarly, going back a few years, I thought Kandy Rain were unfairly attacked by the jury despite a good performance, so that was clearly part of the plan to get them out in the first show. So yeah. Broad brushstrokes. I’d be very surprised if judges’ comments other than Louis’s are scripted beyond the general tone and some keywords. Which I guess means the judges’ comments, like the show itself, are steered but not fixed.

    This segues nicely into the recent X Factor Adria controversy regarding the head judge (Zeljko) telling a transwoman contestant that he doesn’t like trans people and is “conservative” so wanted to hear her sing a second song before deciding whether to put her through – upon which she starts belting out “Beautiful” and he puts her through. As a huge Balkan and Eurovision celeb, he’s being justifiably pilloried for this online now, but it’s clear to me it was scripted. They wanted the other 3 members of the jury to be unreservedly supportive and enthusiastic, but for one member (Zeljko) to voice what viewers at home in this not particularly progressive region of southeast Europe might be thinking – creating a narrative in the process and giving the contestant (Fifi) an opportunity to demonstrate strength of character and pride in her identity. It was unwise and it’s backfired on Zeljko, but it was clear to me that it was likely scripted.

    • Ben Cook

      Would definitely agree with what you say about Louis being the one most eager to please the producers. He knows that to tow the party line is his best chance of staying on the show. I remember he used to slag off Tulisa and Cheryl in the papers in the run-up to the launch show every year without fail, even though he appears to get on well with them.

      And I would also agree with what you say about actually a lot of the time what the judges say is fair. Why do the producers need to tell the judges to pimp someone who is quite clearly bloody good or criticise someone is completely useless?

    • Nissl

      If anything, it seems to me that the main judges’ instruction, particularly in the US version where IQ is a far lesser consideration than celebrity, is to not go hard on favored acts. Acts on the block, or that they at least wouldn’t mind losing, tend to get more accurately mixed reviews. Controversy-causing, aggressively negative comments tend to be the province of Simon or his replacement Gary.

      Also the original article could add Dermot to the “judge” pool.

  • TLG

    Good summary.

    I finally took the plunge and put £25 on Nicole to be the first to lose all her acts at 10/1. She’s now a best price of 12/5.

    You definitely don’t have to bet to enjoy this, but it does spice it up.

  • Ben Cook

    Do you think it’s possible that the judges do have *some* say in what goes on. I think the biggest problem I have is believing that all the judges have so little integrity that they would agree to judge a talent show, but then go against their own judgement based on years of experience in the music industry, in favour of what some TV producers tell them to say.

    Obviously they need to make sure the acts the producers want in the lives make it, but do they actually need to tell the judges which 3 acts go through? Did they really need to tell Sharon “you must put through Sam Bailey”. Wouldn’t you trust Sharon to make that call anyway? Could it be that they ask the judges who they want to put through, and only intervene when they need to. So long as they put through the 2 they want, they probably don’t care who the 3rd is because they’ll just get rid of the “gamma” act in the category at some point anyway. Why for instance would the producers care whether Sharon wanted to put through Lorna, Zoe or Andrea?

    Even if they are explicitly told which three to put through, maybe sometimes the judges do get their way. One example that springs to mind is Sophie Habibis. To me, Kelly appeared to genuinely believe in her and kept going on about how she had the most beautiful voice she’d ever heard, yet you would never have expected her to get through over Jade or Melanie. Did Kelly just get her way there?

    Last year, Gary was all about making the overs credible. You could argue that that was a producer decision to make it look like the category wasn’t a waste of time, but looked at another way, could it be that Gary, as someone who clearly takes music seriously, pushed that whole thing through himself? Could it be that when Gary slags off a useless contestant, it’s not just because the producers have told him to because it’s good TV, but that he actually believes that the show should be about talent?

    In the lives, I do believe that the producers have a big say in who sings what songs, because it has a big impact on who goes and stays, and they also have to think about which songs will appeal to the audience, and probably things to do with rights clearance. But could it be that the judges get to pick from a selection? Frankie Cocozza once claimed that “they’ll be told to choose between four”. We’ve seen before that sometimes the acts get to choose their own songs, or change halfway through the week. Rylan has on a couple times insisted that the acts genuinely get to choose their own sing-off song (presumably again from a list).

    Anyway my point is, that whilst I agree with 90% of what you guys say, and it really has been fascinating to watch the last couple of series with fresh eyes, I just wonder whether it’s possible that sometimes we take our cynicism a little bit too far, and just because the producers clearly have an agenda, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every single little thing that happens on the show is scripted.

    • Chatterbox5200

      I have information from a very reliable source that the judges ARE told who to put through to the live shows. However, in a recent series, one judge kicked up such a fuss that their preferred act was not on the list that the producers relented.

      As for the song choices, this is often dictated by the royalties that are required to be paid (and in some cases permission granted to perform the song – even more so since the songs have been made available to download on iTunes). There is generally a list of songs that the acts can choose from. This will explain why so many songs are repeated from year to year. As most auditions are not televised, any song can be used, but acts are given a limited choice when it comes to the boot camp and judges houses stages.

    • Hi Ben, it’s always great to have you here to pull us up on that last 10%.

      You raise a great question. We’d love to know how explicitly, and in what terms, the deal is explained to new judges. As the article says, we’d assume the judges expect to have some say in what the decisions are, just as we’d assume producers expect them to abide by the decisions when made. Probably how much say the judges have depends on the individuals – it wouldn’t at all be surprising if, say, Gary wanted a lot of assurances about the show taking a certain direction before he agreed to sign up each year. I sort of wonder if they gave him Frankie Cocozza in his first year as a kind of initiation rite – “let’s find someone who really can’t sing and see if we can get Gary to tell everyone he can”.

      There probably has to be a lot of ego management involved with some of the judges – guiding them towards being happy to do things, etc. Pure speculation, but perhaps much less so with Louis. Completely agree with you and eurovicious above that Louis is the one we listen to primarily for a reliable toeing of the producer line. (Dermot, too). Louis gives every impression of being a cheerfully uncomplaining team player, which is presumably why he’s lasted ten years. Nicole also strikes us as very reliably on-message and willing to do what’s required, which is presumably why she was promoted to the head judge position on the table.

      It wouldn’t be at all surprising if they’re willing to adapt over acts that judges feel strongly about and they don’t – Sophie Habibis for example, as you say. “Sure, Kelly, if you like her that much. (We’ll just film her in an empty pub in Halloween week).” Maybe that was the case with Lorna/Zoe/Andrea, as you speculate. I think it’d be really surprising though if there was any kind of laissez-faire attitude to decisions about the likes of Sam Bailey and Joe Whelan – acts who’d be a lot harder to shift than Lorna/Zoe/Andrea.

      No reason to doubt the idea that song choices come from a restricted list. Probably in many cases they don’t much mind, and when they do mind they probably have ways of steering the choice they want – get the mentor to really push for it, or even just saying “this week you’re doing this” – I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but there have been cases of acts saying they were unhappy to have been effectively forced into a song choice, right? Would be interesting to know if Abi got much of a say in ‘That’s Life’.

      • lolhart

        I think Nicole is a wonderful actress to quote a comment from someone else’s comment. The Nicole on X-Factor USA is completely different to the UK incarnation. She’s been in the industry for years and was a winner on an American talent show herself which led to one album and single before her group was dropped. She knows first hand how the promises of super stardom are pie in the sky.

      • Ben Cook

        Yes I’d also be fascinated to know how it is explained to new judges too. “Gary, we’d love you to join the panel as you are one of the most experienced and talented singer-songwriters of the last 20 years, and your knowledge of music and the music business is just what we’re looking for to help us find the next big thing. But by the way, you must say and do everything we tell you to, because your opinion is meaningless.” Seems unlikely doesn’t it? That’s why I think they must sometimes get to make their own decisions – or at least be allowed to believe they are making the decisions, even if they have been steered a certain way.

      • Nissl

        Does Louis toe the producer line, or does he help set it in the first place (e.g. his claims about suggesting 1D to Simon)? Who are TPTB, anyway? I guess we’ll never get a real answer to those questions.

        I’ve also always wondered about the scene with Kelly forming Little Mix. Yes it was staged, but she still seemed really excited and I’m not sure she’s that good of an actress. Perhaps the producers just wanted to get another act to make up the numbers and told her to do whatever she felt like?

      • Nissl

        Oops, and I somehow didn’t process the very end. One act I can recall who claimed she was forced to sing a song she didn’t want, no choice, was Sami.

    • EM

      I don’t want to shatter dreams but the music industry is full of fakes and phoniness so for these music industry veterans putting on a show for the sake of business isn’t going to be much of a stretch.

      Whether it’s the obvious stuff like Britney miming at a live gig or the more hidden stuff like session singers actually singing most of a hit record the industry is built on deception.

      I can think of two deceptions I personally know X Factor judges have been involved in away from the show (not always knowledgeably).

      My own brother was in a band, he was in his 30s, they signed for a massively credible indie label, I mean very very credible. He was told to take two years off his age and not to mention he was gay so the girl audience would like the band more. If I told you one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years was also signed to this label you begin to wonder just how real even the most credible music is.

      So in a word where everything from age to who actually does the singing is consistently lied about telling Kingsland Road they nailed it and have a big future in the business doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

  • lolhart

    I actually think Louis’ comments are probably the least scripted precisely because he is the producers’ mouthpiece. They can rely on him to compare the likes of Sophie Habibis to a secretary who sings at the weekend and to defend the controversial/novelty acts. Louis will always do what’s “best for the show”. I think in general the judges have an outline on how to critique the acts and can improvise as they see fit. Britney on X-Factor USA is a classic example of what happens when someone just reads from the script.

    I see the judges’ relationship with the producers to be like any employer-employee relationship. Your manager might listen to your opinion and take your comments on board, but ultimately they will set the agenda and make the decisions. The more competent employees will have more say. I remember reading somewhere (I think it was in extracts of Simon Cowell’s bio) that Cheryl Cole was happy to go along with what Simon and the producers said.

    The other thing worth bearing in mind about the song choices is the judges probably cannot just select any song they want to. I assume that selections needs to go through some clearing process. Also, I can’t imagine someone like Tulisa for example selecting a song for Elton John week without some help.

    • eurovicious

      I haven’t seen it but yeah, Britney is thick, so I can imagine. The poor woman. Purpose-reared pop puppet.

      Totally agree with your comments lolhart. Yeah, that really applies insofar as the same song choices are repeatedly reused. And yeah, it’s a primetime entertainment show watched by millions, so while I’m sure the judge and act do have some leeway, they’d never be able to decide the song entirely alone.

  • Dean

    Excellent article and thanks for the mention. Look forward to the Abi article . My gf will be pleased haha.

  • Dan

    Generally, we would guess that judges’ comments are scripted in production meetings – whether in broad brushstrokes or word-for-word – but that sometimes the judges may extemporise, or banter may take an unexpected direction.

    I can’t think of specifics off the top of my head, but if you’ve ever watched an act perform and thought “that was pretty dire” only for one or many judges to heap praise on it, there’s your evidence of scripting. Compare and contrast with the judges comments on The Voice; they do actually appear to be thinking before they speak rather than blurting out a scripted one-liner or cliche. Their comments seem to reflect the reality of the performance.

    One thing that does bother me is just how much the negative comments towards the acts are scripted. It’s all very well a judge disliking a performance and making it known, but to do this in collusion with other judges and the producers in a premeditated fashion is borderline bullying. I think back to the shit they slung at the likes of Wagner and Christopher Maloney every week. Both took it graciously but it was uncalled for. Part of the controversy, yes, but not a nice tactic at all. We can forget, and I’ve been guilty of it, that all of the acts are human.

    Rant over now…

    • Lia

      There were suspicions raised in The Voice USA that the blind auditions were not so blind. After we get the intro package/sob story from a soldier, he sings, chairs turn and Cee-Loo’s firs words are “you sing like a soldier”. What the hell does that mean? Or when Kaley Cuoco’s (Big Bang Theory) sister did a really bad audition but was picked anyway. Or maybe blind is literal for can’t see, but the papers in front of them tell exactly who’s performing.
      This started after The Voice failed miserably at producing a single commercial success from the first few seasons. This is what we all agree XF producers aim at.

    • eurovicious

      What I think is scripted on The Voice is when a famous/has-been act auditions and no-one turns round. Then when the chairs auto-rotate rotate at the end, there’s all this pseudo-remorseful hand-wringing like “OMG you’re Sean from Five :(“. The reason I think this is scripted is they did it in the first series of the German version too. It’s designed to communicate the quality of the show and its tough nature.

    • eurovicious

      Dan, couldn’t agree more with your second paragraph. It’s evil. I’m shocked by the UK’s culture in this regard – it’s not just X Factor. In no other European parliament will you see politicians making snide schoolboy taunts at each other while their party jeers and cheers in the background. It’s totally uncivil and sets a terrible example. Similarly, my sole exposure to The Apprentice was watching the last 10 minutes of one episode a few years ago and I was really shocked. That Alan Sugar is a completely uncivil, unprofessional jumped-up thug and he wouldn’t be tolerated for 2 weeks in a continental workplace. I thought showing him berate and bully people to such extremes as part of a TV challenge – and this from someone who’s supposedly a role model – was appalling. And I could add The Weakest Link, which, while widely exported to other countries at first, was always watered down and failed to catch on but thrived in the UK. The UK has a bullying culture and I hate to play “blame the victim”, but part of the problem is that people are socially conditioned not to stand up for themselves and to just accept it. On the UK versions of The Weakest Link and The Apprentice, people just stand there and let themselves be abused, but on the US version of The Weakest Link, the contestants fought back and gave as good as they got – and the audience cheered them for doing so. What it boils down to is a lot of the British accept hierarchy and know their place, like in that Two Ronnies sketch, and it’s to their own detriment. (Observe also that Germans and Americans are outraged about the NSA revelations and it’s been discussed in parliament in both countries, but by comparison, British people just accept it – and accept the world’s ratio of CCTV cameras per person too.) It’s perverse.

      And what they did with Chris Maloney on X Factor was an all-time low. Enabled by the British gutter press – again unique in Europe, more’s the pity.

  • Lia

    Brilliant article as usual! I am one of the non betting readers for now but I feel more tempted each week when I get it right.
    I find the whole thing fascinating and used to delve into American Idol stats, which were quite limited as producers are tight lipped on things like voting %, before coming to the UK and getting totally spoiled with the numbers and Sofabet.
    I also like to pay attention to other people’s opinions, especially those who don’t blog and are not educated on TPTB tactics, my husband being the perfect example. He watches the show to be entertained. Also my 7 year old opens my eyes to some interesting points (she discusses XF with her school friends and, like her, they sometimes force their parents to cast votes). Her perception sometimes even shocks me and would fit very well on this website.
    Please keep the articles coming and let’s keep on having fun. Thanks!

    • Tim B

      Haha, what kind of things does she say? I like the idea of 7 year olds figuring out the producers’ devious tactics.

      • Lia

        Last one was a rant that went something like “Sam C is not in the bottom 2 because he is fit and silly girls go wooo and vote for him and then if he goes out with Tamera he’ll get more votes because they think he is lovely”. And I was like where the hell did that come from?

  • Nissl

    One more thing that occurred to me that might deserve mention is that while the producers go into a season with established alphas in each group (though sometimes not the overs), it’s absolutely possible for an act to join or leave the pool of 4-5 favorites. This year Luke may have pushed himself in there (although perhaps he’s now being deramped as the endgame comes into focus.) Meanwhile in 2011 the producers gave up entirely on alpha group Nu Vibe between judges’ houses and the live shows, while Little Mix pushed themselves from week three cannon fodder to the head of the favored act pack after all of the original alpha plans collapsed. So there really *is* a somewhat fair game being played here, just not the surface one.

    Now, this doesn’t really affect much of the weekly analysis, but it does affect how someone just being exposed to these realities for the first time goes on to perceive the show. Good (or terrible) performances still do mean something.

    • lolhart

      I think this was definitely the case in previous years. Alexandra Burke is a good example of a beta/gamma girl who managed to win people (and more importantly the producers) over. Simon Cowell was always quite fair in that regard. I think the last couple of years the problem is that it is too obvious who the gammas are and their early exit is all too predictable. The likes of Sophie Habibis, Jade and Abi never had a chance of proving themselves and got some unfair comments. I remember Gary saying Jade didn’t want it enough to justify voting her off. If Nu Vibe had worked, I’m sure Little Mix would have joined the likes of Girl Band and Miss Frank in an early (maybe not week 1) exit.

      • Jessica Hamby

        Abi’s first two song chpices, Living On A Prayer and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head pretty much did for her. The didn’t give her a chance to show herself at her best, instead they made her sound awful.

  • General Hogbuffer

    Great Article, thank you. I only wish some of the desperate apologists and fangirlies (of either gender) on Digital Spy would wake up to these realities. I admit I only watch the X Factor to revel in the obvious viewer manipulation.

    On the question of judges influence vs scripting, I remember an interview with Charlotte Church where she explained why she turned down a chance to judge the X Factor:

    Keep going !

  • Heisenberg

    In honour of yet another superb article:

  • Gamblebot

    A note about 1, is it possible that some acts considered as Alphas are just decoys for their real favourites. I mean, the voting public tend to hate having someone shoved down their throat, so why not shove someone else to that role, slowly phase them out, then let the real chosen ones emerge from all the chaos?

    • Curtis

      While the phenomenom you’ve described does happen, I’d argue that that nearly always happens against the producer’s wishes. I don’t think they can predict this sort of thing. The best example I can think of right now is Danyl from a few years ago – though I’m sure there are other better ones, because Danyl’s failure was very complicated and multifactorial.

      They’re not afraid to shove their chosen one down the viewer’s throat – I know this was a long time ago but don’t you remember Leona?

  • Jessica Hamby

    Meanwhile the circus (or is that Theatre of Cruelty) continues.

    Efforts to transfer Abi’s likeability to Tamera.

    And creating artficial controversy with Sam C.

    • Gamblebot

      Oh my. I’m starting to feel sorry for the kid and this isn’t my first series watching. Must be the puppy-dog eyes.

      • Jessica Hamby

        Don’t worry for him. The headline bears no relation to what Louis actually said. Besides, he sold his soul to the devil for this. Cam he be surprised when the devil wants his fee?

  • Guildo Horn Forever

    ‘Theatre of Cruelty’.


  • Chris Bellis

    Brilliant article. Sums the process up so well. I think the judges do more or less follow a script most of the time. But they all have agents and in that respect will be receiving advice about their own individual careers that may run counter to TPTB. Tulisa was soon sent down the line when the “gutter” press got hold of stories about her personal life, despite seeming to follow the script. Ditto Cheryl Cole did not go down well in the USA because their press was full of her conviction for assault on a cloakroom attendant This was seen as racism in the USA, rightly or wrongly.They gave her an exit story that the Americans didn’t understand her accent. What I am trying to say is that the judges have to be mindful of their public persona outside the show. Sometimes it will be in their interest to be controversial and go against the script. Sometimes they will have had one pre-show drink too many. Sharon particularly has learned from a master, her father, and single handedly resurrected Ozzy. I don’t think she would follow a script if it suited her to do something else – not because she has principles, but because she is used to successfully controlling people a lot harder than Simon Cowell et al. Don’t forget who Sharon’s Dad was.
    That’s why I always pay particular attention to what she says.

  • Chris Bellis

    Of course, if you don’t control who gets to be the winner, you can end up with an artist who has to practically have an auto tune grafted in his throat. I watched this in Bulgaria last year, and it certainly massacres “We are the champions”

    • Chris Bellis

      Sorry, Raffi won in 2011 – somehow a year has gone by faster than I thought. Anyway, since he’s had a reasonable career since, in Bulgaria and Armenia, it means that overall staging and presentation is more important than tuning, as long as it’s not too far out. Makes me more optimistic about Rough Copy.

    • Guildo Horn Forever

      Hi Chris,

      The (one!) enjoyable aspect of that performance for me came in that the winner was singing a Queen song. I assume Bulgaria is another East European country with a misogynistic, macho, homophobic culture, where the mark of a true man is in his physical strength and ability to clean and jerk and pull large objects.

      I wonder if Raffi is aware of the lifestyle and orientation of Freddie Mercury (R.I.P)?!

      For an amusing (and possibly unfair – but so what!) snapshot into Bulgarian culture check out this clip from what is obviously Bulgaria’s Got Talent (How much money is Simon Cowell worth, btw?).

      Apart from the big event, I’m also enjoying:

      a) How the main performer is dressed beforehand as a cowboy and then appears on stage as a kind of NFL referee!

      b) His slow-motion C-walking .

      c) That he follows a sword-swallower.

      d) His physique and those socks!

      e) That Bulgaria’s answer to Trinny and Susannah appear to be in the Ant & Dec roles.

      f) One of the judges, who appears to be Wagner’s younger brother.

      g) The all-round gorgeousness of the judges.

      • eurovicious

        One of Bulgaria’s biggest popstars: Countless hit albums and going strong.

        • Guildo Horn Forever

          OMG! I’m a bit shocked.

          First I thought it was Pink, then Eddie Izzard! With flashes of what I thought was a muscled-up version of George Michael as in the Fastlove video!
          And what is it with the obsession with the U.S.A, referenced again with the Star And Stripes top sheet?
          I notice how in Bollywood movies the lead guys are often dressed up a la Danny Zuko or the Fonz, as though Grease and Happy Days have only just been released in the Indian market.

          Was thankful for the close-up 2:29 to 2:30. Really needed to see them.

      • Chris Bellis

        Great clips EV and Guildo. As for the gay scene, role of women etc in Bulgaria – they are less homophobic than in Russia, but the UK Government website does warn exhibitionistic gays to be careful, especially near right wing rallies (aka football matches).There are gay clubs in Sofia and on the coast but smaller towns are very conservative. Women espect to be fully paid for on a date – after all they’ve spent a fortune on their hairdo, clothes, handbag and shoes, so why shouldn’t the man pay for the food, drinks and hotel room? In BG as in Russia, people who haven’t been since the fall of communism would be shocked as to how capitalist everything is. And if you see a short fat shaven headed man with a tall beautiful model on his arm, usually getting into a top of the range Mercedes 4×4, don’t mess with him. The Krays would have fitted in just nicely in today’s Bulgaria (or Russia for that matter). But some of the most influential gangsters or politicians, which is the same thing in Bulgaria, are openly gay, so there’s a paradox for you.

  • For anyone interested, Bwin have markets on What week will Sam Callahan be eliminated?

    Same markets available for Luke Friend/Hannah.

  • Jessica Hamby

    You’ll know with Sam C. As soon as he gets an early slot with a minimal arrangement, no dancing girls and a shirt that covers his arms he’s out of there.

    Probably do something similar with Luke only mask his hair instead of his arms.

    Ironically stripping the music back would probably help Hannah by forcing her to be sensitive to the music.

    • Gamblebot

      My God, just lay off the makeup on Sam and he’s out. 😀

      I think Luke’s time is up when his hair is like last weekend and his clothes become pedestrian (no prints, with socks).

      As for Hannah, just put fire on her staging and give her a song she can’t connect to.

  • Jessica Hamby

    The Tamera ramping is continues.

    Seems to have rwo prongs. Identify Tanera as sweet by linking her with Abi and also hammer the message that reported bad behaviour is not relevant. Seems like they’ve abandoned apologies and are going for the “we’ve all made mistakes so what I’m only human” strategy. This could work well enough to see her to the final if they keep it up. Expect a dripfeed of similar celeb endorsements over the next few weeks and maybe some good works performed by Tamera or tears (also performed?).

  • AnnaC

    Gary’s criticism of Luke’s ‘Moondance’ was interesting. When a soloist performs with a band (or a live accompanist) then it is the job of the BAND to play at the tempo of the soloist, not the other way round. if the soloist speeds up or slows down then the conductor needs to make sure that the band adjusts to the soloist. This suggests that the producers may have set up the production so that Luke would be ahead of the beat instead of behind it.

    • Chris Bellis

      Very good point. I saw Paloma Faith with the Guy Barker Orchestra the other week and part of Guy Barker’s patter, as the conductor and MC, was that his job was easy as he had his back to Paloma, so the orchestra followed her however many mistakes he made. What if the band on Luke’s performance deliberately changed the pace from the rehearsal? The only thing against this is that all the pub and club singers I know use minidisks (even when they are “playing” a keyboard, so they have to keep up with the music or sound pretty awful. So if the band was only miming…no, that could never happen.

    • zoomraker

      I think a better question is why no none told Luke he had to be behind the beat and swing it during rehearsals.

    • Heisenberg

      As it was happening I read that particular piece of critique as quite helpful for Luke – it was Gary (a respected professional performer) highlighting a technicality and nothing to do with the staging, song choice or vocal quality in general. It reminded me of a recording engineer offering constructive feedback to a musician’s performance whilst laying tracks in a studio. I originally thought he was being set up for a ‘work harder’ narrative but the ‘busker from Devon’ comment completely killed Luke, a comment that I’m sure was designed to linger in the viewer’s memory and will likely be used again soon.

      Being labelled a ‘busker’ at this stage of the competition, and by your own mentor, signals to me a very clear trajectory for Luke’s treatment from here on in.

      This time last week I commented on how the girls category was most at risk in Big Band week and my investments were exclusively B2 girl combinations. This week I have the same feeling about Louis’ boys.

      I now believe the show’s preferred final is Tamera/Rough Copy/Sam B, leading me to believe they need to accelerate the subtle deramping of Nicholas which began with his very suspect performance of ‘Rock With You’ a couple of weeks ago, a song that conveniently illustrated his performance limitations (and don’t forget the bad staging and dodgy wardrobe). I sense a poor week for Nicholas approaching because he has mass audience appeal, a presumably strong regional vote and it would be too risky to hold his hand all the way to the semi-finals if the names mentioned above are indeed plan A. Conversely, Luke and Sam C represent far easier obstacles to flush away when necessary.

      If you share my view about the preferred final three you can work out the 7/1 wager still widely available that I have already taken on.

      • Guildo Horn Forever

        Hi Heisenberg, I share your view on the preferred final three but, try as I might, am still unable to work out the 7/1 wager still widely available.
        Also, do you think Luke is a possibility for elimination this week, over and above say Sam C?

        • Andy

          1st manager to lose all their acts, Guildo
          Louis Walsh 7/1 with Will Hills.

        • Heisenberg

          They’re probably confident that young Sam will play the performing monkey boy role without much resistance, he certainly conveys that kind of genuine naivety. As such, I think there’s a good chance he will be around just a little bit longer, if only to extend the Tamera ‘are they, aren’t they’ tease for another week or so. You may argue that by doing so there’s a risk of creating another Maloney but my impression is that Sam is not as self-aware or savvy enough to do what a seasoned performer like Maloney did and, of course, his audience is a very different demographic. Having said that, I suspect the judges are consciously refraining from using the word ‘cheese’ about Sam’s performances – just to be on the safe side.

          Luke. One week you’re the dark horse of the competition, the next you’re a busker from Devon. I originally interpreted this sudden change of tone as an sos call to all Sam C crossover fans – but that could have been easily achieved without using the busker reference. It really was a damning VT for Luke, a concerted force of insignificance – the handful of college friends, the few passers by as he strummed on the street (who obviously had more important things to do with their loose change).

          I’ll make my decision about Luke tomorrow when I assess the results of the Matrix Mechanics Formula, to be posted here mid-morning. I can see myself at 9pm on Sunday agonising in hindsight about Luke’s B2 appearance and how telegraphed it was. There’s a fair chance that I will be protecting myself from this predicament by once again browsing the B2 combination prices.

      • AnnaC

        It’s interesting that they emphasise Luke’s coming from Devon rather than Yorkshire (which has a much stronger regional identity) especially as he retains his Yorkshire accent.

        • Chris Bellis


          I love this partisan quote:

          “Bradford has a high hit rate in TV talent shows, spawning stars including Zayn Malik of One Direction (X-Factor), Kimberley Walsh, formerly of Girls Aloud (Pop Stars: The Rivals) and Gareth Gates (Pop Idol).”

          They neglect to mention Chloe Mafia, my own personal favourite. That’s one contestant that really was crucified by the press. Her treatment at the hands of the tabloids makes Tamera’s adverse publicity seem positively friendly.

        • eurovicious

          Anna, yes, and well spotted – I was absent-mindedly thinking the other week during Luke’s VT “Hmm, the Devon Accent sounds kinda northern”. They’ve completely obscured his northernness and instead portrayed him as being from the southwest, which can only be deliberate to stop him getting a “northern” vote. You’re not “from” Devon if you’ve only been there for 4 years.

  • Jessica Hamby

    I am with you 100% about Tamera and Rough Copy.

    I think the third place in the producers’ affections is still up for grabs although Sam B is clearly favourite for it at the moment.

    If Hannah could find a bit more favour with the public I think they’d happily take her.

    I think the ramping of Tamera this week – holding hands with Abi, Abi saying she wants Tamera to win, Tamera being endorsed by Rhianna, is part of a long term plan to win over the people put off by the negative news stories, especially the bullying one.

    Nicholas will probably only sell records if he it’s hymns or something. I’m expecting him to have songs with a little bit of rhythm or edge to throw him off his game over the next few weeks. As Rock With You showed, it doesn’t have to be Smack My Bitch Up or Smoke On The Water – give him something even mildly sexy and requiring a bit of chutzpah and he doesn’t find it easy.

    • Chris Bellis

      As I’ve said before, they ought to have a Prodigy themed week. That would favour Rough Copy and win me a tidy sum. But I have a gut feeling Nic is in their sights to be eliminated.

  • R

    I think the Tamera hype is to keep her off the B2 this week. She’s coming back down from a sympathy bounce, while Hannah is due a second (smaller bounce).
    A second B2 appearance by Tamera will uncover the lie that she fell B2 because everyone thought she was safe, and reveal the truth that she’s just not that popular.
    Her votes have been shown to be too low to win the show, she’s not receiving anything like the level of pimping James Arthur received and she’s not up against a Christopher Maloney figure.
    I can’t really see the producers telling the public to hate Luke, Nick, RC or Sam B as openly as they did with Chris M.

    • Guildo Horn Forever

      This strengthens my resolve that it’s Hannah who will be the no.1 producer target this week.

      Plus XF production will want to avoid visiting-home-area VTs featuring both Hannah and producer-loved Rough Copy.

      XF have built a little momentum for Rough Copy, and need to continue to build for Tamera.

      She needs to go now.

    • Jessica Hamby

      I think Luke, Sam C and Hannah will all be straightforward to nuke.

      Nicholas is the problem but they have a few weeks to deramp him and the best way to do it imo is show the flaws in his technique. If they make him boring rather than angelic they should be able to do him and they can caise him some pronlems with song choice.

      Also, given the teenage horn he has for Nicole surely they can have him leering at a few sexy dancers and smudge his image a bit. That definitely won’t please his demo.

      I think Tamera is still very likely for the final. They’ve still got a month or so to make it happen.

  • Roxie

    Are we not misinterpreting the comments for Luke’s performance by any chance? Yes while it is true that Louis said he’s a busker from Devon – isn’t that more representative of a journey and some potential room for more storyline for Luke, that’s he just a busker and now he’s preforming in front of millions? Saying Devon also reinforced a potential regional vote, though I have no idea how strong Devon’s is.

    Also I still stand by my previous comments that I think TPTB have cleverly masked the real Plan A this year. It can’t be Tamera, otherwise why would they purposely deflate her pimp slot by labeling her a Beyonce impersonator and giving her hair and choreography so incredibly suggestive of Beyonce? Sharon’s comment to Tamera on her Cry Me A River performance also tells me something like that – why deflate her sympathy bounce more by saying she lacks emotional connection? Then the fact that Sharon and Louis have gotten Tamera’s name wrong on multiple occasions sends the impression that she’s a bit of a nobody? I really want her to do well, but TPTB could be pulling out a lot more stops to ensure she does well.

    My real feeling is that Sam B was ALWAYS the producer Plan A. She was pimped significantly having the pimp slot of the launch audition. The judges every week say she’s done the best performance. The considerable volumes of celebrities who come onto the show only to say their favorite is Sam B has to reinforce this notion that ‘Sam Bailey is the best singer, my favorite, therefore you should all vote for her’.

    Also why pimp Nick throughout the pre-lives – in the arena audition, bootcamp and judge’s houses? He was always going to fulfill this Leon/Eoghan/Joe slot so there was no need to give more exposure than necessary – that would be a death sentence for the lives! I really do think that Nick is dominating the votes right now. The Rock With You performance was shaky but as we know from Matt, even with shaky performances, if the fan base is dedicated enough they will continue to vote for you (which is a bit unjust but nevertheless is a possibility).

    I really don’t think Tamera was ever the Plan A, nor was Hannah. I think it’s more about restoring the credibility that the previous 4 years slowly gnawed away at – that this was ever a singing competition. It’s to restore belief in that in my opinion and Sam B – the best singer in many’s eyes – winning is the only way to reinforce this.

    • Gamblebot

      You don’t give your Plan A staging suggesting time is running out (Week 2) or staging suggesting they’re a cruise ship singer (Week 3), especially when they need all the help they can get because there’s a Scot taking all the votes. The theory of using a decoy is more feasible imho with James over Ella.

      • I think every act has some positives and some negatives, however Sam Bailey has a lot more negatives than positives.

        Always got to take into account that the producers may throw curveballs occasionally. But the fact is they have done a lot more to favour Sam Bailey than not

        • Gamblebot

          Fair enough. My guess is that the negatives would continue had public not find out that Hannah wasn’t as popular as they thought (afaik she was supposed to be an insurance policy for Tamera; she turned out to be ballast instead).

    • Chris Bellis

      I think you’re on to something with the name thing.
      Do you think Sharon getting the name wrong (calling “Tamera” “Tamara” as I recall) could have been one of her many stumbles? Like calling a dancer a “pediophile”? I think she had one pre-show drink too many and “in vino veritas”. Not deliberate, but indicative that Tamera isn’t her favourite. Of course, getting the name wrong is a classic off-putting trick used by interrogators, so it works as a theory whether she was tipsy or stone cold sober..

    • R

      Agree fully that Tamera was never Plan A. I think she is Plan D.

      I’m sure the show has the ability to keep stories out of the newspapers if it wanted to.
      I remember negative Little Mix stories were kept out of the newspapers in 2011, so they should have been able to minimise the damage to Tamera if necessary.

      My view is that Tamera is following the same trajectory as Misha B.

      In Misha’s case she was called a bully on live tv.
      In Tamera’s case, they get a girl with the looks, the voice & the history, except this time they let the newspapers tell everyone she’s a nasty piece of work.
      The TPTB don’t get their hands dirty but the effect is the same. Tamera falls B2 and has to be saved a few times until she reaches fourth place and goes out when there is no judges’ vote.

      The same methods just evolved over the last couple of years.

  • Neve The branding of McNic as British (Not Scottish) has begun. How do we read this? A deramp to kill the Scottish vote? Or he needs to be less Scottish to pick up more votes? I always like to try and determine every possible intention with tactics like this. It will be very interesting to see how his VT is handled? If there’s a clanger like Andy Murray’s “I’ll support anyone but England” it could be very controversial. Its a hot topic right now. Murray wrapped in a union jack during the Olympics caused a lot of debate. it’s a powerful statement for a Scot with the referendum fast approaching. (I’m Irish by the way so maybe I’ve just read too much into the media hype and Brits / Scots watching a Saturday Night entertainment show don’t really care so much!)

    • Natasha

      On the XF facebook page there are pictures of all the contestants with a Union Jack wrapped around them so theres nothing to read into here. Althugh, looking at sam baileys picture, she has the Union Jack wrapped around her head like an old lady would, almost didnt recognise her.
      Wonder if this is supposed to remind us that she is ‘old’ (in the overs category)

      • Gamblebot

        I don’t think so? They gave Sam Callahan and Nicholas another chance to look pretty but they don’t seem to be priorities. Maybe TPTB’s catering to them because of their large social media backing? Because

        MOVIE WEEK
        Sam C, Nicholas, Rough Copy, the blonde in Kingsland Road, Tamera

        BIG BAND
        Rough Copy, Nicholas, Sam C

        this week
        Sam B, Sam C, Tamera, Nicholas

        Notice the lack of Hannah (who’s dead last in Twitter followers– just a few thousand ahead of some rejected Boys iirc) and (surprisingly) Luke.

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