Luke’s Journey – The Pendulum Between Dark Horse and Busker From Devon

Luke Friend has been a bit of a Sofabet nemesis this series, and not just because we were mildly surprised when he survived week 8’s singoff against Tamera and blindsided when he survived week 9’s against Rough Copy.

It goes back to our pre-lives 1-12 prediction, in compiling which we always try to envisage which fancied act might be a shock early exit and which outsider might do well. Luke, then a 25/1 shot, was the one we seriously considered putting a lot higher than we did, on the basis of one simple fact: he was the first auditionee shown in the first audition show.

Why is that significant? Producers do like to frontload the audition shows with their favoured acts. Two of the three finalists – Sam and Luke – were in the first audition show. So were another two of the last six, Hannah and Tamera.

But, against that, we felt we couldn’t ignore that Luke had been given a gamma boy edit since. He had to wait a week for his arena audition to be screened, and at both bootcamp and judges’ houses he was barely granted any screentime.

Luke’s trajectory in the live shows is best imagined by picturing a pendulum with “dark horse” at one end of the spectrum and “busker from Devon” at the other end. From live show 1 to live show 4, the pendulum swung steadily out to the “dark horse” end. It wasn’t an immediately gamechanging start with ‘Every Breath You Take’ in week 1, and week 2’s boat staging for ‘Let Her Go’ divided opinion in the Sofabet comments, though we thought it had a pleasantly languid vibe.


Week 3’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’ saw the first unequivocal signs of producer favour. That came in the form of a shopping centre VT designed to convey the impression that Luke was popular, and Luke bestowing a name – “Friendies” – upon his fan base, the suggestion being that his fans are both numerous and committed.

In week 4, the pendulum pushed even deeper into positive territory as he had his name in lights and three judges on their feet for a rendition of ‘Play That Funky Music’ that ended with Luke on his back and guitars spraying fireworks.


That was when the “dark horse” tag was bestowed. But what a difference a week makes. In week 5, the pendulum swung sharply all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum as his VT showed him strumming his guitar to a sparse-looking gathering and his own mentor dismissively referred to him as a “busker from Devon”.

His rendition of ‘Moondance’ saw justified criticism from Gary, and – in a week that also saw Abi Alton deprived of her trademark glasses, before being despatched in the singoff – Luke’s hair was pulled back for the first time. There has always been a sense that Luke’s hair is the most interesting thing about him and therefore, as with Samson, somehow the source of all his powers.


We’ve seen it so often on the X Factor – the old one-two punch, the softener and the kill – and when Luke was sent out second in week 6, it seemed plausible that he was in the producers’ crosshairs. His VT featured an amusing moment when Louis took all three boys skating and made a point of remarking “Sam is winning”, and the staging for ‘Your Song’ featured an incredibly distracting and mysteriously older woman on the big screen behind him.


Both Sharon and Nicole used the same word to describe him: “organic”. As we explored in our retrospective on Abi’s journey, our ears always prick up whenever we notice any apparent attempt to associate a word with an act, and this was an intriguing one. What connotations might “organic” have to an ITV audience? We would hazard a guess at something like “a niche product that’s an unnecessary expense, and perhaps has a bit of a farmyard smell”.

Luke looked dispensable, but was saved by hitting the bottom two with Sam Callahan, whose VT suggested he had transitioned during the course of the week from being an act producers wanted to keep around for Gary pantomime purposes to being one they wanted rid of for having the gumption to have ideas of his own.

Cue a swing of the pendulum right the way back to “dark horse” in week 7 for ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, which may well have been Luke’s best week vote-wise (or, perhaps more pertinently, iTunes sales-wise) as that’s the song he’s reprising in the final. Hair down, velvet jacket, guitar – this would appear to be Luke in his comfort zone.


Again in week 8 he got high praise from the judges, although in a series that’s seen plenty of confusing mixed messages we also had a couple of instances of Louis planting unhelpful thoughts in the VT – in the runup to ‘Skinny Love’ saying he hated the song, and worrying that Luke would do a “busker’s version” of ‘I Will Wait’.

Luke hit the singoff again and was saved again, this time against Sam Callahan’s girlfriend. As an aside, given that we now know Sam and Tamera were an item during the show, it’s intriguing to wonder if something happened in the run-up to week 6 which might have caused a tense situation between the the two of them and the production team – not only was Sam nuked in week 6, it was also when Tamera’s lyric-forgetting troubles surfaced.

Back to Luke, and last week’s semi final saw a south-westerly swing of the pendulum. Busking wasn’t mentioned, but Luke was called a “little boy from Devon”, got mixed comments, and his hair was pulled back for his second performance. Whether he survived over Rough Copy by accident or design is a debate that continues to run in the Sofabet comments.

If it was by design, one possible reason – suggested by Santa Giles – is that Luke was clear of Rough Copy in the vote by such a distance that producers started to worry shoehorning Rough Copy into the final would have generated unwelcome publicity when the percentages are released after Sunday’s show. Richard Betsfactor raised the possibility that the singoff might have been instituted only to fill airtime on Sunday’s show because an intended guest failed to confirm, and that honouring the public vote was always going to be considered more important than getting the right act into the final.

But the theory that sprang to many commenters’ minds immediately was: could producers be thinking that Luke is worth keeping as he’s going to split Nick’s vote in the final?

Several commenters have argued that Nick and Luke have separate niches. While there’s a strong case to be made for that idea, producers will have access to the voting figures, and perhaps they may have noticed that when Luke has a good week it impacts on Nick’s figures.

That could explain a lot about Luke’s live show treatment, which is otherwise atypical – we’re struggling to remember other examples from previous series of acts who have been pimped, then attacked for a couple of weeks, then pimped again. (There are examples of acts who were initially considered disposable but producers ended up running with, such as Marcus Collins, but have there been previous examples of acts who they’ve built up, knocked down, and built up again?)

The Daily Star, which has form with accurate leaks, has imparted only two pieces of information this year: that Nick won weeks 2 and 6. Recall that Luke was treated very favourably in weeks 3 and 4. Could it be that, looking at week 4’s vote, producers felt they’d got Nick’s vote under control and therefore Luke was now dispensable?

And could it be that, unpleasantly surprised by week 6’s vote, producers decided they needed to pimp Luke again in weeks 7 and 8 as part of a bid to bring Nick back down again? We’re not sure, but it may be a theory worth considering.

Luke becomes the first act in X Factor history to get to the final after three singoff saves. Cher Lloyd is the only other finalist to have survived more than one, and she was also first out in the only four-act final in the history of the show. That’s not promising for Luke. Nor is the fact that, like a skimming stone, sympathy bounces usually gradually lose their power with each successive save – although Katie Waissel caught a wave and enjoyed a huge spike after her fourth.

History, and logic, suggest Luke will be leaving us first this weekend – but will he have split Nick’s vote sufficiently to leave Sam in an unassailable lead by the time he does so? What have you made of the X Factor journey of the grubby-haired dark horse busker from Devon? Do let us know in the comments below.

28 comments to Luke’s Journey – The Pendulum Between Dark Horse and Busker From Devon

  • Phil

    I think the sense I get with Luke is that the producers respect him. He’s seems a genuinely nice guy, and I imagine he’s good to work with. He also knows who he is, which must make their job easier. I think it’s such a shame that he’s been in the bottom two so much and probably won’t win, he’s by far the most talented contestant of the series.

    I have a feeling he might edge into second place though. If they’ve gone all Maloney on Nick like we suspect, then history could repeat itself and it could be 3rd place for Nick.

  • Natasha

    Great article with some very interesting points! Regarding the grubby-haired dark horse busker from devon, I sense come saturday, he will have served his purpose (split Nicks vote) and come 3rd. Job done. But there is a but, and its a big one, will it have been enough to hold Nick back? We shall have to see.

    Any leaks regarding winners single??

    • Ron

      But that would still beg the question as to why Louis looked so shocked and even displeased that Luke got through on Sunday. If the plan was to send him through to the final to split Nicholas’s vote, you would expect Louis to be in on it.

      • Gamblebot

        He didn’t look pissed, if you ask me. It’s more like, “pinch me I must be dreaming; two years ago I completed a hat trick as first mentor knocked out.”

        • Ron

          Why look suprised at all though? There’s every chance Luke could finish third ahead of RC if it went to deadlock, and yet he appeared stunned, suggesting he was 100% certain Luke was going home (because he knew that was the result the producers wanted?)

  • Dean

    My opinion is that it is operation stop Nick. I actually think they will never put a slightly pimped in audition stage Scot through ever again. This show has probably give them nightmares. I actually think Nick still has every chance of winning and prods are scared. They have put Luke into the final to try and halt this.

    Let me give you this scenario. I live in Scotland and my gf and female work colleagues all admit Sam or others have been better recently and also admit Nick not being that good yet still jump up and down when Nick is announced through likes he’s the best thing since sliced bread.

    The problem for prods is this weekend I’m sure Scots will vote in their droves. They need Luke to halt Nick even by those few percentage points. It may be enough and Sam can win.

    Week 6 was a mistake. They pimped Nick. After initially slowly deramping him and haven’t reeled him back since. However it’s been a slightly more unpredictable show than normal this year so let’s see how they treat him. They have changed their mind a few times on certain acts this year, something that rarely happened in the past.

    • Gamblebot

      Nicky was probably handpicked through one of the show’s headhunters (as was Luke– through the Teen Star competition). I don’t know what level of oversight they have not to notice him.

      I agree with Week 6’s mistake; they should have pimped him early, not midway. They left it too late to take him down directly. Of course, it’s very complicated because they’ve been stitching up Sam C as a talentless knob; making Nicky look bad alongside him (i.e. making him the Maloney to Sam’s Rylan) reeks of the kind of controversy that they have seemed to avoid this year and could make Luke zoom past acts they prefer (Tamera/RC; funny thing is he has done exactly that).

      I remember just before the Live Shows, Louis called Nicholas a potential “dark horse” in an interview (this was before Luke got the moniker). He has proven to be less dark horse, more giant tartan dragon.

    • Jack

      I still think that the Sports Personality reservations apply. This is Murray’s best chance to win and whilst it obviously won’t stop the Scottish vote totally, I do think there will be a significant enough dent that will allow Sam B to win.

  • stoney

    I’m eagerly awaiting the results of the ever reliable youguv pol this weekend. I wonder if they will factor in the scottish angle. I’m guessing they won’t, and will therefore not be as accurate as in the past

  • EM

    Do you want a better conspiracy theory? Luke’s pimping started in earnest right after James Arthur went on his “queer” tirade.

    Did Syco think there’s very little chance of Mr Arthur recovering from this and having a long term future? However we know a young lad who can do the rocky/soulful thing and is much more compliant?

    After his What Makes You Beautiful performance there’s been very little evidence of actual deramping. Louis’ comment about hating Skinny Love could have been designed to show Ljke as having his own mind and sticking it to Louis when he nailed it.

    Two saves suggest they think there’s more to him than Tamera and Rough Copy. They might have some evidence to show he takes votes from Nicolas but if they’re looking long term they might just see him as the most commercial proposition of the lot as I’ve argued before.

    Sam and Nic are good for a covers album around Mother’s Day but both probably have a better future on the stage. Luke is capable of going on an Olly Murs style trajectory with some decent songs, nice videos and lots of promotional work.

    I could make the same argument about Rough Copy doing a JLS so I have to assume they didn’t see the same potential in them.

    • Guildo Horn Forever

      Very shrewd, interesting points, EM.

      I think you’re on to something there.

      It’s like you’re inside the producers’ heads!

    • If that’s the case, though, why did they not pimp Luke in week 9 to the same extent as they had in week 8? And why have a singoff? Why not send Luke into the final on the back of a standing ovation and mystery about whether he’d finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd?

  • Dean

    Luke is the Buskerville Hound

  • Heisenberg

    Looks like Nicholas will have a school themed homecoming. Singing on stage in assembly? This could be damaging if the other finalists have far more elaborate homecoming VTs.

    • EM

      He did a full on stage performance in his home town too.

    • Dean

      It will be interesting to see what town they say Nic is from. Will it be Wishaw, which is a reasonably small town about 5km from where I work. Will it be Motherwell as you know a much bigger city which has smaller towns like Wishaw around it or will it be North Lanarkshire which covers a large part of this region.

      Not sure it matters as Scots vote for scots, but to alienate Wee Nic a little, Wishaw would be what they could go for. Don’t think it will work quite as well as for scousers though.

      • stoney

        They have left it wayyyyy to late to attempt that as a derailing method. The only reason it was so effective on craig colton was because there was another scouser in the competition

      • Natasha

        The Tellymix article on Nicks homecoming states he is from Wishaw so i guess this is the location which will be used in his VT. I also guess they will show his school homecoming gig which was relativly small rather than the gig he did in Motherwell Civic Centre, which was obviously much much bigger. I wonder if we’ll get a crazed person running on the stage throwing eggs at the judges during Nicks performance lol I wouldnt put it past them

  • David Cook

    If Nick was within 5% of Sam B at the weekend then the producers should probably be very worried that Nick will win it. Rough Copy dropping out may benefit Luke the most – but he is probably so far behind that this will make no difference. This is probably neutral between Sam B and Nick. However if Luke finishes 3rd at the vote freeze how many will then vote again for Nick. Previous results show that a change of 5% between the final two is quite likely. In the last two years this has not affected the result. Last year JA was to far ahead of Jahmene when CM dropped out. The year before LM benefited when Amelia dropped out and they moved further ahead. This year it would appear that Nick may gain most from Luke, but will it be enought to Nick the win. The producers will be doing thier best to increase that gap before the vote freeze.

  • David Cook

    The only purpose of a sing off before the final would be to control the third act going into the final. It certainly wasn’t to get at Sam B or Nick who would be too far ahead – so they must have wanted a choice between RC and Luke. If they really wanted Luke it would have been easier just to pimp him over RC, assume a small bounce from the previous weeks sing B2, with RC loosing thiers – and Luke would have been safely 3rd anyway. Therefore it is more likely that they wanted the option of getting RC to the final. So I think this is more to do with the relative votes between Sam B and Nick. If the gap was big enough they may have gone with RC. But maybe rather than opening up the gap was closing – possibly a boost due to the waterworks on Saturday. So they felt they could not take the risk of dropping Luke before the final. Mrs O may well have prefered to put RC through – but maybe she got some advice as to what might be in the best interests of her own act. If this is the case then Nick may be very close to Sam B in the vote.

    • AnnaC

      Luke is still the only act never to have closed the show so they could easily have given him the final slot last Saturday if they had wanted to make sure he was in the final.

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