X Factor 2018: what to note from auditions

With the new X Factor season returning this evening at 8pm, here’s a timely reminder for Sofabet veterans and newcomers alike of what to look out for at the audition stage.

A big caveat for 2018: the show will be keen to show off and bed in its three-quarters-new judging panel, so we can expect as much focus establishing their personalities as the contestants. Still, here are a few pointers and questions to consider.

1. Front-loading
There’s a long tradition of putting more of the show’s most promising acts in the earliest audition episodes. The logic being it gives more time for those acts to catch fire with the public as they rack up YouTube views. Over the last seven years for example, at least three of the eventual top six featured in the first two audition shows. If that’s continued, it means you’ll see half of the main contenders over this first weekend.

Let’s take the girls’ category – often seen as the strongest at the audition stages – as a further example. Sofabet commenter Panos worked back from 2017 to show that the audition episode of the eventual top girl has been 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 5. And that 5 is misleading – it was Amelia Lily, whose mid-lives comeback catapulted her above both Misha B (first seen in audition 2) and Janet Devlin (first seen in audition 1).

2. Pole position
Devlin had the most traditionally coveted audition slot of all – last in the running order of the first episode. As regular sofabettors will know, a talent contest “pimp slot”, at the end of the show, is usually the best place to be remembered. It goes to figure that last on in the earliest audition show is the place of maximum impact. In 2015, when producers left nothing to chance, Louisa Johnson got it. Last year, eventual runner-up Grace Davies did. 2012’s Ella Henderson was another first audition episode pimp slot girl who started the live shows as the short-priced favourite.

But there are no hard and fast rules in a show where producers’ minds can change at any moment, and formula must occasionally be cast to the wind. In 2014, Jay James had this coveted audition slot, only to have the carpet pulled from under him at judges’ houses in favour of barely-seen latecomer Fleur East. And in 2016, we ended the first audition episode with an introduction to Honey G – though you could argue she was pushed every bit as hard as Grace & co.

3. What the story, morning glory?
Generally the longer an act’s appearance on an audition show, the better. We can just imagine how deflating it must be for a hopeful to sail through auditions and 6CC with glowing comments and get all excited about packing their bags for judges’ houses, only to sit down at home in front of the auditon shows and see themselves allotted a cursory 30 seconds as part of a montage while their category rivals get extensive coverage of their pre-song chat with the judges and post-song debrief with Dermot.

So far, so obvious, but it’s also about quality as well as quantity of screentime. This is our first opportunity to invest emotionally in the acts, and establish a narrative for them, which is vital in a popularity contest like X Factor. Therefore, it’s usually most promising to have backgrounds fully filled in, preferably with a home visit, and family members included.

4. Cry me a river
There’s a caveat here too, and it involves that X Factor staple: the sob story. On the one hand, this may be the start of a genuine narrative for an act that producers have high hopes of. But there’s also the possibility that the sob story is given screentime not to indicate a promising future on the show, but because it makes good TV in itself. The show needs some heartbreak at 6CC and judges’ houses, after all.

Joshua Daniel’s first audition in 2015 is a prime example. It was an early audition show, he got a nice build-up that included bonding with the judges. Emotion was then heightened by Josh relating his song choice to the death of a best friend, which ensured tears all round for his moving rendition of Labrinth’s ‘Jealous’. It made for great TV, was widely shared on social media, Josh was fancied to do well, but he was dropped at judges’ houses.

5. Looking ahead, not back
Josh’s moving story wasn’t establishing a narrative; it was the pay-off. Watching that segment again with hindsight, the judges’ comments purely focus on their emotions, rather than Josh’s potential or talent. Not that it guarantees anything either way, but you’d ideally hope for some focus on the latter too. For example, words such as “superstar” or “star” have often been a signpost for a show in the business of making stars – the first auditions for Louisa, Ella and Jahmene Douglas have it in common. Another example: Louis said “that is a hit song” to Grace Davies after she sang ‘Roots’ for the first time.

Which brings us to our big question: will the show set out its stall as clearly as last year in favour of original material and iTunes placings? Last year’s first audition show started with Simon telling eventual winners Rak-Su that he was looking for original material, before closing with that ‘Roots’ segment for Grace – and the two duly performed more originals in the live shows than any other acts, and ended up contesting the final Sunday. It would be great if the agenda for this season is similarly explicit and consistently followed, though we’re expecting producers to feel the need to mix things up somehow or other.

Most of all, enjoy the tropes of the audition stage. As this article exits stage right to the swell of emotional background music, and proud family members clap in the audience, ask yourselves: what’s the longer game here, if indeed there is one at all?

Let us know your thoughts on this weekend’s shows below.

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22 comments to X Factor 2018: what to note from auditions

  • Livin’ fuckin’ Joy though…

  • Alan

    Might give it a miss this year. I only have to see Robbie Williams face and I want to throw things at the TV. I’ll probably get sucked in though and follow it on here at the very least.

    • Jessica Hamby

      Same. I might follow it on here but most likely I’ll just tune in for the final and throw rocks. I can’t stand Robbie Williams.

      Everything about the show that I’ve come to dislike – the cheesy, dated, mawkish, exploitative, incestuous pantomime that seems to think it’s doing us all a favour just by existing – is made flesh in Robbie bloody Williams.

      Good luck to the bettors though.

      • Jessica Hamby

        Just saw some bloke who auditioned with a band at the same time as 1D eight years ago. He did a version of Careless Whisper with a pub piano backing track, sang a bit out of tune and got binned.

        I’m sat here thinking that they probably told him to do Careless Whisper and provided him with that backing track.

        I can’t watch it anymore. Even the judges look like they’d rather be somewhere else.

        Ah’m oot.

  • Stoney

    Anthony Russel for me represents a worthwhile early back. The show have invested in him hugely and he has already built up a good story with Louis. A dead cert for the lives.

  • Phil

    Odd selection of auditionees so far. Seems like they’ve decided songwriting = boring and are going more for characters. All feels a bit of a rush job really, arena auditions (only in one location) straight into 6 chair challenge suggests things are being controlled a lot more tightly than usual.

    How many times already this series have they explained how they are looking for “the X Factor” – I think they’ve realised the whole star power thing has been missing in recent years, hence the obviously-invited people like Living Joy lady and squeaky Irish Eurovision boy who already have plenty of experience of performing.

    Don’t think Anthony Russell fits that to be honest. He’ll reach the lives but I don’t see him going far.

  • Alan

    Anthony Russell is a solid singer and given last year’s shenanigans has a built in back-story. Is he someone they would want to sign though? Not in a million years.

    • No, I wouldn’t be 100% surprised if he didn’t even make the lives. I was thinking about the above article as I watched it unfold and couldn’t help dwelling on “cry me a river” – it made for an emotional connection but one they can cut down to size in the Six Chair Challenge or early in the Lives.

      Same with Danny Tetley with Simn’s apology but I’m pretty sure they’ll be looking for him to be a ‘character’ in the lives.

      If the first two audition shows are supposed to highlight the producers favoured ones, though, then… They seemed to be making suggestions of forming a girlband but we didn’t see any more potential singers to make that up. I suppose Mollie Scott is the best best, possibly commercial, appeared in the first show and pimped but if they can’t get the more assured Louisa Johnson to take off I’m not sure why they’d go down that route again. Out of interest can I post spoilers on here?

      Janice has a unique look, a memorable audition and can put on a show. She’d certainly be a different kind of winner, being an Over comfortable with uptempo numbers rather than ballads and they may learn from the Saara false start how to treat her with kid gloves to ensure she gets over the lines.

      Misunderstood would be seen as more of a commercial prospect but would they be mining in the same waters as Rak Su and is Simon still looking to push the latter forward? What they are is easily ‘nobbled’ – a planted line about them being better dancers than singers (akin to FYD in 2010) and the seed will be sown.

  • Chatterbox5200

    At the start of this article, Daniel stated (with reference to the judging panel) “We can expect as much focus establishing their personalities as the contestants”, and how true he was.

    What I didn’t anticipate though, was just how conceited and narcissistic that show would have become, with both of the weekend’s “Pimp Slots” dedicated more to the judges than the contestants:

    Saturday – Andy Hofton was portrayed as a borderline obsessive Robbie Williams fanboy, who seemed to be featured solely to allow Robbie to sing “Angels”, and give Andy the opportunity to live out a fantasy of singing a duet with his idol.

    Having attended two of the audition recordings, I know that this is not the only time that Robbie performs with a contestant, as he also duetted with a tribute act called Blobbie Williams (although it may not make it to TV)

    Sunday – Anthony Russell “the wee Scouse fella from last year” was actually introduced to the judges by Louis, by saying that he had got to know him and his family over the last year, since he last auditioned for the show. Simon interjected by adding that Louis had reached out to Anthony, to “give him the help he needed at the time”, followed by Anthony explaining that he was now clean after a stint in rehab and wouldn’t be where he was right now if it wasn’t for Louis.

    Throughout his audition, the camera regularly fixated on an emotional Louis, as Anthony repeatedly sang the lyrics “I didn’t know that I was lost”. At the end of the performance, Louis joined Anthony on stage for a hug, before getting choked up in his critique, and saying “it’s a big moment for both of us!” The segment ended with another hug from Louis as strains of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” played in the background.

    Earlier on in Sunday’s show, the audition from Marc Higgins (previously in a boyband called The Reason that got to Judge’s Houses in the same year as One Direction) seemed entirely staged to show how successful Louis – and the rest of One Direction – had become as a result of appearing on X Factor. During his introduction he even added in the line “Watching the 1D lads go to superstardom kinda made me feel that could have been us” as if to remind the audience that the show made them as big as they were.

    Not to be outdone by the new judges, Simon’s ego needed to be massaged a little, and this happened courtesy of the audition from Brendan Murray (who despite mentioning a stint in an Irish boyband, made no mention of previously being managed by Louis Walsh, or representing Ireland at Eurovision 2017).

    Simon’s recommendation that Brendan change his song to one that he had apparently never heard of before, was made to be the difference between him getting the boot, and going through to the next round. The producers even took the liberty of showing Brendan trying to learn his new song, whilst “Devil Side” by Foxes played in the background, featuring the lyrics….. “Who’s gonna save you now, who’s gonna save you?”

    Simon was then shown saying to Louis “This could backfire badly on me” as Brendan came out to audition with his new song choice, reminding the audience that if he did well, it would primarily be down to Simon and HIS choice of song. They even threw in Simon offering him a glass of water, giving him advice, and suggesting that he should sing whilst holding on to the lyric sheet. The performance was subsequently followed by the obligatory 4 judge standing ovation and Ayda giving credit to Simon for the song choice as Robbie ended the segment with a rather sycophantic “I am learning from the best Simon”.

    Maybe next week the producers may decide to focus on some of the potential front runners for the competition rather than the judges.

      • Alan

        Stomach-churning stuff and the reason I never watch the show until the lives. So contrived, deceitful and manipulative. Cannot believe people are gullible enough to not see through it.

        I guess Im a bit of a hypocrite though as it is the same manipulation that makes the lives such an enjoyable watch.

        • Jessica Hamby

          Blatant emotional manipulation of the audience might have seemed a good idea at first but it’s ruined the show – and not just because it’s so predictable and cheesy.

          A lot of talented people turn them down because it’s accepted amongst musicians that they’ll destroy an image, a reputation or a budding career for 5 minutes of television.

          That’s meant they’re left with either the mediocre (is it possible to be “extremely mediocre”?) or over 30s who might be more accomplished (can sing in tune) but only go on as a last throw of the dice and are usually 10 or more years out of date.

          And when they do get talented people they don’t know what to do with them anyway. Look at what they did to Saara Aalto – the best singer that year by a mile. Even when they finally recognised how good she was, they completely messed up the final with a couple of disaster song choices.

          If I had hopes of success in the music industry I’d treat the X Factor like Typhoid Mary.

          BUT there will undoubtedly be opportunities to make money, especially in the early live shows.

  • The Juan

    Hi all

    Back for another series.

    Some interesting show changes to note straight from the off:

    – golden buzzer
    – pimp slot to give early “moments” to potential, rather than providing them with a moment
    – the early narrative creation with brendan (building a story to showcase rather than just providing a pimp straight from the off)

    I think we have already seen the winner this year in brendan murray. If louis does get the boys, then simon was his mentor… its cyclical.

    Also, his youtube channel is full of a female fanbase and has his own material. If digitalspy is to be trusted, hes the golden buzzer in 6cc.

    See if I can start a new record by calling it straight from the off… Ive come pretty close the last few.

    The only danger to him, I think, will be the not yet sèen shanice smith.

    • Stoney

      If they want to promote a guy who couldn’t even qualify for the finals of Eurovision,getting him to change his song choice, and showing him to fluff his lines several times is not the best way of going about it. Although Raksu did conveniently sing another song in their audition as well.
      Anthony Russell had by far the best social media response from the auditions and seeing as he has already built up a following, and will have a huge scouse following if he goes into the lives you would imagine him being a runaway train. But given the pimp spot on the opening weekend should be enough of a hint for any regular gambler on this show that he is in it for the long haul IF he behaves himself this next few months.

      • Fudd

        I don’t think Ant will be pliable enough in the long term for producers to throw their weight behind him – as alluded to in the article, he’s an albeit more talented Frankie Cocozza; I have no faith that he’ll be able to handle the stresses of the show even with St. Louis alongside him to guide him through each stage. The question is will production have a crisis on their hands when the proverbial hits the fan or will they be able to ease him out of the door a la Craig Colton?

        Andrew – thanks for the spoiler confirmation. Just wanted to mention Molly Scott seems to have a ‘come back later’ moment in the Six Chair Challenge which is going to help her stick in the mind of viewers.

    • Alicia Mirza

      Louis didn’t win with 1D under Simon’s mentoring though. Actually according to this site from back then the fact that Simon was their mentor stopped many from voting for them!
      I can actually see a similar route for Brendan on the show as for 1D, but I don’t think he is actually going to win. Maybe third too – cyclical? 😉
      To me he is too boyband-ish type of guy to have the support of half of the viewers. And I say that as someone who loves boybands… He certainly is the type the panel would usually cry ‘boyband material’ when they see him.

  • The Juan

    Cant disagree with any of that Stoney.

    We both got caught up in the cutkelvin hype last year, I think Anthony will follow the same path.

    We’ll see……

    • Stoney

      I was happy to take the early price on Anthony but one thing I will not be doing is refusing to budge and ignoring the obvious signs this series. I still think they will try and push a girl group. Brendan for me would offer nothing as a winner he would be another Ben Haenow, Matt Terry type winner and im sure they would be looking to avoid that.

  • Stoney

    Maybe the show helping someone turn their life around by winning is the kind of publicity it needs to keep it going a few more years. A long shot I know.

  • 360

    Back again for another year, though I probably won’t be watching this time, just keeping up with the dissection and maybe having a flutter.

    Just a few off-direct-topic notes on the developments between now and last year at Syco and with XF alums that might shed some light on what kind of act they want this time round:

    Matt Terry has been dropped
    Louisa Johnson has been dropped without even getting the chance to release an album, though she has been re-signed by a dance label
    Grace whatever her name was from last year has dropped off the map despite coming second, but is still signed
    The winners, Rak-Su did well with their debut single but a follow-up did nothing for them and they can’t promote in the US due to visa issues for one of them
    Simon is still trying to push new boyband Prettymuch
    Little Mix, nearly a decade into their career now, remain Syco’s biggest cash cow, although notably they released a single this year that didn’t do so well, although it was just a ‘featuring Little Mix’ as opposed to a major comeback release
    Syco’s American girlband, Fifth Harmony, with younger members than Little Mix, completely imploded and are ‘on hiatus’ with several chasing solo careers

    Either way it will be interesting to see what they go for when now it’s been long enough, I would say, that winners and even runners up no longer expect the success that was guaranteed to big hitters like 1D, Alexandra Burke and even the likes of Sam Bailey and Matt Cardle. When the prize is to boost your influence and profile a bit, given that the single you release as your winner’s song is now a charity single and that ‘million pound recording contract’ has been discreetly adjusted down to just ‘a record deal’ which, as recent winners have seen, doesn’t really guarantee anything.

    • Chatterbox5200

      At the two audition show filming a tgat I went to there was a LOT of talk, particularly from Simon, about Girl Groups. Many female contestants were told that they would fit well as part of a “vocal girl group” with one girl told that many of the biggest stars have initially been part of a group – “Beyoncé was in a Girl group” was even some feedback that Simon provided.

      I specifically stated to my friend attending with me, that Simon must be looking for a replacement for Little Mix, as they must be coming to the end of their current deal or are anticipated to take a One Direction style hiatus. A sentiment that has been echoed by a number of others on here already.

      Simon also seemed particularly keen to form a “K-Pop type group”, telling an 18 year old French girl with blue hair that “you’re fascinating, interesting. I think you should be part of a K-Pop group”. A suggestion that was readily agreed on by the other judges. This may be influenced by the success of BTS and their ability to impact both the U.K. and USAmarkets.

      Given that X Factor’s most profitable alumni have both been groups (One Direction and Little Mix), and Rak-Su are waiting in the wings following their support slot for the latest Little Mix tour, I fully believe that a girl group are the intended winners this year. That would also keep Robbie’s ego happy, as that is his category, and Gary Barlow failed to mentor a winning category during his 3 years on the show. Stacking the deck in his favour may even have been part of the deal to get him on to the show?

      Having focused on the authenticity/own material approach last year, and as the contract with ITV is rapidly running out, I believe this year will be about the revenue potential of the winners.

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