Girl Power

Oct 1, 2013 by

Girl Power

X Factor is back and more distasteful and shameless than ever, but that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the lynchpins of the tv betting year.

Given Alex Burke was the last ‘Girl’ to win XF way back in 2008, you sensed they may push the Girls category this year, and so it has transpired. The likes of Tamera Foster, Abi Alton, Melanie McCabe and Hannah Barrett have been given plenty of editing time over the course of the auditions and boot camp.

Spoilers have been sending out mixed signals in recent weeks but the consensus view now appears to be that Melanie will be the one among these 4 to miss out. To get her hopes up and feature her so prominently on this, her 4th try at getting to the lives, only to dump her out at judges’ houses, will rank as an all-time nadir for X Factor in terms of contestant cruelty and cynical exploitation for the sake of drama.

It seems odd when the edit around Melanie during auditions was all about, ‘something’s different this time’ hinting she was very much in their plans for the lives. Confected drama, of course, is the lifeblood of the show and you can’t help but wonder whether Melanie, if she does miss out at judges’ houses this weekend, will be brought back somehow, presumably through a wildcard process a la Chris Maloney last year. And if that is to transpire we all know the momentum it gave Baloney…

To snag the best prices on X Factor now, you have to risk having a few non-runners among your initial portfolio. If you’ve been swift over the course of the auditions and boot camp, and apologies for the brief piece of after-timing here, you could have snapped up odds of 25-1 e/w Hannah Barrett, 14-1 e/w Nicholas McDonald, Abi Alton at 20-1 e/w, Melanie McCabe at 16-1 e/w, Tamera Foster at 9-1 e/w, and the yet to be officially named new girl group at 25-1 e/w. Some may have been able to get even bigger on one or two of these contestants and if you did, well done, you look like you have the makings of a very decent book.

Call it the ‘Jahmene Douglas Effect’ but last year told us they can just about get anyone to the final with enough of a push, and James Arthur’s victory (much like Little Mix’s the year before) was a textbook example of Syco getting the winner they wanted. The plight of Chris Maloney last year and Janet Devlin the year before that also demonstrate how adept they are at killing off the early poll leaders if they decide the public are backing a contestant they do not want to win.

This year the signs are Tamera is the one they will look to push hardest for the win, at least at the outset. Her live vocal hasn’t been convincing but more importantly will Syco be able to succeed in getting the public to back her? There was plenty of negative press surrounding Tamera early on. Press coverage is the oxygen of the show, of course, and Syco could be thinking it is not necessarily a bad thing to build up Tamera’s image as an edgy R&B singer.

Hannah has a powerhouse vocal but does she possess the image of a potential global-selling artist? If you put Hannah alongside Tamera, then clearly Tamera is the one who looks like a ready-made pop star. That said, they can work wonders with the makeovers and Hannah also has some harrowing back story to call upon in her VTs, if they want to take the Jahmene path with her.

Abi, reminiscent of a young Lisa Loeb, has cachet as this year’s instrument-playing indie chick. Her vocal appears to have limitations but that won’t necessarily hold her back if TPTB decide to get behind her.

Among the Boys, Nicholas McDonald appears to have most in his favour. His vocal wasn’t quite as convincing at bootcamp and he is somewhat bland but he’s Scottish and will receive strong regional support as well as having the right sort of profile to potentially harness a solid vote among both younger and older voters.

Sam Callahan has a weaker vocal but should be catnip for young female voters, while Luke Friend looks like a third placer among the Boys based on what we have heard from him so far.

The Groups do not look particularly strong this year. Kingsland Road are a run-of-the-mill boyband and vocally Rough Copy (if they get through ahead of Brick City) are stronger but hardly inspire. The one of most interest here is the as yet Unnamed Girl Band.

There may be a gap in the market for an all-female, black R&B group but they have the Timeform squiggle alongside them given their poor vocals at boot camp. We saw with Little Mix that if TPTB choose to get behind them, they can improve over the course of the lives, and are given clever song choices, anything is possible. But they could just as easily ditch them fairly early on if they decide they are not shaping up.

The Overs look weakest of the lot if the spoilers are correct and both Andrea Magee and Joseph Whelan miss out. Three bog standard solo female crooners among whom Sam Bailey has been given the biggest spotlight to date. Sam might well prove something of a housewives’ favourite in this series, in the style of Tesco’s Mary who ended up finishing 5th in series 7.

Presuming Hannah’s presence in the lives, these 3 older, big belters look like being totally eclipsed, and Shelley Smith and Lorna Simpson will have the appearance of early elimination fodder if they are through. It is also very easy to envisage a classic Syco hatchet job on Sam if she generates strong public support and makes the final 5 or so.

For this reason Sharon (best price 11-5) looks in the mix to be the first mentor to lose all acts, along with Gary (best price 2-1), in charge of the Groups. Backing both to a level stake would potentially give you a profit around the 1-2 mark and this looks a worthwhile investment strategy.

Nicholas McDonald at 5-6 to be Top Boy with bwin also looks fair value, as does Sam Bailey at 4-6 with bwin to be Top Overs. The Unnamed Girl Group will be the pick for Top Group but we would be looking for better than 28-17 with bwin when other firms price this category up.

The Outright market, as things stand now, is tighter than a gnat’s chuff. In value terms Hannah at 11-1 e/w with Coral still makes some appeal, as does the Unnamed Girl Group at 18-1 e/w with Coral. The worry with both is you can easily envisage TPTB cutting them loose with the minimum of fuss. But that probably applies to virtually the entire field this year.

We have seen in recent series, that even when they have a seeming plan A, like Janet Devlin and Ella Henderson last year, TPTB can perform a swift u-turn mid-series. And at this stage we are pissing in the wind trying to second guess how they decide to play it down the line.

As usual, it will be a frenzy once the Outright market goes live on Betfair on Sunday night. The plan here will be to get the Girls on side along with Nicholas McDonald, and try and match the Unnamed Girl Group as big as possible.

Who are your pre-lives picks? Who will you be backing to be Top Girl? Is there any other value out there you have spotted? Please do drop us a line below and join the X Factor 2013 debate.



  1. Tim B

    Hi Rob, I’ve got three pre-lives selections this year; Sam Bailey, Nicholas McDonald and Hannah Barrett. These are the three acts I can envisage in the final right now, and the only three I believe can realistically get there without landing in the bottom 2.

    If you look at the audition shows thus far, Sam has been the act pushed the most by the producers. She’s been the only act to be shown in the edit to receive a standing ovation at all three of; the room, the arena and boot camp. She’s received sensational comments from the judges but for her I would argue they are justified. For me, she’s by far the strongest singer in the competition. It’s just totally effortless for her and she is vocally leagues ahead of, say, Tamera. She also performs songs with the level of emotion required to connect with the viewing public. There are two good precedents for Sam Bailey on the show in the form of; Niki Evans and Tesco Mary. However, I’ve been looking back on some of their performances and Sam is already far more impressive. She’s also been more prominent in the edit than either of those two. Featuring in the prestigious first audition show is also good to allow her to build up momentum in YouTube views and on social media. It’s also, in my view, indicative of the producers’ plans for her. I’m not saying she’ll win, but I find it very hard to imagine her not making the final. Perhaps most crucially, she has already been allowed to sing two contemporary songs; ‘Listen’ by Beyoncé and ‘Clown’ by Emeli Sandé. This is a luxury that wasn’t granted to either Niki or Mary and it will help to widen her appeal outside of housewives. Had she just been given standard old belters, I’m sure she still would have gone far in the competition, but this could be key to getting her to win, should they want her to. Having Sharon as a mentor is a positive this year, and I think it’s very unlikely they’d leave her without an act in the final and possible they would like Sharon to be winning judge. I attended Sam Bailey’s arena audition and there was something she said that didn’t make the edit: “I want YOU in my category, Mrs., so I can finally WIN!”. A female over has never won the show before and it would be another ‘rule’ broken “A group can not win X Factor, an act cannot win if they’ve been in the bottom 2” and another box checked. There’s no one like her on Syco’s books at the moment and she is vocally good enough to flog records internationally. I backed her to win at 12.0, but will lay off if they start treating her badly by the semi-final stage.

    The precedents for Nicholas McDonald are, obviously, Leon Jackson and Joe McElderry. He has all the right ingredients to secure an excellent public vote series-long. The Scots are bound to get behind him having been denied a proper Scottish contestant on the show for a few years. But it’s extremely difficult to imagine them letting him win. The only way I think it could happen is if he generates a PV far in excess of what is expected. However, he’s probably fishing in the some of the same waters as Sam Bailey but I think he’ll easily be top boy. Luke Friend has been almost invisible in the edit and Sam Callahan, not much more visible, is marketable but very limited vocally. I wasn’t impressed by Nicholas at boot camp either but I think he’d get far in the competition even without improving. I think he’ll be in the final 3, but not the winner. Unfortunately, I missed the decent prices on Nicholas so I can not justify backing him in the outright unless he drifts.

    Hannah B is another act with enormous potential for me. She’s quite similar to 2011’s Misha B, who managed fourth place, albeit with a few leg ups from TPTB. But Hannah is a much more sympathetic character than Misha ever was, and her shyness and back story will be very endearing to the viewers. Like Sam B, I think Hannah would also make an excellent feel-good winner for the show, and if they deemed Misha marketable enough to save her a few times, it’s quite possible they have big plans for Hannah as well. The potential for emotional VTs and powerful performances is excellent, and I’m struggling to see why Hannah is only fourth favourite among the girls. I backed her for Top Girl at 5.5, which represented great value as my source confirmed to me a while ago that she was through (which matches the “spoilers” going around). The clues are also there for a place in the final for Hannah; in the very first audition show of the series, Nicole said “I’m backing you all the way” (or similar). At boot camp, Hannah was wearing angelic white, Nicole called her a “star” and she received an edit with the song “Halo” as she got through. They may well be rooting for a girl winner this year but I believe she’s a much easier sell to the voting public than Tamera, Abi and Melanie. Having backed her at 21.0, I really hope she goes all the way, but time will tell.

    You may be right in saying that Tamera Foster is the act they wish to push for the win, but there are serious concerns with her vocals and likeability for me. The negative press coverage she’s received could be turned into a positive “journey” for her, but we’d be guessing if we said that for sure. Unless she improves significantly vocally, I don’t see her winning the show. I think they’ll want to sign her and she’ll be a successful international recording artist. She could perhaps ‘Union J’ her way into fourth place having been saved a couple of times from the bottom 2. I would not touch her at the current prices though.

    I don’t fancy the chances of any of the other acts. The trajectory of Unnamed Girl Group (apparently called ‘Miss Dynamix’) is the biggest unknown of the remaining final 12, along with whether or not Melanie will be given a wildcard place – I seriously hope not. I think Luke will be out first in the boys and ‘Overs 2 and 3’, (be they Shelley, Lorna or Joseph) will be out early on as well. Abi Alton is also seriously overrated, in my opinion. I believe that if she was going to catch on or if they wanted her to, then she would have done already. One of the girls has to go first and I can see it easily being her. I would lay her in the outright if in single figures, and for top girl. Top Group is a game of guesswork between Miss Dynamix and Kingsland Road, and so the third group (be it Rough Copy or Brick City) should be a safe lay.

    Pretty much the only value still remaining is Gary to be first judge out at 3.0, and Hannah Top Girl at 4.0 with bwin.

  2. Rob

    Thanks for the comprehensive post, Tim. You put forward a solid case in favour of Sam B.

    My biggest concern would be, Syco surely aims for credible winners who can potentially sell globally, & I am much more pessimistic than you regarding Sam B’s commercial appeal, especially in terms of her image.

    She looks the classic feel-good story to me who then gets ditched in the latter stages, leaving the way clear for the contestants Syco deems more marketable.

    And I’m not quite as enthusiastic as you regarding her vocal either, while acknowledging she looks very good for Top Overs if she is joined by Lorna and Shelley.

    As stated in my preview, I can also see how Hannah has plenty of back story potential which could help her gain traction. My main concern, again, is with her image.

    One school of thought might be Syco didn’t want Melanie or Jade eating into Tamera’s potential Girl vote & have gone for Hannah instead as her presence helps to soften Tamera – Tamera possessing an image & vocal perhaps more conducive to the sensibilities of ITV’s Saturday night primetime viewership.

    There is no doubt neither Misha B nor Jahmene would have got anywhere near the latter stages of the show without the relentless sympathy tactics incorporated in their VTs.

    This is all assuming Melanie isn’t jettisoned back in via a wildcard which could yet be on the cards.

    Hannah’s big soul diva vocal is also potentially extremely one-dimensional – & an easy way for TPTB to put her away – whereas Tamera’s voice would appear to have far greater flexibility. I write all this despite backing Hannah e/w at 25-1 btw.

    I think they have teed Tamera up to improve vocally over the course of the series, from forgetting her words during 1st audition (clearly staged, & a way to build some empathy with viewers) & Stay was a very demanding song for her to take on at boot camp.

    They want her rough around the edges at the outset & I can imagine her improving (she could well be much better than we’ve seen already) before smashing a couple of performances out of the ballpark.

    Of course, if Syco decide she isn’t going to fly, then they can no doubt ramp up the negative press, but I sense punters have got overly guarded & questioning regarding Tamera’s chance partly to do with perceived plan As, Janet Devlin & Ella last year both falling well short.

    Of course, all investments should be dictated by price as you highlight & prices at the front of the market do look skinny as of now.

  3. Henry VIII

    I’ve thought the same about Tamera. It’s a shame SyCo undermine the program by packing it with mediocre singers who will not trouble their TCO. The couple of ordinary viewers I know watch the program for the singing.

    Rob do you really think Tamera’s forgetfulness was staged? It’s not beyond them morally, it’s just technically it seems risky getting a 16 year old to act such a scene, especially if future events necessitate them to ditch her.

  4. Rob

    Hi Henry. Following these shows as closely as we do, over so many years, obviously encourages us to become deeply cynical but watching the entire segment looked blatantly set up to me.

    Judges just sat through a lot of rubbish, wanting to see someone decent. Tamera states how nervous she is, never sung before in front of so many people, Louis: ‘She’s only 16, you know. I hope she does well’. Forgets words, has to re-visit her entourage to be reminded of them. Starts to sing again. Cuts to Gary & Nicole mouthing the words, rooting for her to do well… all classic Syco.

    Crank up the drama to the max, encourage viewers to invest in Tamera emotionally (& forgetting the words is a key element in this), will this end in disaster, no, she produces the goods and we get the Syco money shot – the triumphant pay-off.

    It’s right up there with SuBo’s 1st audition on BGT for me – completely set up from start to finish, scripted every step of the way.

  5. Henry VIII

    Interesting to work out exactly what was manipulated. I think most likely is Tamera naturally forgot and then maybe they filmed judges/Dermot´s “responses” a bit later if they didn´t get good reactions naturally.

    Otherwise, if Tamera ever told the press she was told to act the scene then that would definitely get XF bad publicity. It even made one of the red tops that they recently used the same one second audience reaction shot twice.

  6. Tim B

    I reckon Shelley might end up being a novelty act, in the same way Johnny Robinson was in 2011. That’s what I’d be persuading her to be if I were producing the show. It would then differentiate her from the other divas in Sharon’s category and give the show the traditional joke act, which has been deemed so necessary in the past. I can imagine her surrounded by half-naked male torsos on stage and she already has the comedy accent and Su Pollard personality. It would also be a good idea for Shelley herself not to compete with Sam Bailey and for TPTB not to take votes away from her.

    • Rob

      Could be right, Tim. Without Souli Roots, they desperately need a cabaret act. A shame Souli’s not through – she would likely have offered some great laying potential in early elim markets.

    • I think you’re right Tim in that if there’s a novelty contestant that she’ll be the one but the only problem is that she just isn’t that entertaining… there’s nothing about her to make her stand out. Think how hilarious Rylan was last year and it’d be a massive step down for the show to shoehorn someone like her into a similar role. Even compare her to Souli, if she becomes the novelty act, people will just think that Souli would’ve been much better.

      • Tim B

        I see where you’re coming from, Luke, but many questioned why Johnny Robinson had been put through to the live shows at this point two years ago as well. Shelley hasn’t received much of an edit compared to some, but she can definitely sing well enough, like Johnny, and is likeable.

  7. Henry VIII

    There was that press release that said that Gary was annoyed with Sharon for putting Souli through. That could mean that he was angry with Sharon for making her eligible for a wildcard vote, even though she didn’t make JH. If so, they could give Souli a big pimp wildcard edit and leave it up to the public if they want to vote her into the Lives.

    • Henry VIII

      …Of course I meant – Gary was instructed to be “angry” with “her” decision.

  8. Rob

    Interesting to speculate on this year’s XF final, which will be on December 15, the same night as the Beeb’s SPOTY 2013.

    If the shows clash and Nicholas McDonald is in the final 2, Scotland is going to face a tug-of-war between him & supporting Muzza over on the BBC.

    • Tim B

      That’s a great spot, Rob, and no doubt TPTB will be well aware of this clash in scheduling. I’d argue that Muzza would win SPOTY even if Scottish votes weren’t included, whereas Nicholas can only win with Scottish votes. It’s an interesting dilemma, but I’d guess that more would be bothered about tuning in to see Muzza’s win than a potential Nicholas victory. Perhaps the producers have considered this factor when taking the perceived risk of casting Nicholas for the live shows, as it must mean they are more confident he won’t win. It’s certainly encouraging for non-Nick backers, such as myself, and it makes him a very tempting lay at single figure odds on Betfair.

    • Not a bad spot there Rob.

      I suggest Nicholas’ fallibility comes from whether or not the mainly English public get behind him. His core vote will be grannies and MEMs. Will they dismiss him on the basis of his nationality?

      On the flip side – and it’s something of a long shot – will the positive news surrounding Murray create a wave of love for fellow Scot Nicholas? And if there are two girls in the final, would the vote split gift another well liked candidate the win?

      I can’t help thinking that one channel might realise the scheduling fuckup and subsequently correct it. I’m also thinking how much of a draw Murray might be? Might it also affect English candidates?

  9. Rob

    Confirmation of clash with SPOTY 2013 you read here first, & no chance of rescheduling:

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