Syco Subterfuge

Oct 6, 2014 by

Syco Subterfuge

For those who have followed this site since it launched over 5 years ago now, the first ever piece of X Factor betting advice offered to readers was to lay the 2009 pre-lives favourite Danyl Johnson and to back Stacey Solomon e/w at 25-1 (she duly finished 3rd).

Danyl was in the Overs category, mentored by Cowell and headed into live show 1 on the back of huge fanfare. Despite Cowell’s increasingly desperate efforts to ramp him, Danyl found himself in the bottom 2 as early as week 3, and after many sub-standard live efforts, eventually bowed out in 4th place.

Up until this weekend it looked like history could be about to repeat itself. Cowell, again, is in charge of the Overs, and this time around it has been Jay James who has been subject to massive pimping throughout the audition process and priced up as the early favourite with high street bookmakers.

It was frustrating to see the scales fall from people’s eyes regarding Jay on Saturday having already identified him as potential maximum lay material in this series. Unsurprisingly, his price went into free fall as soon as he was added to the Betfair Outright market last night.

Something never sat right with the hyping of Jay. The main issue being that, not unlike Danyl, he is a weak vocalist with a grating, nasally style of singing that manages to conceal a multitude of sins. To be blunt about it, James Blunt about it you could say, he is monumentally mediocre.

Syco is so expert in the dark arts now, the initial conclusion regarding the bigging up of Jay in this series was that it was all a clever smokescreen. Cowell and co have enough evidence from previous series, after all, to appreciate the early favourite rarely, if ever, wins the show, and their challenge invariably peters out.

Ben Haenow may now have the look of the main contender in the Overs category but the issue with him is, like Jay, he appears to lack gears, specialising in crooning old blues songs. Paul Akister is much the same in the Boys category – is he capable of singing anything well outside of classic soul tunes like ‘Let’s Get It On’?

The overriding impression is, all the solo males this year are much of a muchness, have clear limitations and lack any great star appeal. Many of their performances throughout auditions have more closely resembled David Brent singing ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ in The Office Christmas Special in terms of the atrocious over-emoting viewers have been subject to.

‘Overblown’ and ‘overwrought’ are the adjectives that spring to mind, with Jake Quickenden also guilty of this, along with Andrea Faustini who looks set to over-emote on cue every week. Andrea, like Jay, Ben, Paul and Jake, seems to be something of a one trick pony. His trick might have more impact than the others, and he does at least have a certain USP, being Italian and being the cute bearded one you can envisage female voters taking to their hearts. But 2-1 is a preposterous price at this stage of proceedings and he has to be taken on.

While already reducing Mel B and Cheryl to tears, you sense his shtick will start to wear thin over the course of the series. Or, more likely, he will be given a song to sing outside his overblown power ballad comfort zone. Being middle England mum-friendly is one thing but with Cowell back you have to anticipate more control during the live shows and it is easy to envisage poisonous barbs appearing in his post-song critiques and Andrea being buried in classic Syco style when it wants rid.

Of course, Sam B had the look of someone they could pick off at any time last year. And they didn’t. Andrea might prove another feel-good story for the show if he won but do they really want another winner whose main asset appears to be, much like Sam B, selling Mother’s Day albums?

All the solo males this year look highly disposable and highly likely to lack the versatility to cope with the variety of songs contestants are asked to perform throughout the series. Yes, we’ve seen in past series one-dimensional male soloists make the final – Jahmene being the classic example in 2012 – but their vocal limitations suggest they can all very easily be nobbled by producers. Paul and Jake are former rejects which casts further doubt over their winning chances and at this pre-lives stage my intuition says 3rd or 4th place at best for one of Paul, Ben or Andrea.

Among the Boys, Wildcard Jack Walton was of interest prior to him being rudely interrupted by Mel B at judges’ houses and bizarrely being informed by her that he wasn’t emoting enough when his stripped-back delivery actually came as a breath of fresh air compared to the over-wrought performances by his solo male rivals. The worry with him has to be the lack of editing time he has received so far but Luke Friend was similarly eclipsed during auditions only to make the final. Cowell smashing up a guitar might also strongly hint Jack is not the type Syco wants right now.

In the Overs, Fleur is of some interest given the paucity of the opposition, as is Wildcard Stevi who looks teed up to hang around for a while as this year’s entertainer, delighting Louis and annoying Cowell. But based on the usual run of things you have to more likely expect Fleur lined up for an early execution, and Stevi bowing out in around 7th place.

The Girls category looks much more promising. Chloe Jasmine may have a limited chance cast as the posh love/hate figure singing old movie tunes but the other 3 Girls are all interesting potential contenders.

Steph had hardly featured until Judges Houses and while her early efforts during auditions seemed rather weak, she certainly sounded better this weekend. She took the last automatic spot over Lola and it is not beyond the realms of possibility she has been purposely held back prior to the lives.

Lola looked to be shaping up promisingly only to put in an absolute shocker at bootcamp which somewhat exposed her and has to give her the Timeform squiggle alongside her name. Being the wildcard among the Girls will gain her some momentum after being considered hard done by not to be selected at judges houses, and it is easy to see her being glamourously transformed following the makeovers.

At the same time, there has to be a concern regarding how her vocal holds up under the pressure of singing live on a Saturday night. And if Lola is to have a triumphant run on the show it would make Cheryl look a poor judge of talent and she won’t want her track record as a mentor blemished.

Lola may yet have it in her to win the whole series, but of greater interest among this year’s Girls has to be Lauren Platt who has impressed throughout the audition process. She is consistent, copes well with the pressures of singing live, and seems to be an old head on young shoulders.

She has likability firmly on her side, and also appears to have much more nuance to her voice compared to many of her rivals. Like Steph, they’ve been under-stated in their handing of her up to this point, which could well be part of the plan – Syco possibly learning from their mistakes in the last 2 series and the early hyping of Tamera and Ella.

One negative for the Girls might be that Ella Henderson has only recently been launched by Syco, and very successfully, but Lauren could possibly fill a different solo female niche and a solo female winner is certainly due – Alexandra Burke being the last one back in 2008.

As for the Groups, the 8-piece boyband look teed up for some monstrous hyping. But can an 8-piece work and will the public play ball in supporting them? Louis was already sewing the seeds of doubt during judges houses. If nothing else, it looks a shrewd move to have Louis mentoring them rather than Simon as it sets it up for Cowell to slowly be won over by them. All part of the script, of course.

Blonde Electra look a very lively novelty act. They clearly have some talent and could be set for a decent run on the show, Jedward-style. The one remaining uncertainty is which Group will be the wildcard. There is a strong rumour it is Overload which would be odd given they didn’t make Judges Houses. They showed potential singing ‘Pompeii’ during auditions and if they are the Groups wildcard they could be of interest.

Only The Young haven’t been allowed to get out of first gear yet and you do worry whether this may continue to be the case during the lives if Syco are so heavily invested in the 8-piece boyband. But at the odds, Only The Young look a fantastic value punt in the hope the 8-piece do not come up to scratch and Syco switches allegiance to the 4-piece. Who knows, this may already be how they have set it up this year as OTY have clearly been scouted by Syco but have so far remained firmly under the radar – and the clear narrative with them is they need to find an edge.

In terms of Winning Mentor/Category, the Boys and Overs seem weak and full of cannon fodder. A dutch of Girls and Groups looks a much wiser investment plan. Which leads on to the conclusion it will most likely be Cowell or Mel B losing all their acts first, and again a dutch in that market looks the value play.

Hopefully we get some clarity regarding the wildcards and elimination process during the first weekend later this week, and some more markets will be added including first elimination. Further betting advice will appear in the Comments section, and look out for another post appearing after Saturday night’s first live show. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this series below.

XF 2014 pre-lives recommendations:

Lauren Platt – 8pts e/w 17-2 (SportingBet) – she is available at 11 (10-1) on Betfair at time of writing

Only The Young – 2pts e/w 28-1 (Skybet) – 32 on Betfair

Steph Nala – 1pt e/w 25-1 (bet365, Ladbrokes) – 48 on Betfair

Winning Mentor: Louis – 4-1 (widely available) – 6pt win, Cheryl – 9-2 (widely available) – 6pt win

First to lose all acts – Mel B – 5-1 (Boylesports) – 4pt win, Simon – 3-1 (widely available) – 6pt win


  1. hemsby

    Terrific article Rob,and I look forward to reading future ones during the series.

    I’m broadly in agreement with most of your sentiments….certainly against the male solo acts.

    OTY my main early speculative punt,for the reasons you mention….GL 🙂

  2. Tim B

    Hi Rob, nice article! I’d like to share my thoughts on my three main contenders, all of whom I’ve backed heavily at the pre-lives stage.

    JAY JAMES is an interesting one for me. He looked like a dead cert for the final until that incredibly awkward edit on Saturday night, which for me was highly frustrating. After reflecting, however, I still think he will end up being alpha over. His backstory is absolute gold dust, probably the best story of all contestants this year. I was in attendance at his arena audition back in July and the audience went crazy for him, primarily for his story rather than the performance (which was also great). He’s been treated almost exactly the same as Sam Bailey was last year, whom, let’s not forget also stumbled performance-wise at the judges’ houses stage. Being featured in episode 1 of the auditions shows is a huge deal, in my opinion, in terms of producer favour. I actually think he’s far more versatile and talented than many are making out. You talk about Andrea being a great feel-good story but, for me, there’d be no greater feel-good winner than Jay James, and who knows, perhaps he could even flog a charity single for ‘Help For Heroes’, a charity for which the show has an established affinity. I think the producers have learned that a Plan A bookies’ favourite going into the lives will almost certainly not win, which is why they slammed the brakes on JJ somewhat. At this stage I’m a big Jay backer and Ben layer and you would expect Simon to still have an act at the final 4 stage.

    LAUREN PLATT is the best hope in the girls’ category, in my opinion. I totally agree with you on all the points you’ve made. She is just so consistent, and every performance thus far has been effortlessly solid. She was also featured in episode 1 and received excellent comments at all audition stages, which is very encouraging for her chances. Some may say she’s a little plain, but I would say she’s actually just middle-of-the-road, which is no bad thing in X Factor terms. I view her as a female version of Joe McElderry or Marcus Collins, someone very consistent and versatile, willing to comply and do everything as told. Is she the most exciting contestant ever? No, but neither were almost all of the previous winners. I agree that there are huge question marks about how Lola will fair, even with this most-recent edit setting her up as a wildcard. I try not to bring personal opinions in, but she’s just dreadful. Why run with Lola as alpha girl when they could go with Lauren? If you look back on Lauren’s judges’ comments, the plan seems to be for her to be there for the long run “get better and better and better” – Simon. Lola may be emotional, but Lauren is reliable and will have extremely wide-appeal among young and old, male and female. You have to think she’d be a good ambassador for the show if she won, and a great representation of the talent the show can find – “And she’s only SIXTEEN!”

    The 8-PIECE BOYBAND seem an absolute lock for the Top 3, so, like Lauren I’ve backed them heavily each way. I’m certain that TPTB have enough experience to get them into the final without much trouble. I saw them in person at groups’ Boot Camp (lucky me!) and wasn’t particularly impressed, but it was already clear how much they wanted them to succeed. Funnily enough, the performance came across much better on tv. Their judges’ houses performance was the only one out of all the ones at that stage where I actually thought to myself ‘winner’. However, like One Direction, producers may not see the need for them to actually win in order to have a successful post-show career. Whereas One Direction were famously weak with their vocals, this boyband seem to have been cast extremely carefully and they already sound a lot vocally stronger than One Direction did on the show. One thing I did notice is that two of their members were introduced in yep, you guessed it, audition show number 1. There’s not much to say about them that hasn’t been said already, but perhaps the free voting was introduced with the idea to push the boyband as far as possible. Having Louis as the mentor is probably also a good idea in that it would be somewhat less of a fix with them winning than if they had Simon.

    Some notes on the others: I can understand why Andrea is favourite but the price is laughably short. Maybe he will end up winning, but you have to think someone else will take over as favourite at some point. I don’t see why they would want Sam B mark II winning, especially not just one year later. So he has to be a lay at the moment. I actually can envisage Paul beating Andrea, and at least being someone who is likely to catch on with the public. But I don’t think Paul is one of the chosen ones either, and I think steps would be taken to derail him if he got too close to the finish. Jack interests me far more than Jake, and I may be a backer, depending on his Betfair price. At least he offers something different to all the whining guys. I’m not interested in Only The Young at all and I don’t think the producers are either. If there’s a double elimination this weekend (which I suspect there will be, a la 2010) then I could easily see them being thrown under the bus and out. Either way, I don’t think they will last very long. Steph actually interests me at the current Betfair price of 46. She may well be the gamma, but equally, perhaps she didn’t need that much of an introduction as she was so prominent on BGT? Perhaps some of the producers are fond of her, invited her back with the promise of a fast-track. That’s not something I would say about Fleur, who seems destined for an early exit and I think she will be gone this weekend, perhaps with Blonde Electra who will also struggle for votes (especially with the inclusion of Stevi).

    Very much looking forward to getting started now. Best of luck to everyone reading!

  3. Rob

    Top post Tim & thanks for taking the time to share your views. And thanks for the heads up on my errors with the initial draft – you know I put them in there especially for you to spot & correct 🙂

    It’s an evolving show and TPTB may already be quite happy to set Jay adrift after realising he doesn’t quite come up to scratch.

    Even if Cowell and his crew are all eulogising him this weekend it will take more than that to persuade me he has any chance, long-term. I don’t see why Syco would want to invest in a poor man’s James Blunt but stranger things have happened on this show.

    My approach to these markets, as you know, is seeking value & OTY look worth a punt – I don’t see why they would want to ditch them so early on when Syco has scouted them. They seem highly competent too. But again, we need to see their treatment, like the rest, come the first live show. Good to see hems in agreement. Good luck with your bets in this series.

    • Tim B

      I suppose the argument for them wanting a guy like Jay James to win is, as you stated in the article, SYCO have signed a host of females recently; Sam Bailey, Ella Henderson, Little Mix and of course, Tamera Foster (some may not realise they actually signed her). I’m not (quite) sad enough to know whether or not James Arthur is still signed, but it’s very common knowledge that his career has gone t*ts up. Jahméne Douglas, Marcus Collins and Nicholas McDonald were always only going to have one album each. So the top dogs at SYCO may well consider this as necessary for the diversity of their portfolio. As for the James Blunt comparison? Well, last time I heard, James Blunt was still very successful 😉

    • SecondGuessingCowell

      Some excellent thoughts above.

      I bet lauren when prices first came out even though i got burnt on Melanie McCabe.

      I think Lauren has so much scope and she is already superb and a likeable character. She is my nap. I am worried about the manufactured 8 piece boy band enough to have a big saver on them.

      Andrea will be sacrificed and either Lauren or the 8 piece will hit the front in week 3 or 4 and its game over much like Joe McElderry.

      Good luck all.

  4. Guildo Horn Forever

    From DWTS…

    Holy wow!

    Prepare to smile…

  5. Rob

    Girls wildcard (Lola) is available at 14-1 with WH. I am adding Lola to the pre-lives recommendations:

    Girls wildcard (Lola) – 14-1 – 4pt win – WH

  6. steve

    Hi Rob have you seen Betfred have gender of winner female 9/2 so you get Lola Lauren Steph Chloe and Fleur as an extra when compared to Cheryl Winning mentor.
    I know its like a free pen when you apply for a pension quote but still 2% is 2%

    • Rob

      That’s a great spot, Steve, & gives a bit of extra value. You never know – Fleur could prove herself a proper dark horse. I think she’s very talented and could have a great run if given a chance.

  7. Tim B

    A little bit of value over at William Hill with their match bets.

    8 PIECE BOYBAND vs Andrea Faustini 2.25.

    Sadly can’t see value in any of the others.

    • Rob

      Thanks Tim – agree on the 8-piece being good value in that match vs Andrea. I’d also be happy to take the 5-6 Lauren vs Jay.

  8. Rob

    Week 1 songs:


    Andrea Faustini
    Earth Song

    Jake Quickenden
    She’s The One

    Paul Akister


    Chloe Jasmine

    Lauren Platt

    Stephanie Nala
    Everything I Own


    Blonde Electra
    Kids In America


    Only The Young
    Jailhouse Rock/Twist n Shout


    Ben Haenow
    Bridge Over Troubled Water

    Fleur East
    All About That Bass

    Jay James

  9. Rob

    Views ahead of tonight’s 1st live show: I think Blonde Electra are media dynamite for the show so Syco will not want them gone from the series in week 1. Would expect a big production for ‘Kids In America’ and judges to talk them up.

    Elimination betting slightly clouded due to the wildcards, so BF market currently, most likely, incomplete. A tune incorporating rapping is probably not great news in terms of Fleur’s pv. She could well be in the firing line & 9-2 makes some appeal.

    Also, given the weakness of the Boys category, Jack Walton at 8-1 to be Top Boy with Ladbrokes looks worth a small investment.

  10. Tim B

    Hi Rob, I disagree with you about producers’ intentions for Blonde Electra. I have to assume that this weekend we’ll have a double elimination and a Bottom Three, as in 2010. Therefore the first act eliminated will probably be the one dead bottom of the vote, and I think it will be extremely difficult for BE to avoid this. If you look at their stats and comments on social media, they’re behind by a country mile and definitely ‘hated’ rather than ‘marmite’. Also, Stevi is coming back who has been cast as Wagner and must surely be alpha novelty act as he is far, far more voteable than BE. I have a feeling he’ll do a big uptempo song popular enough with a Saturday night audience to finish about 7th or 8th this week, if he’s handled correctly. With ChloJas fulfilling the role of panto villain as well and only fourteen contestants coming back next week, I see Blonde Electra as highly disposable.

    I agree with you, however, that Fleur is likely to struggle. I’ve backed her for elimination as a saver right now on Blonde Electra. I’ll also keep a very close eye on Steph’s treatment, as with that song and what’s sure to be a fanfare for Lola’s return, I think she could easily be in the Bottom Three.

    I struggle to see who else might fall into the Bottom Three right now, but it was interesting to see a tweet from SYCO saying member X from One Direction “likes Only The Young” whereas member Y “likes Jack Walton” i.e. – keep those two off the bottom for us this week, please.

    • Rob

      Hi Tim. That’s fair enough. I think BE are dynamite in terms of the column inches they create with their fascinating back story which, going by the usual Syco rulebook, means they should want them to hang around for a while. Not only that but they are clearly accomplished singers, and much better than we’ve seen so far – which could be teed up for a surprising moment further down the line.

      I expect a big production for BE too, and an entertaining performance. Their inclusion in the show makes little sense to me if the plan is to throw them under a bus in week 1. We shall see.

  11. Rob

    Should also add, very interested to see r.o. position, comments and vocal performances from Paul & Jay. Think Jay’s song could be another poor effort from him, & have doubts how Paul will cope with ‘Ghost’. Wish we had some bottom 3 prices (assuming double elimination).

    • Tim B

      Don’t know about Jay yet, but in terms of Paul, Ella Henderson’s album is out on Monday yet she’s not guesting on the results show. They will want to flog the record somehow and so I’m assuming they’ve given it to Paul as he could do a good enough job with it. A pimp slot would get viewers particularly excited for it and it has to be noted that the week 1 pimp slot is extremely rarely (if ever) given to someone they want to go on and win the whole competition, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets it this week.

      • Boki

        Satisfied with the answer to your week1 pimp slot question Tim?
        Jahmene also got it and he and Andrea have a lot in common but will they manage to switch to someone cooler for the win (Lauren) like they did with James.

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