The Curse Of Winning The X Factor: Why The Best Act Often Loses

The Curse Of Winning The X Factor: Why The Best Act Often Loses

Last night, van driving Croydonian, Ben Haenow, was crowned the eleventh X Factor champion in a result that left social media shocked. As with so many previous winners he was not the favourite, and many of his supporters seemed to run the usual line “I’m glad he beat Fleur, she’ll do well anyway.”

His crown has been held by a few stars such as Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, but far more champions have faded into embarrassing obscurity. The year Matt Cardle took the top stop, One Direction came third whilst Joe McElderry beat Olly Murs.

And so why did Haenow top the vote for seven weeks in a row according to the ITV website, but his hashtag did not trend on Twitter yesterday whilst #VoteFleurEastTonight trended all day.

I think the reason for this to do with demographics. Last night 10 million people voted, and that would have included a broad cross section of the British public. But music is disproportionately bought by younger people. The teenagers that voted for One Direction may not have been numerate enough to propel them to victory, but they dominate the download chart to such an extent that they can get them to number one time and time again.

That was why everyone was talking about Fleur East and she trended on Twitter. Because the avid fans, young people will go on Twitter to campaign for their favourate act. They will create such a buzz that the bookies think their act will win but then (quietly) the silent majority will pick up the phones and out vote them.

This simple fact explains why winners sometimes can’t sell their music afterwards. In order to win an act must secure votes from the largest voting block of all: the middle aged. But this demographic do not buy pop music or go to concerts. So paradoxically to win an act has to be appeal to an voting audience that will do so little to support their future career as to basically guarantee its failure.

Obviously some acts appeal to young people as well as older ones, which I think Leona Lewis was a good example of. But if the dads all vote Cardle and their daughters vote One Direction the result will be a victory for Cardle, but a hollow one at that.

I was at the X Factor final as a guest of TalkTalk and I sat with the Haenow family, I told them that politicos like me enjoyed the programme because we like to predict voting trends. They were shocked when I said their boy would win because Fleur East could never hope to persuade enough of the middle aged, middle class, middle English demographic to vote for her. 

What I didn’t tell them was these were the very same people that loved some other underdogs: Leon Jackson, Steve Brookstein and James Arthur. Haenow is a lovely guy, but winning the X Factor is not enough. The music industry is built on sales and those sales come from a group that doesn’t have enough votes on it’s own to win the competition.