In eight years of X Factor tipping, Jack Houghton has returned seven profitable series with more than 60 points of profit in the last three years. And, yes, he is insufferably arrogant about his X-Factor tipping prowess. Here, Jack Houghton takes pity on the mortals and shares his golden rules for profiting from the show...
"Every year quirky acts get lots of attention for the potential they allegedly hold to "redefine" music. The audience are quite happy with how music is currently defined, though, and such contestants usually get the boot sharpish..."
This weekend, the show reaches Judges' Houses, so it's just as well I return to guide you, because the first golden rule of X-Factor punting is to:
Ignore all performances before Judges' Houses
When I tipped Fleur East at 39/140.0 in 2014, it was because, in the musically stripped-down environment of judges houses, she gave the best performance. It's easy to get carried away with heavily-edited footage of judges being made to cry by rousing arena performances, but for all the awkwardly manufactured "drama" of the show, it remains a singing contest, and the best singers go on to win (see below). We'll find out who they are this weekend and I'll let you know early next week when I preview the runners and riders.
And ignore all talk of trends or patterns
The search-for-analytical-insight-where-there-is-none has begun. I've already read that the groups cannot win, because Simon Cowell - who will mentor the category this year - has a bad record with them. Ill-informed, pseudo-statistical myths like this litter the internet every year. At various points in the last 13 series I've been told with certainty that females/non-white/groups/gay acts "cannot" win, only to see the "certainty" rapidly debunked. The only pattern or trend that has any credence is this: talented, likeable and mainstream acts do better than less-talented, less-likeable and less-mainstream ones (see above).
Which is why you should beware the freaks
Lucy Spraggan, Diana Vickers, Aiden Grimshaw, Janet Devlin... Every year quirky acts get lots of attention for the potential they allegedly hold to "redefine" music. The audience are quite happy with how music is currently defined, though, and such contestants usually get the boot sharpish. However, be careful, because...
You must remain flexible
Saara Aalto fell afoul of my no-freak rule last year. She eventually reached the final as the odds-on favourite, and, while my week-one pick Matt Terry eventually prevailed, I had a few nervous moments. The issue was not reassessing Aalto after she modified her freakery as the show went on. My unwillingness to reappraise has harmed me in the past, too. I refused to recognise that Alexandra Burke was improving as each show progressed in 2008, and I failed to react to Little Mix's turnaround in 2011. Be prepared to constantly reassess your portfolio and switch allegiances where necessary.
That's why the Live Shows are so important
Performances matter. While it's quite natural to have a pecking order in your head of who is the most likely to be eliminated each week, a good performance can easily see a weak singer survive another show. A seeming certainty for a bottom-two spot in Movie Week in 2011, Misha B nailed the Bodyguard classic I Have Nothing and guaranteed her safety for another week. Katie Waissel - the shortest priced survivor in an elimination market that I can remember in week seven of the 2010 series - did likewise with her somewhat ironic rendition of Help! Conversely, a weak performance by a more fancied contestant can see them up for elimination, as Amelia Lily found with Think in 2011 and Emily Middlemas demonstrated with two pour Christmas song renditions last year.
Delay your bets
It's worth noting one X-Factor theory that has some statistical rigour to it. For whatever reason, contestants who sing first and second have a significantly increased chance of facing elimination. If you fancy someone for a bottom-two berth, it might be worth waiting. Remember that, as well as singing well, Katie Waissel also sang last when she overcame elimination favouritism in the example above.
And expect the unexpected
It's likely to be a tempestuous series this year. Rumours abound that wildcard nominations will return, which means that 16 finalists will fight it out across just six weeks of live shows - the shortest live-segment of the series ever. When the show was last curtailed (to cope with scheduling clashes around the Rugby World Cup in 2015) it made the betting, and the results, volatile, so expect similar difficulties this year. And keep in mind the random events that have scuppered some of my bets in the past: guest judges; return votes; arbitrary eliminations; multiple eliminations; no eliminations; contestant illness; voting irregularities; contestant reinstatement; public-vote cancellations; contestants retiring from the show...
It's an entertainment show first-and-foremost, not a betting vehicle, so you only have yourself to blame if you over-commit and then get burnt. For this reason, I've tended to avoid betting heavily in the early elimination markets - when new formats are more likely to be experimented with - and I try not to get involved in markets where the judges have an undue influence: always preferring to take shorter prices in the bottom-two market rather than risk the outright elimination market.