It's Judges' Houses Week - the contenders who have survived this far have now had their makeovers and professional photos taken and get to spend some time with the judegs' teams at various expensive locations. Although they don't get to perform that much, just a selected few getting screen time for a start to finish performance and even those being remarkably short, we do get to see how they come across as individuals and how they relate to the judges whose decisions will make such a huge difference.
This is the week when the Top 12 (assuming there are no wild cards this year!) are chosen, three girls by Tulisa and Tiny Tempa, three groups by Louis and Sharon Osbourne, three boys by Nicole and Neo-Yo and three over-28s by Gary and Cheryl Cole. They each have their own preferences, which may not match the initial enthusiasm shown in the first audition and Bootcamp rounds, as now they're guided by advice behind the scenes on who would make good TV as well. This is the stage when mistakes are usually made, most memorably by Louis! Will Sharon Osbourne - seen tearing up and throwing one group's card into the pool restrain his temptation to put Posionous Twin (for surely it must have been theirs) through? Neither seem to get the accomplished but odd Duke or Mitsotu and the acts must have wished they had a Neo-Yo or Tiny making the choices instead of what looked a couple of old fogies on holiday.
My guess is that Union J are safely through - especially after Louis went to all the trouble of pulling back not only the three Triple J but also resurrecting George Shelley from the Boys rejected at Bootcamp. GMD3 ought to be in there too. There will be some debate about their similarity and splitting votes possibly resulting in neither getting as far as they could but that's the way Louis was thinking, from what I could tell. But who gets the third spot? MK1 seem slightly weak as just two and whilst the girl is really talented and a great performer, I don't see them making it. So it's between Times Red and, yes, you guessed it, Poisonous Twin. There's no way the Powers That Be will let the Groups be just ten guys so you can see where that's going.
Gary has a far better mix to choose from than Louis had last year with the Over 28s. Christopher is a near certainty. 'Viewers will love him', says Cheryl. He sang really well too. Not my idea of the best new act for the 2010s in British pop history but there can be no doubt he's in. It's also safe to assume that Nicole is out after a pretty poor audition and, despite all his efforts to put her at ease regarding his earlier comments that she was annoying (and the fact that she is the only act who received less than four yesses initially), she'll be going home. Brad Shackleton has had virtually no screen appearances at all which can't be good news. He has very strong, raw vocals and hits all the right notes and reminds me a bit of Bruce Springstein. But Brad just doesn't seem like someone who'll be going through. He comes across as one hell of a ladies man, being very forward with Cheryl when she arrived and I can imagine a lot of viewers cringeing at his style. He's also up against the nice Kye who, we keep being reminded, is a chimney sweep and seems a decent chap all round.
Both guys, though, have to contend with Melanie and Carolynne. Carolynne is trying so hard, putting in superb auditions and looking attractive too. Being rejected in favour of Johnny Robinson and JonJo last year can't have done her self-confidence much good at the time so you tend to think that a wrong needs to be righted this time around. So I'm giving the second slot to Carolynne and, unfortunately for Kye, I see Melanie getting the third slot. That'll be a touch decision to watch, whichever way it goes. But with the Boys group comprising comparatively older guys this year and Kye actually looking younger than some of them, I fear for his chances.
As for the Boys, Nicole may have a simpler decision to make. James Arthur is, to my mind, a front runner for this season. Nathan is good (although, strangely, we haven't seen much of him to date) and I have a feeling the Powers That be will insist on his inclusion anyway. The third place is likely to be between Rylan and Jahmene. Rylan for the etertainment value, perhaps, although he did put in one of his best auditions just at the right time. He's not going to win or anything close to that but will have a fan club develop and could be good for the ratings. The logical entry would be Jahmene on talent alone but he does seem ridiculously nervous each time and there has to be a doubt about whether he would really make it through the live shows. Jahmene has a remarkable singing talent and, whichever doesn't make it will be emotional television. The other two, Adam Burridge and Jake Quickenden are both good-looking mature guyswho look good on the screen and sing reasonably competently. I just don't think they'll make it through which, again, promises to be a real tear-jerker next time, especially with Jake using the very ill younger brother thing (which is genuinely sad but shouldn't influence their decision) to make us want him to succeed. I can't imagine Nicole choosing either of Adam or Jake over Rylan and Jahmene, though, which lands them in the 'going home' category.
Lastly, the Girls. Ella Henderson is my tip to win the whole thing and simply has to go straight through. Her audition even further emphasised that too. Choosing from the others is tough, though, and I'd hate to have to make that decision. Jade Ellis will have helped her cause with a great version of Stand By Me and you just have to have some sympathy for someone who admits that her little daughter 'shouldn't be in a pace where she's quite scared'. However, she hasn't really shone that much so far and needs more work on her appearance but I can see her making it.
Amy's hair annoys me but she is a good singer. The Adele style can get a bit tiresome. She may have to wait for another year, despite her talents.
Leanne does look attractive and seems to sing really well. However, we get such a short audition clip that it's impossible to tell what she's like or, for that matter, what Tulisa thinks of her.
Jade Collins, too, flies by and we learn almost nothing. I've been really impressed with her before but this time I simply can't tell.
Lucy Spraggan, in complete contrast, has had all the screen time and bags of publicity, creating a groundswell of popular support that makes her a pretty likely choice for the shows. I am not convinced the X Factor is what she's all about, though, and have doubts as to what she'd do in some rounds and, certainly don't see her naturally handling the 'let's all dance around' stuff.
So, if pushed, it will be Ella, Jade Ellis and Lucy but my choice would be to give Jade Collins a chance instead of Lucy, who may well succeed anyway.
All will, of course, be revealed in a few hours!