1. Sam Bailey is fast-becoming the major story of this year’s X Factor.
The 35-year-old mother of two from Leicester fills the now-traditional role of the lady with the big voice but the lack of confidence. Her job as a prison officer fast earned her the nickname “ScrewBo”.
2. Her first audition was the big showstopping moment of the very first episode back this year.
3. She proved her mettle in the first live show with a version of Jennifer Rush’s “The Power Of Love”.
But so far, so standard. The worthy belters always get props in the early rounds, along with a slightly patronising assumption that they will go out midway through. Which they usually do.
4. But halfway through the competition, something unexpected has happened.
The Sun ran a story this weekend claiming to have seen the voting figures that revealed ScrewBo to be “unbeatable”, leading the voting each month, sometimes by as much as 35%.
5. The paper’s “insider” also claims that Simon Cowell is unhappy about this, favouring 16-year-old Tamera Foster as the winner.
Simon is besotted by Tamera and has dollar signs in his eyes when she sings. He thinks she’s the full package. She has the voice, the looks and is young enough for a long career. He thinks of a young Beyonce when he thinks of Tamera… Simon knows she’s more marketable than Sam and is prepared to put his money where his mouth is.
A victory for Sam would be news, since an “Over” has not won X Factor since Steve Brookstein in the very first series.
And he is so embittered over his experience that his Twitter has become a quite incredible exercise in grudge-holding.
He even has a column at BT.com where he beats off about the show.
A similar thing happened last year with crooner Chris Maloney.
Producers were genuinely concerned that the controversial Scouser would win the competition over the favoured James Arthur. Maloney made the final against their best machinations, and sensing this, audiences voted for him in an attempt to hype the competition.
7. But with ScrewBo, the affection is genuine.
And she’s proven herself the most popular belter in the show’s history, like when she did “New York, New York” during Big Band Week. She has depth and tone to her voice, rather than just belting like most singers of this type.
There are haters of course.
8. Even Lord Sugar has weighed in on the matter.
Some people made it about the recent travails of last year’s winner James Arthur.
But her mentor Sharon Osbourne has been thanking people for the relatively nice treatment Sam has been getting online.
9. When she did “My Heart Will Go On” in Movie Week, Gary said she sang it better than the time he saw Celine Dion in Vegas.
Which probably made things just a bit awkward when Celine turned up to perform a week later, but whatever.
10. Yet she’s also proven herself more than capable of stepping out of her comfort zone.
Her spirited version of “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” during Disco Week was probably her strongest performance.
11. A win for Sam would be good for the show’s reputation.
The X Factor’s reputation for meanness gets worse every year, and last year’s winner James Arthur is fast turning into a PR disaster. A victory for a middle-of-the-road, clearly deserving winner would go a long way to redress all of that. Like here, where she sang “Make You Feel My Love” in Love And Heartache week.
12. It could also help protect ratings.
Part of the strategy in bringing Sharon Osbourne back to the judging panel was to win back older viewers and families, who were alienated by the Tulisa years and their focus on the cutting edges of the pop charts. Again, a victory for Sam would chime with that.
13. She’s growing in confidence this week, and is the only contestant not to have put in an under-par performance.
Her version of “Something” by The Beatles for Great British Songbook week was breathtaking. But still, the “will she sell records though” debate rages on.
14. Gary acknowledged it in his comments.
One of the things I love about this show is that all week long people want to talk to me about X Factor, and everyone is talking about you. People ask, “will this girl sell records?” Of course you will. Just because you’re a woman over 30 doesn’t mean you won’t sell records. Celine Dion is out there, Cher was on the show the other week. You will sell records simply because you are brilliant.