Joe McElderry was today the overwhelming favourite to win the coveted 'X Factor' title and a life-changing record contract.
Tonight’s eagerly-anticipated final of the ITV1 contest will see the 18-year-old student take on Olly Murs on one of the most lucrative weekends in British broadcasting, with an extended results show creating prime advertising spots in front of an expected audience of 20 million.
This weekend’s coverage alone, which last night saw Dagenham diva Stacey Solomon booted out after losing the public vote, could generate £18m (€20m) for the troubled broadcaster ITV1, according to some reports.
McElderry is now the clear favourite to win, with both Ladbrokes and William Hill putting his odds at 2/9. Murs is the 3/1 outsider.
Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said: “Joe looks unstoppable.”
Both Murs and McElderry paid tribute to Solomon, saying any one of the trio could have gone out last night.
But Murs said it was “so great” and “amazing” to be in the final two, while McElderry said he could not believe it.
Prince Harry watched the show with his girlfriend Chelsy Davy from the studio audience at the invitation of Simon Cowell.
A laughing Chelsy has previously been pictured backstage with Jedward, the controversial Grimes brothers, who went out earlier in the competition.
The couple saw Solomon sing a duet of Feeling Good with Michael Buble, whom she introduced as the “coolest man on earth”.
Speaking as quickly as ever in her strong Essex accent, she thanked her fans and said: “I’m really proud. I came third in the X Factor, that’s really good. I’m really proud.”
She said “everything” had been highlights and added: “I got to stay to the final.”
Her mentor Dannii Minogue said it had been an “incredible journey”.
When it came to her best song of the competition, Solomon performed Who Wants To Live Forever and Cowell said simply: “You smashed it.”
Fellow judges Louis Walsh and Cheryl Cole described both her vocals and looks as “incredible”.
The 20-year-old single mother returned to her roots for the first song of the evening with a performance of What A Wonderful World, the same song she chose for her first audition.
Cowell praised her choice, saying she had turned into a “nervous wreck” in previous weeks but appeared calmer for the final.
Earlier, as the show opened, Cowell said: “This is the closest competition I’ve ever been involved in. I can’t pick a winner any more.”
George Michael took to the stage to sing Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me with McElderry, the youngest finalist.
Michael said he “rose to the occasion” and added: “I think he’s got a great future.”
McElderry, from South Shields, also performed Dance With My Father which led his mentor, fellow Geordie Cole, to tell him, with her voice faltering, that that was “the moment you absolutely stole my heart”.
Walsh added that he had “never ever let us down”, Minogue praised his “absolutely stunning performance” and Cowell added: “You are, I think, really special Joe.”
Singing Angels, Murs performed with Robbie Williams, who fluffed his lines as he walked on stage and greeted the 25-year-old warbler from Essex.
Williams declared Murs was “like a quiet storm” and added: “He’s unbelievable, I should be taking tips from him.”
For his best song, Murs sang A Fool in Love and Walsh said it showed him as a sexy showman who owned the stage and was a natural talent.
“I think you’ve got the X Factor,” he said.
Cowell, who described Murs as the “best risk I’ve ever taken in my life”, said it had been an “absolute pleasure” to work with him.
It has also emerged that Cowell is eyeing Robbie Williams as a potential extra judge for next year’s show.
He told The People: “Robbie would make a good judge. He is fun, he has got good instincts, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he is a fun guy to be around.”