So we had a surprise then. Not so much in the sense of which song was going to be Christmas Number One but in terms of who ended up singing it. Ruining weeks of carefully crafted jokes, last weekends X Factor final saw dark horse Leon Jackson pull of a shock result, defeating Rhydian Roberts for the title of series champion and the right to release When You Believe as his debut single - a single which duly shifted over a quarter of a million copies last week to land at the top of the charts by some comfortable margin.
The shock nature of the result, given that Rhydian was far and away the best singer in the contest and more or less anointed in the press as the de facto winner from the start, prompted a rash of silly season stories in the press about a potential fix, even Rhydian himself being goaded into a case of sour grapes. Tales of a potential fix were fuelled with the usual press reports of people complaining they were unable to vote for their favourite, confusing telecom network congestion with outright conspiracy, as has happened in tense TV votes since time immemorial.
In a sense, though it was actually the right result. Although derided for his nervous inability to hold a tune at times, in terms of the coronation song, Leon Jackson's rendition was far and away the best and the in the cold light of day the one that would have stood the best chance of becoming a hit under any "normal" circumstances. For that reason alone he made a worthy winner. So it is that the X Factor is responsible for the third Christmas Number One hit in a row, following a pattern set by Shayne Ward in 2005 and Leona Lewis in 2006, both of whom of course have current hits of their own in the Top 20.
Unusually for a talent show coronation song [although starting a now long-running trend], When You Believe has been a hit once before. The song was originally written for the 1998 animated film The Prince Of Egypt and indeed picked up the Oscar for "Best Original Song" at the 1999 academy awards. On its first release, it was recorded by the superstar pairing of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey although it caused a shock at the time by peaking short of the Top 10 on the Billboard chart. In this country, it was moderately more successful and indeed was Number 4 exactly nine years ago this week, and indeed makes its first chart appearance since, picking up enough downloads to register a place at Number 65. Leon Jackson's new version is a slight rewrite, the song having been tweaked so it works as a solo rather than a duet and with a new verse inserted to put it in slightly better context as a song for a talent show winner. [The official video has oddly gone missing, leaving us instead with his live final performance].
With all but one bookmaker ignoring the X Factor single for betting purposes, the real attention was on which single would occupy the Number 2 slot for Christmas. Needless to say, it is the single that Leon Jackson has deposed from the top, What A Wonderful World by Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua which for a second week has overcome what theoretically was the handicap of only being available in Tesco stores to notch up another enormous sale. It will be very interesting to see what the knock-on effect of this turns out to be. As I mentioned last week, CD singles were removed from supermarket shelves a few years ago when demand for them was judged to have fallen too far to justify the floor space they took up. With the Melua/Cassidy single having shown that there is still an eager market for such impulse buys it would be foolish in the extreme to assume that the big chains will not spend January trying to work out a way to capitalise upon this.
The one other shock contained in the singles chart this week is the fact that Mariah Carey does not have the biggest selling Christmas single of the moment, All I Want For Christmas Is You falling back two places to Number 6. Instead, its place is taken by the one single that managed to relegate X Factor voting grumbles to the second biggest music story of the week.
Fairytale Of New York is the single in question, much comment having been made during the last seven days of the decision by Radio One to mute out the words "faggot" and "slut" from the 20-year-old single from The Pogues, despite the lyrics of the song never having been an issue at any time in the past. After widespread publicity, sorry, derision the censorship was reversed but not after just about half the net had weighed in with an opinion on the lyrical justification for such political incorrectness. The cynic in me is prepared to dismiss the whole thing as a publicity stunt, but for the fact that it is actually far too easy to believe that the music department at Radio one were po-faced enough to imagine that offence would be caused by the famous record.
Back when it was first released the language of the track barely raised an eyebrow, Mike Smith on the Radio One breakfast show at the time gleefully introducing it as "the scumbag song" whenever he played it. When the group performed the track on Top Of The Pops however it was the word "arse" which was deemed unacceptable, Kirsty MacColl being forced to re-record it as the apparently more prime time friendly "ass" despite this completely knackering up the meter of the verse. To compound matters when originally broadcast, the audio was hamfistedly dipped, thus if anything drawing even more attention to the profanity. 20 years later it appears we're even less grown up about rude words in a song than back in the 1980s.
Already a Top 10 hit, the fuss has almost certainly done Fairytale Of New York no harm at all and it duly rockets 8-4 this week, its highest chart placing since it made Number 3 upon re-release two years ago. 2007 marks the third Christmas in a row that the single has been a Top 10 hit, although it has yet to scale the Number 2 peak that it climbed upon first release in 1987.
Aside from the Pogues and Mariah, no other seasonal favourites have invaded the Top 10 with the third biggest, Last Christmas from Wham!, even falling back two places to Number 16. This hasn't, however, stopped plenty of others from invading the lower reaches, most notably Bruce Springsteen's live rendition of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town which appears at Number 60, 22 years after it first made Number 9. With the new year chart being compiled of sales from December 23 and 24 (and even Christmas Day itself with declarations from online stores) the seasonal songs will be hanging around for one more week at least before vanishing almost overnight until next December.
All of this leaves some of the last minute Christmas releases rather floundering for attention. At one stage tipped by some (including me) as a potential Christmas Top 3 prospect, the Sugababes' new single Change ultimately disappoints, rising merely to Number 13 following its physical release. For some reason, Christmas is rarely kind to the superstar trio. Although Ugly was an easy Top 10 in Christmas 2005, their last attempt to release a last-minute seasonal hit also underwhelmed, Too Lost In You making a mere Number 10 in Christmas week 2003.
Also in contention, as far as the bookmakers were concerned, at one stage was the last minute release that now enters at a rather underwhelming Number 32. Malcolm Middleton began his career as one-half of indie-folk favourites Arab Strap (biggest hit Here We Go which peaked at Number 48 in April 1998). His debut as a solo star comes after Radio One DJ Colin Murray began championing his track We're All Going To Die as a healthy antidote to the commercial slush that dominates matters at Christmas. Now it is of course by no means unknown for a one-off release by an ageing star to make an impact at Christmas, Gordon Haskell, of course, making Number 2 in 2001 with How Wonderful You Are, but ultimately the rather niche appeal and limited availability of the Middleton single put paid to its prospects of being the unexpected smash hit that its supporters had hoped for.
Also underwhelming is the performance of Kate Nash's Pumpkin Soup which can only creep to Number 40. Despite the long-lasting success of Foundations in the summer it rather seems she has unwitting become an albums artist, this now her second single in a row to miss the Top 20. On a lighter note, there are now two future hits joining the current releases in the Christmas chart. Alongside Rihanna's Don't Stop The Music which rises to Number 30, the single chart also welcomes Kylie Minogue whose new single WOW arrives on downloads at Number 32, way ahead of its scheduled February 25th release. The sudden surge in interest for the song almost certainly comes as a result of her performance of the track on the X Factor finale, an appearance which included a duet with ultimate winner Leon Jackson. Even if he hadn't won and had Christmas Number One, he would at least have been able to look back and say he performed with Kylie the day she left her skirt in the dressing room.