This time last year Reece Mastin was a shoo-in for The X Factor title. The 17-year- old pop singer was long tipped to take out the third season of the Seven talent show but, according to host Luke Jacobz, things are different this year.
"No one's really standing out any more than anyone else," the cheery presenter says.
"Reece stood out from the beginning. He was a powerhouse from the get-go and we've got about nine of them this year."
Last Wednesday the 2012 top 12 were revealed in the final of the home visits episodes.
Tonight the competition gets serious when the live performance rounds kick off.
Guy Sebastian will mentor cowboy Justin Standley, soul man Nathaniel Willemse and Perth pop princess Samantha Jade in the over-25 category.
Natalie Bassingthwaighte has the under-25 girls - high school dropout Bella Ferraro, the soulful Angel Tupai and Shiane Hawke, who at 14 is the youngest of the top 12.
Lifeguard Adil Memon, teenage country crooner Jason Owen and Perth's Josh Brookes make up the under-25 boys, who will be mentored by Mel B.
Ronan Keating will go into battle with groups What About Tonight, Fortunate and The X Factor boy band created by the judges and called the Collective.
The winner will receive a management contract and a Sony Music Australia recording deal.
"There's a great range this year," Jacobz says. "We've got Justin Standley. He's got a really individual voice, it's quite rare. Then you've got Jason who's got a real country voice. You close your eyes and it doesn't sound like you're listening to an 18-year-old plus the added bonus is there are some really great stories behind these singers."
Someone Jacobz does seem to have a soft spot for is Morley- raised Jade, who entered the competition in a final bid at stardom after spending many years in the US trying to crack the music industry.
"If you look at Sammy Jade, she's recorded the albums, she's done the performances, she's done all the photo shoots so she would probably have a bit of a leg up on everyone else," Jacobz says.
While it's anyone's game, Jacobz says tonight's live show will be a telltale sign of things to come.
"It really depends on that first live show," he says. "It's going to be interesting to see what they're like when there are 11 cameras on them and over a million people watching."
The X Factor has been a viewer hit, so far topping the national ratings every night. Jacobz thinks that Nine's success with The Voice earlier this year may be partially responsible.
"The Voice has set a benchmark," he says.
"They showed great singers from the get-go and people want to see good-value singers. They actually want to see the talent. Watching the people that can't really sing that well, that's fun but people actually want to see good singers from the very beginning."
The addition of The X Factor supergroup in the wake of One Direction's worldwide success and the introduction of the super boot camp could also be responsible for the slicker, more successful production.
Or, of course, it could be the cattiness at the judges' table.
"We have two alpha females," Jacobz says, laughing. "They both want to be the first female judge to win X Factor Australia and you can see it. Both Guy and Ronan, if they don't win this year - I'm sure they want to win a lot - they've still got one under the belt.
"Nat last year, she was all smiles and giggles but she's come out firing this year. She's not in this to have a bit of fun.
"The judges are just as competitive as the contestants. The judges want to have the bragging rights. Guy's been gloating for a year now and we're all sick of it so we want someone new to win."
And it's not just the judges with their eyes on the prize.
"This isn't just a game, people are in this to win it," Jacobz says.
"These singers aren't just people who have been singing their whole lives and everything's been hunky-dory. They have had some tough upbringings or they've struggled with their career in the music industry.
"You can see how eager and hungry they are to win."
'The judges are just as competitive as the contestants. The judges want to have the bragging rights. Guy's been gloating for a year now and we're all sick of it so we want someone new to win.'