MATT Cardle mania is getting stronger in north Essex – but the X Factor contestant is no longer the outright favourite to win the show.

Colchester nightclub Escape is getting right behind Matt by displaying 20ft long banners.

Manager of the London Road venue, Damien Stone, is a friend of the 27-year-old former painter and decorator from Little Maplestead, near Halstead, and wanted to do something to show his support.

He said: “Matt is such a genuine guy; so humble and respectful.

“Even with the media spotlight and celebrity status that he is now acquiring, he’s still the same – so grateful for the opportunity and the platform he is now performing on. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.”

The St Helena Hospice shop on Halstead High Street has also created a Matt style guitar and hat and posters in its window, joining other shops and businesses in backing the local boy.

Retail manager, Lana Meade, said: “As a community organisation we want to support local activities and we are totally behind Matt.

“All our volunteers from 16 to the 85-year-olds are behind him.

“It’s a real feel-good factor.”

Bookies now have him as joint favourite alongside boy group One Direction.

His odds shrank to 5/2 following his live version of Just The Way You Are on the ITV show on Saturday.

But in the last few days the betting public have backed Simon Cowell’s prodigies One Direction and they now hold the same odds as Matt of 11/4.

A spokesman for William Hill bookmakers said: “Matt has always been a strong favourite for bookies and he’s still extremely popular, but people out there have been backing One Direction recently.

“Matt isn’t quite the clear favourite he previously was.”

But Betting News said: “Matt Cardle became the clear X Factor favourite on Saturday after his stunning performance, which seemed much better than the Bruno Mars original.

“That was not lost on punters and they backed him in from around 4/1 down to the current price of 11/4.

“It had looked as though he would go into next week’s show as the favourite, but all of a sudden One Direction have been well backed and they are now the joint favourites at 11/4.”

It adds: “It seems Simon Cowell is very keen for One Direction to win and, normally on X Factor, whatever Cowell wants, Cowell gets.”

Matt performed on the show at the weekend without his trademark hat.

Judge Louis Walsh told him: “That’s what I call pop music – you’ve got it all, even without the hat!”