I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but the X-Factor’s back, and it’s bigger than ever. Turns out, it never really went away. These last eight months, it was just in remission. It’s pretty much the same as last time, only it seems to be exhibiting some worrying redness and aggression – we’re calling that ‘The Mrs O Effect’.
That’s right folks, La Osbourne is back on the judges’ table – still showcasing the least convincing maternal act since Faye Dunaway went mental with the wire coat-hangers. She must have finally convinced Simon to give her the money she was asking for, because there have been a few noticeable cutbacks elsewhere on the show. Poor old Dermot’s bearing the brunt of it; not only having to play continuity announcer on ITV before the Talk Talk ident, but also filling in for voice-over man on the opening titles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll be forced to play the part of Brian Friedman when we get to the live shows.
Unsurprisingly, the show proper opens with a nice long plug for the new One Direction movie (In Cinema’s Now!) before launching into a load of pointless crowd chatter about how excited everyone is by Mrs Osbourne’s return: “When Sharon’s on, you never know what she’s going to say.” Well, apart from “Missus” and “Fah-abulous.”
The producers have arranged four military-grade helicopters to fly our judges up the Thames and hone in on the ExCel, where hordes of excited auditionees have been corralled into some make-shift fencing. It’s probably supposed to demonstrate the enduring popularity of the show, but it’s more like an outtake from World War Z. Suddenly, ten thousand wannabe pop-stars are going to start piling on top of each other and bring down Louis’ chopper. He’d love that.
One other change we should probably mention, is the fact that the auditionees will have to perform twice to make it through to the next round. First, they’ll try out in the audition room, before taking to the O2 stage in the hope of impressing 4,000 jeering idiots. If you though this show was manipulative and stage-managed before, you’re in for a world of pain.
The first contestant of 2013 is Luke – an affable young man with the hair of a Hanna Barbera cartoon. Cute face, affable demeanour and a smile like he’s imagining your naked corpse stuffed into his wardrobe. As for the performance itself, his voice has a pleasant tone, when it’s not wobbling off the key like a drunken pensioner. Sharon’s doing her best to react, but she’s having trouble indicating her emotions, since her face is more frozen than a Calippo. In fact, this whole first segment turns into an extended pretty boy sequence, as Luke is followed by a parade of nice looking young men. Alejandro Fernandez bounces into the audition room, and all that’s missing is the sound of a swannee whistle as we zoom in on Louis’ delighted face. Tom Mann is a football coach, and wants to be a role model for kids, but sings Let Her Go as if he’s auditioning for voice-over work on the next Chipmunks movie. Finally, we meet J-Star (*sigh*) who’s a part-time model and has confidence to spare. Unfortunately, he seems to think Hallelujah is an Alexandra Burke original, and his vocal performance is quite ridiculous. In particular, the Hallelooo-hooo-hooo-hooo-yah bits sound like he’s singing through a snorkel. Sharon says he sang it like a ghost, and Gary thinks it was “Cra-haaa-haaa-haaa-aaap.”
Our next featured performer is Fil (“with an ‘F’”) Henley, who appears to be wearing one of the Quo’s old hairpieces. Of course, because he has long hair, he’s been goaded into talking about what a rocker he is, despite the fact that he still lives at home, and his mum made him some cheese sandwiches for the queue. The moment the comedy glockenspiel music kicks in, we realise that we’re supposed to be laughing at, rather than with, Fil-with-an-F. Sharon describes his mullet as “business at the front, party at the back.” She can empathise, because it’s kind of like the skin on her head – tight on the front, and loose enough at the back to carry half a dozen Jaffa oranges. Unsurprisingly, Fil conveys all the rock presence of a leisure centre deputy manager, and the judges tell him to “Phuck off.”
However, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Fil – Nicole thinks he’s got potential, so they relent and invite him to the arena auditions. Gary gives him tips on how to rock convincingly, which is like Jodie Marsh opening a charm school. Call me cynical, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if this whole bad audition was reverse engineered to make his arena performance seem like a spectacular make-over.
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what the auditionees do – tonight’s show is all about putting Sharon front and centre. There are far too many shots of her laughing until she (completely by accident) falls off her chair, coupled with outrageous reaction shots of the rest of the panel. At one point, a young man called Christian comes on in his bulging red pants, purely so that Sharon can complement his package and get the Daily Mail frothing about pre-watershed suitability.
Ten years of the X-Factor and people still think that a good audition is about over-singing in false eyelashes. Siana Schofield has a strong voice but an annoyingly affected vocal style, and Rielle Carrington is Moss Side’s answer to Rihanna. The groups are always the weakest segment, so I’m kind of pleased to hear duo Silver Rock do a half-decent job. Their timings and harmonies are pretty tight, but they’ve got zero chemistry, on account of the fact that they’ve only known each other a week. The judges ask them to perform separately, and put them both through as solo artists.
Seventeen year-old Hannah is the first to play the dead Dad card, and has an emotional moment as she recounts her troubled home life. She reckons she’s got butterflies in her stomach, but that could just as easily be all the donuts and cakes she eats as a part-timer in Greggs. “Great sausage rolls in there” adds Gary, ensuring he’ll never have to pay for another Steak Bake as long as he lives. Sharon commends her for focusing on her studies and taking her A-levels, because she knows that not everyone gets to marry a rock star. Hannah’s rendition of Read All About It is breathy and sincere, so everyone’s jolly pleased to see here make it through to the arena performances. It also gives them a chance to rattle through all their favourite inspirational clichés: “You are what I’ve been waiting for.” “This is just the beginning.” “Your dad would be proud of you.” And “You’ve got a sad face.” That last one’s Louis – he’s not quite up-to-speed yet.
Euphoria Girls are a five piece girl band, grinning and cheering like a quintet of Bratz dolls on mood elevators. Their performance is so bad that even a Pontins crowd would be throwing bottles of piss to register their disgust. Louis tells them they’ve got great personalities – unaware that the true test of such an observation, is whether or not you could stand to be stuck in a broken lift with them. It’s a no from me.
After another irritating montage of bad opera singers and a man who hits himself in the neck to sound like a bagpipe, we meet Luke from Essex. He currently works as a Bieber tribute, despite looking more like something Justin could build a treehouse in. He’s singing his own composition – which was always a risky proposition until Lucy Spraggan lowered the bar for everybody – and it’s not so much a song, as the jingle for a mobile network. Demonstrating an alarming lack of awareness about how this show works, Gary observes: “It was like a stroke of fate, you coming in here at just the right time.”
Just in time for the final audition of tonight’s show, the producers remember the ‘screality’ segments they introduced last year, where audiences get to listen in on the mundane (and heavily contrived) conversations that take place in the holding area. Here’s prison officer Sam and her husband, eating a big bag of crisps and speculating about Dermot’s workout regimen. I can smell the BAFTA from here. Sam reckons she’s over the hill at 35, but gives a decent rendition of Beyonce’s Listen, in the process triggering countless references to Tesco Mary on Twitter. In fact, this working class hero rubbish has been an X-Factor staple since Andy Binman, but not to worry. Gary’s closing remark to Prison Officer Sam is, “You can cuff me!” but I’d rather she just bang him up in solitary.
Tomorrow night, we get to see how tonight’s auditionees fare in front of a 4,000-strong crowd. I can scarcely contain my excitement.