Transmission date: 20 August 2005
Another series of X Factor, you say? Well, I'm not sure how you'll be able to top the incredible double find that was Steve Brookstein and G4, but okay. Have we got everything? TV? Check. Laptop? Check. Sense of dizzy anticipation? Check - more or less. Nagging feeling that I'm going to hate myself in the morning for watching this show? Definitely check. And away we go.
Cue the familiar, ridiculously overblown music to set up that sense of hyperbole that we all know is going to prevail throughout the series. A similarly dramatic voiceover informs us that 75,000 people applied to take part in this series and while that is certainly a lot, I am entirely unsurprised. [It is kinda scary. 100,000 people auditioned for American Idol, out of a population of 293 million. 75,000 went for X Factor, out of a population of 60 million. I’m not good with percentages, but damn. - Joel] A girl somewhat confusingly tells us that she wants to be "that voice on the other end of the stereo". I suggest that she goes and sits over on that side then; it really doesn't seem too difficult. Three judges, of course - Sharon Osbourne, Louis Walsh (who, try as he might, cannot look even remotely intimidating) and Simon Cowell. A montage of insults to get us all in the mood, most of which will appear in tonight's show. "Some will never be stars," says the voiceover. A star like Steve Brookstein? Okay. People cry. In the montage, Louis is seen talking on the phone saying that he doesn't "want Simon or Sharon to know". We are to presume that this is an important decision in the selection process that he is keeping from them, but for all we know at this point he could just be ordering pizza and making sure that no one will stand between him and his stuffed crust four seasons. Doors are slamed. Tempers are raised, but we're going to see this all in full later, so let's get on with it already. The X Factor is back. Cue titles!
Kate Thornton -- the unthinking man's Ryan Seacrest -- welcomes us to The X Factor, the UK's biggest talent search where one lucky person-slash-group will win a £1 million recording contract before disappearing forever from the public consciousness. Except she doesn’t actually say that last bit. Her white fitted jacket is distressingly cut away at the bottom to reveal her navel, which is already more of Kate Thornton than I ever wished to see. [Dude, her face is more of Kate Thornton than I wish to see. - Joel]
Queuing contestant montages. Kate reminds us what makes this contest unique - perhaps for the benefit of the viewers, perhaps also to persuade 19 Entertainment that they haven't just ripped off the Idol format, despite that allegation of format theft last year. There are three categories - 16-24-year-olds, 25 years and over, and groups. We are treated to some of the best and worst examples from each. The difference in the groups is the most pronounced - four girls do a closely harmonious rendition of Kylie Minogue's 'In Your Eyes', while three boys offer an atonal rendition of 'Stay Another Day'. I'm reminded of the fact that the groups category is always problematic; people seem to forget that it's intended for groups who have actually practised together before, and not ones that were spontaneously formed in the queue that same morning.
The judges arrive and present their CVs. Simon Cowell's is impressive. Louis Walsh is still taking credit for Girls Aloud despite handing over the management reins to the record company the second that Popstars: The Rivals ended. Sharon is responsible for propelling Ozzy to superstardom, but keeps quiet about Kelly. All of them are looking for an international star this year - an interesting goal, since it's hard for winners of reality TV shows to break themselves in countries that had no say in their victory. Just try looking for somebody in the UK who knows who Fantasia Barrino is, for example. They're few and far between. [And gay. What? They are. - Joel] The judges assure us that there will be no infighting this year (lies) and that it's all about the contestants, not the judges (also lies). Each judge will be assigned one of the three categories to mentor at a later stage in the competition, but at this point (so we're told) they don't know which one.
First stop: London, Kate tells us. Everyone in London shares the common dream to become a star. A somewhat dubious claim, I think. The people in the queue, certainly, but not the entire population. Various nobodies assure us that they will win. A cross-eyed man sings 'Amarillo'. In another dubious claim, Kate voices-over that no one dreams of being a star more than the first contestant, whose name I don’t entirely know how to spell, but he'll be gone soon so I needn’t worry. His influences are Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Holly Valance, and he will be singing 'Touch My Fire' by Javine. Everyone watching already knows exactly how this one is going to go. I mean, seriously - almost all of my musical influences are female, but if I were auditioning for Simon Cowell, I'd throw in a couple of male ones just to be on the safe side. He launches into a breathy vocal and a stiff dance routine. Simon giggles. He pauses, and the judges don't say anything. In an entirely unadvisable move, he starts humming the instrumental section of the song. Nothing is guaranteed to sort the wheat from the chaff like humming the backing track – it makes you look completely unprofessional; you just don't do it. [Totally. You should be able to sing a tune without having to remind yourself how it goes. Can you imagine if opera singers started going ‘Bam bum dadah, ba bam BUM dadah’ in the middle of Carmen? - Joel] Sharon advises him to stick to dancing. Louis advises him to stay working in Sainsbury's. It’s a rejection for the very first contestant, and we are all very surprised in a not-surprised-at-all sort of way.
Lots more people are dismissed, in various levels of cruelty. A woman with glaring eyes holds a note longer than previous research though possible, but is dismissed for being more Fear Factor than X Factor. A girl is told she looks like a drag queen, and Simon takes it on himself to explain what that means. Less charitable people than I would say that he ought to know. Another parade of losers.
The first of many controversial contestants arrives: his name is Chico, he is 34, and he loves himself. He begins with a bizarre speech promising to thank Simon when he wins a Grammy. Simon is sceptical. Chico sings East 17's 'If You Ever', changing the lyrics to suit himself, apparently. He attacks each note with all the subtlety of an atomic wedgie and sings in far higher a register than he ought to. Then, awesomely, he uses the final "you" of the chorus (which I’m still not entirely sure existed in the original version) to cross over into an even-higher pitched (and even more inadvisable) version of Prince's 'Kiss'. Simon tells him it was awful. Louis, outraged, says it wasn't. Sharon says with a straight face that Chico reminds her of Julio Iglesias, although she leaves off the surname because she is a rock legend and is on first name terms with everyone. Or possibly because she can't pronounce it. Simon thinks they're shitting him, and in our first instalment of Simon Tells It Like It Is, refers to it as "the corniest audition [he's] ever seen in [his] life". Chico gets a yes from Sharon. Simon stops the judging proceedings for a second and Chico obliges them by turning his back to them. Simon whispers forcefully that to put Chico through would be a joke. Louis disagrees: "Chico wants this. I'm not going to take his dream away." [Oh, he wants it? That’s okay then. I want Hayden Christensen, a million dollars and a Central Park penthouse. Pony up, leprechaun. - Joel] No, because it's not like you've been doing that to people all morning, is it Louis? You idiot. Louis agrees with Sharon, and Simon tells Chico he is pathetic. Chico responds, "and you're arrogant." Takes one to know one! Chico is rubber and Simon is glue! A thunderous Simon grabs the producer and virtually frogmarches her out of the room. The cameras, sadly, are not allowed to follow. "What is wrong with him?" wonders Louis. "He thinks he's right all the time." Well, Louis, in this instance he was, so pipe down. Outside, Chico celebrates in typically modest style. In the corridor, Simon takes Louis to task. Louis doesn't care, and walks off. Simon calls him back, gets all up in Louis's face and says "Stop it." Awww, those crazy kids, having a tiff already. The ad break provides us all with an opportunity for a stiff drink and a prayer for the deliverance of mankind from this evil.
Second day of the London auditions. The judges fill us in again on what they're looking for, and the task already seems insurmountable. Largely because Louis is looking for the next Tom Jones. 41-year-binman (but a west end binman, so that's classier than your average) [Totally. His round consists of collecting caviar tins and broken champagne flutes. - Joel] Andy gets a unanimous yes from the judges, singing a song I've never heard. [No-one’s ever heard it, including the judges. That's why they tried to sound insightful by saying "I like your song" and "It’s a hard song to sing" without mentioning the title or the original artist - Joel] A girl group who owe their ethnically diverse existence to Sugababes in every single way also get the thumbs up. A guy called Christopher who is cute in an offbeat way sings David Gray's 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye' and gets through to the next round. A nameless girl sings 'I'm Your Baby Tonight' by Whitney Houston and also succeeds. I don't hate any of them, so this is already making up for Chico. The next contestants are a boyband called The Brothers [Change the name, change the name, change the name. - Joel] [Hell, yes. They sound like one of those sitcoms that's always on perma-rotation on Trouble. Usually starring the Wayans brothers. - Steve], consisting as they do of two sets of brothers. They sing 'In The Still Of The Night' and wow the judges with their sweet, sweet harmonies and celebrate in a vaguely homoerotic (and indeed incestuous) fashion. Simon remarks that they have a quality that sets them apart from other boybands, and crabs that "Louis will have them all in blazers within a week." And y'know, it's funny 'cos it's true. [It must be depressing to be Louis Walsh, boy band supremo, and have this bunch of unsigned dweebs piss, vocally, all over any band you’ve ever produced. - Joel.]
And from the sublime to the ridiculous: getting a showcase now are girlfriend and boyfriend duo Spirit and Destiny, aka Della and Michael. They immediately remind me exactly why I think girl-boy duos are horrendously cheesy and almost always a terrible idea by singing 'When I Fall In Love'. Michael has the biggest, cheesiest face you will ever see, by the way. They even hold hands at the end. Louis stops them, and before Sharon can give her opinion, they start begging, pointing out that they've been queuing all night. [Of course, everyone else just turned up that morning after tea and crumpets and walking the dog in the park. Idiot. - Joel] Sharon chastises them and says that they mustn't try to get on her weak side. The criticism from Simon and Louis is not well-received. Sharon tells them they are great for cabaret, but not for recording, and I will give her credit for her tact there. Except that it just causes Spirit and Destiny to chorus "But we do do recording!", missing the point by the length and breadth of a golf course. A no from Simon. A yes from Louis. And a no from Sharon. "Can't you change your mind?" asks Della. "They can change their minds, they just don't want to," says Michael, towering over Della creepily in a way that makes me think it's 2001 all over again and I'm watching Trevor ask Little Mo why she has to make him act this way. Simon calls for security, and Michael is not going quietly. Sharon starts cackling, and hilariously, as Michael is being manhandled out of the room, he shouts "Sing 'em a song, Della!" This is, in all seriousness, the funniest thing Sharon has ever heard. [Also the most misguided thing for Michael to say, given that Della’s voice was much better than his and giving her a solo spot would have proven that and maybe even got her through by herself. - Joel] Simon leaves the judging room (I'm guessing to go to the bathroom, but we're never told precisely why). Michael is waiting outside and determined to lose whatever dignity he has remaining. He tells Simon to "give it up and go back to window cleaning, that's all you're good for." Which, bad strategy. Also, "back" to window cleaning? Remind me to look up a good Simon Cowell biography and find out when he was a window cleaner previously. "At least I'm a good window cleaner," quips Simon. And a good sport, I'd be inclined to say, because my response to that in Simon's position would have been to knock him out using only the weight of my wallet. Michael chases Simon and asks for a chance (which, Michael, you've already had – your audition? Remember? You were there, Simon was there, Della sang a song? Ahh, good times) but it's a no go.
Kate, looking ethereal bathed in white light, introduces us to the X Factor Confessional, where the contestants can go to sound off. Unsurprisingly, its first guests are Spirit and Destiny. "Mistake! Mistake!" says Michael. Another parade of losers abuse the judges to their loving friend the camera. They're all uninteresting, except for a quartet of orange girls who are convinced that Louis didn't want them to go through because they'd be a threat to Girls Aloud. Girls, girls, Louis doesn't give a shit about Girls Aloud, he's made that abundantly clear. You'll need a better excuse than that. [I loved the bitter blonde girl ( I know, I know, which one?) who said "Do they even have any experience of the music industry?" Yes hon, yes they do. Watch the beginning of the programme. Kate told you what they’ve done. - Joel]
The final contestant in London is 16-year-old Alexandra, who looks older than 16 and is really all kinds of cute. She impresses Kate by telling her that people compare her to Whitney, then impresses the judges with a heartfelt rendition of 'Saving All My Love For You'. Simon praises her for taking on a Whitney song and making it sound current. Alexandra, refreshingly, takes her praise with total grace and seems relieved, surprised even, that they enjoyed her performance. A yes from everyone, and Alexandra reminds us all that she's 16 by running out of the room squealing. [I loved her, lots, but she talks like a Three Non Blondes character. This, of course, makes me love her even more. - Joel] As the judges travel to their next location, they are all doodling their initials next to Alexandra's and surrounding them with a big love heart.
We're in Manchester! Somewhat incongrously, Tony Blair pulls up in a big coach and gets a cheer. To his credit, he knows what they're auditioning for and asks them all if it's nerve-wracking. Someone asks him if he's auditioning, and Mr Blair replies that he's "auditioning all the time". Hee. I'm hardly his biggest fan, but he's winning me over here. Damn those smarmy politicians. [And he does the salute! The crossed-arms X-factor salute! Which is the same salute as in the 1984 movie version of Nineteen Eighty-four! Tony Blair (and also big crowds of people) are showing their allegiance to Big Brother. The world, she is over. - Joel]
Again, the producers decide to torture us by sending in the worst of the bunch first. 30-year-old factory worker Robert sings 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl?' by Jet, and scares the living bejesus out of everyone. Simon asks him if he's serious. Robert is. Sharon thinks it was so bad it was good, but just before I accuse her of taking leave of her senses, she says that he's not good enough for the show. Robert gives us an ear-shattering reprisal in the confessional. Next is 51-year-dairy farmer Justin, singing 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' in a falsetto. Louis would love to hear him sing those songs in drag. That joke's too easy for me to even attempt anything, but remember that remark because there'll be a test later. It's three nos for Justin. After he's gone, Simon dissolves into giggles, and at this point I lost the respect of two of my housemates by remarking that I find it kind of cute when Simon does that, and I'm fairly sure that my other housemate, currently on holiday but having learnt about that statement through our telepathic link, was rolling her eyes somewhere in Le Touquet. But hey, I'm comfortable with who I am.
More losers. The judges begin to lose their patience. Not before the viewers, of course. Aiee.
The second day in Manchester. Simon interviews that he's feeling confident. He thinks that today is going to be normal. Which is, of course, the cue for that famous record-scratching sound effect and for something very weird. Justin the dairy farmer returns in drag as Justine. [Wearing the same jacket he wore as a bloke! Have some dignity, and go to Etam already. - Joel] How fortunate that he had a name that can be so easily changed to sound female. What if he were called Adam or Bartholomew or Craig? Not that I'm suggesting this is in any way contrived. We get a flashback to his previous audition for those of us whose memories don't go back as far as ten minutes ago. Justin, now Justine, is in the audition room. Sharon likes his -- I mean her -- hair. Louis asks if it's real. Sharon pronounces the dress gorgeous. Incredulous, Simon wonders why they're having a serious conversation with this person. "This is a dairy farmer that's come back dressed as a woman!" And again, I'm with Simon on this one, for no reason other than the fact that this tactic has already been done to much better effect in Australian Idol, where a chap by the name of Shane Jenek failed his first audition and returned later in the competition as his drag alter-ego Courtney Act. Rather more successfully, since not only did he make it through to the semi-finals but the judges had no idea at first that it was the same person. Our intrepid judges, of course, have seen through Justin's disguise. Justine assures them that this scenario is normal. Simon asks Justine if she milks her cows in a dress and slingbacks. Justine admits that she wears green wellies and blue overalls for that, but neglects to mention that she tops off the ensemble with a tiara and a matching red set of bra and panties. Justine sings a Randy Crawford song in a slightly squeaky voice, clearing his throat rather brusely in the middle of it all. Louis thinks Justine could have a career, "in the clubs in Manchester". Simon thinks "we're in La La Land", and asks whether they would put Justine (I'm going to go back to calling him Justin here for the sake of my own sanity) through if he actually were a woman, based on that performance. Sharon thinks that's not the point. It is precisely the point, of course, but Sharon cannot hear me shouting at the TV. She calls Simon "small-minded", and I really don't think that's his problem here. I don't think this is the result of any latent homophobia or bigotry on Simon's part, more a fear that letting a man in drag with a weak falsetto through to the finals will make the competition look like a joke. I wonder why he didn't think of this before he subjected Verity to the public vote last year. Simon says no to Justin. Louis says yes. Sharon says absolutely yes. Justin would love to be an Osbourne. Simon thinks he's going along the right lines. I'll take any shot at Kelly, however cheap, so: hee! Justin leaves promising to have singing lessons. Simon suggests he might also want to have a shave. Justin makes it to boot camp, although whether it will be wellington boot camp or slingback camp remains to be seen. Simon remains unimpressed, and vows that if Justin ends up in his group, he will be ejected rather sharpish. [And my comforting Simon-love, Sharon and Louis-rage kicks in, and all is right with the world. - Joel]
Next up is shy, nervous 16-year-old Trevor, who stumbles over his words when talking to Kate in the waiting room. Don't worry Trevor, she has that same brain-numbing effect on all of us. Trevor's family say he has a lovely voice. In the audition room, Simon looks like he expects to be bored; however, Trevor breaks into a rendition of 'Something Inside So Strong' in a rich, measured, soulful voice, having clearly been studying his Big Book O' Ironic Songchoices well in advance of this audition. Simon and Sharon are convinced that it can't have been Trevor really singing. Trevor, bless him, asks if he means that in a good way or a bad way. A good way, Simon confirms, and we can already seen the pound signs start to form in his eyes as the cute young boy that housewives and teenage girls will adore with surprisingly powerful singing voice blinks naively back at him. Trevor reminds Simon of Ronan Keating, but Louis, evidently having fallen out with Ronan Keating since the heyday of Boyzone, pshaws this notion and declares Trevor far better than that. The original version of 'Something Inside So Strong' strikes up on the soundtrack as the producers are determined to strike us repeatedly over the head with the metacomment. [I love Trevor, too much. He’s only 16 and it makes me a bad person. But he transforms into this scarily confident person when he sings, then drops back to giggly hand-flappy Rachel Karen Green kind of behaviour and it’s awesome. Trevor to win! Or rather, Trevor to come second and actually get a sustainable career. - Joel]
Back from the ad break, and we're still in Manchester. The voiceover of Kate informs us that 54-year-old inventor Howard is planning an extra special duet. In an interview, he tells Kate that he has found a way of recreating John Lennon's voice and making it sing new material, which he claims opens up the possibility of making "an astonishing new Beatles album...if we could convince Ringo and Paul to help out." I'm no Beatles fan, so this is no great news to me, although I do begin to make plans to make some new Alisha's Attic albums if I ever get my hands on said technology. Voiceover Kate tells us that Howard plans to perform a duet with "the late John Lennon, who died 25 years ago." Well, yes, Kate. Hence, "the late" John Lennon. He's not just running significantly behind schedule for a dentist's appointment now, is he? Or perhaps he is. Maybe Yoko forgot to cancel it, amongst the umpteen other things she had to do. Howard explains his plan to the judges. "But he's dead!" exclaims Louis, clearly a graduate of the same finishing school as Kate Thornton. "I know," replies Howard, as though talking to a child. Hee. Howard performs his duet with "John Lennon" for the judges, and it is quite possibly the most bizarre thing that I've ever seen. "First of all," says Simon, "that is not John Lennon." Oh, but it is, proclaims Howard. And then we're treated to a repeat of the Louis/Howard "he's dead/I know" exchange which makes me think the editors are not being entirely true to the chronology of this particular audition. Louis: "Simon, yes or no." Simon, as though this were already decided: "What, to Howard? No!" [Maybe Louis had a tub of Pringles, or some gumdrops, under the table and Simon couldn’t decide whether to break his Scary Muscular Man Breasts Diet. - Joel] Sharon, staring rigidly at the desk: "No, and you're barking." Hee. [She really scared me here. The anger in her voice makes me think that some little ITV researcher who thought the funny inventor would make good TV is going to be on the end of an Osbourne tongue lashing. And not in a good way. Hang on. There isn’t a good way for that, is there? - Joel] Louis shakes his head. "Well, it was worth a try. Thanks for listening," shrugs Howard. 'Imagine' plays as Howard smiles glumly in the confessional.
21-year-old shop assistant Shane sings 'Sacrifice' by Elton John. Shane is quite attractive in an ooh-he'd-nick-the-stereo sort of way. Simon likes Shane's image, in that he looks real and not "stage school". It's a yes all round. For a change, we then get a parade of winners in the confessional, although judging by the way they're reacting, some of them are clearly two parts loser at the very least. Get a grip, people. [Why did we not hear them sing? This isn’t Can’t Sing Singers! - Joel] A trio who look uncannily like Voices With Soul celebrate. A girl makes me hate her instantly by singing a track from the execrable second Joss Stone album.
19-year-old Sarah hopes to join this jolly parade, despite her pockmarked skin. She doesn't mention that, but it doesn't mean that I can't. She can see herself with her name in lights and then somewhat alarmingly adds "concerts, weddings, funerals, everything." The first two I can understand, but funerals? Whose, exactly? I'm locking my door tonight and sleeping with one eye open. Before going in to her audition, she rubs noses with her mum which just looks...weird. Sarah starts to sing 'I Believe I Can Fly' in a breathy, nervous voice that isn't unpleasant (unlike her choice of song). It wasn't what Simon was looking for at all. Sarah starts to break down a little and says that this is her life, that it's the only thing she's good at. "Well, you're only 19," replies Sharon. Was that a burn? I think it was. [I have to disagree. I think Sarah was all "I've failed at EVERYTHING" and Sharon was telling her she was still young with plenty of time to do stuff. - Joel] Sarah asks what's wrong, whether it's her figure (she's a little on the large side - not massive, but not exactly slim). Simon, with a surprising amount of tact, says that it's not her figure, but that some people make you think yes the minute they walk in; Simon went the other way. Louis didn't like her voice. There's a no from all three judges. Sarah cries. The irony editor cues up Coldplay's 'Everything's Not Lost' on the soundtrack as Sarah exits the room in tears to the dismay of her friends and family and proceeds to have what appears to be a panic attack on a nearby chair. Her mum, fiancé and Unspecified Female Hanger-On enter and plead with the judges to reconsider. Outside, Sarah tearfully interviews that she didn't think the judges liked her at all. She attributes the failure to them not liking her dress, which either means that someone said that in a comment we didn't see, or that she rather misunderstood what Simon said to her. I'm opting for the latter. Sarah's mother interviews that Simon has just thrown her daughter's life away. "What's she living for?" asks Sarah's mum. Well, not the compassion and reassurance of her mother, evidently. Sitting back with her daughter, Sarah's mum decides that the rational course of action is to go in and fight Simon. Because that'll change his mind, won't it children? Sarah tells her mum it's not worth it and cries on her shoulder. You need a heart of stone to do what I'm doing now, and repeat all of this without feeling sorry for her. But I can't allow that to happen, because there are going to be thousands more people doing this before these auditions are over, and I really can't afford that much nervous exhaustion. [This poor girl was not that bad at all. She was better than 'Justine' by a country mile, but they thought it would be good TV to show her mini-breakdown. In a way I think they did the best thing by not prolonging the agony, because she clearly wouldn’t have made it past boot camp. But then they did prolong the agony by exposing her wailing and sobbing on national TV for about 10 minutes and trailing her upcoming paroxysms of grief throughout the entire programme, as if it was must-see TV, like Louis getting a glass of water thrown in his face or something. - Joel]
Next week: a man who, I swear, looks like a younger version of David Walliams in one of his Little Britain guises, an old lady complete with shopping trolley, a little boy who has the X factor (or so he would have us believe), a very late (rock 'n' roll!) arrival by one Sharon Osbourne, and somebody who appears to have walked off the set of the nearest pantomime. In August. If all goes according to plan, Joel will be your guide and I will be making witty quips in parentheses. See you then!