Monday, August 28, 2006

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Programme 2: 26th August 2006

Sorry for the lateness of this one, folks. Joel and I are obviously VERY busy people and we found it difficult to hack time out of our busy bank holiday weekends to write the update. Plus, I was totally watching How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? on Saturday night instead, so it was a while before I even saw this one. Right, that's the housekeeping out of the way - on with the show! (Sorry you were subjected to this again, sweetie. I’ll write one eventually, promise. Kisses.-Joel)

Last week: All this shit happened. We were there. We're not telling you about it again. Tonight: more of the same. We know the drill by now. Cue cheap-looking titles! More guff about the number of applicants and an explanation of how the show works from Kate. You don't need to know that. But you do need to know we're in Bristol. Just FYI, Sean, Jonathan and The Unconventionals are used as the good examples of each category from last week. Simon is optimistic today, so I think we all know it's going to start horribly. Cue 57-year-old David, who is thoroughly convinced he's going to win. Well, that's all right then, shall we all pack up and go home? Just give him the prize and have done. Please? No? Oh, all right. David says, "if [the Beatles] had had me as frontman, who knows how well they'd have done?" Hmm. I'm uncomfortable when hubris does my job for me. Interestingly, as David walks in, he greets the panel by saying "Good afternoon." Either they start these auditions very late, or the show is lying to us when they say he's the first one in. Sigh. I really didn't expect the timeline to get massacred so early in the episode, but heck, they're always looking for new ways to surprise and delight me, right? Sharon tells us that they're looking for someone unique, with charisma, the voice, the look, and the ability to entertain. A sound cue ticks all of these off for David, which is kind of funny. David sings a song called 'Sexy Lady'. (Was it his own song? Cos I didn’t recognise it and sounded like something even Chris de Burgh would reject as a bit obvious and creepy.-Joel) It's every bit as awful as you'd expect. Sharon is barely able to speak through her laughter. Simon declares it "as bad as I've ever heard". David starts talking about how he should have been in the Beatles again, and I'm bored now. Can we move on? The editors flash back to Simon's comment about feeling optimistic, and yes, we got that he was setting himself up for a fall the first time you showed us. And even if you didn't, IT WAS UNDER FIVE MINUTES AGO. Credit us with the intelligence to join the dots without your help, please. It's a unanimous no, and the theme from The Magic Roundabout plays, which is awesome. (If confusing.-Joel) Cue montage of losers, and isn't this exactly how last week's show went? Come on, mix it up a little. A woman who looks like she got rained on hollers 'You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman' badly, someone with bad teeth shrills 'Unchained Melody' and so on. Cue backstage footage of the judges feeling depressed. Can someone call Beyoncé, because I'm getting a déjà vu.

Next up is 20-year-old Ashley, who has an awesome ‘fro. Kate runs her hands through it, the little minx. He's very skinny, as well. Sharon calls him stylish, and he sings 'A Ribbon In The Sky' by Stevie Wonder. I'm...not sure what to make of it, personally. For some reason, it sounds fine technically, but it sounds a, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. However, I am not on the judging panel, and Simon declares it "brilliant", although he does admit the "vocals were a bit all over the place", but he sees potential in Ashley. Sharon applauds his style again, and Louis calls him original. Ashley's through to the next round, and the judges are happy. (He had a lovely tone. And was fit. And seemed sweet. Bravo.-Joel) I think Sharon's going to have something warm and wet for him later. Ashley's mum is also pleased. Now we get a montage of people who were good, but we don't get to see most of them sing, because...well, why would we need to? Among the songs being sung are 'You Raise Me Up' (AAAARGH) by a clean-cut looking chap, and 'Son Of A Preacher Man' by a bottle-blonde lady, who appears to be here with her hen party.

We're off to the next city, but not before the ads after which someone will be fey, someone will be swing, and someone will not put herself through. Shocker! Since the adverts are reminding us, we would like to urge you to go and see Snakes on a Plane, since it's the best motherfuckin' film we've seen in ages. We wouldn't recommend you get your broadband from BT however - nothing to do with their professional reputation, but mainly because we want Kris Marshall to die horribly with the rest of his smug TV family. (’I’m a serious artiste and above such trash as ‘My Family.’ Oooh, an advert!’ Tosser.-Joel) Also, why does the trail for Sharon's chatshow use the music from Smack the Pony?

Manchester! Aieee. Weren't we in Manchester last week? Yes, we were. So now the show wants us to think it went off to Bristol for a bit, and then back to Manchester? Where precisely did Sean's five minute breather for a glass of water fit into this? Is a little bit of timeline continuity too much to ask for? Apparently no one believes they've got the X factor more than 20-year-old Performing Arts student Warren. Was this established through a series of psychometric testing? I'm just curious. Warren has a dodgy fringe, but wants every kid in the land to be dancing around the living room to his songs. Just the kids? I guess we've found this year's Chico, then. Warren sings 'This Time I Know It's For Real' nasally, complete with dance routine. It's kind of girly, and that's all I'm saying. Also, I think I choreographed this exact routine for my A level Theatre Studies project. Creative theft! Plagiarism! I'm calling my lawyer. And possibly Beyoncé again, just for the heck of it. Warren ends on the splits. The judges are, shall we say, not impressed. Warren protests: "I'm a singer, and a dancer, and I have got something in me." Simon's face suggests he's thinking of the same joke here that I am, but I'll let it go in case it prejudices my dance theft case. It's a no from Louis. It's a yes from Sharon. Oh, Sharon, don't make me come down there. Seriously, I am not above slapping a lady. (We will cut a bitch.-Joel) Warren says he just needs to get through because it's all he's wanted to do, but since Sharon's partner in crime Louis has already said no, it seems unlikely. To whit, Simon says no. Warren tries to convince Simon to put him through, but because Simon is not a pushover, Sharon. Simon calls security, and I'm starting to think Tony from security should get his own show. In the confessional, Warren lays into Simon: "He knows as much about pop music as I know about football, which is not very much." Leaving aside the obvious jokes here, there's an interesting point to be made. I don't think Simon does know a lot about pop music, and I doubt he cares. But he does have a canny knack for spotting who's marketable and who isn't, which is why he's here. Because let's face it, most modern pop music is 95% marketing and 5% music. So, in short: go away, Warren. (Go and be a dancer, reedy boy.-Joel)

Montage o' dancing - some more successful than others. It includes the polka dot dress woman who flashed Louis in last week's previews, just FYI. Some guy "sings" and "dances" a literal interpretation of 'From Paris To Berlin'. I think he didn't go far enough - he should have actually been running between the two cities while singing. Heck, I'd have put him through on the strength of that. Classically-trained Paris is next. She looks very tired. Sharon declares her name "fabulous". Paris is 16. She's going to sing 'Time To Say Goodbye'. "So you want to be an opera singer?" says Simon, sounding surprised. Paris does indeed. "Good for you!" replies Simon, and Sharon and Louis make noises of agreement. And...I'm kind of surprised by that to be honest. I thought they'd rip into her for not aspiring to release anaemic covers of Westlife songs, but there you go. I'm not a fan of operatic singing, but Paris sounds fairly good for a 16-year-old. (She’s not, so much. She is good for a 16-year-old, but she’s not that good in absolute terms at all.-Joel)The judges like that she's different. "It's such a change, a young girl coming in here not singing 'Hero'," says Sharon. BAHAHAHA! Awesome. Simon thinks she's good but doesn't think she's ready yet. "She's only 16," says Louis, which appears to be his only comments, just with slight differences of inflection. Simon is aware of that, but is concerned that Paris may break from the pressure. It's three yesses. "But can I just tell you something?" says Paris. "I can't go through." It would be a lot more dramatic if the previews hadn't already shown us this bit. Why can't Paris go through? She's only 14. And kudos to her for admitting it at this stage, I think. Mentioning no names, Nadine Coyle. The judges are dumbstruck. Sharon clicks into mother hen mode: "Oh darling, come over here. Now how did this happen?" Hee! I love it when Sharon mothers the contestants. She's just got this lovely, sensible air about her that implies she can solve anything by straightening your tie and giving you a hug. Paris just wanted Simon to hear her voice. The judges all agree that she's very talented, and if she were the right age they would have put her through - which we know, because we just saw it. They invite her to come back in two years, and Paris leaves. Awww. I have to say, I thought that was handled rather well by all parties. I wouldn't be surprised if someone signs her up before she hits 16, though, which I suspect was her plan all along.

73-year-old Dot shows Kate her packed lunch. Heee! I love Dot already. She tells Louis she's 74 next week. Louis tells her she doesn't look it, because Louis always charms the old ladies. Dot will be singing 'I've Got You Under My Skin'. I'm sad to say it's not the powerhouse performance I was hoping for, because after that intro I really wanted Dot to be this amazing singer on top of everything. The judges stop her after a few lines, and Dot starts to walk to the exit. Bless! Sharon tells her to stop. Simon thought she was "okay" and "nice". Louis likes her, but doesn't think her voice is strong enough for the competition, so it's a no. "Pardon?" says Dot. "I'm going to have to say no," repeats Louis. "I don't mind!" says Dot, with this expression on her face that implies the very concept of wanting the judges to put her through is absolutely insane. I sincerely, truly love Dot. Dot to win! Sharon pronounces Dot lovely, and the judges send her cheerily on her way. Dot tells us in the confessional that it would have been nice to go through, but she has her holidays booked for the 19th; she's going to Turkey. Ladies and gentlemen: Dot. The best X Factor winner we'll never have. (They really should have Dot replaying on giant screens in the holding areas as a lesson in ‘How To Take Rejection Well, You Ravenous Fame-Whores’-Joel)

Next up is 17-year-old Raymond from Liverpool. He's the swinger from the previews. Wait, that sounds dirty. Raymond enjoys a bit of banter with the judges, during which we establish that he wants to be big, and he loves Elvis and Dean Martin. Jolly good. Raymond sings 'Ain't That A Kick In The Head'. Sharon loves him. Simon thinks that 17-year-old boys doing swing can often be precocious, but didn't think this was bad at all. Louis sees great potential. "But," says Simon, "if you're going to sing those songs, you've got to be really good. At the moment, you're good." Which I think is fair. Sharon calls him "a natural". It's three times yes. Well, actually it's two yesses, and an "oh God, I hope you're in my category" from Sharon. (I hate Ray. I hate Swing. He’s a one-trick pony who will fall horribly short later in the competition.-Joel)

Coming up: someone who runs a Louis Walsh fansite, and someone who has been lead down the wrong path. Adverts.

We're now in Birmingham. First up is 62-year-old factory worker George, who can barely speak clearly, so things do not look good. Seriously, I don't understand a word he says, and I suspect that's meant to be the joke. The first line of George's song is "when no one else can understand me". Oh, teh lulz. It's 'The Wonder Of You'. Sharon politely tries to tell him that he has a problem with his diction, but Simon cuts across first and makes the point rather more bluntly. It's a no for George. Somebody outside is wearing X Factor contact lenses. Creepiest fuckin' thing I've seen in a while. I could swear I just saw Barbara Windsor in the queue. Next up is vocal harmony group 4Sure (I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume they spell it like that). (Not a doubt.-Joel) One of them is a social worker during the day. One is an IT consultant. One is a day-centre officer for learning disabilities. And one is an "entertainer". They sing a harmonised version of 'If You're Not The One'. To be honest, I'm not keen. "It's good, other than the fact they weren't singing the melody," says Simon. I suspect that was my problem with it. Call me old fashioned, but I do like some semblance of melody in my pop music somewhere. It's a unanimous yes for 4Sure. (Fucking close harmony barbershop bullshit. If there are so many of you, sing some bloody counterpoint.-Joel) Lots of groups get through, which is nice. I really hope there are lots of groups this year, because last year's lot I found rather lacking. A girl group sings 'Harder To Breathe', and a boy group sings a slightly atonal rendition of 'More Than Words'. They both get through. A girl group sings Britney's '(You Drive Me) Crazy' and proceeds to squeal loudly when they get through, freaking the fuck out of both Sharon and Kate.

Next up is 17-year-old Kylie, whom I suspect is the "led down the wrong path" girl already. She has brought her "entourage" (like ITV isn't plugging that show heavily as it is) and her number one fan is her mum. Kylie says her name is Kylie Knowles, "but you can call me K-Star". And what are the odds of someone who shares a name with two popstars being completely wrong for this? Let's find out. Kylie is very confident of having a No.1 single and a massive album. Kylie sings a song that I recognise but can't place. Simon tells Kylie "you will never ever make a career in pop music. It's hard when you're good. It's impossible when you're okay." That should be the mantra for this show. Sharon tells Kylie this is not for her. Kylie tearfully states that she isn't going to give up on her dreams. Simon tells her to "forget it". It's a unanimous no. Kylie's entourage burst into the audition room. There are harsh words, and Simon tells Mama Kylie that she is giving her daughter false hopes. Mama Kylie disagrees, unsurprisingly. And here we go: "You have led her down the wrong path here, she will never be a pop star." Kylie leaves, vowing to prove them wrong. Outside, Kylie's mum rants, and claims that Simon said he wouldn't patronise Kylie, but he patronises himself all the time. Um...okay? I don't really get where she's going with that one, but there's no fruit in pursuing it. (I…don’t think she knows what that word means. And putting her through on ‘you’re poor and fat’ sympathy vote would definitely have been patronising.-Joel)Montage of embittered people in the confessional.

Next up is Louis's No.1 fan. She runs Louis's unofficial internet fansite. She runs into the audition room, ecstatic to be meeting Louis. Simon, obviously, finds the whole thing hysterically funny. She shows Louis the messagebook from her fansite. "It's quite thin," giggles Simon. She [did we ever get a name?] explains about the fansite. "I presume you're not very busy," zings Simon. Hee. Simon asks if Louis's popular. He is - the fansite has 45 members. Hahaha! Awesome. Louis, to his credit, finds this as funny as Simon does. Simon asks how long the site's been running for, and the answer is "just under a year". "That's four a month," grins Simon, who is clearly having his Best Day Ever. Simon reads a poem from the fanbook to Louis, and I'm not quite sure who's going to die from laughter-related asphyxiation first. Possibly me, if I'm honest. She's going to sing 'My Heart Will Go On' just for Louis, and Simon and Sharon move to the sidelines. Hehehehe. She's actually not terrible - she can carry a tune, but her voice is kind of reedy and lacking strength. They've put worse people through before, put it that way. Vicky! Her name is Vicky. Simon and Sharon tell Louis that it's his decision, and Simon cajoles Louis from the sidelines to vote yes or no. It's an absolute yes from Louis, because flattery does get you everywhere. Vicky gives Louis another hug. "That was ker-lassic!" declares Sharon, sounding completely like the "I ain't told you, 'ave I?" character from The Catherine Tate Show. Backstage, Simon makes fun of Louis again, and Louis confiscates the fanbook to prevent further ribbing. Sharon tells Louis to be flattered, not embarrassed. Simon pretends to be answering phones for the Mad About Louis Club, informing callers that there are "plenty of vacancies". Simon's slightly fey phone-answering persona amuses me. (Best bit of entire episode. Loved. It. And even more for the fact that she was actually quite good.-Joel)

Still to come: possibly the most important part of someone's life.

Next up is 24-year-old Richard, who has interesting, if greasy-looking, hair. Hair is very important in the audition process, y'know. Richard wants to go the right way in life, rather than his dad's way. I'm not quite sure what his dad did wrong, but never mind. Richard has a very nice voice and a cute grin. The judges think he has potential to improve, and it's a yes from everyone, and a hug from Sharon. Another montage of people getting through. I bet you at least one of these people makes it to the finals and we'll be all "why didn't see more of them?" Next up is 32-year-old Steven from Coventry, who wants to get high in the album charts and do a tour. He seems like a nice bloke, but he sings with his eyes closed and his voice is not good. Simon declares Steven's voice one of the weirdest he's ever heard in his life. Sharon says there's no power in his voice. Simon declares him "fabulously awful". It's a no for Steven. A montage of people singing too quietly. Then some people singing very loudly. Next up is Billy, who is slightly deaf. He doesn't get through.

The last person in to see the judges is 26-year-old Sarah, who by rules of deduction must be the girl experiencing the most important part of her life. Unless of course she's a midget with an engagement ring. Sarah's had a run of bad luck, including a car crash and an ectopic pregnancy. She believes she's been kept on the planet for a reason, and that reason is The X Factor. (That made me very sad.-Joel) Sarah is very excited to see the judges. Sarah sings 'From A Distance'. Sarah's voice is nice, but lacking in control in certain parts. Simon says that she took a song he doesn't normally like and made it very soulful and gospelly. Even though her voice is out of control (do Simon and I have a psychic mind link this week?), he liked her. Sharon thought it was great; Louis didn't. Simon has some home truths for Sarah: she will need to start taking care of herself if she's to progress. At present, she doesn't look like a popstar, but like a 26-year-old girl who's out of shape. Sarah endears herself to me by taking this on the chin with a giggle. But Simon sees potential in her. It's a yes from Sharon. It's a no from Louis. Simon agrees...with...Sharon. As if there was any doubt. Sarah's family and friends burst into the audition room to flap around and hug the judges. (She needs lots of vocal training but seems like a nice girl with a nice voice.-Joel)

Next week: lots of screaming, both good and bad. Someone flashing her arse (which reminds me, we didn’t ever get to see the polka dot dress lady flash Louis, did we? Stupid previews). Simon argues with Louis. Girls dressed like cats. Someone cries. Someone begs Sharon to say yes. Beyoncé is now my new best friend.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Oh my God, we're back again...

Programme 1: 19th August 2006

"They said it couldn't get bigger! They said it couldn't get tougher! They said it couldn't get worse!" Were 'they' listening to Shayne Ward's album at the time, by any chance? "They were wrong!" Oh, goodie. Because everyone knows, exactly what the recording industry needs now is another Chico, right? There's a judges montage, and I for one am pleased to see that the Louis sequence involves several people throwing water. Hooray! Tonight, a brand new search begins. In unrelated news: stocks in earplugs are currently skyrocketing.

So, it's a new series. The third series, no less, making this the first of the find-me-a-popstar series to make it to three. Odd, really, when you consider that the brightest talent it was able to find for us in the first two was Steve Brookstein and Shayne Ward, you'd think it would have been decried by a clamouring mob as a mockery and a sham, but there's no accounting for taste, I suppose. (I guess it isimproving as it goes on. We had Will Young followed by McMammoth, and any good work Girls Aloud did in following Hear’Say was more than undone by One True Voice. Say what you like about Shayne Ward, and I do, at least he’s a step up from The Singing Greengrocer.-Joel) Anyway, we're back for the time being. We can't guarantee that we won't have a repeat of last year, where we're forced to give up in sheer disgust before the end of the series, but we're going to try to make it all the way through, and that's really the best we can hope for right now.

(Same old crappy titles. Yeeesh. Could this get any cheaper?)

Montage of crowds, Kate Thornton standing in the middle. Nobody appears to be handing her a copy of this month's Vogue in the hope that it might improve her outfit choices for the live shows, but we can hope, right? 'I Got The Music In Me', which we all remember from Nikki Sanderson's decidedly lacklustre performance on The X Factor: Battle Of The Stars plays while Kate informs us that a record-breaking 100,000 people applied for this year's show. (Last year was 75,000! I really hope it’s not going to increase by a third every year…-Joel) She doesn't, however, mention that the majority of them wouldn't have got anywhere near Simon, Sharon and Louis because that would ruin the magic of television, but whatever. This year we're going to London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Dublin, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester in the search for Britain's brightest new singing sensation. The aforementioned bright new star is clearly not to be found in anywhere in Wales, apparently. We kick off in Manchester, where the auditionees have turned up in their thousands. And seriously, folks: shitloads of people. This is going to be a looooong night.

Kate reminds us of the categories, which are the same as before. For those of you who can't remember, there are three: 16-24s, 25 and overs, and groups. Each is illustrated by a "good" and "bad" example. The bad example for the 16-24s is singing Shayne Ward's 'That's My Goal', and I have no words. (It’s a fine line between ‘he can’t compete with the lovely Shayne’ and ‘look at the shit we manage to peddle!’-Joel) Kate introduces the judges, in case we missed the bit about two minutes ago where they flashed their names up on the screen. Clearly the target audience of this show has a very short attention span, which I find really insul - oooh, shiny! Simon claims he puts his reputation on the line every time he does this show. Considering his reputation is generally for finding mediocre pop stars and encouraging them to record albums of bog-standard covers, I'm not exactly sure what he anticipates losing here. Sharon thinks people forgets that she is first and foremost a music manager. Again, how the twenty thousand trailers for her new chat show I've seen over the past three days are going to dispel that opinion, I have no clue. Louis...well, Louis stares vacantly at the camera in a failed attempt to look intimidating, and mumbles something that is clearly a lie because the last series proved that Louis Walsh always puts petty vendettas and rivalry ahead of the job at hand, namely finding and nurturing the best new talent the country has to offer, so Louis can just shut his yap right now.

First up in front of the judges is 40-year-old landscape designer Tim, who instantly reminds me of Kel from Kath and Kim. He has some moves with which to impress us, apparently. He practises with his headphones on in the waiting room. I don't think this is going to go well. Tim goes in to see the judges. Simon asks him why he's there, and Tim replies that he's had a lot of encouragement from Debbie, his longterm partner, who is apparently a harsh critic herself. Tim begins his performance, and the fact that the show gives him the loser edit before he even opens his mouth should give you some idea of how this is going to turn out. We are "treated" to echoey voiceovers of Tim encouraging himself to "find the beat" before he embarks on a wobbly rendition of 'All Night Long', while dancing like Taylor Hicks's dad. Oh my days - what have I let myself in for this year? Tim finishes, and Simon is left with an expression on his face that thousands of Livejournal users will doubtless cap in order to make "WTF?" icons from it. "What does your girlfriend do when you do that?" asks Simon, thoroughly bewildered. "Sometimes she says nothing," Tim admits. "If I get it spot on, she joins in." "She must love you very much," deadpans Sharon, and I giggle. Simon is left to deliver the smackdown, the upshot of which is "I've got absolutely no idea why you've had any encouragement whatsoever." Well, I imagine the producers encouraged him at his initial audition because they thought it would be funny, but again, admitting that on TV spoils the magic. "It's about as bad as it can possibly get," Simon finishes. The judges vote, and it's a unanimous no. Tim, to his credit, looks a bit upset but takes it on the chin and waves a cheery goodbye to the panel as he exits the Room o' Doom. (It really really doesn’t bode well for the editorial tone they’ve decided to take this series when the very first thing we see is a lengthy section on a hopeless loser.-Joel)

2Unlimited's 'No Limit' plays, so I guess that's the cue for our first montage of hopeless performers. Um, hooray? Somebody gives a performance of 'You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)' so fey that even Lance Bass would be "that's too queer for me, girlfriend". We cut to a sequence of the judges relaxing and bitching about everyone being really shit and wasting their time. First of all: speak to the producers. Second of all: they're not wasting your time, because if everyone who turned up to audition was brilliant, this show would be about three episodes shorter. Also, you're getting paid. Wasting our time? Sure. Wasting your time? I think not. (Wasting their own time as well. I mean, they probably had to take the afternoon off from Clarks and everything, just to humiliate themselves.-Joel)

Kate talks to 16-year-old Sean, who is very nervous and quite sweet. Also: very tiny. Sharon takes the opportunity to break out her mother-hen act and use her best reassuring voice to calm him down, which is one of the reasons that I like Sharon and find her entirely necessary. Louis? I'm still waiting for a reason to feel that way about you. Sean starts to sing, and his nerves are still causing him to shake and making his voice sound reedy, although not unpleasant. He dries up about a line and a half into the song, and Sharon tells him to take his time. Sean looks like he's about to cry, and Sharon asks him if he'd like to take a break and come back. Sean takes her up on the offer and Sharon advises him to go and get a drink of water. Kate gives him a hug. Sean goes and sits with his family in the very appropriately named holding area.

Still to come: Simon mentions a guest judge, and the show goes to great lengths to keep said judge's identity a secret, even though everybody totally knows it's Paula Abdul. And some more people who suck. (Careful of your wording, m’dear. It almost sounds like you think Paula Abdul sucks and then you and I would be having a serious talk. It’s a good thing I know you better than that.-Joel) And possibly a midget with an engagement ring, since we never did get to see that.

We return and it's a new day, and a new outfit for Kate, who tells us we're now in London. Um, WTF? Exactly how long a break were they planning to give Sean, exactly? We need some continuity, stat! Simon tells us that Louis and Sharon are going to be getting a shock, because they've heard these rumours that a guest judge has been invited along, and the rumours are true. "I've got no idea who it's going to be," says Sharon, who clearly doesn't check DigitalSpy on a regular basis. "Sometimes, you have to literally put a cat amongst the pigeons," says Simon. And sometimes you have to figuratively put a cat amongst the pigeons, which is the appropriate word in this case, Simon. Thankfully, the show doesn't attempt to drag the suspense out any further and admits that Paula Abdul is the guest judge, while playing 'Straight Up' on the soundtrack. I love that song, even if 'Vibeology' would've been my personal choice. John tells me that he has no idea who Paula Abdul is, and I resolve to smack him upside the head later for crimes against popular culture. She sold over 15 million records as a solo artist and received two Grammys. I have absolutely no shame in admitting that I own Paula Abdul's Greatest Hits CD, by the way. It's awesome. (Hells yeah.-Joel) Sharon hopes the judge is another woman. Louis thinks it might be Pete Waterman. Well, that would've been good too, but come on - in terms of sheer barely-conscious entertainment, you have to go with the Abdul, don't you? Or Janice Dickinson, but you could see where Paula Abdul would've been Simon's first choice. Paula enters the judging room, looking a tad sheepish I feel, and Sharon is joyous. Hugging Paula, she exclaims: "about time! I needed some help with these two." (Well quite. Because sometimes just having Sharon and Louis to put through the hapless losers on a sympathy vote just isn’t enough.-Joel) Simon seems genuinely amused, implying that the rumours that he hates Paula's guts on American Idol aren't entirely true.

The first act in to see the panel are a sister group called Pure Liberty, and let's just hope they're better than the Conway Sisters. They perform 'I'm Every Woman' with energy and some nice harmonies, even if their version is a tad rough around the edges. Paula dances in the way that only Paula can, and claps in the way that only Paula can. Dear producers: I know I bitched about you a lot earlier, but thank you for brining Paula Abdul back into my life. I love you. The sisters get excited and Sharon has to shush them. Louis says they remind him of "Sister Sledge, and the Pointers" and possibly Swing Out Sister and the Sisters of Mercy, because Louis can't think of any bands to compare them to that don't have the word "sister" in the title somewhere. (Once again, Louis fumbles around and then names the first black artist he can think of. With their complicated harmony they were rather more En Vogue than Pointer Sisters. Not as good as En Vogue, of course, but who is?-Joel) Simon calls the vocals "incredible", and says that they have the "likeability factor". Paula adores them and calls them "so much fun". 100% yes from Louis. 300% yes from Sharon. 1billion% yes from Paula. Infinity yes from Simon. Mathematicians the world over spontaneously drown themselves in the bathtub at the futility of their existences.

A montage of good performers. One girl sings 'I Will Always Love You', and if I'm perfectly honest, doesn't sound that great to my ears. Another chap looks a bit like a smilier, less dead-eyed Lemar and sings 'Something Inside (So Strong)', which is one of my favourite songs ever. 21-year-old receptionist Leona, who looks like the lovechild of Joss Stone and Javine, is next and sings 'Over The Rainbow', Eva Cassidy-version. (Girlfriend needs to ease up on the fake tans and home perms though.-Joel) Simon says, "it wasn't perfect, because you fell off the melody at certain points, but when it was on it was absolutely fantastic". I'd be inclined to agree, even if I would've gone for "pretty good" at the end rather than "absolutely fantastic". Also, Sharon keeps calling Louis "Lou-Lou", which has no relevance but I still want to mention it because it amuses me. We see the judges at lunch, and Paula enthuses about Leona. "Did I tell you we had talent in this country, or did I tell you we had talent in this country?" Simon gloats. "When I said bring it done brought it," Paula admits, in a ghetto if not entirely grammatical fashion. I was desperately hoping for somebody to finish that sentence with "it's already been broughten", but sadly my hopes were dashed - and not for the last time this series, I suspect.

54-year-old Donna gets some applause from the holding room, though for precisely what I'm not quite sure. She tells the judges she wants to be as big as Madonna. And if you're looking for fat jokes here, I suggest you go elsewhere: I may be cheap, but I'm not that cheap. Donna sings 'Like A Prayer', heavily-accented, arhythmically, and just generally not very well. Paula contacts her lawyer with regard to retracting her earlier statement about the quality of British talent. Simon says "We've missed off the first part of her name here, haven't we?" "Mad," Louis completes the joke. Just as well, because Mad Donna released the mash-up of 'Ray Of Light' and 'The Wheels On The Bus' and would still probably consider this an enormous slight on their reputation. Donna asks to do another song, and Simon refuses. "Please, put me through," says Donna. "You've got to stop saying please, because it's not going to make any difference," says Simon. "Please," says Donna. It's like one of those hilarious 1970s foreign-people-are-hilarious sitcoms, isn't it? Paula throws her head back and cackles wildly at this exchange, bless her. Donna asks for yet another chance to sing another song, and despite the number of people yelling "no!" (several of whom I expect are on the production team), launches into 'I Have A Dream'. Simon is tired and getting irritable, and says as much, but Donna continues to sing. Paula gets up and walks off set, because she's laughing so hard she might actually headbutt the desk. Simon ushers Donna out without even bothering to vote, and comments on how Donna has "made [Paula] hysterical". In fairness, that was never going to be very difficult, was it? (Indeed. If I recall correctly, the last time Paula was hysterical was because she saw a pencil.-Joel)

We then get a montage of Paula laughing at various hopeless wannabes, and really I think the entire show should just have been an hour of this. I smell a BAFTA, I really do. One girl sings 'Stop' without moving her lips (seriously, it is FREAKY) and Sharon and Paula turn to each other before cracking up. Paula summarises: "America has delusional people, but honey, so does your country." And am I the only person disappointed here that no one has signed Paula up for a six-part series exploring the similarities between Britain and America? I'd totally watch that. 39-year-old forklift truck driver Francesco is next in, and sings 'You Raise Me Up'. Paula cringes at the bum notes, and he also gets the loser edit, implying that he is the slowest singer ever. ROFLOMG, I am so sure. You could've stopped him any time you like, and don't pretend otherwise. Eventually, he finishes. (One – I get the feeling they were repeating the footage, to abet their ‘he went on for ages joke.’ Two – I laughed and laughed and hate myself for it.-Joel) "Do we want a second song?" asks Louis, and I'll admit, as much as it shames me, that I totally laughed at that. Francesco does not get through.

Still to come: we go back in time to visit Sean. Thank fuck for that. Adverts, and a trail for Sharon's teatime chatshow, but don't you DARE forget she's a music manager first and foremost, you bunch of shits.

Back from the break, lots of people want to be famous. You're shocked, I know. 21-year-old student hairdresser and mum of two Jay (or possibly Jae? Or J? I don't know. Name astons, already!) is Mariah Carey's biggest fan. Jay sings 'Hero' for the judges, with lots of trilling and melisma, and is not very good. Simon and Louis burst out laughing (Paula, curiously, does not seem to do so). Simon declares the performance "way off Mariah Carey". Jay then does herself no favours by admitting "my voice is strong, but I need help", prompting the inevitable "you need a helpline" retort from Simon. It's a no for Jay, who pronounces Simon "rude" and looks rather upset.

X Factor Pod, full of crying people with shattered dreams. One girl is upset that everything she based her life on is wrong. I think we covered this last series, did we not? A group of friends sing 'Top Of The World', but don't appear to have a band name. They harmonise very nicely, despite their acute cheesiness and the fact that they look like they're about to perform a rehearsed reading of Private Lives in a church hall. Simon thought he would hate it, but admits that "if I shut my eyes, it was fantastic". Paula compliments their "fresh spin" on the song, and Sharon admits they "made my day". Simon wants to bottle them and sell them as some kind of smile tonic, or possibly some kind of alternative to Prozac. Four times yes, and they're through. Kate's voiceover refers to them as The Unconventionals, and I don't know if that's their official band name (dear God, I hope not), but we'll keep it for now. (Would it have hurt them to have some sort of costume theme? Just all in black, or something, I don’t ask for much. They looked like they’d got caught in an explosion at a rummage sale on the way to the audition.-Joel)

Next up is 31-year-old factory worker Oncar Judge (I have no idea if I spelt that correctly, so please forgive me. I cannot say it enough: name astons please, editors!). He has freckles and a dodgy yellow cardigan, and wants them to see "the entertainer" in him. Gahhhh. Sorry, just hearing that word in relation to this show makes me think of Chico, which in turn makes me want to run headfirst into the wall. Simon asks who Oncar is as good as, and Oncar replies "Michael Jackson, Daniel Bedingfield, George Michael." (My cousin: ‘Way to set yourself up for a fall!’-Joel) Oncar proceeds to sing 'Earth Song', one of my least favourite songs ever, and in entirely the wrong key to boot. Hilariously, Oncar then throws himself at the backdrop and looks surprised when it crumples because he thought it was a solid wall. Um, he just walked in from behind it, though. Wouldn't he have seen that it's clearly a thick bit of paper on some scaffold? Also, I'm 99% sure he just said "fuck", pre-watershed on ITV1. I am appalled, obviously. He then sinks to his knees with a thud, causing Paula to cringe in sympathy pain and Sharon to exclaim "that's got to hurt". Oncar insists that it doesn't. Oncar admits that his voice isn't great, but that he's a true performer, citing his success in karaoke competitions (without looking at the screen, no less). And there's absolutely nothing I can say to that to make it sound any more tragic than it already is, so I shall hold back. Four nos, from the judges. Oncar leaves, saying "there's only one judge." "Who's that?" asks Simon. And I really thought he was going to say "God" or something here, but no; Oncar replies "that's me, Oncar Judge." Ooh, I see what he did there. Clever. "Well, that was ridiculous," says Simon. "And he's broken the set." Hee.

We're still in London, and desperate for his big break is 26-year-old Jonathan. Jonathan is hot. He explains that he's a full-time carer for his mother, who's been ill for a very long time. Jonathan is hot AND sensitive. Marry me, Jonathan! He tells us that his mum fully supports his decision to enter the show, and I'm drowning in a bucket of "awwww" right now. I'm so easily bought, it's not even funny. Jonathan is going to sing a bit of swing for us, which puts me off him very slightly, I have to admit. Not a swing fan, sorry. But I can introduce him to better music on our honeymoon. Jonathan sings 'Have You Met Miss Jones?', sounding not entirely unlike Robbie WIlliams. His voice needs a bit of work, but there's definitely potential there. He does a bit of a shimmy at the end, and the judges crack up, clearly having all fallen in love with him in the same way that I have. Back off, bitches, I saw him first. The judges see him through to the next round. "Your mom's going to be very proud, she raised a great son," says Paula. Awwww. "Good guys do win," says Simon as Jonathan leaves the room. Jonathan poses in the exit doors and declares "hurrah!" Heh. He rings his mum, who is very pleased. Jonathan's mum comments on the situation via speakerphone, and sounds lovely, telling us that Jonathan deserves it for being such a giving person. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the finals at all, because I think this show loves a cute guy with a moneyshot story and a nice smile. And I have to admit I'll take hot full-time carer anyday over singing binman. (His eyes alone will get him to the final 12. He also has A Big Gay Voice, and we know how well that turned out for Shayne.-Joel)

It's the end of the day, and Paula is saying goodbye. She hugs the others. On the bus, Simon, Sharon and Louis enthuse about Jonathan, again, some more. Still to come: Simon gets yelled at by an old lady, and declares Sean too nervous and fragile.

The show has returned to Manchester, and we see Simon, Sharon and Louis getting off the coach. Except that this makes no sense continuity-wise, because we're about to see Sean again, and you are not telling me that the show upped sticks to London for a day and then came back to see the guy they advised to take a short break for a glass of water. Do me a fucking favour. The show even recaps Sharon's previous comment, as if to draw attention to its own completely ridiculous timeline. Anyway, I'm not going to let the first show of the series give me an ulcer, so we'll move on. Sean goes back in, and still sounds on the verge of tears a little bit. His voice is still shaking, and his nerves really are affecting him. He fluffs the lyrics a few times too. Sharon says that he was 1,000% better the second time around (sigh, and really not. Slightly better, yes, but still way too nervous and shakey. Not that I could've done better, but hey, that's why I'm blogging and not singing) and that if they put him through he'll be 10,000 times better next time. It's a yes from Sharon. It's a no from Simon, "for all the right reasons". Sharon asks what his reasons are, and Simon says "too nervous, too fragile". And I agree. He's a nice kid, clearly, and there's definitely a good voice in there, but if he can't keep his nerves together in his audition, I think live TV might actually kill him. Louis really likes Sean, but he's very nervous. But Louis agrees with Sharon and puts Sean through. Sean cries, and gets a hug from Sharon. Simon advises him to lose his nerves, and I really hope he does. (My cousin, who sang a bit as a teenager, said that she was plagued by nerves and thought that if she’d had the chance to sing for people a few more times she’d have got over them. I bow to her knowledge and assume that Sean will get better. Though I bet it’s spelt, like, Shauwne, or something.-Joel) Sean gets lots of hugs from Kate and his family. Backstage, Simon is concerned that they've just "sent a lamb out to the wolves". Louis says they have to give him a chance, but Simon remains unconvinced. Montage of Simon being "evil", which is an inappropriate segue given that his concerns for Sean were fairly justified.

The last person in to see the judges is choir singer Lorraine, who brings in her 86-year-old mother-in-law Edna for protection. Oh, for crying out loud. Edna approaches the judges, and is kind of brilliant in her wide-eyed explanation of the situation. Lorraine sings 'Begin The Beguine'. Simon starts sniggering. The editors play up the drama of Edna's displeased reaction by playing the theme from Jaws. And really, I think we could've got the dramatic tension and humour of the situation without that, but whatever. Simon calls Lorraine's performance "a bit lifeless", cheerily enough, and asks for Edna's opinion. Edna liked it all, and would buy it. "Bit biased," Simon points out. Simon explains why he found Lorraine's performance terrible, citing lack of personality and performance. And Lorraine seems nice enough, but it did seem rather wobbly on the vocal front (not that we could hear it over the sniggering and the movie themes, but no one watches this show to hear people singing, do they? Heaven forfend!) and it's a no from all three judges. Lorraine takes it on the chin, and well done to her for that, but to no one's surprise, Edna is less pleased. Edna explains her anger to Kate, largely based on the fact that Simon laughed. Edna goes back in. Simon is still laughing. Edna asks him what he's done, rather in the manner of a nursery school teacher. "I laughed. I always laugh," Simon replies. "No you don't!" Edna retorts. Simon apologises. "Listen, Simon! You think you're better than everybody. I think you was very ignorant," Edna admonishes, with a steely glint in her eyes that frightens me sat here on my sofa, despite the distance of a TV screen and the time-space continuum separating me from her. The music swells, and we're led to believe that Edna's going to choke a bitch or something, but no. Simon says sorry, and a Hallelujah chorus plays. Lame! We're led to believe that this is the first time Simon has had to apologise for anything ever, despite the fact that millions of us saw him apologise to Will for his harsh comments during the first series of Pop Idol, so what. Ever. Backstage, Sharon and Louis take the piss, and Simon admits that he feels very small now. In the X Factor pod, Edna sums up: "Why these girls scream over him. He's not even good-looking. He hasn't even got his own teeth." And there's probably a Shayne Ward joke in there somewhere, but I've been here for nearly two hours now writing this thing and I don't have the energy any more.

Next week: someone with scary teeth singing 'Unchained Melody', someone doing backflips, a lady in a polkadot dress flashes Louis, someone else is incredible, someone else is loved by Sharon, a Clay Aiken lookalike sings Donna Summer, and Louis Walsh throws a drink over someone who then throws a drink over him. Seriously, with Grace on Big Brother, Lady Victoria Hervey on Love Island and now this, this is truly the summer of the churlishly thrown beverage. Also, someone else is great, and looks a bit like Ben Shepherd in the brief glimpse we get. Unless they just cut in a shot of Ben Shepherd from The Xtra Factor and hoped we didn't notice. We might still be here. We might not. (We might be half here. ‘This week, everyone was shit.’-Joel)