Saturday, August 25, 2007

No dead parents

Audition Show 2: 25th August 2007

There's an onerous burden on my shoulders tonight. Well, two, to be exact. First, can my vitriol manage to live up to the high standards set by Steven and Joel? And second, can I manage to recap an episode of the X-Factor without it descending into a random list of expletives? We'll soon find out.

"Prepare to be amazed and appalled," warns the continuity announcer as the credits are lined up. They should have that before the title sequence every week, like the Parental Guidance one for South Park.

Last week! Lots of people watched this shite! (Seriously. I can't believe they actually crowed about the number of viewers they got. I always knew this show had no freaking class.-Steve) Louis came back to the surprise of nobody whatsoever!

Tonight! The auditions get bigger! And probably much, much worse, as the usual clutch of talentless naive fools are lined up for the ritual ignominy.

Cue credits.

Lovely Dermot is wearing a light blue shirt, open at the neck, and he's at the Birmingham NEC. He helpfully recaps this year's rules, which have been manipulated shamefully already.

Speaking of which, here are the judges. SIMON! SHARON! DANNII! LOUIS!

They're all on the road to Birmingham. "If we don't find a talent bigger than Leona this series, then we've failed," says Dannii. "I still believe there is world-class talent in this country," says Simon. Even if there was world-class talent in this country, I'd hope they'd have the sense and the creative integrity not to offer themselves up on the altar of Cowell/Great British Public judgement.

Dermot opens the door in gentlemanly fashion for a scary gold-clad lady named Debbie who worships Whitney Houston. Dannii takes on the role of asking all the questions, all the better to mock the contestant with. Louis is looking open-mouthed bemused, Simon looks appalled. And she hasn't even started singing yet. When she does, it's awful - an off-key, shouty rendition of I Will Always Love You. Shocker on all counts. Dannii slides down in her seat, and holds on to her nose, perhaps for fear it might fall off. (Don't worry, I'm sure the Botox will hold it nice and safe.-Steve) Louis begins to snigger. Dannii grimaces. This is so rude. Worse than last week. Simon stops her in her tracks. She smiles, and giggles nervously. The judges all roundly destroy her. She leaves the stage to the sounds of Bring It All Back. What? "Imagine buying a house, and hearing that next door," says Simon, apropos of nothing whatsoever.

Montage of strange people preparing for audition.

Dannii appears to have taken over the role of head judge, and ushers in a chap named Iklaus, who is sporting large sunglasses due to having a sleepless night of preparation prior to meeting the judges. Simon makes him take them off. This is so strange. It is like ScarfFace last week, except Iklaus doesn't tell Simon that he is a handsome man with good opticianry. Iklaus has a list of 18 songs with him that he'd like to sing, which Simon asks him to read out. As he goes through the list (Lionel Richie, Paul Anka, Helen Reddy, the Carpenters, Wings, you get the idea), Simon says, "No." (This, for me, was the acme of unnecessary rudeness. It wasn't even funny. Pipe down, Simon.-Steve) Sharon puts her cardigan over her head. Simon rolls his eyes and tells him to pick one and start singing. Iklaus begins with Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying. Simon stops him immediately, and makes him choose another one.

Filler, more terrible people, one in a jaunty hat who is a switchboard operator and gives a Riverdance impersonation, one chubby lass who looks like she is going to vomit, an old man, interspersed with more shots of Iklaus's chosen songs being rejected by Simon. "You have demonstrated on about 11 songs that you can't sing a note in tune," sneers Cowell.

When asked which artist in the world he'd like to be as successful as, 46-year-old Andrew replies: "I'd like to be a second Shayne Ward." Cue much alcohol spluttered across the room, and a classic look of utter bewilderment from Cowell as he tries to work out whether he's being snarky or serious. Andrew does try to employ the traditional Ward falsetto, but it's tuneless and he's not pretty. (So he did quite a good Shayne impression, then?-Steve) With the words, "It doesn't matter, none of it matters," Simon gets up and says he's going for lunch. Sharon and Louis bitch about the rudeness and unprofessionalism. Because clearly they are always paragons of politeness and professional conduct.

Still to come - more auditionees, a woman swearing at the judges having her expletives bleeped out and an X plastered across her face (and no, it's not me).

Here we go in Manchester then. (Again.-Steve) Whoop whoop. There are many balloons released into the air because it's just SO exciting. A boy with a silly Mohican hair, a girl who can't speak English, a man who wants to win a Brit.

Here is Gavin with a beard, cue Your Song. He is a wedding singer who Dreams Of Being A Star, and gazes into the distance in Captain Jack-stylee. Dermot, clad in beige shirt and khaki tie rakishly undone, has a chat to him. Simon tells him to imagine that Dannii and Louis are the bride and groom. Gavin tells him that he thinks Dannii is the bride, Louis is an uncle, Sharon is the gorgeous mother of the bride, and Simon is a bridesmaid. HA HA HA LULZ! He sings Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher. He's OK. Nothing great. Sharon likes his personality. Louis says yes, Sharon says yes, Dannii says yes, Simon says yes, and tells him not to be such a smart-arse next time. Can you say "arse" on prime-time Saturday night ITV1? (Dunno, but this show is concrete proof that you can broadcast it for an entire hour.-Steve)

Everyone in Manchester is great! See, we have one musical theatre boy, three girls with horrid shoes who think they're the Sugababes, hooray, hooray, many people through to boot camp!

20-year-old Steph is a checkout operator. "From checkout girl to the X-Factor," proclaims Simon, and she's through. Mysteriously, there is a TV crew waiting at her supermarket to welcome her back as she breaks the good news to her colleagues.

Retired window cleaner John comes on to the screen to the sound of Monty Python's Flying Circus. He is incoherent in his babbling, and can't hear what the judges are saying to him. Presumably he also cannot hear Louis laughing all the way his rather abysmal performance, which is for the best. Since when was it appropriate to parcel up humiliation of poorly elderly people and present it as entertainment? Seriously, this is plumbing new depths. Ring social services or something, don't take the piss out of him and send him home.

I'm sure you can't have failed to remember that this year we have 14-year-olds in the contest legally. Well, apparently this has opened up the competition to a whole new generation. (I know that kids are getting pregnant at increasingly younger ages these days, but unless last year's sixteen-year-olds popped a sprog at the age of two, I think that's a bit of an untruth there.-Steve) Here's Paris, who auditioned last year with her pretty little operatic voice, but is now BACK BACK BACK to enter officially. She's a Scouser. Is this Liverpool now? Dermot, now with his tie done up nicely, gives her a kiss. Sharon pretends she remembers her and this hasn't been set up at all. She sings two lines of I Will Always Love You, with a bizarre glissando cadenza. What? Why? Stick to what you're good at, girlie. (I know! They kept wanking on about how she'd clearly improved, when to my ears she'd got worse. Non-opera songs sung in a cod-opera style are my personal bĂȘte noire.-Steve) (Just be grateful she didn't translate it into Italian. Also, for my money, she sucks as an opera singer as well as a 'pop' singer.-Joel) Obviously she's through, despite Dannii's misgivings. Cue swell of Britney's I'm Not A Girl Not Yet A Woman. How very clever!

As the judges jet off to the next city, recklessly ignoring their carbon footprint, they chat about Paris, who Simon thinks is really special. I'm not sure "special" is the right word. Possibly "Hayley Westenra clone"?

Still to come - insane people, cute boys, and the swearing lady, who's still not been on, but is now billed as the RUDEST AUDITIONEE EVER. Clearly they are saving this till later because it's simply THAT DRAMATIC.

Ooh, now we're in Cardiff, (righting a wrong from last year-Steve) where Dermot is back in light blue. I hope that's not the same shirt, or if it is, that it's been washed. (Not only is it the same shirt, it's the same people in the background. And notice how as soon as he says "we're in..." it cuts away from his face and an extremely disjointed voiceover says which city they're in. OMG LYIN TO TEH AUDIENCE!!!1111!-Steve) Here's John, a 57-year-old maths teacher ("I've got the x, y and z factor, because I'm a mathematician and I teach algebra. Hur hur hur!"), and he's accompanied by the theme tune to Please Sir!. Current cultural reference? Oh yes, I think so. He covers Tom Jones' Help Yourself, complete with odd jerky dance routine. Dannii bites her lip in distress; Louis calls him horrendous; Simon says he is terrifying in his acceptance of his awfulness. He looks genuinely puzzled and heartbroken and tells the judges they are denying Wales their singer. Sharon replies that they have Tom Jones to fall back on, and he responds that Jonesy can't sing. Sharon hits her head against the desk.

More terrible auditions - featuring nasal highlights boy singing Kingston Town, man in a trilby, woman in brightly patterned dress and pashmina-style thing wishing she was A Punk Rocker With Flowers In Her Hair, and an old man singing Oh Boy with a sideways gallop for every line - accompanied by the strains of Michael Jackson's Bad. Who is picking this soundtrack?

22-year-old Andy is an asbestos remover and is the cutest thing on television I've seen for ages, with his dinky little mannerisms and unforced awkwardness. He gossips with Dermot (now in a lovely chocolate-pinstriped shirt - is this a different day? Can it be that the continuity here is buggered again?) wants to make his dad (WHO IS NOT DEAD) proud. He sings Fly Me To The Moon, and is fairly decent. Dannii and Sharon suppress smiles. Louis thinks he has potential. Sharon says no, Dannii says yes, Louis says yes, Simon has THE CASTING VOTE and puts him through. Why did Sharon say no when you just know she loved him and will be leching at him throughout the live shows? (Also, I would just like to say here that one format change I approve of wholeheartedly this year is the post-audition scene of Fit Boys Hugging Dermot. Can we not just have an entire hour of that?-Steve)(Manual labour, quite fit, and Daddy Issues (see: I just want him to say he's proud of me). Triple whammy of X-Factor gold. He's through to the live shows, guaranteed.-Joel)

Aha, here's the RUDEST AUDITIONEE EVER. EVAH! Heavily eye-lined Rachel is 25 years old and is adjusting her breasts in her crop top. She claims to be able to sing like Cyndi Lauper and Gwen Stefani, and reckons she is "just too goddamned good". Is this woman for real? She asks for a microphone. Why? Who can tell? The boom mike comes in, and she's poor. (But she IS singing Sheena Easton's 'Sugar Walls', whcih has to count for something in her favour.-Joel)(That was insane. She actually tried to HOLD the boom, for Pete (Waterman)'s sake.-Steve) There's absolute silence when she finishes. She says, "That was good, wasn't it?" Simon says no, and tells her she is lazy, deluded, with a bad attitude and very little talent. This is Rachel's trigger point to unleash a torrent of vitriol. Sharon and Louis look astounded. Rachel announces that she has made a cassette and Sharon decides to throw fuel on the fire by saying: "Nobody makes cassettes any more, they're called CDs." Looming up towards the panel, Rachel tells Sharon. "That was rude, wasn't it?" and security is called for. Dannii claims to have never heard such language. True, because Australians are noted for their decorous manners. (Come to The Redback in Acton, Dannii. Boy, will your eyes be opened.-Steve)

Still to come - shouting, yodelling, laughter, vodka.

We're still in Cardiff. You can tell because it's Charlotte Church's Crazy Chick on the soundtrack, and Dermot is surrounded by a male voice choir. Here is Icaro, whose mission is to spread love. Oh my fuck. He is Chico, with more earnestness. He wants to let his love out. Danger! He then explains that he has four children (that's the danger of letting all that love out without protection) and has been married for 20 years. "That is a real hero! A man who can keep a woman for 20 years! That's a real man!" he claims. Sharon agrees vociferously. Icaro sings a song I cannot really recognise, declares his love for Louis and Sharon, sings To All The Girls You've Loved Before to Simon, then decides he must sing I Can't Help Falling In Love to Dannii. What on earth is going on? Simon is disbelieving, and tries to send him away, but he's not going to escape without a kiss. Three yeses from the non-Simon judges to piss him off, and Icaro will be at boot camp. He throws himself to the ground with a wail. Dannii discovers a fan from somewhere, possibly a hand-me-down from Sinitta last time round. She'll have the parasol next week.

Filler - pretty girls, pretty boy with a nice smile, boy who looks like Keith from Any Dream Will Do?, close-harmony girl group, boy in checked shirt, they're all through. (And once again the ratio of bad auditions broadcast to good auditions broadcast is approximately 99,000:1. Sigh.-Steve)

Sad music to indicate the closing of another tough day of auditions. The last person to see the judges is 22-year-old Private Ryan (yes, really) who has been in the army for six years and has returned from Iraq to pursue his dream of singing on the X-Factor. He has his camouflage combats on, just in case we didn't know he has been a serving soldier. With customary sympathy, Simon demands to know about the distressing experiences that have sent him back to the UK, and Ryan tells the panel about his two friends who died during service. Friends WHO ARE DEAD? This is a new departure for this BRAND-NEW INNOVATIVE SERIES. If you've just got parents WHO ARE DEAD, that simply doesn't cut it any more. Cogitate that, Niki! He sings Lean On Me. His dad (who is IN A WHEELCHAIR) waits outside and whispers to the camera that if he doesn't go to boot camp, he'll be going to Afghanistan. What? Since when did the X-Factor qualify as a good reason for leave from the army? Enrique sings Hero in the background - it's four yeses, and there is delight all round. (I'm not sure what troubled me more about this - Sharon and Simon's extremely flip comments about Iraq, or the fact that seeing your friends - WHO ARE DEAD - die right in front of apparently prompts the kind of epiphany that makes you apply for this show. You've got a lot to answer for, Mr Blair.-Steve)(Well. When you can go on Big Brother, lie to a slightly mentally ill recovering anorexic about how much you love her, and then say that your dead friend came down from Heaven and told you that your life wouldn't be worth living if you didn't win Big Brother, and then go on to win, I guess 'my friends WHO ARE DEAD' looks like a winning tactic. Hopefully they'll come down on a cloud during bootcamp and tell Private Ryan he has to win.-Joel)

Next week - more absolute shit. Someone tells they judges they are "talking stupid". Someone claims to have formerly thought that Simon Cowell was "a wonderful man". Why would you think that?

Well, that was another waste of an hour. Tune in again next week, when Joel is set to down a bottle of nerve-invigorating meths to take on reporting duties. (*cry*-Joel)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Look at me, I am cha-a-a-a-a-a-angin'...

Series Four, Audition Show 1: 18th August 2007

Just so you all know, this has come around FAR too quickly for me. I'm finding it quite traumatic to face another four and a half months of petty bickering, underwhelming live shows, backstage "scandals" and parents WHO ARE DEAD. But heck, I've got a job to do, so here I am. Before I begin, I'd like to welcome new recapper Carrie to the team - she's selflessly volunteered to take some of the torment workload off mine and Joel's hands this year, and hopefully this will lead to me keeping my narrow grip on sanity for a little while longer. We shall see, anyway. Welcome, Carrie. And on with the show.

I couldn't bring myself to watch it live, by the way. We had guests last night for a stitch and bitch party, so instead of watching this, I was learning how to knit while watching the classic Lindsay Lohan/Tyra Banks movie Life Size. And it's kind of sad when that's the least depressing option of ways to spend your Saturday night, but I digress.

New sponsor, this year: Carphone Warehouse. I'm going to miss my random, inexplicable cravings for a Nokia. Throaty voiceover man tells us that last year a new star was born, as we see the moment of Leona's victory, to the somewhat incongruous accompaniment of Rihanna's 'Unfaithful'. This sets what I'm sure will be a series-spanning tone of historical revisionism, as Leona has been pretty much invisible since 'A Moment Like This' left the charts about six months ago. I'm informed that she has a new single on the way called 'Bleeding Love' or something equally unfortunate-sounding, but when Ray, Ben and the McDonut Brothers have all released albums and Leona's only just getting around to single #2, it rather makes you wonder what the point of winning is in the first place. It's a shame, really; regular readers will know that we liked Leona and wanted her to do well, but I'm not sure if anyone cares any more. Do they? (No.-Carrie) Perhaps they were waiting to launch the album off the back of this series, or something. Let's just hope her new single's better than Shayne Ward's godawful effort. ANYway, onwards. But then, we're told, everything changed. Louis got sacked. Hooray! There's a long montage of news footage of Louis's axing, which conveniently omits any mention of poor Kate Thornton's ouster. I'm already in a fit of rage knowing that the smarmy, petty nitwit wasn't gone for long (Louis, obviously, not Kate) and I refuse to blow a gasket this early on in the series, but all the same: HAAATE. Now it's all change. New judges (Dannii: yay!, Brian Friedman: buh?), new battle (someone singing operatically which fails in any way to explain what is new about the battle other than the contestants, which: duh). Footage of stuff yet to come, which I will cover in due course. Final deification shot of Louis Walsh. I hate this series already. Cue titles!

Shiny rims greet us as the X Factor trucks zoom along a motorway. New host Dermot O'Leary welcomes us to the new series, where the search got bigger, apparently. Arguably Dermot is far better eye candy than Kate, and probably a more competent presenter (although the live shows will be the real test of that), but he lost a lot of stock with me for being such an Endemol puppet during the past couple of years of Big Brother. Shots of crowds waving. More people than ever before have applied this year. I am SHOCKED. The age range has been lowered to include contestants of fourteen years and upwards, which I'm sure can only end in tears. (Or permanent psychological scarring of people who aren't old enough to know better.-Carrie) Dermot runs through the revised categories of which there are now four: boys 14-24, girls 14-24, over 25s of all genders, and groups. Obviously each group is accompanied by shots of examples of said group, both good and bad. I can tell we're in for a vintage year right now. The winner, of course, gets that £1million recording contract (Leona bathes in caviar every day, don't you know) and the chance to make this year's Christmas No.1 as tired and pedestrian as it has been for pretty much the entire decade.

There are judges! Arriving on a balcony to wave to the contestants in a manner that's sadly more Princess Anne than Eva Peron. Heading the panel is "one of music's most powerful men", Simon Cowell. Simon points out that this year we have "schoolkids literally versus old age pensioners - you cannot get more diverse than that." They'd better be one-legged albino schoolkids versus fierce elderly black lesbians, in that case. Also returning is "rock's first lady" (ha!), Sharon Osbourne. Sharon really wants to win this year, because it has escaped precisely no one's notice that she sucks and never wins. Sharon says that she wants to be the one doing the press call with her winner, because she's the poster girl for altruism. The first new judge (and if I'm completely honest, probably the only reason I'm watching this series) (You and me both. I’ve a love for Minogue Junior that borders on the unhealthy.-Joel) is Dannii Minogue, who's looking pretty chuffed to be here. (And also Botoxed to fuck.-Carrie) Dannii's been performing since the age of seven and got her start on a talent show, she says, so she knows what it takes to be a success in this industry. Our second new judge is top choreographer, Brian Friedman. He made his reputation by working with artists like Usher, Prince and Britney Spears. Don't get too attached to him. Brian tells us that in America "we have a very high standard, and you can't make it there unless you're incredible". I suspect he may be right, but then I'm taking the world 'incredible' in its most literal form. Sharon blows kisses from the balcony. Dermot VOs that the judges will be battling each other in the live finals, but for now they're working together. Suuuuuure.

The first contestant this year is 55-year-old cleaner Susan. She has an itsy-bitsy voice and is excited to think that she could be mere seconds away from being a superstar. The early signs are not promising when Simon's not-hugely-difficult instruction for her to "walk onto the X" takes around five minutes to reach completion. Susan looks good for 55, and has wanted to be a singer since she was a little girl and would love to achieve her ambition today. Sharon cackles, for no apparent reason other than complete rudeness. Susan sings 'You'll Never Walk Alone' with a very straight face and a piercingly shrill tone. It is not appalling, but it is not good. The judges giggle, because they're assholes, despite the fact that nothing about this performance is especially funny; it's merely inadequate. (It was at this point I remembered why I hate this show. Yeah, she wasn't great, but it wasn't worthy of the hysterics that suddenly afflicted the panel. I have my fingers crossed that it was one of those famous Staged Shots we keep reading about in the papers.-Carrie) Susan sings the last line about six times, for reasons best known to herself alone. Sharon asks her if she enjoyed that, and Susan said she did, which: good for her. I kind of feel that just by singing on the telly, however ropily, she's achieved that girlhood ambition, and it's at a suitably early stage in the series for me to still be a bit of a soft touch. Simon tells Susan that it was the slowest song in the world. There is a long and protracted silence, punctuated by Dannii and Sharon's giggling. It's a no from Brian. Sharon tells Susan it's good that she enjoyed it (I am alarmed by Sharon suddenly being The Voice of Me), but that it's a no from her. Dannii says that she enjoyed it (pants on fire!), but that she doesn't think Susan will win. I think Dannii has an unrealistic expectation of the sort of candidates who make the finals. It's four nos, and Susan takes it on the chin, rather charmingly. She tells that cameras outside that it was a no, which came as a surprise to her. Awww, Susan. Get yourself a MySpace Music page and stick a few covers on it. I'll download 'em, because if nothing else, you have class and I find you endearing.

Time-lapse shots of other contestants failing, to the sound of Just Jack's 'Stars in their Eyes'. I was under the impression that that song was pretty much an attack on programmes of this nature, so quite why they licenced it for use on this show is a mystery to me. Breaking it down from the inside, perhaps? A musical Trojan horse? A boy sings in an alarming falsetto, and cries outside. A man flatlines "let me be your hero", to which Louis Brian curtly responds, "No". Simon asks a girl with a dissociative hairdo identity disorder if she thinks she can win. She says that she thinks she can, before shrieking her way through a song I can't even discern. There don't even appear to be any actual words. (It was Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’, if you can believe that.-Joel) (Really? Damn, I wouldn't have got that if I'd lived to be 100.-Steve) She is still, obviously, less shit than Ray. NotLouis tells her she can't sing. A chap who looks like he enjoys darts sings 'Life On Mars', badly. An old man in a jaunty hat bleats his way through 'Love Me Tender', much to Dannii's distress. Four teenagers shriek and wail their way into the audition room, springing onto the X in what looks like a set piece from Bring It On 4: It's Already Been Broughten. Actually, now I look at them up close, I'm not sure about the "teenagers" thing - they just have old faces. Put it this way: they ought to have been teenagers, because anyone who is legally an adult ought to have more dignity than to caterwaul their way through Take That's 'Shine' while performing an embarrassingly simplistic "dance" "routine". Simon declares them "probably the worst group I have ever heard in my life". Insert your own Westlife joke here. They burst out of the audition room with a couple of well-chosen curses to which we are sadly not privy, while the one who looks a bit like a mouse grumbles that they "can't do that". Check your contract, sweetheart: they can, and they did. NotLouis doesn't "understand Britain at all", which is fortunate given what is yet to transpire. (I loved that – he seemed genuinely perplexed.-Joel) Dermot, who is not wearing the same shirt he was wearing at the beginning of the show, FYI, informs us that nobody has got through the London auditions as yet. In the wake of all those "TV lies!!!111!!!1!!!onetyeleven!!" scandals that have hit the papers over the past month or so, I'm going to take the specific placing of this particular insight with a large grain of salt. He claims that it's putting years on him, although frankly I'd still kill to have baby-soft skin like his, dammit.

A woman enters the audition room wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face. Simon, naturally, asks what gives. Scarfface says that it's because she urgently needs "dentistry". Simon asks if she would perform with a scarf around her neck, which is kind of dumb, because that wouldn't be a problem; the scarf being over her mouth would be the issue, surely? Scarfface says yes, she would. Scarfface makes a comment about the lights which I couldn't quite make out (she didn't like the halogen lighting, apparently-Carrie), and then begins to sing a song which I can't place, although it sounds like a torch song of some description. The scarf slips a little during the performance, and I have to say her teeth don't seem that bad, but then what do I know? There's a piercing shriek which causes Sharon to go crosseyed, according to the moment where I paused the video. Simon declares the entire thing "ridiculous", saying that she's standing there like "something out of a horror movie". Scarfface counters that she's standing there "like someone who has the X factor". Scarfface makes yet another comment that I can't hear, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm going deaf or because of TEH SCARF, but informs Simon that he is "a warm, kind, magic, handsome person with great dentistry." HAHAHAHA! First decent laugh of the series, well done Scarfface. "I'm here to get dentistry," insists Scarfface. Simon tells her that it isn't his fault that he's got good teeth, and decides to call a halt to the proceedings. (This bit was brilliant. I can't help but fear it was scripted.-Carrie) It's four nos for Scarfface (Emily, apparently), who informs the cameras outside that Simon got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. Simon is worried about the state of this new series. Given that this is pretty much how the last series opened, and we saw the kind of shit that ended up in the finals, it is a concern shared by many of us, I suspect. "Could X Factor 4 be over before it's even begun?" wonders Dermot VO. Yeah, like that would happen. Don't get my hopes up, O'Leary. Still to come: everything changes. Someone tells NotLouis to go back to NotIreland. Sharon worries about a lack of chemistry. A gang of randoms demand Louis's return. NotLouis feels let down. The Prattling Leprechaun stands under floodlights. I nip to the shops for some Pepto-Bismol.

Commercials: Billie Piper as a callgirl, sounding very demure.

Back to the London auditions, with Dermot back to his original shirt. Contestants are here "in their thousands" to see the four judges, even though those huge crowds we see are clearly the ones who lined up to see the producers for the pre-screening. Dermot meets girlband W4: Lindsay, Enrica(?), Crystal, Rachel and Leigh. They are from more than one country, which will give Louis huge problems if they make the live finals, because by the time he's listed all of the separate places that will want to vote for them, the show will be over. Lindsay, who is Welsh, tells us that they're a more modern Spice Girls. They sing Bryan Adams's 'Heaven' in a pleasingly harmonious fashion. Simon declares them "not original at all", and one of them (I can't be bothered to rewind to find out her name; I'll be here all night) gets feisty and rips off her flag. Dannii disagrees with Simon and compliments their "unity" and "energy", saying that she wants to be in their gang. Sharon thinks they've got something. It's four yeses for W4, and they're through to boot camp. (They were so good! Genuinely good and not just ‘by the desperately low bar set by the X-Factor good’. Although I don’t understand the W4 name, given that there were five of them. Unless they’re a posher, female E17.-Joel) They're not alone, as we melt into the now-traditional montage of people who were good, and therefore apparently of no use to the audition shows, because it's not like we'll ultimately have to root for one of these people to win this show or anything. A pretty black woman with an unfortunate case of sidegob sings Diana Ross's 'Love Hangover', is liked a lot by Simon, and gets through with a scream of joy. A gang of about seven boys with terrible hair sing something that sounds utterly atonal to me, but is praised by Dannii and they're through too. More people get through, and we see almost nothing of them. I'd complain about the ridiculousness of this, but what's to be said that I didn't say last series, or the series before that? Sigh. Stupid bloody show. (Pisses me off no end. If you can show me them jumping for five seconds, you can show me them singing for five seconds instead, thereby proving why they got through.-Joel)

Waiting in the holding area are brother/sister duo (uh oh) Same Difference, aka Sarah and Sean. Sean is cute. I do my best to ignore the slight Flowers in the Attic subtext. Sarah is a bundle of nervous energy, notably when she points to Sean when saying her name and to herself when saying his. Hee. Sarah jumps up and down. They sing 'I'll Be There For You' in an annoyingly overblown way, although they've both got quite good voices and a good ear for harmonies. (Why do boy-girl duos always insist on singing to each other as opposed to the judges?-Joel) Simon stops them and tells them to lose the crazy faces and the shouting and screaming, because it's currently "insane". He's not wrong. Simon giggles at them and says that he pities their parents. He says that he's sure they both wake up in good moods. NotLouis tells them that they don't need to project right to the back wall under the circumstances, and they agree to tone it down. Dannii says that she doesn't think that they can, nor does she believe they should (I can tell she's going to regret saying that), because she finds them lovable and adorable. I have to admit, they're creepy and they're far too Butlins for my personal taste, but something about these two makes me grin like an idiot and I have no problem with them at least making it to boot camp. Simon tells them to watch lots of depressing documentaries. NotLouis votes: "You guys are so annoying, but it's a yes." Dannii votes no because to win they'd have to change them, and she doesn't want to do that. Sharon: "It's really nice that you're brother and sister," (the heck? What else does she say to people? "It's really nice that you're tall." "It's really nice that you have red hair." "It's really nice that you're a Seventh Day Adventist") "but I'm gonna have to say......yes!" Oh Sharon, you tease. They freak out, before Sarah recovers and says stonily "yes, that's great, thank you." Hee! Simon says that they're possibly two of the most annoying people he's ever met, and for that reason he's going to say yes. Again, I see deep regret of those specific words in his future. Sean and Sarah explode with glee and run out of the room arm in arm. "I can't believe this day's happening! It's just like a dream!" says Sean. Calm down there, Petey Percocet. (LOVE them! I want to wake up all ‘Hello world! like they do, rather than being the wizened curmudgeon I am. Even the fact that they’re clearly fucking, and that’s only because he feels guilty about sleeping with men and she knows this and manipulates him, as my flatmate claimed, cannot diminish them.-Joel)

Filler shot of the crowd, while Dermot VO reminds us of the lowered age limit. Simon claims that this is a direct result of petitioning from fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, so this year we'll see if they're up to it. The first 14-year-old facing the judges is Emily (not Scarfface) from London. "Emily is not only lucky to be auditioning," intones Dermot gravely. "SHE'S LUCKY TO BE ALIVE." Drink! Actually, The Feeling's 'RosĂ©' is the soundtrack to this sequence, which I'm taking as a shoutout to the crucial role that the Tragic Life Story plays in the X Factor drinking game. Last year Emily was rushed to hospital with a burst appendix, and her body became poisoned. All of her organs shut down one by one. She doesn't remember what happened, but she does know that she died and the doctors had to bring her back to life. Pffft. Claire does that on Heroes all the time, and without medical assistance. Colour me unimpressed. The Thing That Almost Died hugs her mum, WHO IS NOT DEAD, and enters the audition room, while VOing that she's been given a lifeline to enter this competition. Yep, I'm sure that was the first and foremost thing on the minds of the surgeons who toiled to bring you back from the beyond, love. NotLouis congratulates her on being the first 14-year-old auditionee. Emily claims she's been singing since she was in her mummy's belly. I kind of hate her already. She sings a song that I don't recognise (Randy Crawford’s ‘Almaz’, but she totally mangled the melody so I don’t blame you for not recognising it.-Joel) (Also, she mangled the word 'Almaz', which sort of trod on the song a little.-Carrie) (again, not helped by the fact that she doesn't bloody enunciate) but is clearly all about her tragic life and almost non-life. She has a good voice, but still: meh. NotLouis compliments her for not feeling the need to act older than her age. Dannii admires her confidence. Sharon says that Emily "brightened [her] day". Simon says that she's the reason why they dropped the age range, and that she has a great future ahead of her. As long as she doesn't die again, obviously. Four yeses for Emily, and she's through. The judges love her, I'm still unmoved. Emily tells the cameras that this experience has basically validated her existence, and chat in the break room about how ace she is. Basically everyone clearly wants Emily in their group.

"As the first day of auditions come to a close, everything seems to be well with the judges," says Dermot. "OR IS IT?" Indeed. The next day, and more hopefuls are lining up. Some are in sleeping bags, which saddens me on every level possible. Dermot says that there are problems behind the scenes, and the judges are all "hmm, something isn't right, BUT I'M NOT SURE WHAT." Yes, I wonder what it could be? Could it be that nobody has been sufficiently childish or patronising to anyone so far, and that this brings up a vacuum that can only be filled by Louis Walsh? But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sharon claims that the judging panel is now "four people sat there with no connection at all", and bemoans the lack of chemistry. And if this is meant to be after one day, I'm inclined to say: cram it, firehead. Give it a chance, for crying out loud. But then, I trust this show to be truthful to me about as much as I would trust Paris Hilton to present Newsnight, so y'know. Someone sings badly. Dermot interviews Dannii, who is "scared". NotLouis appears to be doing a perfectly serviceable job on the judging panel, but whatever, he's been scapegoated as the entire reason why Things Aren't Right. Sharon misses Louis, and thinks "it's all wrong" , and says the atmosphere is "not working". NotLouis thinks people aren't giving all that they can give. A woman with a puffy face has auditioned, and Dannii thinks she has a certain kind of X factor. "Exit factor," mumbles NotLouis. (HA!!-Joel) Puffy Face tells him to go back to America. NotLouis tries to interject, but she's having none of it, and keeps blathering "Go back to America", with an "I'm not being rude" thrown in for good measure. NotLouis counters with "Am I bovvered?", which is hilarious given that this woman is basically a Catherine Tate character, and has proved himself in those three seconds to be far more use than the real Louis ever was, but I'm wasting my time arguing his case here, aren't I? NotLouis is let down with the British talent. The auditionees are all shit. (And he didn't realise this from Grease Is The Word?-Carrie) Simon needs to take a break. "As the London auditions come to a close," says Dermot, "it seems all is not well at The X Factor." No way is that the whole of the London auditions. No fucking way. Stop lying to me, show. Don't make me sic Michael Grade on you.

Back from the adverts, and All Is Not Well, Dermot reminds us. SonyBMG headquarters, and Simon explains that they had a "difficult first week", despite the fact that the show has claimed that this was only two days, if that. He says that he wasn't happy, Sharon wasn't happy, NotLouis wasn't get the picture. Dannii, presumably, was frolicking somewhere in a meadow with kittens. The upshot is that NotLouis will not be judging the show from here onwards, but will be staying on as creative director working with the talent on the live shows. (Or! picking up a whacking great salary for little work due to the embarrassment and inconvenience caused.-Carrie) They need a fourth judge to fill, which is bollocks because they managed to do the first three series with three judges and there's absolutely no reason why they couldn't have just put the 14-24 category back as one unit and carried on, but this show wants to believe that there's no way that it couldn't continue without Louis, so back he comes. Like this whole fucking stunt wasn't planned from the outset. Give me a fucking break. God, I hate this show so much. Louis heads to Manchester on the X Factor private jet, and is promptly stoned upon arrival by a group of climate change protestors. Hooray! End of series! Louis smugs that he's pleased to be returning, and that he's obviously brought something to the show that Simon didn't realise. Fuck off, you smug bastard. (Images of him sitting on a toadstool with big green shoes with pilgrim buckles, cackling ‘Ya couldn’t do it without me tho, couldja Simon?!’-Joel) I wondered if this was all some kind of act, to be honest, but having seen him on that godawful Piers Morgan show the other week and heard his comments on the radio the other day, I doubt it. I think he is just a genuinely enormous douche. Simon never thought he'd be saying that he missed Louis Walsh on national TV. I never thought ANYONE would be saying that. Louis claims that it's all water under the bridge now (a likely story), and that he's back with a vengeance. Katy informs me that if Louis wins this year, she's going to be very cross. I second that emotion. "He's always been smug," says Simon. "This is going to be verging on unbearable." At least you're being well paid for it, Simon. What about the rest of us, eh? Louis reunites with the judges, and meets Dannii "for" "the" "first" "time", and it's on with the Manchester auditions.

Dermot says that everyone's giving him the same answer to his question. Not, apparently, because the auditionees for this show have a lower than average level of imagination, although I imagine that was at least a small part of it, but he was asking if Manchester has the X factor, so he kind of brought that on himself. Clearly, Kate Thornton's handover notes were not as thorough as they could've been. First auditionee is 79-year-old Joy from Kent. My home county, yay! Represent, sister! Joy has won several singing competitions in her life. "I'm going to take a guess and say she ain't gonna win this one," opines Katy. Sharon tells her she looks fantastic. Sharon lies. Joy tells us she can play three invisible instruments: the mandolin, the violin and the Hawaiian guitar. "Why invisible instruments?" asks Simon. "Because they are invisible," replies Joy. You tell him, Joy! Joy demos the Hawaiian guitar, supplying her own sound effects, and it's hilariously brilliant. She's got my vote to win. Apparently they're not giving her a chance to actually sing. Louis snots to Simon that she's a very versatile entertainer. (This bit was SCRIPTED TO FUCK. You can tell because Louis managed to construct a sentence that was grammatically correct, even if it was factually flawed.-Carrie) It's a yes from everyone except Simon. Dannii, sweetheart, you are in serious danger of being On My List. (I can tolerate Joy going through because she clearly wasn’t taking the whole thing at all seriously and expected it to be a laugh.-Joel) "With Joy through," VOs Dermot, "it looks like Louis is back in business." In other words, they needed him back to be the voice of unreason. Bleh. Sharon hugs Louis. A girl group sing 'Da Do Ron Ron'. "Simon," asks Louis, "did Vixen do it for you?" Heh. Montage of terrible auditions. "This is so Louis Walsh," groans Simon. I smell a spinoff! So Louis Walsh, Fridays at 10.30. Don't miss it! Or alternatively, do.

32-year-old Jules is introduced to the strains of Mutya Buena's 'Real Girl'. She's a dinner lady, and has brought a good luck card signed by the kids at her school. She is a salt-of-the-earth Northerner, just in case you hadn't found the appropriate box for her yet. She sings 'Something To Talk About'. It's tuneful enough, but uninspiring. "Right you," says Simon. "Heard enough." Jules says that she wants this so much. "I wanted you to be good," replies Louis, and votes no. Sharon likes Jules, but admonishes her to take her hands out of her pockets. It's a yes from Sharon, and also from Dannii. Simon told her that she walked in like a loser - her body language was desperate, and she sang "like a whipped dog". However, he sees potential and sees that she needs a confidence boost, and puts her through to the next round. Jules is overcome, and hugs Sharon and Dannii at the same time, before kissing Louis on the lips (ew, cooties!) and telling him it's good to see him back. "He said no," deadpans Simon. Hee. Also, how would she know? She didn't even see what things were like when he wasn't there. I call foul. Anyway, I'd bet on Jules making the live finals with a build-up like that, but then it was this sort of thing that made me peg Kerry as the pre-ordained winner last year, so I'm not exactly infallible. Hmmm. I wonder when my infamous X Factor premonition dreams are going to kick in again? Jules hugs Simon. (Then she leaves the room, and Sharon screeches after her: "Take your hands out of your pockets!" Fuck off.-Carrie) In an entirely spontaneous sequence, the kids are all waiting at the school for Jules's return. She mugs at them before telling them she got through, and the kids all scream. Completely unrehearsed, that was. (Oh sweet fuck. Come the live shows, ‘How can you vote against this women? How can you break the hearts of all those kids?!’ etc.-Joel)

Montage of other people who are good. But we don't need to see them, do we? One of the girls looks like Hannah from Hollyoaks and sings Kelly Clarkson's 'Breakaway'. That's about it. Still to come (God, there's more?): there's weeping aplenty, and Dermot's on the front line. Call your agent now, Dermot. It's not too late!

Back from the break, trucks on the motorway, and we're in Birmingham. God, Manchester got short shrift this week, didn't it? Sorry to all of our Mancunian friends. We still love you. Montage of hopefuls, including a scary woman singing 'Rehab'. First up is 17-year-old "self-taught singer" Zoe, who we saw crying in the "still to come" section, which rather robs this audition of any tension it may have had. Dermot's wearing a different shirt to the one he wore when he said "welcome to Birmingham". The continuity on this show is fucked. The Grange Hill theme leads Zoe into her audition. She's rather nervous. Simon asks her to name one artist that she could be as successful as, and she names Christina Aguilera. Coincidentally, she will be singing 'Beautiful'. Badly. Bet that came as a huge surprise, didn't it? She looks kind of angry singing it, too. Simon declares it terrible. "No way!" says Zoe. Sharon asks Zoe how long she's been studying singing. "I haven't been studying it," replies Zoe, which sort of belies the "self-taught" thing, doesn't it? I mean, isn't that a form of study in itself? Why am I looking for logic here? "You've got a very explosive personality," says Dannii, which instantly makes me think of Katie Ka-Boom from Animaniacs. Hee. (Which, apparently, not far off…oops. SPOILER!-Joel)"There's something for you in the performing arts, but it's definitely not singing." "Noooooo," whines Zoe. It's a no from Sharon. "My Gooood," whines Zoe. It's a no from Dannii, and also from Louis. "Why a 'no'?" asks Zoe. "You haven't even heard my second song yet." Iiiiiiinteresting. Was she asked to prepare a second song? Because we've not seen anyone else sing more than one, but perhaps she was prepped to sing two, for ultimate humiliation because TV is an industry full of lying whores, or something. Again, why am I caring? Zoe is summarily dismissed. Sharon calls Zoe a "spoilt child" (this from the woman who raised Kelly?). Outside, Dermot's about to enquire how it went when Zoe stomps "they just said eeeeefhghjgbhjg!". The 'eeeeefhghjgbhjg' is, I suspect, a 'no' that got muffled in a hissy fit, as Zoe is currently punching the big X Factor sign on the wall. Cut back to the judging room, where Sharon is blaming the parents. (Yes, it's true. Even Sharon acknowledges how terrible and rude this girl is, and, get this, bemoans the state of parenting today. Pot, you've met kettle before?-Carrie) Karma is watching the show at home, thinking "yeah, I'm a bitch. What's your point?" Zoe complains that the judges made a fool of her. She was not, of course, complicit in this process at all. Weepy X Factor confessional. A girl shrugs that she can try again next year, and gets hugged by her mum. That doesn't seem too bad a reaction, in all honesty. Another girl weeps that nobody wants her. Oh, spare me. More weepy people, and then Zoe. A girl with running mascara bemoans the loss of her dream, before asking if she can go now please. Heh. Yeah, you bastard producers, unshackle her this instant! Have you not got your pound of flesh already?

It's still not over, because the final auditionee is mum of two Niki, who wouldn't be here today if it weren't for her father, WHO IS DEAD. (Hooray! Well, not hooray, that would be harsh, but...-Carrie) He died seven months ago, and got her the forms before he died. Apparently Niki's dad applied for the forms without her knowing, and they were discovered in his belongings after HE DIED. In which case: how does anyone know they were for her? Maybe he wanted to apply himself. Maybe he'll be applying anyway, as a ghost. Now there's your tragic story. Niki wants to make her dad (WHO IS DEAD-Joel) proud. It's a bit late, because HE IS DEAD. Niki sings 'I Will Always Love You', presumably for her dad. WHO IS DEAD. All crap aside, Niki has a nice voice. But this is nothing that Leona wasn't doing last year, and better. Is there really a place for her? But then, Leona didn't have any dead relatives that we were aware of. (Make no mistake – we’d have been aware of them had they existed.-Joel) (The cousin! The cousin for whom she sang Over the Rainbow! Was the cousin not DEAD?-Carrie) (Yes indeed.-Steve) It's a tricky one to call. Simon calls her "brilliant", and Niki is all "O RLY?" Louis declares it "effortless". Dannii tells her that she surpasses all of the other singers in her category, before entirely spontaneously asking her why she decided to apply, just so Niki can remind us all about her father, WHO IS DEAD. Four yeses, and lots of praise for Niki. Cue Whitney! "Thank God she found the application form!" says Simon. Indeed, whatever would we have done otherwise? Nicky is grateful to her late lamented father, and cries a bit.

Next week: more joy, more tears, more lunacy. Simon expels Sharon and Louis from the room. Someone with terrifying eyes cops an attitude. Joel or Carrie will lead you through it, depending on which one of them is feeling the most able to rise to the challenge (or most masochistic that day.-Carrie). See you then!