Five yep-still-delayed-by-my-holiday things about the first round of arena auditions.
1. Golden Graham: It says a lot about how closely I’ve been watching the show this year when we get to this stage of the competition and people arrive for their second audition in front of the judges, and half the time I’m not sure if I’m supposed to remember having seen them before or not. We always get a little clip of their room audition and a little description of how it went, but I never know if that’s supposed to be a sort of “Previously on The X Factor…”, or if it’s the show giving us an exposition dump for people whose initial auditions weren’t actually shown. Case in point: I don’t remember James Graham’s first audition at all, though apparently the judges were impressed. And we’re obviously supposed to like him because he arrives after a montage of losers who’ve all failed to take on board the constructive criticism they received during their room auditions. Fortunately, despite the whiff of a pushy stage mother in the background (apparently James’s mum used to be a bluecoat and always wanted to be a popstar, but it never worked out for her), I found James surprisingly likeable – and without even having to be prompted by Simon saying something like “you’re likeable, I like you. What I like is that you have that likeability factor.” It may have been the crack that James made about his last visit to Wembley Arena happening when he was six to see Barney The Dinosaur Live, or it may be him thoughtfully adding “it was incredible” on the end of that earlier comment. It probably wasn’t his actual audition, which was Adele’s version of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, since we all know by now how I feel about those, but if this guy does end up making the live shows, I won’t be too upset about it.
2. We Liked Your First Album Before Everyone Knew About You: Not everyone managed to follow up their room audition quite so successfully, however. Rebecca Jones from Wales, for example. I don’t think we saw her room audition, but the clips say that it was an inappropriately uptempo rendition of ‘Jolene’ which the judges loved. In the arenas, she tried to John Lewis-ify ‘Moon River’ and it backfired horribly, which drove Cheryl and Simon to bring the axe down on her. Similarly, Charlie Brown was an early favourite of Simon’s apparently (even though he has an armful of really shit tattoos), but he looked completely lost on the stage at Wembley. Still, he’s always got Snoopy and Linus for comfort, right? Stevie Tennet The Child almost got the chop as well since his audition was a bit shaky, and Cheryl was insistent that he isn’t ready for the rigours of this competition, but the others outvoted her. Yep, we’re apparently in a world now where Cheryl is the hardass judge. (Not the mean judge, obviously, because Cheryl is never mean. She’s the nation’s sweetheart. She’s a national treasure.)
3. To Whit, To Woo: I believe it’s compulsory, when you’re producing any sort of televised singing contest, to include at least one white teenage girl who likes to sing anthems about the struggle for black people to gain equality – ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ is the usual favourite, but there are occasionally others. During the room auditions we caught a snippet of one of these girls singing ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ from Hairspray, and now it turns out the girl in question was Lauren Platt, who will hopefully learn the error of her ways one day. Until then, she returned to us to sing Whitney Houston’s ‘How Will I Know?’ for her arena audition, sucking all the life out of it in the process. I know that the ability to “make it your own” is priceless on these shows, but I just wish people could find other ways of doing that beyond “singing it really slowly”. I like to think that if Whitney, God rest her soul, were still with us she would’ve been distinctly unimpressed by this bastardisation of one of her greatest works. We all saw what she did to Danyl that time he tried to take a power ballad that meant a lot to her and appropriate it for himself because he’d had a bit of a sad about Dannii Minogue telling people he liked to kiss boys and that week he was only slightly more popular with the public than Miss Frank, so I’m sure she’d have a few choice words to say here.
4. Paul Akister And The Aggressive Mediocrity: You might remember Paul Akister from last year, when Louis didn’t put him through to the live shows. You certainly can’t have forgotten him, because in the 30 minutes or so of show prior to his performance being shown, every single sodding audition was interspersed with a cut to Paul Akister waiting to come on. PAUL AKISTER IS STILL HERE YOU GUYS, DON’T FORGET PAUL AKISTER, HE IS VERY RELEVANT TO YOUR INTERESTS. For some reason the show is determined to make him happen this year despite his absolute beigeness. I mean, this is a man who decided to prove his relevance to modern pop music by singing ‘Let’s Get It On’ for his arena audition. (At which point Cheryl and Mel got up and gave Simon a lap dance, because male gaze. *sigh*) Louis is still being raked across the coals for not taking him through last year – when he would’ve definitely lost to Sam Bailey, and probably to Wee Nick as well, so I’m really not sure what Louis’s crime here is meant to be, exactly. TEAM LOUIS.
5. Judging Amy: And speaking of comebacks, we also saw the return of Amy Connelly, whose entire existence is framed through the medium of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini-Geller-Willick-Bunch, because she attended Cheryl’s very first Judges’ Houses back in 2008. Since then, Amy’s gone on to become a mum of two, but is still determined to make it as a pop star. She has chosen ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ to perform for the crowd (possibly because she genuinely does believe the children are our future, since she’s got a head start on that front), but for reasons best known to Amy herself, she does so with her eyes closed and her voice wobbling all over the place. The judges are mostly unimpressed, with Simon saying that Cheryl was right not to put her through last time (because when Cheryl doesn’t put someone through it’s because she’s a genius; when Louis doesn’t put someone through, it’s because he’s an idiot). Everyone votes no on taking Amy any further except Cheryl, because obviously Cheryl has to be the hero who sticks up for her girls. Amy is eliminated, Amy sobs, and Cheryl runs up to hug her, because Cheryl looks after her own. She does. She still texts Joe McElderry all the time and everything.
Next: more arena auditions. Hopefully not more Paul Akister, although I wouldn’t rule it out.