Five things about the first round of auditions.
1. Same Old Brand New You: This series has been marketed very much as a relaunch, with new presenters and a (semi) new panel. But how does it actually work in practice? Actually, not that different: Caroline and Olly are already a known quantity from The Xtra Factor and, at this stage in the competition at least, don’t really have masses to do other than pop up every time we come back from an ad break and remind us what show we’re watching. That said, now that we have a double-act of presenters, the show seems very keen for them to do the Ant & Dec thing of hovering around in the wings during the audition and making faces at the camera to remind us what we’re supposed to be feeling. And on the panel, Simon is Simon and Cheryl is Cheryl, while Rita Ora fills the role of Feisty Female Judge in much the same manner as Mel B or Nicole Scherzinger or Kelly Rowland by being loud and constantly leaping out of her seat, while Nick Grimshaw seems more than happy to be the Louis Walsh by sitting on the end and trying to coin some catchphrases. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, I guess.
2. Xcess: Perhaps the low point of the entire process came when auditionee Jennifer Phillips had her first two choices – ‘Halo’ by Beyoncé and something inaudible by Celine Dion – rejected by the panel, with Nick dismissing the latter as “a bit ‘X Factor audition’.” Right, except this actually is an X Factor audition. It should not actually be possible to be too X Factor audition in this situation, because – I’ll say it again – this is actually an X Factor audition. Stop trying to be cute and ironic about yourself, show, because it doesn’t work. The issue was resolved when Cheryl entirely spontaneously suggested that Jennifer sing ‘Shackles (Praise You)’ by Mary Mary off her list of pre-selected tracks, and Jennifer entirely coincidentally knocked it out of the park with a bit of freestyle rapping thrown in, so of course Cheryl got all the credit for making this happen for us.
3. For Better, For Murs: Another old X Factor chestnut that got brushed off for the opening episode was the appearance of somebody from the past of one of the stars of the show. In this case, it was Jon Goodey, who used to sing with Olly in a band called The Small Town Blaggers. After biffing his first attempt, Jon went for ‘Counting Stars’ by OneRepublic as his audition song and, while making a passable attempt at singing an unremarkable song, looked entirely lost throughout. Olly watched on verklempt from the wings as the judges told Jon that he seemed like a nice bloke with an okay voice, but he just lacked the charisma (also possibly uniqueness, nerve and talent) to become a star in his own right. So Jon failed to make it through to the next round, and will now have to live with the knowledge that he was the least-talented member of a two-piece band that featured Olly Murs.
4. Power Surge: The scandal-magnet for this series so far would appear to be 4th Power, a four-piece girl group originating from the Philippines, who have already elicited murmurings of “bloody forriners, why can’t they xfactor in their own country etc” across Twitter. And since the programme went out, it has been revealed that they are also talent show veterans to some extent. I can’t say I’m particularly bothered by either of those things: talent shows work differently in different cultures and just because you did well in one country doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to repeat your success elsewhere, and I’m all for acts coming in from overseas to diversify our line-up a bit. My main object was that their performance of ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J, Nicki Minaj and Ay Ay Ay Es La Ariana Grande was more loud than it was actually good, but we’ll see if maybe they can master a bit of nuance in the later rounds.
5. Singles Night: 4th Power aside, the two acts that we’re meant to get excited about were Tom Bleasby and Louisa Johnson. Tom’s your standard shy youngster who comes alive when he sings and probably idolises Adele, with extra “I’m right from Leeds, me” thrown in for bonus character points. His cover of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ was clearly supposed to be a triumph, but it sounded thin and reedy to me. Meanwhile Louisa – who idolises Leona Lewis and cites her mum as her best friend – recovered from an initial bout of nerves with some counselling from Nurse Cheryl and brought the house down with her cover of ‘Who’s Loving You’. For my money she was the only contestant in this episode who justified the fuss that was being made about them, so I guess Team Louisa for now?