Sunday, September 01, 2013

Room with an 'ewww'

Auditions 1: 31 August 2013

Series ten. Nearly ten years of The X Factor, and almost as many years of us sat here with our laptops, trying to be funny about it. There have been a lot of technological advances and a frankly alarming degree of staff turnover, but at its heart it remains the same manipulative, attention-seeking mess it always was. But enough about this blog: what's happening on the show this year?

We begin in Leicester Square, August 2013. One Direction arrive for the premiere of their This Is Us documentary thingy (I saw a trailer for it when I was at the cinema this week and it did seem very X Factory, right down to the point where they interrupted all the shirtless homoeroticism halfway through so Zayn could have a little cry about how all he's ever wanted to do is buy his mum a house). This is, of course, a tantalising taste of what could be yours, if you happen to get on this show and the stars align in your favour. We then zip back through the years, right back to when auditions happened in conference centres without a live audience, back to when Sharon Osbourne was on the judging panel. Ahh, 'twas a simpler time. But it'll never be like that again, will it?

WRONG! We all know Sharon's back this year (as are the small audition rooms, which we'll get to in a moment), and the show tries to convince us all that we've missed her by having lots of extremely normal people (a hairdresser! Someone who works in a pub!) talking about how she was great and hilarious and so unpredictable and remember that time we all thought she had a wet vagina for Shayne Ward and it turned out she was just talking about her Pomerianzzzzzzzz. Sharon Osbourne only ever did two things right on this show: getting pwned by a door and calling Steve Brookstein a shit. And the latter barely even counts, since that's pretty much why he ended up winning. So you can try to convince me that Sharon's return is a good thing all you want, but all I'm seeing is a desperate attempt to reclaim former glories that actually weren't especially glorious in the first place.

A few more everyday folk appear to endorse a few non-Sharon-related things (Leona, Olly MURS, One Direction) before Dermot finally arrives to announce that the show's celebrating reaching double figures by SHAKING THINGS UP. As you've probably heard, this year the contestants face double auditions, which is the show's attempt to have the best of both worlds: it's restoring the audition-room format of series one to five as the first port of call for auditionees, and then if they succeed there, they get called back to do the big arena auditions. I'd have preferred them to do away with the arena auditions altogether as I've always thought they rather ruin the narrative flow set up by this format's forerunners (if you can sing in an arena in front of an audience of thousands just by auditioning, there's not exactly much can-they-cut-it-live tension when the live shows roll around), but at least they're meeting me halfway. I'm a fair man, I can compromise. [I really didn't see the point of the live auditions, mainly because I was dreading a million weeks of audition rooms and then the same of live auditions - however, I think having the two different types of audition on consecutive nights instead of in big blocks was a smart move so well done them - Rad]

Oh, and Sharon's back. Hooray. Along with Gary (really? Two full years on the show and the powers that be still haven't realised he's got all the warmth and charisma of a mildewed fridge magnet?), Nicole (whom I love but I worry she's going to just coast on residual goodwill if the amount of times she said "shamazing" and "balls" in the preview clips are anything to go by) [ISTR Nicole's best moments last series were boot camp and live shows so I'm happy to wait until then - Rad] and Louis (who was always at his worst when sat next to Sharon, so I'm concerned). Anyway, it's time! To face! The thought of doing this every weekend from now until Christmas!

We return to helicopters over London, which either means the citizens are rioting again or the show's managed to retain a healthy budget despite last year's viewing figures. Outside the ExCel centre in Docklands, crowds of people are clamouring for their shot at the big time. Gary tells us that this year is double the pressure (for the show as much as the contestants, I'll wager), Sharon says that she can't wait to see this year's talent, Louis says that there'll be nowhere to hide this year, and Nicole says they need the next worldwide star to walk through the door. Dermot runs through how this year's audition format will work, for those of us who haven't already worked that out for ourselves, and then we go to our first audition. In Cardiff. So quite what we were doing in London for all of two minutes, I'm not entirely sure.

Logistic questions aside, the first auditionee of the series is Luke Friend, who is from Devon and has a lot of hair. It looks a bit like Dougal from The Magic Roundabout is sitting on him. Dermot is particularly transfixed with Luke's hair and asks if he can touch it, not actually bothering to wait for an answer before doing so. I would imagine that this sort of thing happens to Luke a lot. If I were him, I would keep tiny poisonous spiders in my hair and train them to attack any hands they didn't recognise. Luke talks about how the new (/old) audition room format is scary, but I can't imagine it's genuinely scarier than being in front of a crowd at the O2 and having that 20,000 easily-swayed morons baying for your blood because, I dunno, you're German or something. Luke introduces himself to the judges and Nicole gets very excited by his last name, and Luke's all "it is a bit crazy, I know." If this show genuinely expects me to find it crazy that there are people in the world whose surname is Friend, it's going to be a long series. [I have two friends who are Friends.  KERRAZY.  Although they are married to each other, so maybe less so - Rad] Luke tells the judges that he's 17, and his mum and his friend Syd are outside. They talk a bit more about his hair, and Nicole asks him what he does to maintain the level of vol-yum in it. She makes a real mouthful out of that word and sounds uncannily like Alyssa Edwards in the process. Luke reveals that the secret is that he hasn't washed it for nine months. If he plays his cards right, he could get a very nice Garnier Fructis sponsorship deal out of this. Luke explains that his dream is to get the hell out of Devon, since he's gigged all around it but has struggled to gain recognition in the rest of the country.

Luke sings 'Stand By Me', and already this new, improved audition room set-up exposes itself as a sham: apparently the contestants still get to sing over a backing track, which is definitely not how they used to do it. So much for all those claims the judges were making about this first round of try-outs being "raw" and the contestants having "nowhere to hide". (That said, I am struggling to figure out whether the backing track was actually there for the audition or whether it was added in post-production. It's faint and unobtrusive enough for the latter to be possible, but...why would they do that? [So that the fader finger person they are always shooting close-ups of didn't lose their job? - Rad] But then most of the other contestants auditioning in this show didn't have it. Oh, I'm so confused.) Anyway, Luke's voice is pleasant in an overly familiar earnest-young-guy-with-a-guitar way, but he should probably avoid the falsetto he uses at the end. Louis loves Luke's style and voice and is glad he came along. Sharon declares him "quite fabulous". Gary thinks he did a great job. Nicole thinks he's "a little dirty-haired diamond in the rough". They take it to a vote: Louis says it's a big easy yes. (I hadn't realised these were the New Orleans auditions.) A yes from Sharon, an "I can't wait to see you at the arenas" from Gary, and Nicole makes it unanimous.

We're not even staying in Cardiff for more than one audition, as our next takes place in Manchester, where 17-year-old Joe McElderry doppelgänger Alejandro Fernandez is telling us that he's about to go on holiday without his parents, so we can probably expect to see him on BBC3 imminently. He makes it clear that the similarities between him and Mawliddle Jor begin and end there as he takes time out before his audition to tell Nicole that she's really hot, because I'm sure she forgets about that all the time. He sings 'Fuckin' Perfect' by Pink (which is an ideal opportunity for me to link to the trailer for the greatest movie that was never made, and not just for the scene of a shirtless Blake Jenner seemingly having a wank in a barn). His voice is clear and strong and sounds well-trained, though the way he seemingly directs the whole thing at Nicole is a little creepy. Nicole tells him she wants to hear all those girls screaming for him, so it's a yes from her. Gary, making a transparent bid for one of those empty chairs on The Voice UK, says no because it was "too Theatreland". Remind me what about 90% of this show's former finalists are doing to make ends meet these days, Gary [You mean aside throwing darts at his picture? - Helen] It's a yes from Sharon and Louis though, so Alejandro is through.

Back to London, our next auditionee is Tom Mann, who has the look of someone you'd swear is already in One Direction somehow (insert Nick Grimshaw joke here). He's a 19-year-old part-time football coach for kids, and has brought them all with him. That's about the cheapest bid for widespread public appeal you can make, but the brief bit of footage that showed him with the kids was awesome, since it involved him having to tell them that the presenter's name is Dermot, not Kermit. Tom says that he wants to be a role model to the kids and show them how to chase their dreams. He's got a guitar (...and it was all going so well!) and sings 'Let Her Go' in a really yelpy voice that I doubt many people could stand to listen to for a full three minutes. Nicole isn't sure how much he'd stand out in the next stages, but she likes him. Gary is "quite excited about [him] as a solo artist" (of course he is), so Tom's through as well. About 20 carefully-choreographed children zoom through the door to envelop Tom in a lovely telegenic group hug.

It's all been going well so far, hasn't it? Which means it's time for our first duffer of the year: J Star Valentine, who's 19 and from West London. He's a part-time model, which he does just to get his face out there for his music career (how nice for him) and he wants us to know that he's not your average pop star. Perhaps because your average pop star can sing and has a record contract? He'll be singing his "own version" of 'Hallelujah'. It's just as well he told us, because I would've struggled to recognise it from the series of whoops and gasps that follow. It's hard to tell if it's a performance or an asthmatic incident. Sharon's struggling not to laugh, while in another new development, J Star's audition is apparently being broadcast to the assembled contestants in the waiting room, who are all having a good giggle. Sharon tells him he sang like a ghost, and Gary breathily tells him it was "cra-a-a-a-a-ap". Nicole wants to know if J Star was actually serious with that shit, and tells him "it's not as musical as maybe you're hearing inside of your head". It's four nos for J Star, who tells Dermot he just wasn't himself in there.

Adverts. James Lance really needs a better agent. [I was so sad to see him on the adverts. I mean, he was on TEACHERS - Helen]

When we return, the show solves the mystery of "the fifth judge" that they've been alluding to for a while: it's us! Apparently there's an app we can download that allows us to predict who will go through and things like that. I am not interested in a judging position on this show unless it is salaried, so I suggest we all just move right along. [Now that would be awesome - Helen]

We're still in London, and people are having entirely spontaneous conversations in the audition room about how they think Sharon is a marvellous judge, and how this is the best X Factor they've ever been to. Next in to audition is 30-year-old Fil Henley from Maidenhead. He's got shoulder-length shaggy brown hair and talks like Smashie and Nicey. He says that it's obvious from his image that he's "not the norm" and that it's "a lifestyle choice" to look the way he does. I feel sorry for him already, because having to be like that every single day of your life sounds utterly exhausting. Dermot asks how he feels about meeting Sharon, since she's "one of the iconic figures of rock", which: no. She's one of the iconic figures of rock-adjacent reality shows, perhaps, but that's as far as it goes. Fil says that people don't take enough risks, and then the editors cut in that he still lives with his parents, and his mum made him some sandwiches to bring with him. Low-hanging fruit is always kind of bitter-tasting.

Fil heads into the audition room, and Gary's all "oh, I can tell you're a rocker!" and Nicole inadvertently deflates him slightly by asking if that hairdo would be considered a mullet. "It's business at the front and party at the back!" says the ever-original Sharon Osbourne. Fil will be singing 'Let Me Entertain You', while wandering all around the room including a little stint behind the giant X. He's got a decent-enough 80s rock voice about him, but the whole thing is all very limp and dated, and the panel are clearly desperate for any signs of life, to the point where when he starts flipping his hair ever so gently, Nicole starts screaming "YEAH! SHAKE IT! MOVE IT! OHHHHH, YEAAAAHHH!" Well, I doubt her theoretical sex tape will contain many surprises after that. Sharon tells him that he's pop, rather than rock, and he's very clean and has no edge. Unlike Sharon, who has plenty of edge thanks to her surgeon. Nicole liked the hair, at least. The judges vote: Nicole thinks he can sing, and votes yes. Louis thinks he's not a rock star, and votes no. It's a no from Gary. Sharon loves his passion and talent, but it's a no from her too. Fil takes the rejection well, saying that while he has the opportunity he just wants to give Sharon something he did for her, and takes a CD out of his pocket. I tried to give Sharon something I'd made just for her once, but the authorities stopped me before I could reach her. They kept shouting something about a "biohazard". Fil leaves, and Dermot asks what went wrong. Back in the room, Nicole tries to talk the other judges round, because she thinks Fil has the potential to get the crowds going in the arena auditions. Sharon thinks he's too clean, and suggests that he stops washing his shirts and gets "a couple of tattoos on his forehead". Gary says "I want him to come on a motorbike." That's a very niche pornographic interest he's got there. The judges then demonstrate what rock 'n' roll behaviour looks like, by...throwing pens across the room. And then Gary wheels his chair off the dais. He doesn't pick it up, doesn't throw it, just...wheels it off. And that is why you should never allow Gary Barlow to try to teach you how to rock out, with or without your cock out. Gary tells Nicole to call him back in, although obviously this honour ends up being delegated to remember of the production staff. Fil goes back in, and Louis tells him that they want him to come back "totally different". Gary throws his mug at the floor and breaks it, by means of demonstration. The scene in which he carefully picks up all of the pieces while wearing rubber gloves and then gives the affected area a thorough vacuuming was presumably cut for time. Fil rips his shirt off and throws it around, and the judges whoop. "Come back next time and be completely inauthentic" is very strange advice, but everyone on the show including Fil seems to think it's a good idea, so who am I to judge? Fil then swipes his CD back off Sharon, says something profane and whips it across the room. The judges lap it up, and frankly I've seen episodes of Acorn Antiques that were less obviously scripted than this entire audition.

There follows a montage of how Sharon's return has made the panel CRIZAZY. She hits people with bits of paper! She waggles her hand in front of her face! She comments on the size of people's bulges! She says "fabulous" over and over again! She says "shit" occasionally! She does not know that the lyrics to 'Air Hostess' contain the line "I messed my pants when we flew over France"! She makes people uncomfortable by laughing at them! Christ, I'm actually going to want Tulisa back at this rate.

Adverts. When can we expect the new John Lewis Christmas ad? I'm champing at the bit here.

The judges are discussing the new format, entirely spontaneously. Nicole thinks they can be more constructive without the audience behind them, and Gary thinks that makes it more nerve-wracking for the contestants. Yes, that's what they fear the most: CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK, AIEEEE! 26-year-old Rachael McCauley sings 'Lean On Me' and has picked up a lot of bad habits, according to Gary. She gets through, but Sharon "is not expecting great things". Jennifer Jamieson (student, 20) is "not ready", according to Sharon, while Gary "fundamentally does not like the sound of [her] voice". This from a man whose speaking voice sounds like an angle grinder.

From there we go to female duo Silver Rock (16 and 22), who have been together for a whole week and will be singing 'End Of Time' by Beyoncé. Their harmonies are pretty on-point for a group who can't have had much rehearsal time, although it's all quite rough around the edges. Gary likes their voices, but doesn't understand why they've auditioned together - he thinks duos need to be built on some sort of relationship and this doesn't work for him. Nicole thinks they'd be like Destiny's Child if they had another member. Louis asks them to sing individually, so one of them sings 'Listen' (you get a bonus point if you shouted "SING IT, GURL!" at the appropriate point), and the other sings 'Fallin''. Both individual vocals are acceptable. The judges send the girls out while they decide what to do. Nicole thinks they should put them through solo, Louis considers recruiting a third member. Silver Rock are called back in, and Gary tells them that the duo thing isn't working, but they're good individually, so they have a choice: they can leave with four yeses as soloists, and continue in the competition as such, or it's a no as a group. They decide that it'll be a little weird to be competing against each other, but decide it's their best option. They're pretty sunny about it, which Dermot notes is odd for a group that's just been forcibly split up. They wish each other luck, and go their separate ways. Now that they're through as soloists, it would be nice if we knew their actual names. I think one of them is called Tamera, but aside from that I'm drawing a blank.

Dermot tells us that they'll be facing serious competition in the girls' category (I remember them saying that last year, and look what happened): 16-year-old Siana Schofield (no relation to Phillip) [played by Luisa Zissman - Rad] sings 'Breaking The Law' by Emeli Sandé in an irritatingly affected and fat-tongued manner, and gets four yeses from the judges who like her quirky look and voice. Another 16-year-old, Rielle Carrington, sings 'Rockstar' by Nickelback, which would be an automatic disqualification if I were in charge, but the judges like her R&B take on it and her energy, so they want her to be there at the arena auditions. The judges talk about what a great category the girls are, which leads us to Hannah Barrett, who is 17 and from Croydon. She's an A level student who works part-time in Greggs, and therefore gets to eat lots of pasties. Or whatever it is that they pass off as pasties, anyway (a Cornishman writes). She says she wants to be the UK's sweetheart, and giggles saucily. I quite like her. Sharon asks Hannah what her parents think about her plans for musical superstardom, and Hannah says that her dad passed away a couple of years ago (DEAD DAD KLAXON), but he was her inspiration to do music because he used to play Teddy Pendergrass and Aretha Franklin for her. Hannah's mum is supportive, but they have a tough relationship and in fact they don't really get along and Hannah was kicked out of home, so she's now in some sort of sheltered housing system. As much as I don't care for Sharon, I think she handles this well: her earth-mother side comes out as she gently coaxes out of Hannah that it's a nice enough place to be, but it's not home. [From what I remember of Sharon before she was a) quite good with teenagers but b) not with anyone else and c) worse as time went on - both in terms of being better in auditions than in lives and better in series 1 than in later series - Rad] Sharon tells Hannah that all she has to do now is give the performance of a lifetime and earn herself a spot in the competition. Courtesy of the invisible backstage finger, Hannah gets a backing track (this is really starting to vex me now) and sings 'Read All About It' very well indeed, though the show kind of goes overboard on the whole "look how she sings about pain with her painful life!" angle. Sure enough, Gary tells her that it's one thing to sing a song, and another to tell the story through your performance, and he FELT HER PAIN. Nicole says she was blown away. Louis tells her she's got "such a sad face", and Sharon starts laughing. "You can tell he's not got kids," she cackles. Sharon summons Hannah over for an mumsy moment and tells Hannah to work on her performance because it's going to be a tough competition. It's four yeses for Hannah, obviously.

Post-ads, we're...somewhere, listening to people talk about lunch. Once everyone's stomachs have finished grumbling, we get to our next audition: five piece girlband Euphoria Girls, comprised of Beth, Rhiannon, Georgia, Kiera and Lara. They're all very shiny and energetic and giggly. Nicole asks them to explain the group's concept, and Lara (I think) calls them "a PG-version of The Pussycat Dolls". Is that not sort of against the entire point of The Pussycat Dolls? Also, now I'm wondering which one of them is the Carmit. Rhiannon (I think) says that "euphoria means happiness" (not exactly, but close enough) and they're all about spreading happiness. Gary lies that he's a big fan of happiness. The girls sing 'I'm In The Mood For Dancing' in a very shrill way, complete with precise but uninspired choreography. My ever-astute friend Kat referred to them as "Sylvia and the Youngs" on Twitter and I can't possibly top that, so I'm going to do the next best thing and shamelessly steal it instead. Nicole calls them "so cute!" and Sharon says she felt like she was watching a recital, or a dance school end of term display, but they're adorable. Louis liked their happiness, but Gary found it "not good at all". Ugh, I hate it when Gary's right. He didn't like the moves, the vocals or the song choice. "But that can all be worked on!" exclaims Louis. Well yes, technically that's true, but...what's left? Nicole asks if Gary knows how hard it is to sing and dance at the same time. Of course he doesn't, but that's hardly the point. Louis thinks there's potential here. It's a no from Gary, a yes from Louis, a yes-but-you-need-some-attitude from Sharon, and an I'm-going-to-take-a-chance-and-say-yes from Nicole. Louis tells them to make Gary eat his words. I think Gary's already eating plenty. [I'm still having flashbacks at this travesty. Just awful - Helen]

Next there follows a montage of Nicole's endless positivity. She must really be on the good stuff. Raluca and Christina squeal while sharing headphones connected to an iPod. Nicole says that she can tell that they love singing. Lifeguard Alex hollers his way through what I can only assume is 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'. Nicole tells him it's a really difficult song. Nicole tells a cardboard cut-out of Gary that his charm and charisma are at full force today. 48-year-old Jamas Nakasan changes his register about three times during 'We Are The World', and gets a "yes for the intention, but no for The X Factor" from Nicole. Incomprehensible Elizabeth Myers, 47, jumps up and down during 'I Will Survive', and gets a yes for being cute and Irish, but a no for The X Factor. Nicole fails to see how this keeps giving people false expectations. Landscape gardener Frank Justmann, 50, attempts to beatbox 'Mull Of Kintyre' and do all the orchestration with his nose. Nicole wisely remains silent. [That heinous song has never sounded better - Rad]

Our next auditionee arrives with yellow roses for Nicole and Sharon: he's Luke Britnall, he's from Essex, he's 19, and he's a Justin Bieber tribute act, following in the grand tradition of tribute acts by looking nothing like the person he's supposed to be. However, he's been writing his own songs, and he's going to sing one of them for his audition. It's called 'Think Positive' (aha, there's the segue) and Nicole declares that she likes it already. Luke begins playing and singing, and sounds like a hybrid of Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson. I sort of like it, despite myself, although it's a little bit too schmaltzy for comfort. Gary starts singing along, because he's the exact jackass who sings along to a song he's hearing for the first time. Nicole says that it was "precious" and "feelgood". Sharon thought he was very professional. Louis thinks he's a nice guy with a very commercial voice. Gary thinks it was a great audition, and that it was all very promising. Needless to say, it's a unanimous yes for Luke, who gets his own song playing in the background as victory music. That strikes me as being like wearing a band t-shirt when you go to that band's concert - it doesn't look nearly as cool from the outside.

After the competition and the ads, we're into the final stretch. Up next is 35-year-old Sam Bailey, who tells us all about her family: her husband, her two children and her springer spaniel WHO IS DEAF. Sam's a prison officer, and admits that she gets stick at work for singing. She worries in the audition room about being too old, and her husband tells her it's "all about the voice". I think he's a bit confused as to which show she's auditioning for. Sam says that singing gives her the chance to get away from the stresses of life, and be someone else completely. Sam heads into the audition room and gives her background info. On hearing that she's a prison officer, the first question Sharon asks is "men or women?" Heh. (The answer's men, just in case you were wondering.) Sharon then gets fifty shades of hot and bothered thinking about all that hot handcuffing action Sam gets up to on a daily basis. Sam sings 'Listen', and I don't really know why anybody would bother trying to cover this song when perfection has already been achieved, but Sam persists all the same. It's one of those auditions where the voice is impressively strong, but the overall impression is that it all feels a bit dated, and you're struggling to see how this person would sell any records other than in the week leading up to Mother's Day. Nonetheless, she gets a huge round of applause from the judges and the audition room when she's finished. Nicole tells her that's exactly how that song is supposed to be sung (except she didn't say SING IT, GURL! at any point), and Gary adds that her voice is incredible. The plinky piano of old-person-achieves-success-despite-being-old stirs up on the soundtrack, and the judges vote unanimously to take Sam into the next round. (Gary actually says "cuff me, it's a yes", and I don't even want to think about the sort of fanfic that's going to prompt.) Sam rings her kids and says "mummy's made it through!" She doesn't add "so I'm going to see less and less of you for the next three or four months!", though.

Tomorrow: all of tonight's contestants again, as they return to face the crowds at Wembley. Helen will be here to guide you through the good, the bad and the Barlow.

1 comment:

Blake 1990 said...

Yay, I love this blog! It's the best thing about the XF part of the year(I watch this version and the Australian one, I guess I must be punishing myself for something I did in a former life or something...).
I'm not sure who is worse out of Sharon and Tulisa, but I can't ever see Tulisa being invited back, given her current predicament.