The much-hyped fresh-faced reboot of the X Factor introduced itself with a Wagner joke and a Mission Impossible skit, and scored worryingly low ratings. This series will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3…
To be fair, the opening weekend received generally positive reviews among Sofabet commenters. There’s clearly a concerted attempt to lighten things up, and even a willingness to poke a bit of fun at themselves: Grimmy observed that one proposed song choice was “a bit X Factor audition”, while Simon prefaced Josh Daniel’s audition by putting on a Dermot voice and mocking the well-worn “our last act has been waiting in the wings all day” cliché. Where will it end? “You’ve performed first while Strictly’s still on the other side, and we all know what that means”.
The bottle may have looked new, but it was largely the same old wine. It’s worth remembering that the show traditionally likes to frontload the opening audition episodes with acts it intends to be a long-term part of the series: on the form of recent series, it’s quite likely that we’ve already seen five or six or the final twelve and maybe even three or four of the final six. With that in mind, here are our impressions from the weekend.
It was presumably no coincidence that the Wagner cameo led us into in “Techno” Susan Pryce, twerking Blackpool pensioner, who seems lined up to be this year’s Wagner. Usually there’s some semi-embarrassed dissembling to get such acts into the lives over betters singers (“I think people will like you”), but in the apparent new spirit of self-awareness perhaps the judge concerned will simply say “the lives need a novelty act, and I’m casting you”.
Also in the very first segment was dentist receptionist Lauren Murray, who confessed to pulling a sickie to attend auditions – a storyline which didn’t end happily for Kerianne Covell last year. It was a solid, promising audition, which had the judges coming over all “The Voice” and expressing hopes to be her mentor, ahead of the Twitter vote on this issue, with Simon contributing a “bloody fantastic” and “you don’t know how good you are”. However, the fact that she lost out to Louisa Johnson for the opening show pimp slot suggests that producers are currently thinking of her as first reserve at best.
Jennifer Phillips, the 49 year old gospel belter who Simon said “defined the word joy”, looks like archetypal cannon fodder for the overs category – a big-voiced mature lady who should be easy enough to ease out in the early-to-middle stages of the lives.
The next segment featured three boys, starting with “male Cheryl” wannabe Tom Davies, complete with backing dancers, and Mason Noise, who got Rita on her feet. These ultra-confident auditions were chosen to accentuate the nerves of Tom Bleasby, to whom we had been cutting backstage.
We’re used to the “nervous fat man can sing” trope, and we’re also used to the “fat man has amusingly tiny voice” comedy audition trope. This was an odd hybrid of the two: “big northern bloke sings like a girl and it’s really quite good, sort of, I think – hmm, now he’s bleating like a sheep”. Simon is surely correct that some will have loved it while others will have wondered what the hell was that. It seems a safe bet that producers intend Tom to feature heavily again, though whether they have currently pencilled into his script an ending of judges’ houses heartbreak or Paul Akister-like assassination in the live shows is open to question.
Brought over from the Philippines to audition and likely to be an enduring source of headlines for the show with their giggly tourist schtick, 4th Power look to have been lined up for the long haul. Their audition choreography was highly polished, as you might expect if they’ve been performing together since 2001; the vocals were arguably a bit shouty, but then this was a shouty song.
Quite how the show would feel about a winner scouted from abroad is open to question, although BGT embraced it with Attraction and Simon was at pains to tell us the show was “not just for British people” and say they were “very welcome”.
Dani Clay was through next, the brevity of her screentime and the indignity of a cut to backstage in the middle of her performance hardly suggesting that she’s on the priority list.
The closing slot in the opening show has traditionally been a heavy pointer to producers’ intentions, and this year’s beneficiary was 17-year-old Joss Stone-a-like Louisa Johnson. Simon anointed her “the one to beat” and said “I really want to mentor you” – just before Olly and Caroline explained the Twitter vote – reinforcing the sense from Lauren Murray’s earlier audition that we’re supposed to think the girls are where it’s at this year.
She clearly ticks a lot of boxes, including performing the same first audition song as last year’s breakout star Andrea. But there are also some concerns about the Essex lass. We’ll need to see how she is vocally with the volume turned down, and we’ll also be looking for more evidence of relatability – at the moment all we know about her is that she grew up watching the X Factor, her mum’s her best friend and she overuses the word “literally”. It calls to mind 2011’s teenage belter Amelia Lily, about whom the show never managed to manufacture much more of a backstory than that she had a supportive dad.
The opening show pimp slot marks her out as putative alpha girl and worthy favourite at this stage. However, one thing that may be worth bearing in mind with live judges’ houses is that – if we assume the performances are live on Saturday, and decisions live on Sunday – it gives producers the best part of 24 hours to do social media analysis of reactions to each of the acts and cast the final 12 accordingly. Maybe, just maybe, they might go into judges’ houses this year with more of an open mind than we assume they usually do.
First act through on Sunday were The First Kings, who have clearly learned that the key to success for groups on this show is a VT that introduces them all by name, given that they took the precaution of bringing their own. Producer goodwill was suggested by an edit that favourably contrasted them with another dancing boyband, and allowing them to reprise Fleur East’s series-defining performance from last year. That said, with a slick promo video and backing dancers in the first audition, where is the potential for a journey?
Next came another very solid audition from the girls category in the shape of Chloe Paige, a sweet and relatable 21 year old Brighton street trader with big family support and tearful mum. The lack of a judge standing ovation indicates that, like Lauren Murray, she’s not currently being thought of as an alpha, but she seems like a capable potential beta or backup should Louisa fail to catch fire.
A segment of comedy foreigners prepared the ground for Seann Miley Moore, a sort of Jon Snow meets Andrea Faustini meets Johnny Robinson (we mean this as a high compliment) who wowed with ‘The Show Must Go On’.
The likeable 24 year old comes from Australia but has UK connections and a hard-to-place accent, and the idea of him settling into the UK should provide plenty of VT fodder. Novelty acts who genuinely have something in terms of singing and performing, and who aren’t in the traditional novelty categories of overs and groups, are like gold dust for this show – as such, it would be a major surprise if he doesn’t make the lives. His trajectory from there will be very interesting indeed.
The opening weekend was closed by 21 year old Billingham car mechanic Josh Daniel, who delivered a tear-jerking performance dedicated to his deceased best friend, which the show crassly proceeded to make all about Simon’s and Cheryl’s reactions.
Josh arguably could do with more vocal range, but he is cute and highly relatable. The nagging doubt about an act currently at single figures in the win market is whether he would have found himself anywhere near the second audition show pimp slot without the sob story and opportunity for the show to portray Simon’s human side – and the awareness that every year the show must make viewers emotionally invest in a quota of acts who are destined to be culled at bootcamp and judges’ houses. Exactly who they will be is, of course, the guessing game at this stage.
Where do you think this journey is headed? As ever, do let us know below.