We commented how the first weekend of audition shows made a big play of Scottish singers. Last Saturday’s programme literally made a song and Riverdance about auditions returning to Dublin for the first time in six years, although they didn’t bother to repaint a bus for the occasion of Louis Walsh’s grand homecoming – instead they took an existing tourist bus and stuck a decal of his face on the side.
Then their first gambit was to humiliate a 19-year-old potato farmer. Way to those Irish hearts!
A few more hopeless acts left Simon wondering why he’d bothered, but better things came after the ad break. Niall Sexton is one of the supposed boys at judges’ houses. The 22-year-old barman is actually from a small town in Northern Ireland with “a million fields with several cows – that’s when you know you’re in Ireland”. His voice fluctuated sweetly between delicate and assertive. Simon said: “You have a beautiful voice. You’re different. But I think you’ve got real class. I like you.”
His choice of Sara Bareilles’ ‘Gravity’ was an interesting one. The song was used to good effect in the semi-final of the final US season by eventual winners Alex & Sierra. It’s also one of a number of well-produced covers Niall has put up on YouTube. Against him, Niall was on the show back in 2011 and tweeted about being pissed off at initial favouritism towards Janet Devlin.
Conor McGinty was next up, but wasn’t given enough screentime to suggest he’s likely to be wildcarded with any great plans. He was followed by 28-year-old Dubliner Janet Grogan, who was shown missing out at the 6CC in 2014. Her disappointment was apparently mitigated by Simon sending out a tweet saying he “should have kept Janet.”
She gave a decent enough rendition of ‘Pillowtalk’, although it felt like there was nothing particularly distinctive about her. Nonetheless, Simon completed his humble acknowledgement of error by claiming “I was always praying you would come back into this audition room, your voice is stunning, best we’ve had today.”
That was it from Ireland. With Janet reportedly through to judges’ houses in the overs category, that would seem to mean at least one of her or Niall going through should producers feel the need to justify the Irish grandstanding – unless, of course, we have more Dublin auditions still to be screened. Though we felt that Janet might end up being the new Melanie McCabe, which left us wondering if the perennial bridesmaid had been asked back to audition.
Then in London, we were treated to the spectacle of Ottavio and Bradley, which was contrived even by X Factor standards. The former started off auditioning alone, looking like an extra in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. But who knows, perhaps the look will catch on?
Ottavio revealed that he had intended to audition with Bradley before the pair’s fallout over undercooked chicken. Bradley got his individual chance with R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’, and it was third time lucky after a reconciliation, when they performed ‘Buttons’ by Pussycat Dolls.
The pair are Cosmic Riot, rumoured to be in the groups section of judges’ houses, and they could possibly be in the lives to annoy Simon as a low-rent Diva Fever. Ottavio has form, having been one of the supporting acts in Rylan’s bootcamp group performance in 2012.
Next up, the night’s pimp slot was given to Kayleigh Marie Morgan, 19, from Wales. Like week 1’s Caitlyn Vanbeck, she has “confidence issues”, and relies on a supportive (step)dad.
Kayleigh got a lot of singing time for ‘With You’. Nicole was “scared” in a good way, and called it “graceful”. Louis used the words, “powerhouse, different, special”. But Kayleigh struck us as most akin to tragic judges’ houses rejectees Jade Richards and Kerrianne Covell.
Sunday’s show started with Ryan Wilkins, a 27-year-old Mancunian with a “magic tongue” whose treatment however seemed to mark him out as a less obvious possibility for the Comedy Wildcard Over slot than week 1’s Honey G or (preferably) Saara Aalto.
He was followed by Tom and Laura, who we assume are the rumoured husband and wife duo at judges’ houses. It wasn’t promising that no effort had gone into filming them in their daily lives, instead having them sit in the auditions waiting room and fill in their backstory as a cuddly Liverpudlian couple who met at college. Tom’s a claims handler and Laura works at Greggs. There was something very likeable and down-to-earth about them.
Their surprisingly good acoustic rendition of ‘Sex on Fire’ was commended by judges. But their natural bond, which was a great part of their charm, was undermined by Simon stressing that Tom was better than Laura, and should therefore go for it on his own. The pay-off to this was Tom standing by his partner, but it undercut their USP without obviously setting them up for a journey.
18-year-old Freddy Parker seemed to have a lot going for him – the voice, the looks, and a cute job working with dogs for a backstory. Given this, and his reported place at judges’ houses, it was a bit of a disappointment that he wasn’t given more airtime for his performance of ‘Love Is A Losing Game’.
Chanal Benjilali was given even less airtime, and isn’t one of the reported girls at judges houses, despite a strong rendition of ‘Ex Factor’.
Matt Terry is another boy supposed to have made judges’ houses, and we got plenty more of his backstory about his recent heartbreak. The 23-year-old from Bromley is a cheerful chappy with the looks of Louis Tomlinson and the manner of Ray Quinn, though Simon picked up on his likeness to Olly Murs: “fun, approachable, you’ve got that same personality”. Oh, and his Nan also took a starring role.
His voice wasn’t perfect for X Factor by any means, with a touch of the musical theatre about his rendition of ‘Stand By Me’, but there was a likability about the whole performance, and his personality. The judges rammed home the overall feeling when Louis called him “positive” and “happy” and Simon added “feel-good”.
The show followed up with two more Comedy Overs Wildcard possibilities, starting with Russian minx Irina Dedyuk, who didn’t get the kind of treatment that suggested it would be her. Danish “loving doll” Sada Vidoo is one of the strangest (and most experienced) auditionees ever to be seen on the show. Her dramatic performance of ‘Love is a Battlefield’ had Simon commenting, “I don’t know if that’s one of the best things or worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Finally, Marianna Zappi, 34, originally from Italy and now living in London, explained with genuine emotion her abusive relationship, before launching into ‘Redemption Song’. The whole panel were clearly moved: Sharon described it as “the best voice I’ve heard in auditions so far”. Cowell used the words, “beautiful, incredible, passion, real”. If producers surprise us by going for a Non-Comedy Overs Wildcard, Marianna has to be a contender, though there was something of the “journey already complete” feel to her segment.
After the first two weekends of auditions, five of the top six on Oddschecker are from Scotland, Wales or Ireland, seeming to confirm the initial push to re-engage with the regions. Meanwhile, our commenters are agreed that no one has stood out as an obvious Plan A or winner yet, which may of course be deliberate on the part of producers’ after last year’s blatant shoehorning of Louisa and the equally obvious preferential treatment for Stereo Kicks at this stage two years ago. Do let us know your continuing thoughts below.
Photos via ©ITV / @ThePixelFactor