I’m not sure what it is about me that screams ‘future pop sensation’ (I reckon it’s the hair. Definitely the hair), but when I mentioned that I was going to the X-Factor auditions, the first question out of everybody’s lips was ‘What are you singing?’.
But don’t bother obsessively scouring YouTube and itvplayer for my barnstorming audition; unfortunately for both myself and the very concept of music I was not there to take part, but merely observe. Yes, strictly in the interests of journalism I subjected myself to being treated like lifestock for 3 hours (and as a Welshman, I’m particularly sensitive to this kind of treatment) and braved the overpriced falafel stand of hell. But I’ve sat on my shocking findings long enough; as boot camp kicks off, I bring you my sufficiently spoiler-free list of surprising X-Facts.
1. The TV show is round 3
The contestants you see on TV have already been through a couple of rounds of auditions; sending in videos and singing for the producers. So while the judges are seeing them for the first time, there has been a great effort to weed out the merely average, leaving only the future stars and the deluded. Which leads to another interesting fact…
2. The screaming queues aren’t contestants
Nope, they’re us. Well, audience members. Technically, there’s no lying involved in this; those shots are implied to be the hordes of auditionees, but are never explicitly stated to be so. Those shots of the contestants in the queue that usually feature in the show? Well, basically what happens is that the singers in question are inserted amongst us plebs in the queue and then ‘picked up’ by the cameramen. Smoke and cameras. There were only about 20 or so acts for our shooting.
3. The judges are consummate professionals
I don’t know why, but I found the practised ease with which the judges did their job surprisingly satisfying. They have a well-oiled barrage of questions; rather than the one answered by contestants on TV, they actually ask more like ten to maximise getting an interesting response from them. In a similar vein, nearly every act is asked to perform more than one song; on the show, this is portrayed as slightly unusual. In actuality, it is just another way of maximising the possibility of ‘good TV’, whether through better performances or, indeed, worse ones. The terrible performers were almost uniformly asked to sing more than one song, making sure they’d wrung out the extent of their untalent.
This might sound slightly dispiriting to you, but I actually appreciated this peek behind the curtain; the show might be highly constructed and cynical, but at least they’re efficient about it. Still, the amount of makeup they get slapped on between takes is phenomenal.
4. The ‘drama’ isn’t all constructed
A couple of auditions down, P!nk tribute act Zoe Alexander came onstage. This has been covered a lot in the papers, but basically she flipped out and attacked a cameraman when she wasn’t put through. I rewatched the TV footage and it was pretty accurate as to what we saw; she was denied, and then said she had been instructed to sing a Pink song (a criticism they had of her ‘not doing her own thing’). This feeds back into the fact that the show is round 3; Alexander had already been chosen by the producers, and may have thought she was a shoo-in. In any case, judging by the turmoil that occurred right after this event (and how upset one of the judges was), with producers etc. on the scene for almost 20 minutes, it seems unlikely these sort of things are always constructed. So that’s something.
5. There’s a slightly nasty vein of sexism
This can be picked up a little bit in the TV show, but at the live auditions it’s a lot worse. In Cardiff, this was mainly due to a warm-up man brought on to keep the audience entertained in breaks (there are quite a few). A lot of the stuff he was saying was pretty misogynistic; if broadcast, one could imagine ITV getting into a lot of trouble. Still, perhaps more disturbing was the fact that the audience seemed to lap it up. For me, it colours my experience of the rest of the programme.
7.The audience aren’t as emotionally manipulated as they appear
At least in my case. I should explain. at one point I had some dust in my eye, and I lent over to rub it out. Quick as a flash, my friend spotted a chance to embarrass me on national television and patted my back sincerely. I wasn’t sure why, until I realised that he’d conspired to make me look as if I’d been deeply emotionally touched by the Harry Styles-alike doing a Toxic cover.
I’m pretty sure that didn’t make the final cut, but by taking reaction shots out of context like that, the show may make things appear differently. The vibe was never that emotional as far as I could tell; more a hen night in a Nandos sort of ambiance.
And, most shocking of all….
8.They don’t play inspiring music live after every successful audition
Talk about your dreams cynically shattered. They must dub it in afterwards or something. Rubbish. I had to sing it in myself. How else are we supposed to know what to FEEL?