X Factor Auditions 2011: It’s a question mark from me.

┬áThis year’s ‘X Factor’ is full of changes: more auditionees than last year, three new judges and new expectations.

First thing’s first: the new judging panel. Gary Barlow is, in short, a wonderful man. He’s firm but fair, and knows how to judge talent. I wish the same could be said for Tulisa from N Dubz, who really doesn’t seem to have a clear knowledge of what constitutes talent. Unlike the gorgeous Kelly Rowland, who is both fierce and loving, at one point moved to tears but in a non-Cheryl-Cole way (i.e. it seemed genuine). And then there’s good old dependable Louis Walsh, who doesn’t chuckle at the little Irish man who rambles on about nothing? Together, though, they didn’t seem like the old panel. There was no particularly interesting chemistry or bond between them, and in some respects this meant they did the job of finding talent efficiently and without distractions, but the cattiness and infamous put-downs of the previous series were definitely missed.

The acts themselves were ambivalent. The stand-out act was a 28 year old soldier singing ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ beautifully. There were no real crackers though, and to be frank, I don’t think I saw the winner of the ‘X Factor’ today. The controversy, though, came with a sixteen-year-old nicknamed Bambi. Painfully shy, the voice that came from this young girl was absolutely fantastic, and she belted out Alicia Keys beautifully. But then came the judges’ verdict: come back in a few years, not ready yet, nothing special. The audience acted as the fifth judge and demanded a ‘yes’, a request only obliged by Louis. The others said no, and the fifth judge was not impressed. Every subsequent act was followed by a cacophony of chants for Bambi, particularly when two other sixteen-year-olds with considerably less talent were put through. And it was ignoring the audience that cost the judges dearly: the atmosphere in the LG considerably flattened, and the faith in the judges’ ability was clearly knocked. Not helped by Tulisa’s little dig at the end of the show: ‘thanks to SOME of you for making us welcome.’ Correct me if I’m wrong, but the tickets the audience were sent and the comedian compering the show instructed us to make our voices heard: well, what’s the point of being heard if no one notices?

Then there was Madika, whose performance Gary Barlow called ‘forgettable’. After being rejected, every child’s worst nightmare came true: the girl’s mother stormed the stage and demanded her child be allowed to sing a second song. Gary, quite rightly, asked what the point would be when she’d already been rejected once; Tulisa thought confronting the mother on stage was the right way to go. Hint: never confront an angry mom. She went home dejected, the judges sat back in their questionable decision not to allow her a second song in the face of some of the awful acts who just weren’t told to shut up.

Take the guy singing Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’ whilst writhing on the floor. The most boring, mumbly voice meant the song went more like “mrrrrrhh mrrrrrhhh’ than resembling lyrics. Kelly Rowland was left justifiably speechless, and yet he was allowed to sing Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’, which allegedly made girls fall at his feet…in agony, perhaps. Then there was Eugene, who came on stage in a high-vis jacket and just kept talking and talking and…After “singing”, he just would not leave the stage, so Gary Barlow (at this point every audience members’ hero) went on stage and confiscated the mic, forcing horrific Eugene to get off. Thank. God.

So my question mark comes from a comparison with the experience of last year’s Birmingham auditions: there was informed judgement but no sparks to catch our interest. In turn, this meant the atmosphere fell flatter than last year: less cheers, less involvement, it was like being an audience at a theatre production rather than at a show where the audience are expected to be massively involved. Everything felt a little stale instead of refreshed by the new panel, and what I believe is that this comes from Simon Cowell’s absence. He’s charismatic, fair and firm yet witty, and a born leader: the judging panel felt like they were floating around without an anchor to weigh them down. Essentially, Simon Cowell both is and has the X factor, and without him it wasn’t so much as a showbiz affair.