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Geri Halliwell fills in as X Factor returns

The X Factor is back with its trademark mixture of the tone-deaf and the genuinely talented.

The seventh series of the reality talent show hits TV screens on Saturday and first up to try and impress the judges were would-be stars in Glasgow and London.

With Dannii Minogue on maternity leave after the birth of her son, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Cheryl Cole were joined in Scotland by Geri Halliwell.

The former Spice Girl took to the role with enthusiasm and her non-stop chatter left her fellow judges stunned.

First to audition was house-husband Stephen Hunter whose mixture of soulful vocals and dancing last seen at a 1980's school disco set the tone for the rest of the show.

Despite managing to miss his cue, the 41-year-old who promised to "give it everything" got the thumbs-up from all four judges.

Among the potential stars already identified was Gamu Nhengu - an 18-year-old student who left her native Zimbabwe for Scotland five years ago.

Her version of Katrina and the Waves' Walking on Sunshine wowed the judges with Cowell praising her "old school jazz voice".

Not everyone did so well and as the auditions moved to London one tuneless trio left the judges stunned into silence with a performance Cowell later described as "possibly the worst group we've ever had on this show".

Other potential stars included a singing waitress and a devoted Freddie Mercury fan who was given a rare second chance after her attempt to sing like her hero fell flat.

Earlier, Cowell revealed he was looking for a "great artist" to emerge from this series.

He said: "They have that steel in their eyes - it's charisma, personality, being unique, entertaining, all those things rolled into one."

Minogue will rejoin the show but her place was taken at the auditions by a series of guest judges including another former Neighbours star Natalie Imbruglia, Pixie Lott, Katy Perry and Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger.

Cole admitted she enjoyed the support of the guest judges, saying: "It's lovely for me that there are other women on the panel because I couldn't be sitting between those two miserable so and so's on my own! I love having other women with us."

Former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq has also signed up as the new host of The Xtra Factor on ITV2.

The contestants are divided into four categories, boys aged 16 to 24, girls aged 16 to 24, over-24-year-olds and groups.

Bookmakers have already installed Minogue as favourite to be crowned the winning mentor despite her absence from the early episodes.

She is 9-4 favourite, followed by Cowell and Cole, and Louis Walsh as the 4-1 outsider.

* The new series of The X Factor begins at 7.30pm on Saturday on ITV1.