X Factor, ITV, review: Simon Cowell bans sob stories but Cheryl Cole can’t stop crying

The ITV juggernaut has come a way in the decade it’s been on air

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The Independent Culture

The X Factor was back on Saturday night and auditions opened with a cast of characters you may find familiar.

Carol, 63, had forgotten her dentures, but remembered her Axel Rose wig, a lovelorn teenager serenaded Cheryl with Shayne Ward’s "That’s My Goal’"and a comedy foreigner mistakenly thought herself equal to a Mariah Carey octave.

“It was like you’d swallowed a load of people and they were all screaming at the same time” said Simon. He’s used that line before. 

The X Factor is nominally a talent show, but along with the good, there’s always been a generous helping of the bad and the ugly. You could condemn this as exploiting the vulnerable and mocking the mentally ill, or you could enjoy it as a good-natured celebration of British eccentricity featuring ordinary people who are in on the joke. I’m inching away from the former and towards the latter. That’s my journey and they love a journey on The X Factor.


It’s helps that this ITV juggernaut has also come a way in the decade it’s been on air. Previous series have sometimes been dull or mawkish, but the eleventh feels like a more evolved entertainment product, in which the "bad" and the "ugly" are no longer synonymous.

Take Italian guy Andrea, who presented new judge Mel B with a plastic figurine of herself, spoke of his love of pugs in a Borat accent (“Yeeeees, like pugs, definitely!”), then proceeded to stun with a soulful rendition of Motown classic "Who’s Loving You".

Better still was Londoner Shayden. Good-looking, fashionable and confidently presenting his own composition, the judges were wowed by Shayden before he’d sung a single note. Then he did sing and it was dreadful. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Angelina Robinson (in red) and her Mum prepare for their audition

Forget all the wet singer-songwriters that The X Factor has previously feted in an attempt to be authentically "about the music". This show is best when it embraces pop in all its plastic-y perfection. So it’s good news that the teeny-bopper groups appear to be on form this year.

There was a so-irritating-it’s-intriguing sister act and a girl-group who boasted of rehearsing their harmonies in the chicken shop, but it was an energetic, mixed gender four-piece who impressed most. They also inspired Simon’s bitchiest bon mot of the evening: “I actually would like to find another Steps... but just with better people in it.”

It’s good to have SiCo back, isn’t it? His earlier edict that sob stories are “over” had also been observed, but in a way that still allowed fellow returnee Cheryl to do what she does best - prettily cried tears of well coiffed compassion. And after former contestant Amy sang her heart out, Cheryl wasn’t the only one sniffling.

New addition Mel B made for a hilariously plain-speaking foil to this, a sort of Bet Lynch to Cheryl’s Raquel Watts, and stalwart Louis brought along his sense of Puckish mischief. Whatever ‘it’ is, these four have got it. The "x factor", perhaps?