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Insults fly over heavy-handed 'Popstars' judges

It was a brutal introduction to the music industry for 19-year-old Carol Lynch. As if coping with rejection in the first round of auditions for ITV's latest version of Popstars was not enough, the shop assistant had to put up with apparent jibes about her weight from no less an authority than Geri Halliwell.

The panel has a reputation for rudeness. But its members this time – the pop Svengali Pete Waterman, his Irish equivalent Louis Walsh and the former Spice Girl – seemed so nice. One male judge even told Carol, a size 16, that she was a "larger than life'' character.

But Carol said Ms Halliwell, who lost weight dramatically after leaving the Spice Girls, had quipped that she was "very much larger than life''.

"She was there looking like a child. She is 30 and has the figure of an eight-year-old. That's not sending the right message to anybody.

"I don't have a figure like a child but I'm not going to start throwing up my food for anybody. I just think she's jealous of people who can sing,'' she said. Carol, from Basildon, Essex, thought her rendition of "I Wanna Be Down'' by the R and B band Brandy was probably not "cheesy'' enough for the programme, whose first series created the boy-girl band Hear'Say.

There is another possible explanation. By lunchtime yesterday Pete Waterman said he had heard enough appalling cover versions to have a cemetery of pop greats turning in their graves.

"Some of it has been awful. Some people who saw the first series are clearly chancing their arms,'' he said. Mr Waterman added that the judges were simply being honest with people who had no hope of a showbusiness career.

He and Mr Walsh claimed responsibility for any quips about the girls' weight but he admitted some of Ms Halliwell's comments had made them "choke".

Some failed contenders complained of the mauling they received from the judges.

Anne Raymond, 20, was stopped halfway through Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You'' by Mr Waterman, who told her it was "horrible''.

The part-time waitress from Nottingham said afterwards: "He said I had a beautiful face and nice body but I was making a horrible noise. It's disappointing but I was really nervous. It's a step back but I'll keep going.''

Determined optimism was a characteristic shared by all the 400 contestants at the Wembley Conference Centre in London at the first of a dozen mainly closed audition days for contestants who had sent in videos of themselves performing. Glasgow and Manchester will also hold auditions.

Chloe Staines, one of a handful to get through to the second round, showed how much optimism was needed to succeed.

When Mr Waterman told her she did not have star quality she told him he was wrong and challenged him until Ms Halliwell took her side. Unsurprisingly the 18-year-old London student had nothing but praise for the former Spice Girl. "I'm a big fan of hers, she is so determined and confident. Maybe she liked me because I'm like that as well,'' she said.

The new series, Popstars: The Rivals, starts next month. It will create an all-male and an all-female group to compete for the Christmas Number One. The 10 men and 10 women who qualify for the finals will live in Big Brother-style houses, with viewers urged to phone in to evict them one by one.