The X Factor has started again! The quest to find a singer who Simon Cowell can encourage to release an only single before ruthlessly dropping begins. The panel has changed for this year, vain Nicole Scherzinger has left to pursue her solo career and morose Gary Barlow has left to pursue his solo career (strangely, pursuing a solo career seems to function similar to El Dorado for X Factor judges as many of them seem to pursue this idea, but disappear soon afterwards). Simon Cowell is back (be happy yet depressed if you actually missed him) and Cheryl is back (her name is now Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, but the show seems nervous about calling her that, reverting to Cheryl Cole or just Cheryl). There are other changes, but they are more subtle. The show begins in a similar way to the rest, filled with lies and promotion. It begins with Simon Cowell and friends wondering how Britain remains a small country, yet produces the most well-known music. They name Adele, Coldplay and Rolling Stones (who refuse to appear) and One Direction (who Simon Cowell has recently claimed would be splitting up soon as that is what boy bands apparently do). They also name the “biggest girl band of all time: the Spicegirls”. Incidentally, I can’t remember the last time I have heard a Spicegirls song, even on retro music radio stations and compilation CDs dedicated to music from the 90’s. While this speech continues, the judges are shown reaching a destination (it is not clear where or if it has anything to do with the auditions). Cheryl comes out of a shadowy archway to get on a motorcycle dressed in a black leather outfit with the zip pulled low (it is sexy, yet covers her ridiculous rose tattoo, perfect, but why was she dressed like that in such a dark place?). Louis drives an expensive car along some streets like a man with his GPS hacked. Simon Cowell is driven to a field with a helicopter, as if he was actually banned from the country and needed to arrive in a clandestine fashion. Mel B arrives on a private jet (the cosiest way to be kicked out of America). At the end, Simon Cowell tells the audience why he returned and how he will never leave, which reminds me of Kane from the Command and Conquer series of computer games. They then explain why they are there. The cult leader explains that he had to come back (and rescue the failing show). Cheryl states the show needed her back (and rescue her failing career). Mel B claims she wanted to join (abusive messages should stop that). Louis proudly announces he will never leave (and will stay there, for ever, and ever, and ever).
One of the changes appears to be that the audtionees, instead of singing to a whole theatre, perform songs to the panel of judges, which is broadcast to the hall containing the other auditionees, who are watched by us, and we are watched by… Anyone out there? I don’t actually know why they do this, I liked the change back to the acts performing to the judges, rather than a huge crowd, as it didn’t mean they had to sing a song for the first time in front of a potentially terrifying audience, especially if they did not have much confidence or properly learnt to develop their talent. Displaying a recording of a private audition seems a bit underhanded. During the sequences where the material is viewed, the other hopefuls appear nasty, making snide comments about the auditionees appearance and manner. Another change is that Dermot O’Leary appears to feature less prominently. A lot of jokes have been made about Dermot O’Leary constantly hugging the failed contestants and he seems to have constantly appeared in the audition stage of previous series, interviewing contestants, standing with family as an auditionee performs, describing a location to camera before a long-range shot. In this series, he seems to have become an unseen presence. The auditionees have interviews to camera and Dermot himself is mainly heard as a voice over. The only time he seems to appear in person is when he is mobbed by crowds of supporters.
Mel B is a new addition to the panel. In the previous series, Mel B apparently proved herself to be a fearless guest judge, prepared to provide blunt truths in the form of insults and brutal criticisms to auditionees. In this episode, however, she seems to have got rid of her collection of put-downs and become more positive about the acts. A cynical person might wonder if her blunt truths were just a marketing trick to get noticed by Simon Cowell and join the panel (or, another blunt truth, become another person to sink to their hands and knees to crawl after Simon Cowell and lick up what ever money and publicity he drops) so that her verbal attacks might attract more publicity to a waning programme. Oddly enough, Simon Cowell himself seems to have become more gentle, hiding his famous insults and being more positive. Is this anything to do with the X Factor declining viewing figures?
Cheryl is back, along with the constant promotion that she is a goddess in human form. In this first episode, there is a segment where a variety of auditionees describe how excited they are to see Cheryl Cole (someone correct them) and how beautiful they think she is (just ignore the hook nose). This seems to ignore the fact she is now married and uses a different name (actually this is a bit of an obsession for the X Factor, in the past Dermot O’Leary would refer to her as “Miss Cole”, even though she has never been Miss Cole, but was either Mrs. Cole or Miss Tweedy). This also causes another question to be asked, doesn’t anyone think Mel B is attractive? At one point, Mel B declares she hates sitting next to “this woman” (is this because she feels ugly sitting next to her or is Cheryl turning back into a racist thug?).
Despite the increased positivity towards the acts in this new series, there are still auditionees who seem to be there to provide mocking entertainment. One singer enters with a keyboard, who, after seeming to charm the judges, states that he will sing a song about how women can betray men. This instantly causes reactions in each of the judges, who pull the doomed face of someone realising they are sitting in the same room as a psychopath. Don’t they know what the lyrics to Tom Jones’ song Delila are? Or to Kenny Rogers’ song Ruby? Cheryl and two of the men leave (sorry, I saw Cheryl and this altered my perception of Mel B), leaving Simon Cowell alone with the blatant murderer. In the end, Simon Cowell rejects him and the man leaves calmly (even though he does treat the judge to a second song).