By Alexia Greig
Make-up essentials, hairbrush, camera, tissues, baby wipes, paper and pen, a French FHM, wallet, phone, umbrella, spare tights, lunch and snacks, prints of lyrics, Strepsils, caffeine tablets, paracetamol. It is 7.40am on Wednesday the 9th of March, and I am ready for the Glasgow auditions of The X Factor.
Rewind a bit. My name is Alexia. I am 31 and live in Nairn, next to Inverness. If you hear me speak, you might think that I am French or something, and you would be right. I have been in the country for almost 10 years. I have a Scottish husband, two little girls, a part-time job as an administrator, a library card, a yoga DVD, a piano, a swimming-pool membership and a garden (with too many bushes and flowers for its own good).
So, why The X Factor? Why? Well, I love it. I am not obsessed, I just love it, and every year I look forward to it. When they introduced the Sunday night show, I initially thought that it would be too much. I was wrong. I LOVE IT! Combine that with the fact that I love singing, and you get a candidate for the show. I applied mid-December, and since then have been practicing on an almost daily basis, looking for songs to suit my voice and my image. I would have never taken this new hobby of mine seriously without the focus of the TV show.
Anyway, back to the day. I am standing in a queue, surrounded by some 3000 people, a third of whom I presume are here to support their friends or relatives. The ratio of nutters is no way near what is screened on TV. I can spot a Scooby Doo, a 50-something-year-old ‘lady’ extremely made-up – with large enough breasts to fill her fluorescent pink dress twice over – and a younger one who seemingly stole Katie Price’s first wedding outfit. There is also the occasional colour-blind pre-pubescent boy with a red and yellow Scottish flag painted on his face. (Or were the tones deliberately chosen to hide a burst of acne?) No, the pack looks normal to me, if not a bit fancier than your usual display in a high street.
I came here alone but quickly bonded with a bunch of lovely teenage girls. It is extremely refreshing to hang around with them. I am at a totally different place life-wise, and one would tend to think that we have nothing in common. Not quite true! We all are very excited to be here and want to make the most of this day whatever the outcome. Isla is a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Edinburgh; her sister Eilidh is here to cheer her on. Like me, it is Isla’s first X Factor auditions. She planned to come along a few months ago and trained hard ever since. This Adele lookalike is soft-spoken and polite. Chloe, my new friend number 2, might be polite but soft-spoken she is not! She is sugary-voiced, bubbly, make-up free and positively gorgeous. At just 18, this sales assistant is an X Factor veteran who already made it once up to the judges. Third time lucky?
We are standing outside for ages before anything exciting happens. My planning skills prove to be useful more than once. Snowing? Let’s share my umbrella girls! Someone stepped on your jacket Isla? Here is a baby wipe! You look a bit tired Chloe… have a caffeine tablet (this one made me slightly feel like a dealer prowling around school grounds). Unfortunately, when a couple of my fingers start to turn yellow, I am utterly without resource.
But then comes the crowd cheerer. I don’t think we were told his name: I’m just going to call him Jeff. I think it is a good name for a crowd cheerer. Jeff is illuminating our world. He promises us stardom over and over again (“you are all going to be on camera!!!”). He’s teaching us all about ‘silent cheering’ (“when Dermott walks amongst you, act as if you were shouting and cheering, but don’t make a sound”). He offers us the opportunity to dance on stage to grab our three seconds of fame when the show airs. Then, Jeff frees three giant X Factor balloons for the crowd to play with. I almost touch one. On a less positive side, he’s making us shout over and over again… is he trying to damage our voices? Dermott appears for maybe 10 minutes. He introduces The X Factor auditions while making his way through the demented mass which is cheering silently. Lucky for him that Jeff advised us to wave our hands in the air rather than in the star presenter’s face. That could have been a hell of a Glasgow kiss otherwise!
I don’t think that the girls and I are ever truly bored. We nicely complement Jeff’s entertainment with stories and jokes of our own, and there are much-needed trips to the portaloos. Shortly after 11am, just as our legs are starting to get tired and another of my fingers is getting yellow, the friendly mob starts to move forward. 45 minutes later, we are seated, at last. The room is huge. The rows of wannabe singers are facing 25 cubicles, each one of them hosting a judge, aka a member of the production team. Time for some food: the number of people ahead of us is such that there is more than enough time to check that the crucial moment won’t be spoilt by some grape skin stuck between my front teeth.
We are now waiting patiently for our row to be called. Noises are coming out of the cubicles. Some of them are good, some very bad. Sometimes one is so loud that the waiting gentry interrupts all conversations for a whole 5 seconds. Some rare people come out with a Golden Ticket: they are through to the next round, which will take place on the following day in front of a wider panel from the production team. The range of reactions from the successful applicants is wide: some scream, some squeal, some cry, some blush, discreetly clutching the beautiful piece of paper. Their joy and pride is well deserved: according to my estimations, they belong to a select 0.5% of the victorious.
I used to cringe when I saw on TV devastated people after being rejected by Simon and co. (“Come on guy, it’s not the end of the world!”) But I can now imagine that once you have seen yourself going forward when so many went home, it is very easy to get your hopes up. And who would blame them? If they had done their statistics homework beforehand, it might have helped them to put things in perspective. The odds will become smaller, but they are still devastatingly gloomy.
3pm. Me, Chloe and Isla are called to stand in our final queue of the day. We still have roughly 10 minutes before heading to a cubicle. It is just enough to grab a Strepsil to clear the way. Isla and a random guy need one, so I oblige. Isla is very nervous while I am very excited. As for Chloe, she is very concerned about the fact that they might not allow her to take her guitar in. (“That would be unfair, another girl was allowed, do you think they will? Do you think they won’t? What shall I do?...”)
Isla is finally up. A beautiful voice is rising and a golden ticket is handed. She is obviously not one of the people who are selected to be made fun of later. It is now my turn. I am now face to face with this middle-aged lady who oozes decency. Time to sing. I chose a French classic, Ne me quitte pas, from Jacques Brel. I am belting out just the way I planned, and I am taking it as a compliment when asked to sing another song. New York from Paloma Faith is my doom. As I am singing, I realise a couple of times that I am not hitting a note perfectly. I will also realise later that this was not the right song to complement the first one. “I am sorry but you are unsuccessful on this occasion. Thank you for coming”. Chloe is up next. She is allowed to sing with her guitar, asked to sing another song and comes out glowing with her golden ticket.
Here I am, surrounded by two golden ticket holders. It is a shame: they are not giving way to their delight because of me. Instead, they are trying to make me feel better (how lovely!). I am obviously a bit disappointed emotionally, but not from a statistical point of view. It is now time for heartfelt hugs for goodbye and good luck. I will look for them on Facebook, and check out how they are doing on the X Factor and in life (wishing that both will be intricately linked for them).
Training for The X Factor has been a constant in my life for the last few months. I enjoyed learning new songs, expanding my range week after week, discovering new ways to use my voice. But it was more than that. It made me appreciate what it takes to be a real singer. It is not enough to have a good voice, it needs to be perfect, every single note, every single part of the note. It also made me appreciate how hard an X Factor judge’s role is. I found it difficult to find material to fit me, in terms of range and style.
Will I be back next year? I am not sure yet. The X Factor auditions are an excellent catalyst to my singing training. Being there is also something quite special. I am now part of a show which is tickling the nation year after year. Yes, I might be back. I will then make sure that I am meeting again with Isla, Eilidh and Chloe… unless they ignore the statistics and make it all the way to the live shows. I will also make sure that I have a bigger bag. Oh, and I might want to add a flask of coffee and a quilt.