As you may know, I’m a TalkTalk ambassador, and have been working with them for the last year or so. A couple of weeks ago, they contacted me and asked if I’d like to go to a recording of the judges auditions for X Factor. If I’m honest, my first response was, “hmm, I’ve never really watched X Factor before; I’m not sure whether to bother with this…” Then I came to my senses, and replied to the email with a big, fat yes. Whether you watch the TV show or not, X Factor is a massive thing across the globe now, and to be able to go and sit in that audience is a bit of a big deal – for me, at least.
As it happened, the dates I’d been given to choose from coincided with a friend visiting town. I went to college with Nikki about 16 years ago, and around 13 years ago she moved to Glasgow. We’d fallen out of contact until Facebook came along. She has two children, one of whom I last saw when she was a year old, and the other I had never met. Of course, this was too good an opportunity to miss! I asked Nikki if she would like to bring her daughters to watch the auditions with me. Her daughters immediately went bonkers with excitement, and it was decided.
On the day, our tickets were available for collection from 2:30pm. We arrived at Wembley Arena at 2pm, and were faced with massive crowds of people, waiting for the judges to arrive. Call me stupid; I hadn’t considered the idea that people would be standing outside, waiting to see them! We were anxious to make sure we got our tickets, so we asked one of the many staff members where we needed to go. This caused some confusion, since most people going to see the X Factor auditions at Wembley Arena go to the box office, but we were collecting complimentary tickets from Talk Talk – from a completely different place! It turned out the place we needed to go to was inside of a large area that had been cordoned off, so we couldn’t get to it until the judges had gone in. So we set ourselves up in the crowd, to watch the judges arrive.
Of course, the judges were all late. We received a text from TalkTalk to tell us they would keep the ticket collection open until the judges had gone in, so that we could still get our tickets – but we were still a bit nervous about missing out. It was a really hot day, and there were no public toilets or snack shops within sight, so we stood in the sun and waited around for things to kick off.
This photo shows how far we were from the “action” – the entire empty section in the foreground of this photo was cordoned off, presumably because steps and crowds don’t mix. In this photo, Caroline Flack (one of the new presenters) is arriving, and the girls next to us in the crowd are screaming as if they’ve been touched by the hand of God, shouting out “Alesha! Alesha!” because they’ve mistaken Caroline Flack for Alesha Dixon. Because, you know, they look so alike.
After Caroline Flack, we saw Olly Murrs, Nick Grimshaw, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and Rita Ora arrive – but no Simon Cowell. By this point, it was about half an hour after the show was supposed to have started. It was really hot, and everyone was getting a bit antsy. I’m not sure if maybe Simon was already in the building, but we didn’t see him. Eventually the cordons were taken down, and we were able to collect our tickets, at which point we were advised to go straight through the door next to us – thus bypassing the massive crowd of people currently queueing at every other entrance! Things went from good to better, as we got into the arena and were told by one of the security staff that we would be sitting on the auditorium floor, not way up in the stands as we had expected.
This is a terrible photo, taken in an interminable queue for the toilets before we went into the auditorium. We were in the 13th row, just to the left of the judges’ table. Our position meant we were also able to see backstage to the side, where Olly and Caroline would be interviewing people as they came off stage.
As it happens, my friend’s daughter is completely bonkers about Nick Grimshap (I know, right? Who knew?) and she was beside herself at being so close to him!
Before the main show began, a man came out onto the stage to warm the crowd up. He had us dancing and jumping up and down, but also, he had us doing fake reactions that could be used in the TV show. With strict instructions not to look at the camera as it panned around us, we had to first be “shocked” then to jump up clapping an amazing performance, and finally to turn to the person next to us and laugh, pointing to the stage as if something hilarious were occurring. Nothing hilarious was occurring; the guy on stage wasn’t even able to speak during this bit as it would be picked up by the cameras!
We then had a bit of a pep talk: we were all told to put our cameras away, as nothing about the auditions is to be leaked to the press or social media before the show airs. He pointed out several rather burly looking men standing in front of the stage, watching the crowd, and we were told that anyone found to be photographing or recording the show would be taken out of the auditorium and made to listen to five hours of Peter Andre.
We were also asked not to move from our seats at all once the show began – because the auditions are only done once, and the judges’ reactions etc are recorded live, without retakes etc, and it would look a bit rubbish if Simon Cowell were there expounding his views, and in the background a bunch of people were just nipping out to the loo.
After we’d all been told the house rules, Olly Murrs and Caroline Flack came out onto the stage briefly to introduce the judges. Then the judges came out and walked to their seats, where they stood and waved to the crowd for a while and we were allowed to take photos before our mobiles were banished to our pockets (on silent, of course).
I managed to get a couple of badly focused photos…
Not wanting to be subjected to five hours of Peter Andre, I put my mobile away as soon as I’d taken this photo! The judges soon sat down, and the show began.
The nature of the show means that contestants just sort of wander out onto the stage, while a member of the crew stands to the side of the stage and motions to the crowd to clap. It’s a bit surreal, in that they’re not really introduced in any way. They then have a bit of a chat with the judges, and sing their hearts out. We saw some truly amazing acts; the sort that give you goosebumps and make you think they’re this year’s winner… until the next one comes out and blows you away!
When each act has been given their yes or no they go back offstage for their interview with Olly and Caroline, and during that bit we were just sort of twiddling our thumbs until the next act came. There were also several breaks in production, at which point Simon would usually disappear, and the hair and makeup people would descend upon the other judges. Rita Ora had her hair tied in a high ponytail that came down over her right shoulder (I’m fairly sure it was extensions). The amount of time spent spraying, combing and positioning that ponytail was, frankly, ridiculous. And of course, while one person was doing that, another was touching up her make up. My friend’s daughter commented that she didn’t think Rita Ora wore much make up, at which point I invited her to watch just how much powder was currently being brushed onto her face!
During the makeup breaks, sections of the crowd would group together to all scream one of the judges’ names at the same time. Said judge would then hopefully turn around and wave in their direction, and they would all screech. This happened a lot and my friend’s daughter was keeping a tally of how many times Nick Grimshaw had waved in her direction.
The letter I had received from TalkTalk stated the show times as 15:30 to 18:30, but at 19:30 we were still in our seats and acts were still coming out. During the last makeup break, the warm-up guy came out on stage and told us that if we wanted to stay for the second recording, we could collect wrist bands on our way out of the auditorium later. He also asked us, once the judges had left, to stay in our seats so that they could film more crowd scenes with us.
The auditorium was really hot and stuffy; we were crammed in fairly close together, and there was no air. Having been asked not to leave our seats, we were all getting hungry and thirsty – and grouchy and headachey! As the final act left the stage, my friend’s daughter went incredibly pale and said she felt sick. Rather than risk something terribly inconveinent happening, we left the auditorium as soon as the judges stood up.
This is my friend and her children on the way back to the tube station after we had left Wembley Arena.
People who follow my blog may be aware that I don’t have a TV aerial or licence, and don’t therefore watch live TV. I have to admit, going to the X Factor judges’ auditions made me seriously consider getting an aerial and a licence, so that I can watch the show when it airs – not just to see if I can spot myself in the audience, but also to see the acts we saw, to see how they do – and to see whether we did spot the winner!