On Aug. 30, 2014, the 11th season of "The X Factor" U.K. premiered on ITV with the episode that many people had been anticipating, since had the first full-length televised footage of the return of Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole (now known as Cheryl Fernandez-Versini) to the show's judging panel. The 11th season premiere offered more of the same predictable "X Factor" formula: bad auditions, good auditions and some sob stories blended into the spectacle.
Cowell and Cole left the show's judging panel in 2011 to become judges on "The X Factor" U.S., but Cole was fired from "The X Factor" U.S. after just two months on the job. "X Factor" creator/executive producer Cowell returned to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel after "The X Factor" U.S. was cancelled in 2014. (Cowell isn't completely gone from U.S. television. As of Aug. 31, 2014, AXS TV in the U.S. will begin televising new episodes of "The X Factor" U.K., the night after each new episode is televised in the U.K.)
The 2014 "X Factor" U.K. judging panel is a reunion of three-fourths of the judging panel that the show had from 2008 to 2010: Cowell, Cole and Louis Walsh, the only "X Factor" U.K. judge who has been on the show's panel since the show's 2004 debut. Mel B joined "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2014. She was a guest judge on the show in 2012 and brings plenty of experience as a judge on other talent shows, including "The X Factor" Australia (where she was a judge in 2011 and 2012), "America's Got Talent" (she joined that show in 2013) and "The Voice Kids" Australia (where she became a judge in 2014).
So what's changed about Cowell since he was away from "The X Factor" U.K. panel from 2011 to 2013? He's gotten a lot jollier and more likely to laugh than scowl at bad auditions. He still hurls plenty of insults, but they're less mean-spirited than they were back in the show's 2008 to 2010 heyday. And even the sight of Cowell smashing a guitar, as tongue-in-cheek as it was, just seemed staged and ridiculously dumb. The fact is that he's not as tough of a judge as he used to be. Cowell going "soft" isn't going to help boost the show's ratings, now that BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing" has been getting more viewers in the U.K. than "The X Factor" U.K.
Cowell and the rest of the judges have been telling the media how great the camaraderie is on this year's judging panel, but we'll see how long that lasts, since the judges' bickering doesn't really start until the live episodes that begin in October.
Of course, since this is "The X Factor," there were plenty of tear-jerking moments. What would "The X Factor" be without crying and sob stories? One of the several moments that Fernandez-Versini began crying on the show was during the audition of Amy Connelly, 25. Connelly was a contestant on "The X Factor" U.K. back in 2008, when Fernandez-Versini (then known as Cheryl Cole) was her "X Factor" mentor. Connelly made it all the way to judges' houses but was eliminated. Fernandez-Versini cried tears of joy at being reunited with Connelly, who performed "With You" from the musical "Ghost." She got unanimous "yes" votes from the judges.
Viewers all over the Internet have had mixed reactions to "The X Factor" U.K.'s 11th season premiere. While some welcomed the return of Cowell and Cole, others said they preferred the show when it had Gary Barlow and Nicole Scherzinger as judges. (See a sampling of comments at the end of this article.) It's too early to know who will be the show's winner in 2014, but the first episode usually features at least one contestant who ends up in the Top 5.
Here are some of the audition highlights from the episode:
(All of these contestants were put through to the next round.)
Lauren Platt is 16, but she has a mature voice that makes her sound at least 10 years older than she is. She impressed the judges with her rendition of Queen Latifah's "I Know Where I Have Been." Cowell gushed to Platt, "I think we may have found someone special with you."
Jay James, 30, told a sob story about an injury he got when he was in the Navy and how music was an escape for him. He also said he was auditioning for "The X Factor" for his toddler daughter, who was shown several times looking wide-eyed while being held by her anxious-looking mother, in case viewers' heartstrings weren't pulled hard enough. His performance of A Great Big World's "Say Something" started off wobbly but his raw emotion carried the performance and ended up making self-confessed hardheart Mel B cry. Fernandez-Versini also shed tears during James' audition. He easily got unanimous "yes" votes from the judges.
Chloe-Jasmine Wichello, 24, did a sultry version of Ella Fitzgerald's "Black Coffee" that wowed all of the judges. It remains to be seen how far her jazzy style will take her on the pop-centric "X Factor." Her "X Factor" audition in 2014 was the complete opposite of her disastrous "X Factor" audition in 2006, when Cowell said she was "a parent's worst nightmare" and she was rejected by all of the judges. In the meantime, the Daily Mirror has already reported that Wichello (a former contestant on the TV modeling contest "The Face") posed for topless photos. Considering that other "X Factor" contestants in the past have had tabloids expose their prison records, illegal drug taking and work in the adult-entertainment industry, the reality is that topless photos are very tame in comparison.
Chole O'Gorman, 17, did a very good version of Joss Stone's "Right to Be Wrong." She had a few minor pitch problems, but she was one of the more talented contestants showcased in this episode.
(All of these contestants were rejected by the judges.)
Blonde Electric is a hyperactive duo of American sisters named Jazzy (who is 24) and Ruby (who is 22) who like to talk over each other and squeal a lot. Blonde Electric performed a terrible version of Jessie J's "Do It Like a Dude" that would test anyone's endurance skills to sit through that mess. And even though Cowell called Blonde Electric the "most irritating girl group in the world," he still gave them a "yes" vote, as did Walsh and Mel B. It was a blatant attempt to exploit this novelty act to get viewers talking about how annoying Blonde Electric is. Sorry, but these kinds of bad novelty acts do not get more people to watch the show. Cowell and company still haven't learned that lesson.
In the "crazy contestant" department, Carol Tevarthan, 63, took the prize in this episode, as she came dressed as Tina Turner, bleated out Turner's "The Best," and dropped her skirt to reveal her flabby lower body wearing a garter belt. It was a sight that no one wanted to see.
Shayden Willis, 37, awkwardly sang a medley of his own songs, which he said were inspired by a woman breaking his heart. After hearing his pathetic caterwauling, it's no wonder why she left him. Most of the judges on the panel couldn't take it either, since all of the judges except Cowell walked out during Willis' audition.
Steve Calligari, 58, murdered Coldplay's "Clocks." The less remembered about this atrocity, the better.
Jale Antor performed Cheryl Cole's "Fight for This Love" wearing red-and-black quasi-military garb that was similar to what Cole wore in the song's video. This "audition" just reeked of a set-up to make Cole looked uncomfortable.
Whenever there's an average singer who looks like a possible teen idol, the judges always like to say that the contestant has "potential." Translation: "You're not very talented, but teenage girls will probably like you a lot, so we'll put you through to the next round" And that's the reason why these contestants were put through to the next round: 15-year-old Reece Bibby and 14-year-old Charlie Jones.
Then there was Ben Quinlan, 19, who didn't really audition as much as serenade Fernandez-Versini when he performed Shayne Ward's "That's My Goal." Quinlan shamelessly flirted with Fernandez-Versini by giving her a rose. Mel B raises her hand in mock indignation and said "Where's mine?" During Quinlan's performance, he took Fernandez-Versini's hand while Fernandez-Versini looked uncomfortable and then mortified when, at the end of the song, Cowell suggested that she give Quinlan a kiss. Quinlan had to settle for a hug instead. The flirting must have worked because Quinlan was put through to the next round.
Here is a sampling of viewer comments about this "X Factor" episode:
"I've always been a big fan of X-Factor but tonite was a bit dull. Some of the people they put thro - really??? Is this now a comedy show?"
"I love X Factor and look forward to it every year, but I'm hoping it gets better. I thought tonight's was pretty dire, Cheryl was the saving grace."
"I know I am going to sound very mean for saying this, but can we please have less back stories and more singing please? I'm just really sick and tired of hearing the same old back stories we've heard like a hundred times now, plus, it takes up too much of the show's timing, we get less singing and more boring same old stories we've heard over and over again. It's just not interesting anymore."
"Cheryl was brutal! So up herself. Panel so boring."
"More like the Cheryl Factor tonight! rather have Gary Barlow at least he has real! talent."
"Miss Sharon and Nicole and Gary....very much."
"Amy Connolly shone for me brought tears to my eyes."
"Not the same with out gary nicole an sharon its more like the cheryl show cant stand her."
"Can't get ova them callin cheryl queen of pop she can't sing a note she is only were she is cause of simon madonna is queen of pop r they trying to say cheryl is as good as her don't think soo nt a chance !"
"Thought I was watching the 'Cheryl cole' show... DISAPPOINTING!!! Bored already.. Xxx"
"Jay James was amazing."
"Those two irritating blondes shud have gone."
"The bloke with the never ending audition lol so funny and simon cutting up loads of cake for Louis hee her best audition show for ages."
"Oh and what's with the auditions in the room? Hated it last year and hate it this year!.. Rant over!"
"X factor ,,, seemed more like the Cheryl factor bit of a let down but glad it's bk on."
"Actually really impressed with tonight's episode.. Normally I get bored of the auditions but have to say I prefer the 'old format' they've gone back to with Cheryl and Simon."
"Just put Xfactor on. How can they sit there all high & mighty whilst publicly humiliating these poor people?"
"I love it when the X-Factor shows the really wacky acts. It makes me and goats giggle. Lol Louis is eating Chinese cake and giggling."
"X Factor are really missing a trick by not showing the auditions of the people with tragic sob stories who also have a horrible voice."
"Well I can honestly say that @ReeceBibby was the best on xfactor tonight :)"
"X-factor had me in bits! I'm so emotional! Talent makes me so happy and an emotional wreck lol."