August 17, 2008

Week End: Return of the X-Hibitionists ; THERE’s a New Judge to Impress, a New Recording Contract Up for Grabsand Thousands of Hopefuls Keen to Prove They Have the X Factor. TV writerMARION McMULLEN Find Out What It Takes to Be a Winner in the ITV Talent


THE wait is over. The X Factor is back and a record-breaking 182,000 applications have made it the biggest auditions the UK has ever seen.

They are all dreaming of hitting the big time and winning a life- changing prize of a pounds 1million record contract.

The hit talent search returns for its fifth series tonight with Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Dannii Minogue judging at auditions around the country.

And, for the first time, they are also joined by Girls Aloud's Cheryl Cole, who replaces Sharon Osbourne on the panel.

There's a sense things have come full circle for the waitress- turneddiva, who won Popstars: The Rivals in 2002.

The 24-year-old says it was "scary" to be joining the ITV show, but adds: "It's a massive honour to be following in the footsteps of Sharon Osbourne.

"The rest of the girls have said they're right behind me, which is really important for me as it will be weird to be on the other side of the fence this time. So while we get started on the next album, it will be brilliant to be a judge on The X Factor."

Cheryl and the other three judges will be looking after one of the four categories - boys, girls, 25s and over and groups - but first up are the fun-packed audition shows complete with crackpots, the tonedeaf and the clearly deluded.

But there is some potential star quality among the no-hopers including a top boy band from London and a 26-year-old mother of five.

Of course, on the other hand the judges say they found the worst boy band of all time in Cardiff.

The thousands of aspiring stars are put through their paces tonight and presenter Dermot O'Leary will be back to offer a shoulder to cry on to unfortunate contestants who don't make the grade, and share in the joy of those lucky enough to be invited backto perform again.

The judges did not become rich and famous without being fiercely competitive, and they'll be desperate to ensure their act follows in the footsteps of 2007 victor Leon Jackson by walking away with that recording contract.

The winner not only stands a good chance of landing a Christmas No 1, but could also be the hottest new face of 2009.

But if any of the contestants believe just looking good on a talent show is enough to win respect from Louis Walsh, they'd better think again.

The man behind acts such as Boyzone, Westlife and formerly Girls Aloud gives short shrift to those in search of an easy ticket to stardom.

"Music has to be from the soul, it has to be about learning your craft," he explains. "I don't want these people to think they can just walk into a television show and become a star. It doesn't happen like that. You have to be good."

Even those who don't clinch the big prize are in with a chance of becoming famous, as Ray Quinn, Chico and classical boy band G4 have proved.

Of course, The X Factor has not only boosted the coffers of Walsh, but also Simon Cowell, the man who became globally famous for his withering putdowns.

Since the last series ended, he barely had time to catch his breath before jetting across the Pond to collaborate on American Idol, America's Got Talent and another British version of the latter.

Expect lots of acidic criticisms from Cowell between now and December when the series finishes. He's already been overheard telling one hopeful: "It would be like booking Louis as a stripper. It just doesn't work."

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