“This is your chance to shine!
Give it everything you’ve got!
Show us your voice and personality!
If you are successful you will be given a gold slip and the X Factor team will tell you where to go.
If you are unsuccessful your number will be crossed out and you must exit via your nearest stairwell
The judges decision is final and please do not ask for feedback.
Go for it and Good Luck!
And so I found myself in Cardiff City Stadium. I was “Living the Dream”. I “Went for it”. and was gonna “Give it one hundred and ten percent” But there’s a story first. Before the public get to gawp at the ‘chosen ones’ on the TV the ‘X- Factor’ auditions thousands of hopefuls on a ‘turn up and sing’ basis – in a stadium in one of the UK’s cities. London O2 Arena and Cardiff Sity Stadium are two of these.
I accompanied a friend of mine who was auditioning at O2 Arena – I went along as I felt there could be an interesting photo-story here. I was marked as a non-singer or ‘friend and family’ by a pink paper armband. Singers got purple ones. The website instructed the public to arrive at 8am which we duly did, and dearly wished we hadn’t! The first four hours of the day was spent standing in an ever-growing queue, fenced firmly into place by metal barriers. We were continually instructed to ‘make the sign of the cross’, ‘wave your arms to the side’, ‘cheer and jump up’ and also to engage in ‘silent cheering’ (the sound to which I can only surmise was to be dubbed on later, over images of peoples dentures and flapping tongues) This workout was compered by a man with a step ladder, a microphone and so much bonhomie you certainly wouldn’t want to get trapped in a lift with him. Two hours after the first promise of ‘soon you will all be going into your auditions’, we were teased by a further promise of a helicopter which would (one day) arrive to take our crowd images from a height of 1000 metres.
By hour three the crowd had evidently lost interest and that’s when they unleashed the secret weapon known as Dermot O’Leary. More stepladders, TV cameras and hand shaking while he prepared to deliver a speech to camera which consisted of “Will the next X Factor Winner be found here today in (where are we?) Oh yes London!!!!” (Silent Cheering !) It took quite a few takes and one more hour of our time under increasingly hot sunshine. Carefully-applied make up begun to slide off faces, grins and expressions of X Factor jollity had become rictus-like. The quasi-religious experience was drawing to a close; the crowd duly converted to the cult of the X had faithfully made the sign of the cross and had shouted Hallelujah! to a distant helicopter. We were redeemed by being allowed to move into the hallowed cathedral of the O2 Arena. The queue snaked towards the doors, sloughing a skin of crisp packets, sandwich wrappers and mislaid cosmetics to the floor. Energies rose along with the balloons, flags and X Factor-branded Giant Balls released into the crowd.
The energy dropped again in a moment: once inside it was disheartening to see just how many people were ranged in the seats around the arena. I counted approximately 20 audition booths for around 2000 people. It was gonna be a long wait. Strange wails and screeching were to be heard in the distance, emanating from behind the shiny black walls of the booths. On the far side of the Arena, someone with a voice the size of a country was singing “I Believe I Can Fly”. By now I was so completely numbed by the experience, I believed I could fly also.
A sizeable portion of the crowd practiced in the corridors, singing against walls and mumbling along to iPods. People even sang while sitting wedged together in the blocks of seats. An unholy, grating fragmented hymn, comprising snippets of pop songs, arpeggio scales, the rise and fall of vocal warm-up exercises, all floating like a miasma in the dome of the Arena. Eyes were tightly closed and fierce concentration threatened to furrow botoxed foreheads. My friend mentioned that it was as if a pandemic had hit London, a deathly virus had infected us all and we were waiting to be taken to the booths for inoculation, some of us would survive, the others would be taken to a corridor somewhere out-back and shot. We were tired and hungry and fedup – not feeling in the least bit shiny or possesive of the factor of any letter of the alphabet; let alone X! Moreover, nor did my friend feel much like givin it “11o%” and especially when he read the small print on his application letter which stated that you have “one verse and one chorus to sing, you must not bring any backing track and you may not play an instrument” This pissed him off as he plays guitar while he sings (and does both very well indeed). I left my friend in the block to mull over his fate and strolled the corridors to take some shots. Taking my chances and approaching the booths to get some shots of the singers auditioning was reasonably successful before one of the secutity guards adsked for my press pass! Time to leave and concentrate else where.
It was then I realised, in order to get some of the shots I needed, I would need to audition myself. It was too late for London so….My daughter, upon hearing the news that I was on the train to Cardiff (three weeks later) was not best pleased and sent me the following text message: “Oh my god, Dad, if you get on TV I will absolutely kill you, KILL YOU! Sing the silence song, it’s really easy to learn and minimum embarrassment factor – let alone X Factor” Ho hum – so heartening to have the unconditional support of ones offspring. This was the text I sent back: “Don’t worry, I’ll sing badly enough not to get through but well enough not to get put through as a freak. You never know tho’!!”
Don’t get me wrong – I can sing – sometimes I can sing pretty well – but I am certainly not the sort of material that the X Factor are looking for! Weirdly tho’, after I received my singers wrist band – yellow this time, I too became infected with the virus ‘Factor-X’, and started to warm up my voice and get nervous. The natural performer and show-off in me wanted to do well; I didn’t want to get through (which would have meant coming back to Cardiff to re-audition the following day) but kind of half-minded if I was to be rejected and not receive my ‘Golden Ticket’.
I strolled the corridors of the stadium taking photographs of people warming up their voices and was becoming further interested in the faces – the anxiety manifest in the eyes and the frankly unglamorous surroundings of the concrete well that is the City Stadium. I enjoyed being a participant and I think this allowed me to be more confident in my taking of photographs. I too was wearing a yellow wrist band – people saw this and relaxed. Three hours later when I finally got to the booth to be auditioned I took one quick photo of my judge as I removed my camera from around my neck. I managed to cut off his head from the frame but luckily his face is silhouetted in shadow on the side wall of the booth. I think I like this better. I sang my finest club version of ‘Fly me to the Moon’, I stopped after the first verse and was told to carry on, Oh – OK,…. I just about remembered the words to the second verse and thundered through them in best Frank Sinatra meets Vic Reeves stylee, hitting the note at the end with gusto. I was told: “Thanks, but thats not for us” My number on my wrist band was crossed out with black marker pen and I was asked to leave the stadium. A little twinge of disappointment stabbed my heart and I nearly pleaded, “But this is my dream – it’s all i’ve ever wanted , I’ll just die if I don’t get through” but deciding I’d live, I slunk off looking for some more photos before being ejected by the security staff (who had by now cottoned onto me). I was taken through the security office and summarily ejected through a side door of the stadium; finding myself back in the space of the car park which had played host to the arm-waving and TV gurning of many hours earlier. I gave myself a silent cheer and walked back to the railway station.
The photographs below were taken both in London and Cardiff.