It was the message on Twitter and curiosity that bought me out to Colchester’s Lion Walk on a drizzly Thursday afternoon. “X Factor mobile auditions in Lion Walk finish at 2.30pm”. Well I thought I’d better give it a look. I had a cheque to pay in at the bank and some Funny Farm posters to put up. It certainly wasn’t a dream and I hadn’t spent hours rehearsing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush, tennis racket or personal massager. In fact I hadn’t really figured out what I was going to sing. Not that it mattered, I knew I didn’t have a chance after all I have a voice that’s good enough for pantomime (“a strong singing voice” no less), but hardly superstar material. I’d also woken up feeling grotty and full of cold with a swollen face and a coldsore. Nice. Additionally, since I’ve quit smoking for some reason my voice has sounded like Tom Waits with TB gargling Calgon. Plus I’m 40, short and fat.
Lion Walk looked quite ghostly given the circumstances when I arrived to have a nosey. Two ominous black tents sat in the space outside the church, with a queue snaking around the little wall, but ending after only about 20 metres at most.
It soon became clear that most people were simply rubber necking, although a few like me were dithering over whether to take part and wondering where the actual queue started. Some people were just your typical flotsam that float round Lion Walk on any given weekday afternoon. And then there were your obvious contenders, pimply youths, with low trousers, warbling like adolescent songbirds, gorgeous teenage divas preening each other, smackheads. Eventually I snuck round to what appeared to be a queue and lounged casually at the end. I didn’t have to take part after all. I wondered idly what criteria was on the producers bit of paper making the whole concept of auditions a technical sham once they ticked it off. Would it be bubbly Essex girl, or drop dead gorgeous blonde teenager. At that moment a producer ambled over and gave a drop dead gorgous blonde teenage girl a wristband before leading her over the wall and into the tent. Her friends gasped excitedly “She hadn’t even come along to sing!”
“Is this the queue?” a breathy wide-eyed middle aged brunette asked. “Yes” came the chorus in front of me. Then an X-Factor lackey with a clip board and a strip of plain wristbands (every expense spared). He eyed me and my middle-aged queue-mate dubiously after giving young girls ahead of us brown paper bracelets. “Do you want wristbands?” “Do you not want me to?” I asked curiously, but no it was fine and I soon wore my bangle of shame with pride which apparently guaranteed that we would be auditioned as we were in the queue before 2.30pm.
We all ended up chatting and I hoped nobody would notice my sneaky attempts to do vocal exercises whilst passing it off as a coughing fit. Middle aged brunette was Lena who introduced herself as a funeral singer (she also does weddings, you can probably get a special deal on the double) and busy housewife. In front of me sat nervously on the wall trying to learn the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “Part of Me” from a rapidly dying iPhone was Heidi, a bag of nerves in her 30s who had forgotten to arrange for her kids to be picked up, forgotten her umbrella, forgotten to eat and forgotten any money to buy some with. I gave her £2 to go to Danny’s Bakers which we were standing outside (she agreed to pay me back with interest if she want through. She didn’t get through so the cow now owes me. Just kidding Heidi) and we all advised her to avoid anything too stodgy and cheesy.
Heidi came back from the bakers with an ice cream and a bag of chipsticks. I’m not sure whether all the greats actually swear by this combo to help the voice (Pavorotti could have) but it seemed a bit insane. And where was my change. As I held my umbrella over her she ate what wasn’t dripping everywhere from the icecream (until Danny the baker took pity on her and ran out with a napkin) then she borrowed my pen and paper to transcribe her lyrics onto paper before her phone finally gave up the ghost.Paul the sweetly crazy Colcestrian busker (he’s usually by Sainsburys or in Lion Walk putting his heart and soul into gently murdering music) passed by and I tried to encourage him to audition, but he was a bit put off by the idea of queuing. Not so crazy then. Every so often someone got a yellow bit of card meaning they would be called for a second unaccompanied audition. When they did there was a frenzied whooping and squealing from them and their friends. I tried to encourage my queue neighbours that we should do this anyhow if we didn’t get through just to spread a little confusion. The cool older lady a couple of places ahead of us agreed energetically. She wasn’t there to sing but to offer moral support to her daughter Georgina ,a button cute 17 year old with a fluffy affro who sort of looked like she could sing. We all held each others places in line while we popped to the lion walk loos, chatted and gossiped and chivvied each other up as the queue got shorter and bums started squeaking. What was inside that tent? Was it the eye of Sauron? Or Olly Murs? My throat tightened and my nose got runnier as the tent of reckoning drew near, and I almost hoped my final loo break would mean that I missed my chance, not that I really had a chance. Did I mention I was fat, short and 40. However when I got back to where my place was held (some bloke taking himself FAR too seriously shouting “Jump in front why don’t you?”) I barely had time to take a few pictures of Heidi at her behest and it was time for Georgina to go in, her mum crouching vigil outside with her ears to the black canvas making thumbs up signs. Georgina however left without a golden ticket and Lena was stunned. Clearly the man with the piece of paper had ticked off his quota of cute ethnic teenagers. A producer called “Next”, pulling the tent flaps enticingly open, and I hesitated, not sure if it was my turn before bouncing self consciously into the unzipped tent which closed up behind me surrounding me with blackness.
The interior was dingy aside from a seated figure, it’s curly heard almost silhouetted by the dim white light behind him. When my eyes focused he looked like Seth Rogan only younger, chubbier and hairier. He looked like his name might be Barnaby. He asked my name, age (ouch), what I do and why I had applied (I gabbled that I thought I maybe had the X-Factor but I wasn’t quite sure what in). Sadly there were no questions related to personal tragedy and dead relatives, as I’d have been quids in there. I knew I should have learned a Coldplay number. What are you singing he queried? Now was crunch time. In the queue I’d written a version of New York New York (Lion Walk Lion Walk) with localised lyrics, reckoning that if I couldn’t sing at least I could be entertaining. But hearing the lovely voices floating through from the tents made me feel cheap for taking the mickey out of the process. I’d tried to think of other (clean) songs I could remember. “Yesterday” was a possibility, as was “Lady is a Tramp” or “Queen Bee” (Streisand in “A Star is Born” if you must know). Either that or Radiohead’s “Creep” (as I usually get Singstar on it after a few glasses too many of red wine). Wow what an arsenal of contemporary beats I’d amassed during my hour in the drizzle. “Lion Walk Lion Walk” I said, knowing I sounded stupid and oddly relishing it. “Go on then – give me a verse and a chorus” he demanded and I began. It’s a shame I couldn’t have rehearsed as finding the right key to start in would have been marginally less excruciating – as going too low with a sore throat made me sound like that bloke with the voice box out of Alan Partridge (“Dr No Vocal Chords”). Knowing I’d fucked it already by virtue of being 40 and croaking like a dehydrated frog I decided to give it some well. He laughed a couple of times. Once from the line “I want to wake up on an Essex pedestrianised street”, later when the lungs started working and I belted out the last bits like Shirley Bassey’s rape alarm – even waggling a finger in time, a massive grin on my face. There may even have been jazz hands. Surely this would qualify me as at the very least the mental of the day. I finished – arms akimbo and he smiled gently before saying that this time it would have to be a “No”. I smiled and thanked him, saying I hoped he’d enjoyed it (What was I on?) before unzipping the tent and skipping out, where at least my little bevvy of friends I’d picked up on the day greeted me with cheers and applause. Bless.
We listened to Lena’s beautiful, clear voice drifting out her number, then she joined us in our little huddle of fail (yes she can sing. But she’s 43 for sods sake – unless she’s a nutter she’s not getting on telly). Heidi was still seething about the ageism factor, adding that only blonde 16 year olds were being selected to soothe poor Georgina’s feelings. A wonderful Whitney-esqe warble escaped the tent flap and we all turned to admire it. “She’s going through” hissed Heidi. Surprisingly the willowy blonde teenager in possession of the voice didn’t get a yes either, so as she mooched away with her two male friends we all stopped to congratulate her on her singing and commiserate on the decision-making process. “Let’s set fire to the tent!” I suggested enthusiastically. Everyone laughed. One of the blokes looked half heartedly for his lighter.
We all exchanged contact details and good luck wishes for the future before eventually melting in different directions into the streets of Colchester. So in conclusion, is the X Factor cyncial, shallow, fixed and ageist? Of course it is (although if I had been what they were looking for visually I would still have sounded crap for the first 10 seconds of my audition), but hey it keeps Simon Cowell in yachts to lounge about on being all butch. My advice would be if you’re talented use that talent and if you’re young, cute and can warble go and audition (I wouldn’t bother travelling for it or waiting more than an hour though), just don’t get disheartened if you don’t fit the bill – it’s probably not you, it’s them. Anyhow, I wasn’t too put out and meeting the other prospective talents was great fun (Lena’s promised to sing at my funeral if I snuff it first, although she hinted that it would be less morbid to do it at my wedding) and they all seemed pretty grounded about not getting through, even Georgina who apparently plays piano and sings, so hopefully she will make something of her talent without relying on the whims of a production company’s fictional narrative or the fickle Great British Public. As she laughed stoically “I didn’t want to go on TV anyway”. Plus I got two laughs from the “judge” – which is more than I can get in a whole night of MCing the Funny Farm!
No dreams were smashed in the making of this blog.