The X Factor, which usually holds auditions in Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and London, is descending on an incredible 50 towns and cities for the first time this year, including Cambridge.
Despite some confusion over dates, the auditions got underway at the Grand Arcade from 9am Friday, 3 April, where hopefuls were invited to perform in an X Factor ‘pod’, then continued in the evening at The Hidden Rooms, the underground cocktail bar on Jesus Lane.
Over 20 singers, young and old, turned up to belt our their best ballad, pop hit or duet before three of the show’s producers in an open mic-style setup. Surprisingly, there were no noisy queues outside and no flashy tour buses battling through the cycle-filled streets – Simon Cowell et al won’t appear for these rounds. Which was good news for most of the nervous contestants.
“I’d probably pass out if I had to sing in front of Simon!” laughed 22 year-old Sharnelle, from Cambridge, who was the first to sign up when she heard about X Factor coming to town. “It’s all a bit surreal. I’ve been applying for the past seven years but never actually gone [to an audition]. I love singing but I’m quite shy. But when I heard about X Factor coming to Cambridge, I couldn’t not go.”
In the small hushed bar, Sharnelle was one of the only contestants to come on her own: “I didn’t want anyone to know, so if I don’t get through it doesn’t matter!”
As 8pm rolled round, Sharnelle was called up first and performed a heartfelt (and very apt) rendition of Adele’s Hometown Glory. A feisty performance of Jessie J’s Bang Bang came next, and local busker Dylan strummed enthusiastically to A Little Help From My Friends on his battered acoustic guitar.
But it was duo Dickie and Perry, two best friends from London, who really got the room buzzing with their slick, charismatic performance of New York State of Mind.
“We’re both from up North but we live in London,” Perry told me. “Our mums signed us up!”
“We both think we’re Garry Barlow,” chimes in Dickie. “We’ve sung separately before but this is our first time singing together in front of people.”
I’ve a feeling we’ll be seeing more of these two.
Not everyone hit the mark (a shaky performance of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina made for uncomfortable viewing), but all performances were met with encouraging applause and supportive cheers for daring to give it a go.
Judah, a researcher from Cambridge, was glad the show had chosen to land in Cambridge: “I think Cambridge is a buzzing hub of creativity and all-in-all genius, so it’s a really great place for this kind of thing. I’m glad X Factor decided to come here.”
Fingers crossed for a Cambridge winner in 2015!
X Factor series 12 is due to air this autumn.