With newcomer Nicole Scherzinger joining the judges, this year’s X Factor panel is the most glamorous yet
21:30 GMT, 10 August 2012
Gosh, how things have changed since the days when Sharon Osbourne was the sole female judge on The X Factor. Back then, it seemed the qualifications you needed to secure a place at Simon Cowell’s side were a sharp wit, vast experience of the entertainment business, and that elusive TV quality of likeability.
Now, in these post-Cheryl Cole days, hair and legs to die for are important too – as is a place on one of those lads’ mags Sexiest Woman Alive lists.
You may quibble about whether Tulisa Contostavlos deserves the title, but the 24-year-old is officially the sexiest woman in the world, at least according to FHM. In the flesh, she certainly has ample charms.
It's going to be a bumpy ride for the new X Factor cast as this year promises to be the best yet
She has the words ‘The Female Boss’ tattooed up her arm, she’s wearing shorts so skimpy I worry she’ll catch a chill, and she has the dirtiest, most raucous laugh in showbiz. Sitting beside her might be every man’s fantasy, but it doesn’t half make you feel overdressed (and overweight) if you’re a woman.
Imagine the torture for me, then, of having Nicole Scherzinger, the newest X Factor judge, sitting on my other side. Formerly of the band the Pussycat Dolls, whose famous song went, aptly, ‘Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me’, there isn’t really any quibbling over her type of beauty. She looks like a Princess doll come to life.
There may be a weird Disney quality to her speech at times (she comes out with phrases like ‘Tulisa has a golden heart’), but then she was born in Honolulu – while Tulisa hails from Camden, north London. ‘Even I have a girl crush on her,’ admits Tulisa. ‘I didn’t know if I’d like her. When you see her on stage she seems like a diva, but the surprise was she’s actually really humble.’
She has the words The Female Boss tattooed up her arm, shes wearing shorts so skimpy I worry shell catch a chill, and she has the dirtiest, most raucous laugh in showbiz
Louis Walsh is equally smitten. ‘She’s the most beautiful woman in the world,’ he announces, when asked what Nicole brings to the X Factor party. ‘Tulisa’s great, but she’s Tulisa. She’s clever and funny and outspoken and is like your sister, if you had a bold sister. She’s brilliant, but a little rough around the edges. Nicole is… just beautiful.’
Thankfully, you can count on the fourth judge, the ever-sensible Gary Barlow, to bring things back down to earth. He rolls his eyes and declares, tongue firmly in cheek, ‘I’m in a love triangle.’
Of course it’s almost de rigueur now that every new series of The X Factor will have at least one new judge. In truth, it can be hard to keep up. Last year’s judges, Gary, Louis and Tulisa, were confirmed for the 2012 series months ago, but a question mark remained over the seat vacated by Kelly Rowland. There was talk, ultimately dashed, of Sharon Osbourne returning, and some high-profile wooing of Dannii Minogue – again fruitless.
‘It was interesting how it worked out,’ admits Gary. ‘We had guest judges like Geri Halliwell, Leona Lewis and Nicole in for the early auditions this year and that worked almost as an audition for the final judging place. Some of the guest judges were good; some weren’t – and it isn’t always the people you expect who have it.
'Nicole got the job because she clicked, she fitted in. She’s had international success, and I think she’ll be good with the contestants. She’s quite emotional, maternal almost.’
Bless. Only Gary Barlow could describe Nicole as ‘maternal’. And perhaps only Gary Barlow could again roll his eyes at the rigmarole surrounding the judging line-up. The ‘who’s in, who’s out’ palaver, hyped to the heavens, is as much part of the X Factor experience as the contestants’ sob stories. Yet the Take That frontman turned elder statesman of pop is unimpressed.
‘To be honest, I think you could have the same four judges every year. I’m not sure the reinvention of the show comes about through changing the panel. I think it’s more about the contestants. If they’re no good, no one will watch.’
This will be the ninth series of The X Factor, and Cowell has made it clear he wasn’t entirely happy with the eighth, won by girl group Little Mix. The reports are he thought the contestants were weak, and the programme ultimately boring. Was it true he wasn’t happy Louis chortles.
‘Simon’s only happy when he’s unhappy. He always wants it to be bigger and better.’ But did he have a point ‘Well, yes,’ says Louis. ‘Looking back, the contestants weren’t as strong as we initially thought.’
Has Gary been stung by accusations he was too nice last year He’s certainly not being remotely nice about the contestants today, describing them as lazy, complacent and even cocky. ‘One of the biggest shocks for me last year was how quickly people become lazy once they get into this competition. Many times I found myself thinking, “Hold on, this is just the start. You haven’t made it yet. Even if you win, it’s just the start.”’
Who exactly was guilty of getting lazy ‘I think they all were. It’s weird, you take people off the street and put them in this bubble, and they start to act like they’ve arrived. You can see them thinking, “I was born to do this. I don’t have to work at it.”’
'Nicole got the job because she clicked, she fitted in. Shes had international success, and I think shell be good with the contestants. Shes quite emotional, maternal almost
Louis nods. ‘A lot of them think they deserve it. What they don’t appreciate is that the judges have clawed their way there. I’m not sure many of them realise how much hard work’s involved.’
Of course, Gary is possibly the least naive person in showbiz, having been swept away on the fame bubble before – and almost been destroyed by it.
For many years he seemed to vanish from the music business, once a boy band god, but having fallen so low he admits he wore disguises when he left the house because he couldn’t bear to be recognised as the man who used to be so idolised as a member of Take That.
His comeback journey – starting with a triumphant Take That reunion, and taking in the small matter of organising that Jubilee concert – has been phenomenal. Yet, lounging on a sofa backstage, he still has the air of a man who believes it could all collapse under him tomorrow – hence his irritation with his cocky young charges.
‘They feel, instantly, that they belong in this world, but I still don’t,’ he agrees. ‘I always feel just around the corner from everything ending and people not being interested any more. I know that’s because it’s happened before, but it does make you realise how temporary all this is. It’s not something you can take for granted.’
Interestingly, the three other judges seem to accept Gary as unofficial chief judge – even Louis, who’s been on the panel for all nine series. Shouldn’t he be demanding pole position in terms of age and experience ‘I think just age,’ he laughs. ‘But seriously, Gary knows the most about music. I know about the business, but this guy is a music legend. I’m not going to fight him to be boss.’
Simon Cowell is the mastermind behind the hit show which promises to wow viewers this year
The panel is a curious mix. If you went on a night out with the four of them, Tulisa would be the one gossiping loudly in the queue for the ladies; Nicole would be surrounded by millionaire types wanting to buy her a drink; Louis would be the shoulder to cry on when everyone got tired and emotional, and Gary would be the one charged with getting everyone home safely.
The biggest contrasts are Tulisa and Gary – and Tulisa admits she tiptoed around him last year. She makes him sound rather like Prince Charles, and her hesitancy is endearing. ‘It’s not that he’s too serious – he’s got a wicked sense of humour, but it’s all quite underplayed.
At first I was nervous with Gary. I’m loud and cheeky, I’ve been known for my bad language. You know when you try not to swear around some people I was like that. Or I’d refrain from telling a certain joke around him.
‘To be honest, I was probably a bit like that in general. I was terrified. Remember, I came on replacing Cheryl Cole, the nation’s sweetheart. I was never going to be anyone’s sweetheart.’
But the Tulisa under the eye-liner and attitude is rather sweet. She’s very candid about being catapulted from the streets (she fronts rap group N-Dubz) onto mainstream Saturday night TV. ‘I knew 60 per cent of the people watching would hate N-Dubz, and the other 40 per cent wouldn’t know who the hell I was.
The original cast of X Factor USA, Nicole then went on to replace Cheryl on the panel
Deciding how to behave was quite difficult. I probably sugar-coated myself. I didn’t want people thinking, “I don’t like The X Factor any more because of Tulisa.”’
She seems genuinely horrified that her efforts to present herself in a certain light were trashed by the emergence of a sex tape. Tulisa knew nothing about the leaking of the tape, made by her ex Justin Edwards, and went against all professional advice to say so.
She went to court to set the record straight, gaining a public apology and an admission that she was the innocent party. ‘This time Justin has messed with the wrong woman,’ she said on the steps of the court, before heading off to Ibiza to celebrate her 24th birthday.
So what will British audiences make of Nicole, and vice versa She says the UK show is a very different product to the US one, on which she debuted as a judge.
'I never thought I was beautiful' says Nicole
‘Everything about the US X Factor is A-Grade and polished, but what struck me about the British one is how raw a lot of the contestants are. There are so many diamonds in the rough. They’re so talented, but don’t know how good they are. Some have never even sung in public before. I love that rawness.’
She is clearly the polish to Tulisa’s rawness too. What did she make of the younger woman ‘I thought she was beautiful, confident and clever. I was astounded to learn she’d dropped out of school, but she’s intelligent in her own way. She’s always the first to speak on the panel – and I admire that. She talks sense too. She doesn’t say half of the cheesy stupid stuff I say.’
Well, that is true. Oddly enough, the serene Nicole doesn’t seem to have as much confidence in her looks as Tulisa. ‘I never thought I was beautiful,’ she says.
‘I grew up in Kentucky where everyone looked like Tulisa. I wasn’t comfortable in my skin until quite recently. I was the last person in the world you’d think would end up in a band like the Pussycat Dolls. When my friends heard I was in it they all said, “Are you serious”’
Of course they may all profess to be like one happy family now, but it’s an X Factor tradition that the judges have to fall out. Gary looks disturbed. ‘I don’t think it’s helpful,’ he says.
‘Certainly not if it spills over and affects the contest.’ Louis’ face, however, suggests he misses the old days, when a day at work meant getting a glass of water thrown over him by La Osbourne. ‘I loved the fun with Sharon and Simon,’ he says. ‘They were so fiery, so volatile and so different. Two queen bees.’
So will Tulisa and Nicole start slugging it out in public when the show begins ‘No way,’ says Tulisa. ‘They think because I’m feisty and she’s a diva we’ll be at each other’s throats. But I can’t see it happening, so there are going to be some disappointed people out there.’
Simon Cowell, for starters The X Factor boss loves nothing more than a good catfight to boost ratings. And let’s face it, what is the point of having nails like these two, if you aren’t going to use them
The X Factor starts on Saturday 18 August on ITV1.