It's Judges' Houses' time and the 24 acts get carted of to sunnier climes for some reason I have never been able to understand. As far as I can make out, it is a sort of reward for reaching this stage, which, indeed, is quite an achievement even for the talented, coupled with a chance for the production team to put some gloss on a programme for weekend viewers. Lastly, it provides about three days for the acts to demonstrate to their mentor and sundry advisors how suited they could be to entertaining the viewing public every weekend at prime time through 'til Christmas.
There is a considerable amount of Sunday magazine-style glossy stuff in the two long programmes we get to see. Lots of shots of lovely scenes and expensive-looking houses, sofas on patios and the obligatory sunsets. Dermot is consigned to the role of some sort of hugging gate man, lurking some distance away from the patios where the judge and advisors sit. Slapping the backs of people as they go to perform and, occasionally, commiserating with those who don't make it afterwards.
There is not, therefore, a great deal of actual performance. Just one, often truncated, track and that's it. I have always thought that, at this stage, it would be good for us to see several performances by each act and that would help us see much better why the judges choose who they do. There is a considerable amount of filler and shots of people hugging Dermot or being nervous and, therefore, lots of space for more by way of performances.
Anyway, here goes. First we meet the Overs with Nicole. Nicole adds someone called Stormzy to the show to help her make some decisions. Neither seem particularly appropriate choices for this group, Nicole being easily the youngest of the judges but never mind.
Kevin Davy White looks like a potential star. He sings one of his own songs. Risky. I'm not sure about the song but he seems to me to be a sure-fire candidate for the Live Shows. Nice personality and definitely lots of talent. My first choice in this category.
Berget tries to sing Clarity but messes up at the start and never really recovers. She is not exceptional. I am not sure the public would warm to her, despite the fact that she may well be able to perform well given the chance.
Slavco sings JLo's On The Floor. He's a great performer, very confident but tonight he seems out of tune most of the time. Yes, he has the 'Entertainment Factor' but I feel he needs to be able to sing better and have more than just some long pigtail to offer. I would have left him at home and not bothered bringing him here but I guess Nicole had her reasons. Just thank Heavens that Louis didn't get this category or Slavco would be in the Live Shows. As it is, he really shouldn't be after that.
Matt Linnen sings Everyone's Free and has a slow start which is never that great an idea. He is in tune, though, and eventually gets going but he is nothing like as good as he has been before. He's OK but not great at all.
Talia Deane sings Do You Really Want To Hurt Me and has the best start of all so far. She gets a lot of emotion across in her singing and is really quite good in places but not totally convincing. I feel she still ought to make it and that she could have some appeal to voters over the coming weeks. She's not a winner, though.
Tracy Leanne does You lose A Good Thing and I am always surprised by her voice. She seems to be coming across now as the most talented of all of them in singing and could be quite marketable too as she is quite unique. You sort of see her filling the space left by Amy Winehouse in some respects.
This is really not the strongest category and I am not sure how far any would go in the competition. My choice would be Kevin | Tracy | Talia.
Nicole chooses Matt | Kevin | Tracy.
I wonder about wild cards?
Now we move on to the Girls category with Sharon.
Sharon brings in the kids Jack and Kelly to advise. I am really not sure what they can add, other than a younger viewpoint but they haven't exactly been stars in their own right in the singing side of things. I tend to worry about Sharon's judgement and reasons for choice anyway but now see even more likelihood or mistakes but we'll see how things go. This is a very good category with some difficult choices to make.
Holly sings Russian Roulette. It's a confident start. Right in tune and she is very, very professional. I am not sure how she will look on the big screen. There is something that puts a distance between her and the audience. She is brilliant but I wonder whether she might be more West End theatre than X Factor. Certainly a contender, though.
Rae-Elle sings Somebody That I Used To Know. Quite a different version. Good once she gets going. She includes her own rap element in the middle and is spot-on in tune all the time. Very talented. I would find it difficult to choose between her and Holly.
Alisah is this year's 'come-back girl'. It seems that at almost every stage something happens and she gets rejected and then after all sorts of scenes of emotion she gets back again. She sings Lay Me Down. It's a lovely song and beautifully sung. This is a better performance than she gave at the Six Chair Challenge first time round but I do wonder just how 'current' she really is. She strikes me as an obvious and potentially really popular and successful West End Theatre star and she could sign the D I S N and EY off Disney tunes. She could be good TV but I am not sure about her now.
Grace is a stand-out singer and a really talented songwriter, one of the best discoveries of this year's series. She sings yet another original song called More Than You.
I think she seems to be doing really well but Sharon doesn't and interrupts her. Sharon doesn't like her intonation, the way she clips her words. I didn't really notice but maybe second time around she seemed slightly better. I reckon it must have been very difficult to have to sing again in such circumstances. Grace gets quite emotional and struggles with her own song. I had thought she would be a certainty. Not so sure now., from the way Sharon has treated her and emphasised how she is a great songwriter but not all songwriters make the best performers.
Deanna is due to perform next but seems to be a little emotional. Nothing more than many others have been, though, but Kelly O decides to take her for a walk and they put on Georgina instead.
Georgina wants to be called GG and sings In The Air. Before she's been quite wobbly although pretty good. She starts this time very confidently and a clear 'performer' - more so than the four before. Her obvious competition is Rae-Elle and even, to some extent, Talia, in the way they come across. Any other years she would easily be through but this year I do not know. She needed to be exceptional to make that difference.
Deanna is back again. Her song is Don't Call Me Baby. She is so attractive and remains my #1 choice for the whole competition this year. She is immediately at ease and really, really good, just naturally hitting the right notes and moving beautifully. She has the sense of Whitney Houston about her coupled with a little vulnerability. I like her.
My choice would be Deanna | Grace | Holly
Sharon's choice is Rae-Elle | Holly | Grace.
Wow. No Deanna? That's extraordinary. I really had her on the Live Shows as a dead certainty. We need that Wild Card now more than ever!
Next Simon chooses the Groups. He is helped by Cheryl who seems a little quiet but looks very naturally pretty now rather than the very much made-up girl she had been in the past. I do tend to trust her choices, though, as well, of course, as Simon's so hope for some sensible choices here.
The Cutkelvins have a really good audition. The girl singer is 'cute' as Cheryl says but I would say she is confident and the star of the show. Surely this group is a must for the Live Shows.
Lemonade have struck me as being a little weak 'til now. Praise You is their song and it starts slowly and then kicks in big time. It's a tricky song at the best of times. They have talent but I fear they sounded as if they were trying too hard.
New Girl Group is the group of six individual applicants who still have no name. they do Misbehaving which is OK, good in places but i am not sure the beat Lemonade. Six good singers but they don't inspire me much at the moment. Talented, yes but I wonder whether either will make it.
Jack and Joel are very different and Louis would put them through in a heartbeat. A couple of intelligent Oxford lads who have plenty of fun about them and also have a sense of how to be commercial. They do a medley of Let's Get This Party Started and Get Your Freak On which didn't work for me at all. It wasn't a medley anyway, merely one followed by the other. They have great personalities and one has a great singing voice too but I don't see them selling many records really.
Rak Su are a Watford group and sing their own song. They did well. Rapping in London style, Cheryl says, is a good thing that the Americans will love. They're good writers as well as performers and very likely candidates for the Live Shows from the start.
Sean & Conor Price were my early favourites. This time they do What About Us. They're pretty good but I'm not so sure they have matched their first performance. They seemed to go down well and I can see them making good TV and being much liked in the Live Shows if they do make it.
My choice: Cutkelvins | Rak Su | New Girl Group
Simon chooses: Cutkelvins | Rak Su | Sean & Conor Price
Just one girl out of twelve makes it in this category. So far.
Louis has the Boys and brings Mika in to help him. Now I remember Mika and he is definitely a talented chap but I am not so sure many, if any, of the lads actually knew who he was!
Aidan sings One Last Time and is pretty confident and gives an accurate performance but I am not yet sure how he'd go down on Live Shows. He has a good voice, mostly well in tune but just a little over the top in places. He gets a decent length audition, one of only few we've had so far. He gets great reviews from Mika but Louis seems not so sure.
Sam Black is a substitute for Anthony Russell who, we are told, has had to drop out due to 'personal reasons'. They usually mean he's gone to jail or something. As far as I can make out he got caught taking drugs or something and so was persuaded to drop out. This may well have occurred before we saw the Six Chair Challenge show broadcast.
It is interesting that Sam was brought back as he didn't actually reach the Six Chair Challenge. I liked his retro style and I wonder whether Louis was also a big fan and that's why he has now been able to choose to bring him back in preference to the others who were rejected at that later stage.
He sings Hard To Handle which is pretty old school all right. I could see this working in 2017. He has a great voice and that is an excellent audition, albeit it very short.
Leon sings Dreams and has a modern sound and good voice too. Another very short audition, though, and difficult for us to see how well he has done. He has a good vibe and adds his own rap addition but I didn't feel it really ever went anywhere.
Jack sings Clown. He is possibly the best singer so far. Very talented and puts a lot into the song. Nice job. It could get him through. Older people will like him but I am not sure of his appeal to younger viewers or whether he's sell much more than albums at Christmas to the grannies.
Spencer sings an original song about his dad. It's an emotional performance. A very good song and this guy can sing really well. I'd like to see him get through as I think he could surprise us all in the Live Shows.
Lloyd sings How Far I'll Go and actually I reckon this guy has the best 'proper singing voice' coming across as a sort of choir singer that has been very well-trained. But it is dated. This guy is bound to star in the West End but he's not X Factor material, despite being very, very good at singing.
My choice: Spencer | Sam | Jack
Louis chooses: Spencer | Sam | Lloyd
Finally we get told that there will be 4 Wild Cards again this year. Thank Heavens for that. I can only hope that Deanna gets the Girls Card. For the Boys it ought to be Aidan. For the Overs, I'd like to see Talia get a chance but worry we'll get Slavco. The Groups are a tricky choice and I don't know who would make it. I'll guess it'll be Jack & Joel as it is the public voting. Simon may override that and bring the New Girl Group back to restore the male-female balance.