Another year, another X Factor – but this time, it’s not as you know it.
No longer content with trying to make household names out of unknown hopefuls, after 15 series Simon Cowell is giving a helping hand to those already in the public eye.
Which means we have Celebrity: X Factor, featuring a host of famous faces unleashing their inner pop stars in the hope of getting the Cowell seal of approval and winning a record deal.
Ahead of the first show, Sky News got to speak to some of the contestants, judges (sadly minus Simon – busy in America, naturally) and of course, host Dermot O’Leary, on the red carpet at the series’ launch.
They gave us all the info on what it’s like singing at Mr Cowell’s LA home, whose famous dad cried at the news, and who at first sounded like “a cow giving birth”.
Walsh says this is the change X Factor needs and the “future of the show”.
“The really good people are really good,” he says. “You’ll be surprised.”
Walsh says some celebrities were “devastated” not to go through to the next rounds, but says viewers will have to watch to find out who.
O’Leary tells Sky News that some contestants have “very good voices” but that we will hear “some bum notes” in the first show.
Always a friendly face for the contestants, he says the celebrities have also needed his help “more than they thought”.
“I try and be honest with everyone, it doesn’t matter if they’re a regular punter or a celebrity,” he tells Sky News. “But if they haven’t done that well I’m not going to pretend they did. At the same time they’ve got a thicker a skin probably so you can probably have a bit more fun.
“That said, when you see the whites of their eyes when they go out there it absolutely means an awful lot to them.”
Cole and Edwards
Former Strictly Come Dancing professional Brendan Cole and actor Jeremy Edwards, best known for playing Kurt Benson in Hollyoaks and Danny Shaughnessy in Holby City, are good friends teaming up as a duo. But can they sing?
Brendan: “We haven’t been singing together for that long but we’ve been good friends now for something like 10 or 11 years.
“We’ve been getting singing lessons from some of the world’s best singing coaches, we’ve been in creative meetings with some of the world’s most incredible music producers… We’re enjoying every second, long may it continue, and we’re going for Christmas number one.”
Jeremy: “You have to go and sing before they let you audition in front of Simon; they don’t want any real turkeys, because it’s a waste of everyone’s time… so you have to be of a certain standard.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff over the years and I’ve had such fun doing this. If it’s as fun to watch as it has been to do it’s going to knock it out of the park. I think Simon is quite a smart man. I think he might have a future.”
Anyone who grew up in the ’90s will be familiar with US talk show host Ricki “Go Ricki” Lake. The presenter – who brought her dog to share the red carpet limelight – also starred as Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 film Hairspray. So what does she aim to get from the show?
“I’m excited to be in London, it’s like I live here now. This community really grew up watching me and were loyal fans of my show so it’s nice to come back and invent myself in a new way.
“I can sing okay. I’m not the best singer in this competition. I am learning. We did a little bit in the summer and then I haven’t really got back into it until now. Now I gotta turn it up.
“A [West End show] is my hope out of this. I didn’t do Hairspray on Broadway, I never actually sang in Hairspray, so for me it’s nice to show this and see if a new opportunity comes up.
“I really don’t think I’m going to be the winner of this competition. I’m a realist. I’m going to do my best and play to win but there’s a lot of people who are maybe better suited for a pop career, but you never know.”
She’s best known as one of the formidable Chasers on ITV quiz show The Chase – so how does she compare herself with X Factor judge Simon?
“I think I’m going to be a kindred spirit with Simon. We sit in the seat of power, we crush people’s dreams, we’re ruthless and we tell it like it is.
“But we’ve got a heart deep down; he’s a gentle soul underneath it all when it’s not all business, business, business. That’s what coming on this show is for me as well, to show that I’m not just… quiz robot, sitting in the chair, defeating people and being mean.”
Perhaps the most unlikely X Factor contestant, he’s a journalist who made headlines interviewing, among others, Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. So why did he want to get involved?
“This isn’t something I sought out. When I was approached I’ll be honest I thought it was a tabloid sting of some kind.
“My view was I was never going to reach a standard, so I’d do it and it would be fun and I’ll have learned something but it won’t leads to anything.
“So I did the first lesson and it sounded a bit like a cow giving birth in the final stages of labour. But the second got better, and the third; by the fourth I was able to find notes which I wasn’t able to at first. So I sort of gave it a shot. But even then I didn’t think I would make a very good singer.
“It’s been a really interesting experience. I mean this seriously, there’s something very valuable about being challenged at my age. I’m the oldest competitor by eight years. Betfair currently has me at 66/1 as their absolute outsider, but it’s actually been really good.
“All of the social science shows us that as we age we tend to find it harder to learn new skills, we have fewer friends, we have fewer relationships, and actually this has opened me up to something that I never in a million years ever though I would do.
“Even if I go out in the first shot, the experience of learning this skill has been invaluable and I do think I maybe would like to sing in a choir or something locally because the experience has been great.”
Former Love Island stars Samira Mighty, Zara McDermott, Wes Nelson and Eyal Booker found fame on the fourth series of the ITV2 show in 2018. Who knew there was such secret singing talent packed under one very glamorous roof? Don’t ask them who’s the best, though.
Eyal: “You’ll have to wait and see. We add different things and that’s why we’re a band.”
Wes: “If we were looking to be solo artists we wouldn’t be in a band. Together we’re very, very good and I don’t think we expected it, the first time we got together. Second time and then the third time we were like, oh my God, this is starting to look really good now.”
Zara: “We’ve been working amazingly together. We’ve got this friendship we formed from the most unusual experience but the best experience. We lived together, we obviously know each other really well, so putting it into a working relationship has translated so far, amazingly.”
He’s best known for playing Artie Abrams in the all-singing hit series Glee, but also had a pop career with boyband NTL. Despite the performing background, he’s reckons he’s still a bit rusty when it comes to singing live.
“X Factor is like a huge thing and this daunting thing where I think I was overly casual about it all. Everyone watches this, I have to get it together.
“I haven’t performed live since 2011 on the Glee tour, I feel I have to dust off the cobwebs. I do definitely feel rusty. This is a whole different experience; nothing really prepares you to get up on stage to sing in front of a live studio audience and have people vote on you, and to be judged.
“It’s a very unique thing. Also, everybody’s very good.”
She played Angie Appleton in Coronation Street, a woman who thought her husband was a marine biologist but actually worked at a marine-life centre gift shop. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Luckily, she has a background in musical theatre, so hopefully her X Factor days will be more successful.
“I am nervous and it is really overwhelming but I think the overall feeling is excitement, I can’t wait to get on stage. I can’t wait to get out there and get it started.
“My career started in the Lion King. The difference now is I’m not going to be joined by 40 other people. It’s just me so I’ve got no choice but to be good, I can’t mess up.
“Favourite karaoke song? I very rarely do karaoke… but what I do like, if I’m with a group of people, I’ll always get Summer Nights on.”
Some people stand in the darkness, but not Hayley Hasselhoff, who is ready to hit the X Factor stage. She’s a well known plus-size model who has her own clothing range, and has also dabbled in acting and singing before. But what did dad David think of her new career move?
“He’s so excited. Everybody in my family is absolutely thrilled. They have pushed me and wanted me to do music for so long… he started crying because he was like, I cannot wait to see you back on stage.
“I think his advice was just to stay true to who you are and sing your heart out.”
A reality TV star and country singer, Megan released her debut album, Story Of Me, last year. So she should be good. She says she is pop with a country twist, “kind of like my own genre”. But when it comes to X Factor, it’s Simon’s house she’s most excited about. And singing too, of course.
“I’ve watched the show growing up my entire life so to be able to sing in front of the judges was honestly one of the best moments of my life. It means so much to me, to go to judges’ houses. I kept having to pinch myself, like, I can’t believe this; I’m standing in Simon Cowell’s house, this is crazy.”
What’s it like?
“Unbelievable. His taste is up there. It’s modern, white, glass, pool in the middle, lounge chairs, fire pits, the lot.”
Megan says she didn’t steal anything and that, despite reports of Simon having black toilet roll from a few years back, she can confirm his toilet roll “looked like normal toilet roll”. So there you go.
Rugby stars Thom Evans, Ben Foden and Levi Davis are trying their hands at singing, and say they’re “not your typical boy-slash-man band”. Levi is the talent, Thom is the looks and Ben is the logistics, apparently.
Ben: “Once we got together and actually sang all together we felt there was some real potential there, a bit of spark in the room, everyone was getting a little bit excited. We’ve come a long way over the last three or four months.
“I’d say our sound is old school meets new school. We’re trying to bring back old songs that were real bangers back in the day and then try and make them a bit more modern and funk them up, spice them up.”
X Factor: Celebrity also features influencer girl group V5, twin brothers Max & Harvey, Love Actually star Olivia Olson and actor Jonny Labey. Catch the first episode on ITV on Saturday