The X Factor 2018 – episode one review: Ludicrous judging panel actually… wait for it… works?
There’s a moment during the introductory montage of The X Factor’s new series in which Ayda Williams turns to her husband after a contestant’s audition and snarls: “You want a warm supper tonight, Robbie Williams, I think you know how to vote on this one.”
The pair make up half of the new-look judging panel; filling the seats occupied last year by Louis Walsh (fired at last) and Sharon Osbourne (back for the live shows only). Ayda’s total lack of first-hand experience in the music industry drew ridicule earlier this year, and the decision to replace best judge of all time Nicole Scherzinger with Louis Tomlinson hasn’t exactly helped restore hype – with even his fans calling it a bad idea.
But you know what? Looking solely at the first episode – airing tonight on ITV – the new panel kind of works.
Ayda’s going into it with the most to prove, and she’s great. On Loose Women she’s shown herself to be an entertaining personality with a big sense of humour, and despite the odds she looks right at home during these first few auditions – and when a bitter contestant takes a half-arsed swipe at her involvement, she’s ready for it with a quick, razor-sharp comeback.
How useful she’ll be as a mentor when the competition really starts heating up remains to be seen, but given past allegations that judges barely do any mentoring at all, she’ll probably be no different to any of her predecessors. On an all-white, predominantly male line-up, she’s the closest thing to diversity that we have – and she’s about to prove a lot of naysayers wrong.
Louis has much more of a personality than anyone outside of the One Direction fandom may be expecting, and while he’s no Nicole, he’ll likely go down much better than expected – and prove himself to be one of the better mentors further down the line. But it’s Robbie who’s the star of the show: funny, honest, and cocky with a healthy dose of self-awareness, he’s the breath of fresh air the tired format desperately needs – and he makes the decision to keep Louis Walsh on the line-up for 4000 years look all the more absurd.
We’re back in the arenas for the auditions, and with some big personalities, an absence of sob stories and hardly any Dermot O’Leary, it feels like a high-energy, slick episode that sets a strong precedent for the rest of the run. In terms of talent, there really isn’t much we haven’t seen before: the easy highlight is Dreamer singer Janice Robinson, with the rest being the usual mix of middle-ability youngsters, competent but not remotely chart-friendly ‘grown-ups’, and groups putting style ahead of substance.
The show has a lot to prove: that it still works as a blockbuster TV show, and that it can still create stars (four of the last five winners have parted ways with Syco – Louisa Johnson was dropped before she even released an album). The new panel is an encouraging sign that it can rediscover its entertainment value… now we just need more of an indicator that we’ll find some chart-ready talent over the weeks and months ahead.