Gary Barlow has let himself go again
We were given unprecedented access to The X Factor this weekend, standing in for the judges at final rehearsals to witness the final five acts' last warm-ups and offer some words of wisdom.
Cameras were rolling, Dermot O'Leary was hosting and the acts had two tracks to get through for the first time, so it was probably the last thing they wanted - four journalists ready to judge their vocals and routines.
We had a quick pep-talk and high five from Dermot, before stepping out of the famous stage doors. The lights, pyros and camera flashes are so bright that you can't actually see any audience members. Perhaps that explains Louis Walsh's baffled expression every Saturday.
You remind me of a young Simon Cowell
After negotiating the tricky walk, steps, clap and smile, steps, entrance, we felt a lot more comfortable and our nerves were gone. And those famous black spinning chairs are actually rather comfortable. Sadly, we found nothing underneath the desk. No leftover Sharon Osbourne shoe, Simon Cowell fag butt or even a spare Michael Bublé.
Adopting the role of Louis Walsh for the afternoon - seal clap/check, "you remind of a young" catchphrase/check, pick up your phones and vote/check, extra support for Irish act/check - we tried our best to add an element of the surreal to the show. According to Dermot, we failed miserably. Our description of Little Mix as "a little...Girls....Aloud" was "far too coherent and sensible for Louis", joked the host.
Marcus, you're like a little Andrew Ridgeley?
Watching the acts perform literally yards in front of you (or in the case of Marcus, on top of your desk) does give you a fresh perspective on all the acts. Stripped of the screaming live audience, Peter Dickson bellows and nerves of the live show, the acts' vocals come under far more scrutiny.
Even when half the production staff are checking their phones in the audience and sound staff are dashing around on the floor, Marcus's Stevie Wonder is still genuinely moving. Misha never misses a note. Amelia never stops strutting. Little Mix never stop smiling. And Janet? In the final rehearsals the nerves that would ruin her Saturday night and ultimately cost her a spot in the competition were clearly visible. More importantly, it didn't look like she really wanted to be on the stage anymore. She looked worn out by the X Factor experience.
Digital Spy - you're not going through to the next round
As for our performance? Well being a judge is a lot tougher than it looks. Obviously, it's not neuroscience, teaching rowdy school kids or fighting on the frontline in Afghanistan. But it's trickier than it looks.
You can script a few gags and one-liners, but what happens if the performance doesn't go according to plan? Stick to your script and sound stupid, or ad lib and waffle on? And how do you deal with Dermot's questions? And the floor manager telling you to wind it up? And the act in tears on the stage? The acts' performances are over so quickly and you don't have time to enjoy it, applaud and soak it all in because you've already got Dermot prodding you for answers.
In the end, we discovered the best policy was just to have a pop at our rival judges and blame everything on Gary Barlow. Maybe we were better at doing a Louis Walsh impression that we first thought.
Dermot didn't take kindly to our jokes about his dad dancing
The X Factor semi-finals air on Saturday, December 3 and Sunday, December 4 at 8pm on ITV1.