Thursday, 26 November 2015

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Folk flock to Carlisle city centre for X Factor auditions

It’s Time. To Face. The Music! Then the theme tune starts. A pounding rhythm that quickens the pulse and makes you think that this singing contest might just be the most important event ever to grace the planet.

X Factor auditions photo
From left, Katrina Sessford, Kerrie Ritson and Paula Prosser

For some people, it is.

The process that climaxes in millions of homes on Saturday nights began in Carlisle city centre yesterday.

The X Factor mobile audition was the first time Cumbrians have been able to sing their way to stardom in their home county.

All those delicate dreams. Some to be wafted higher in the air. Others to be popped by a judge’s words.

You need a good voice. A pretty face helps. And where would X Factor be without a journey?

For these hopefuls the journey began around the Market Cross on an unseasonably cold morning.

David McKenzie from Currock, Carlisle, was among those waiting. David, 40, is unemployed. He has walked with a stick since hurting his back in an accident five years ago.

He has auditioned for X Factor four times before. The first time, in Newcastle, David made it to the second round. Since then he has been less successful.

David was planning to sing Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty, presumably without the saxophone solo.

“I sang Baker Street at the first audition, when I got through,” he said.

“I just enjoy singing. I sing for pleasure every day. I’d like to make a career out of it but I’ll just take it as it comes. If they like it, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.

“I think I’ve got age against us. This day and age they’re looking for youngsters. Then again, look at Susan Boyle.”

David hasn’t sung in public much. But he recalls a karaoke evening at a pub near Brampton. “A bloke on a keyboard was singing. As the night went on he was asking for requests. I said, ‘I’ll give you a pint if you sing Bohemian Rhapsody.’ He said ‘Ok, if you sing it with me.’ I did and I got a standing ovation.”

Dozens of people had travelled from west Cumbria. Paula Prosser from Kells was with her husband John and several friends.

Paula was dressed in a style which brought to mind Madonna in her Material Girl period.

She was planning to sing Make You Feel My Love, one of Adele’s many hits.

The word ‘brassy’ may have been invented for Paula. She said she felt much more confident than during her previous X Factor audition in Glasgow two years ago.

“I was five-and-a-half stone heavier then. I’ve got loads more confidence now. Everybody wants the big money and that. I’d be happy just to get past the first round, if they recognise you’ve got something.”

Paula agreed to sing for the News & Star website. Her soulful voice sent Make You Feel My Love out among the morning shoppers who looked across as she serenaded them.

Paula is mum to Cory, four, and Jake, 10. Jake had wished her luck, in his own way.

“He said ‘Good luck today.’ I said ‘I’ll need it!’ He said ‘Yeah, you will.’”

The audition had been due to begin at 9.30. We’d been promised an ‘X Factor mobile audition van’.

By nine o’clock about 30 people were waiting for this vehicle.

TNT, City Link and Global Express Parcels vans were parked nearby. But nothing to deliver anyone from their everyday life to stardom.

At 9.35 a black Renault van trundled into the pedestrianised area and stopped a few yards from the Market Cross.

A young woman and three young men got out. These were the X Factor production staff who would be doing the judging. Simon Cowell and Gary Barlow would not be joining us today.

They unloaded equipment from the van and began erecting a black tent.

No auditions in the van, then, which is probably for the best. That might have tested a few eardrums.

Life-changing moments suddenly seemed closer. Louise Curwen, Paula’s aunty, was handing out a herbal comfort called Rescue Remedy.

“You drop it on your tongue,” she said. “It calms the nerves.”

Andrew Horne employed a different tactic. Andrew is a sixth-form student at Whitehaven School. He’s got pop star looks. But his sound was of greater concern as he prepared to perform I’m Yours by Jason Mraz.

“I’m so nervous. I don’t want to do it! I’m doing this to build confidence, in my singing and in general. I’ve never had ambitions to be a singer. I just thought I might as well try.”

Andrew’s support team had confidence in their man, but they agreed that “he’s got more confidence when he’s had a drink”.

They returned from an emergency shopping expedition with a can of vodka and orange, which Andrew gratefully supped.

The X Factor production team laid out a cordon with steel barriers. The straggle became a queue of about 50 people.

The calendar said May 1 but it must have been lying. A cold wind had people huddling into their jackets. X Factor flags billowed in the breeze.

West Cumbria led the warm-up with Rolling on the River.

One group began singing Reach For the Stars.

“How about Tragedy?” suggested David McKenzie.

Alfea Routledge from Botcherby, Carlisle, had been waiting a long time to shine.

The 60-year-old is the mother of four children, aged 28 to 17. She came to Carlisle from the Philippines 30 years ago.

“I’ve been a lone parent for a long time, since divorcing 11 years ago,” she said. “I brought up four kids and had two part-time jobs.

“I was too busy for auditions. Now that my children are grown up, I’m back to my own life again. I thought I could use my own talent.”

Alfea used to sing at church. She was planning to perform the Whitney Houston song One Moment in Time.

“I just like singing. I don’t really sound like anyone. I just want to be what I am.”

Alfea had high hopes.

“If I get to the last 10, I’d be happy with that. That’s my goal. I’m just doing this for my children.”

Would she be disappointed if she didn’t make it that far?

“Not really. I try.”

The first auditionees made the short walk to the tent.

Some of them could be heard outside. The louder they became, the more they warbled in the style beloved by Mariah Carey and many who make it to the later stages of X Factor.

One man sitting on the Market Cross steps muttered: “I think she just blew the roof off the tent, eh.”

Paula had reached the front of the queue. And she had come to a decision.

While warming up with Crazy For You by Adele, she had decided to sing this song instead of To Make You Feel My Love.

“She’s been practising non-stop for the last five days – the same song. Then at the last second she changes it,” said husband John with a smile.

“She’s always singing. It’s all she does. I think she deserves a break.”

Success was a yellow piece of paper. This was handed to those who passed the audition.

These lucky ones were asked to return that afternoon for another audition. This one would be filmed and viewed back at X Factor HQ.

Those who emerged empty-handed tended to walk away quickly, eager to escape the queue’s gaze.

Then a yellow slip poked out of the tent, closely followed by a smiling Andrew Horne.

“I was very, very nervous. I’m still shaking. I feel happy. Very, very happy.”

He was handed a phone to pass the good news to his family.

A few minutes later, the screams of her friends told you Paula had done it.

“He said ‘I’m putting you through to the second stage,’” she said. “Then I started crying.”

“I’m chuffed to bits,” beamed John.

But there were more unhappy endings than fairytales.

Alfea Routledge didn’t make it through. Neither did David McKenzie.

“It went all right,” he said. “I did the best I could. I sang two songs and he said ‘This time it’s a no.’ It’s one of them things.”

Kerrie Ritson, 27, from Cleator Moor also emerged with bad news. “He said the bar’s really high this year but I should try again next year.”

She described a small black room lit by a spotlight, with just her and one judge. Just one person’s opinion on whether she has the X Factor.

“If you get upset about it you’ll never succeed,” said Kerrie. “I’m going back in there as part of a group. I’ll give that a bash. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

  • Of 103 people who auditioned in Carlisle yesterday, 24 made it through to the next round. If you were one of those people, keep in touch so we can track your progress!


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