My X Factor Journey

I am officially an X Factor reject.  And I couldn’t be happier about it.  Let me tell you why.

Many months ago I entered the famous TV talent show by way of a video audition and then promptly forgot about it.  Then on Friday an email arrived in my inbox saying:

“Congratulations!  You are through to the next round of the X Factor 2013 auditions.  You are one step closer to achieving your dream”.

The email went on to give details of my second round audition, which was to be held the following Monday at 7am.  After miraculously sorting out the most complicated child-care arrangements known to humankind, and a weekend of outfit-choosing and song-singing, I duly arrived at the London venue yesterday at 6.55am.  I stood amongst hundreds of other nervous hopefuls, queueing in the cold for two hours.  And when I say cold, I mean that I couldn’t walk properly having lost all sensation in my toes.  Eventually I reached the front of the queue and was asked to read two pages of small print before signing a form.  My fingers were so cold I couldn’t hold the pen, so I scribbled a barely-legible mark without reading the text, knowing full well that it was simply asking me to sign my life away to the money-making machine that is X Factor.  At last we were shepherded indoors – into a space closely resembling an aircraft hangar.  A few auditionees made a grab for the handful of available chairs, but were given short shrift by the production crew who informed them the chairs were only for those in real need – the concrete floor was evidently good enough for the likes of us.  After a further hour of waiting (and with a derriere now as cold as my toes) my name was finally called, and I joined a group of others as we were led to our fate.  A skinny blonde girl (there were lots of those) started jabbering to me. “Oh fuck!  Oh fuck!  Shitting fuck!  I’m shitting myself!  Are you shitting yourself?  I’m like, totally shitting myself!”  I was nervous but not shitting myself.  Didn’t seem right to say so though.  “Yeah” I replied.  “I’m shitting myself too”.  She gave my hand a squeeze.  “Don’t worry babe” she reassured me.  “You’ll be fucking brilliant”.  I asserted that she, too, would be fucking amazing.  Her sparkling beam confirmed that this was the correct response.

We were led down a narrow corridor and told to wait outside door 11.  We sank to the floor again, grateful for the carpet.  The corridor was buzzing with people humming their first lines repeatedly under their breath; strumming guitars; reapplying their make-up; and my skinny blonde friend screeching “Has anyone got a pen?!  I need to write my words on my hand!  I’m gonna forget my fucking words!” Every few minutes someone would appear from an audition room.  Some, jubilantly clutching the red slip of paper that meant they were through to round 3, skipped back down the corridor shouting “Good luck guys!” over their shoulder.  The rest came out red-faced and downcast, trying to slip away unnoticed.  One boy muttered “Not enough confidence?  They don’t even bloody know me” as he stomped past us.

It was impossible not to get caught up in this frenzy of nerves and excitement and adrenalin, and as the queue in front of me gradually diminished I felt the butterflies in my stomach growing.  My breathing started quickening, my hands trembling.  My mouth grew dry.  I felt certain I would go blank when it was my turn to audition, so started quietly singing my first line over and over.  I sipped water.  I sprayed Rescue Remedy on my tongue.  I wondered what the hell I was doing there.

Finally the door opened and a crew member said “Your turn.  Just stand on the X”.  I walked into a room that was much larger than I had been expecting.  I beamed at the two producers sitting behind the table, with a huge floor-to-ceiling window behind them making it difficult to see them them clearly.  I took my place on the hallowed red-and-black cross on the floor in the centre of the room.  I confirmed my name with as much excitement as I could muster.  “And what do you do?” asked the man.  “Well up until a year ago I was a secondary school teacher.  I taught Sex Education to teenagers in London!  It was brilliant!” I wittered.  I decided they wouldn’t be as interested in the Human Rights modules I had taught, or the Government and Politics.  Sex Education would surely make better TV. “Really?” asked the woman.  “So lots of putting condoms on bananas then?”  “Oh no!” I responded with more enthusiasm than a CBeebies presenter on ecstasy. “We don’t use bananas, we have blue demonstrators!  Ours was called Bob!”  The producers smiled at me.  They looked vaguely amused.  So far so good.  I went on to tell them that I’m now a single mum to four-year-old twins, and made some general chit-chat about how challenging yet rewarding that is.  Yadda yadda yadda.  “OK, well when you’re ready?” the man said.

This was it.  Time to show them what I was made of.  My hands were still shaking.  My throat felt dry.  I fixed my eyes on a point just behind the judges’ heads, assumed the correct posture to give my voice the best fighting chance, took a breath from deep in my stomach, and began to sing.  After three words I knew I was out.  My voice sounded weak and reedy.  I’d started singing way too low which meant there was no power behind the notes.  Quite frankly I sounded crap.  Before I could even hit the chorus the man raised his hand in a “stop” signal.  “Thanks” he said “but it’s going to be a no today.  The standard is very high”.  Translation: you sounded crap.  “I know that was rubbish” I said.  “I started singing too low.  That’s actually not what I usually sound like at all.  Can I do my second song?”  “Sorry” he replied.  “We’ve got a lot of people to see”.  Translation: you sounded so crap we just want to get you out of this room.  “OK” I said.  “Thanks for taking the time to see me”.  “Thanks for coming” came the reply.  And I left.

And so, like I say, I am officially an X Factor reject.  My friends commiserated with me and I said “It doesn’t matter!  I wasn’t expecting to get through anyway.  It was a good experience”.  And I meant all those thing.  It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.  And I really wasn’t expecting to get through.  But why do I feel it was a good experience?  Reading through my description of the day, it sounds hellish.  Yet I am pleased I went.  To understand why I am pleased I need to take a big step back.

Anyone who watches the series will be familiar with the concept of a contestant’s “journey”.  When they are voted off by the public and the celebrity judges, they hear the immortal words “Let’s take a look at your X Factor journey” before being shown a video montage of themselves during their months of involvement with the show – singing with their eyes shut tight; crossing their fingers with a tear sliding down their cheek; leaping joyfully into a judge’s arms; ecstatically hugging their fellow contestants – essentially a summary of all the key moments that had led them to this point of rejection, accompanied by an appropriately emotional soundtrack.  They go on to thankfully express all they have learned from the process, and describe how they have changed and grown as a person.  For them this journey began with their first audition.

My journey has, so far, taken me up to my X Factor audition.  And it has spanned years rather than months.  But it explains why I feel that my experience yesterday was overwhelmingly positive and even triumphant.  This has been the third consecutive year that my first video audition was deemed good enough to get me through to the second round.  Twice before I have received the congratulatory email, inviting me to the second round of auditions.  But both times I bottled it.  I found excuses not to go.  The thought of entering X Factor had been fun when sending in my video, but when faced with the reality of being judged and, in all likelihood, being told at some point that I wasn’t good enough – well, that was enough to convince me the whole idea was ridiculous and most certainly not for me.

But this is hardly surprising when I think about my circumstances.  I was in a very different place.  I was in an oppressive and abusive marriage, which left me permanently tearful and constantly feeling that I wasn’t good enough.  I lived on tenterhooks, forever fearful that the next sentence to come out of my mouth would be one that triggered anger and aggression and mean little mind games.  I exhausted myself trying to be the wife my husband wanted, but whatever I did, I could never please him.  No matter how hard I tried to be all he could want, I was never enough.  Unsurprisingly given the strain I was under at home and my fragile emotional state, my work began to suffer.  I started to make mistakes and miss deadlines.  And when I went to a manager to explain exactly what was happening in my marriage and how it was affecting my ability to work, this information was used to bully me, make me into a scapegoat, and eventually push me out of the career I had loved.

In hindsight it is obvious why, in previous years, I couldn’t face singing for X Factor producers.  It was because my husband and my employers had completely convinced me I wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t a good enough wife, I wasn’t a good enough employee, I wasn’t good enough for anything.  (For more on being good enough please read this amazing blog).  I certainly wasn’t good enough to stand amongst the other auditionees and believe I had as much right as them to be there, and to sing a song.  My self-esteem was at an all-time low.

This year, however, I went to the audition.  And it took some doing.  I had to arrange a succession of four different people to take responsibility for childcare throughout the day.  I had to get up at 5am to be there on time.  But I did it.  I showed up and I sang.

The interesting thing is that, in a way, I still didn’t think I was good enough.  By that I mean I don’t think I’m a good enough singer to win the X Factor.  I think I have a nice voice, and given the right song and the right circumstances I occassionally think I sound really good.  But (and this is being realistic, not putting myself down) I do not have the kind of voice that wins X Factor.  Or the kind of looks.  Possibly the kind of personality.  But I did not, even for one fraction of a second, think I was ever going to get close to “making it” on X Factor.

So why did I go?  I went to prove to myself that I could.  I went because I now have enough confidence in myself that it genuinely doesn’t matter to me that two people I don’t know didn’t like my singing yesterday.  If I’m being completely honest I was just a little disappointed.  I had hoped to go one round further than I did.  But the important thing is that I was there.  As a friend put it yesterday: “Here’s to showing up and being seen!”  A year ago, showing up and being seen was terrifying.  This year I did it and it felt great.

So … my X Factor journey.  What would my video montage look like?  Well it would show my transition from tearful, beaten-down despondency to confident optimism.  It would show the look of adoration in my daughter’s eyes when we sing together.  It would show the hordes of friends encouraging me and cheering me on every step of the way.  And my montage soundtrack would have to be “I Will Survive”.

I entered a different contest to the other people queueing in the cold with me yesterday.  They were there to prove something to others.  I was there to prove something to myself.  And I won.