The judges for this year's talent competition, along with The Hoff, were Amanda Holden and comedian Michael Macintyre. I was slightly put out at not spying Simon Cowell's square head, but sufficiently star struck and enjoying the eventual comforts of a seat the auditions started on a high note.
The first thing that struck me as the show got under way was just how much louder the buzzers are than they appear on TV. They are more unsettling for the contestants than it seems to audiences at home and had me jumping out of my seat on several occasions. A second oddly noticeable difference between the live experience and the one at home was the lack of inspirational music that is edited over the auditions. This music, in a way, almost directs how we are supposed to feel about an act. If an act is going to be bad the music is comical; while if an act is going to be good the music is inspirational. Occasionally they seem to edit in inspirational music over bad acts to add to the comic effect of their failure.
It was different watching the show without this direction but that does not mean to say we were able to watch free of intervention. We were told by the stage manager who clearly fancied himself as Ant and/or Dec to boo and cheer enthusiastically at the acts as we saw fit. His only qualm was that we did not boo a small children by themselves, though he assured us it was fine if there was more than one. He told us repeatedly, almost like a catch-phrase, that we were the fourth judge. He lied. Well maybe not an outright lie, but a definite exaggeration of how much importance was placed on the audience’s opinion. The first instance at which this was apparent was in the audition of the elderly couple the Maxwells. Their patriotic speech of how honoured they would be to see the Queen and sing in front of her was booed down vehemently by the majority of the crowd causing Amanda Holden to say there was “no way that’s not being edited out, I’m looking for damehood!” In fairness it wouldn’t have reflected well on the show or Scotland to see such scorn directed toward the Queen but it shattered the initial illusion of the audience’s freedom to express an opinion.
Despite the disillusionment, the rest of the show continued to be enjoyable. Many of the acts were very entertaining both for the right and wrong reasons. It was also fun to watch in the interlude between acts as a host of make-up artists descended on the judges: two to bronze and powder the kilted Hoff, one to fluff Michael Macintyre’s hair and a small army to converge on pregnant Amanda Holden. In my opinion, Michael Macintyre was a great new addition to the judging panel; he was witty if a bit naïve and his confession of love to Glen Cunningham (a talented 15 year old singer from Nairn) and his “purple Ribena jumper” had everyone laughing. Even the Hoff had his moments, mainly stemming from his complete inability to understand Glaswegian and the occasional flash to the crowd of his legs under the kilt.
The pivotal moment of the night for me was the emergence of camp Glaswegian contestant Edward Reed who got his “inner diva on” and sang nursery rhymes to the tune of Snow Patrol/Leona Lewis's Run. Starting off with Old MacDonald Had a Farm, the combined shock of the change of words and the brilliant singing voice had the audience on his side from the start. He ended with If You Are Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands. We were happy, we knew it, we really showed it, we clapped our hands. The unity of the crowd was, as cliché as it sounds, really something special. Everyone, irrespective of sobriety or dental hygiene, was on their feet clapping hands and stamping feet together till the wall hangings shook. It was a great moment, but it did not last.
The inevitability of reality TV crept into the room. The judges had unanimously put Edward through to the next round and had left for a break before the next audience was due to take over at 5 o’clock. Under the direction of the stage manager we were made to clap, boo and re-enact the dance of Happy and You Know It for over half an hour while being filmed with no contestant or judge in sight. The brief sense I had had during Edward Reed's performance of what the show is really about was lost in the repetition for the cameras. It was to be expected, but there was talent, there was entertainment and then there was TV.