“The X Factor UK” aired its season 14 premiere in the U.S. last night (Sept. 3) on AXS TV. Series boss Simon Cowell joined veteran judging peers Sharon Osbourne, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger to screen the first crop of contenders and several stunning acts delivered standout auditions right out of the gate. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best season premiere moments.
Rak-Su Raise the Bar
We’re reminded “The X Factor UK” is all about finding the next big music superstar in a neat opening montage in which Simon Cowell says he remembers the first audition of every star the show has turned out like it was yesterday. Clips of Olly Murs, James Arthur, and individual members of One Direction roll by, stopping on Harry Styles’ 16-year-old dimpled-smile introduction, “Hi, I’m Harry Styles.” He had us (and the entire world) at that first “Hi.”
It was kind of fun, then, when a soulful quartet called Rak-Su was the first act to face the judges in the audition room. They started off with a Justin Timberlake cover, but Simon didn't like it and asked for something else. They performed an original song, “I’m Feelin’ You” and everyone (including all four judges) was feeling them. Louis and Nicole even chair-danced! They earned four yeses and already raised the bar for upcoming groups. Game officially on!
Sam Black and Kayleigh Taylor Surprise
How sweet was doting daddy Sam Black? He seemed nice, genuine and cute, in a real pop star pull-out poster kind of way. He surprised us all with his ‘60s “Runaround Sue” song choice. It totally worked for him. All of the judges loved it. Nicole was spot on when she told him, “You just light up when you sing.” Bravo!
The don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover rule came into play when Kayleigh Taylor came in and excitedly rambled on about her love for Simon, which she proved by showing a tattoo bearing his name on her back. She also made a joke about her weight and we winced. We were hoping for great things from her at that point, but didn't know what to expect. To everyone's surprise, she sang a haunting rendition of Evanescence’s Grammy-nominated power ballad “My Immortal.” It was absolutely stunning.
Sharon looked right at her and said, “Stop all the crap about the weight. ‘Can I tell you something missus, stop all the crap about the weight. It doesn’t matter, it’s who you are. If you want it to be. And if you’re comfortable, show it.” Thumbs up Mrs. O! hat a beautiful thing to say – and Simon quickly agreed with her.
Anthony Russell Gets a Shining Second Chance
Anthony Russell was a little shy as he entered the audition room, black eye and all. This was his second attempt at making it, as he tried out 10 years ago and didn’t get through. He sang a remarkable rendition of Julia Michael’s breakout hit “Issue.” The judges loved it and Nicole teased, “You and your shiner are up there shining.” Corny, yes. But, Scherzy was right. Anthony did a great job.
Jack and Joel Do a Magical Ed Sheeran Mix Up
Apparently, Ed Sheeran’s smash hit “Shape of You” was the audition “song du jour” for many of the hopefuls. But, most of them singing it in a montage flopped. Until unlikely duo Jack and Joel strolled in and shocked us all with an amazing medley of some of Sheeran’s upbeat tracks from Divide. They blended “Galway Girl” into “New Man” and then Jack sang a beautiful rendition of “Barcelona” in Spanish. Jack beat-boxed and played guitar, while jumping in a minute to harmonize and deliver a zany rap. Louis called them "a breath of fresh air" and he's right. We love these guys and can't wait to hear what they do next!
Holly Tandy and Grace Davies Deliver the Goods
At 15, Holly Tandy's dazzling rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys was way beyond her years. She has silky smooth, sparkling vocals with amazing range and control. The judges all loved her and our hearts melted when her grandpa broke down in tears while she sang – even Dermot O’Leary got emotional watching him watch her. Sniff, sniff.
Finally, Grace Davies took a huge risk by singing an original song called “Roots” and it was incredible. First of all, she can really sing. But, the emotion behind her lyrics was so moving. The song was about finding the strength to push past negativity and believe in yourself when people beat down your dreams. Making dreams come true is what “The X Factor” is all about. Simon, who has a knack for discovering some of the biggest stars on the planet said, “I loved it genuinely. My God, this is a beautiful, beautiful song. It's genuine, it came from your heart, it's believable." We couldn’t agree more.
“The X Factor UK” airs in the U.S. on Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on AXS TV. Stay tuned to AXS for "X Factor UK" updates. Follow @TheXFactor on Twitter and tweet during the show using #UKintheUSA.