by Marc Ridley - EQ's resident X-Factor blogger
So it's the final auditions episode of the year, and the drama has been turned up to 11. It all kicks off with our latest auditionees making their nervous journey to the O2, which has been a nice new touch for the latest series, even if their use of public transport is overemphasised to hammer it home to us that they're just ordinary people.
Our first contestants, however, were anything but ordinary. Ageing couple Margaret, 52 (we know that 52 isn't really old, but seriously, you should've seen her) and Neil had come to the auditions together but performed separately. Margaret failed to make much of a positive impression unfortunately – it was like Gail Platt had wandered onto the stage. Her husband, Neil, 55, was next, and belted out "Crocodile Rock", while Margaret unfortunately sat crying backstage. Crikey. Unfortunately Neil's performance didn't go down too well, either, and the couple earned themselves eight noes before making their disappointed way home.
Up in Liverpool (how do they edit this stuff? And why?!), Bradley Johnson was up next. 16 years old and fresh out of school, Bradley had graduated without many qualifications and a bit of a rough upbringing in general – he'd been excluded three times. Hoping to keep out of trouble, he'd chosen X Factor as his rehab.
After Bradley sang a track by Radio 1 man of the moment Ed Sheeran, the audience were rightly impressed and he'd successfully won the audience round too. And he seemed to know it: Bradley broke down in tears on stage as the judges delivered their positive verdict.
51-year-old Terry Wistanley has been singing for years, but saw the X Factor as his final chance to make it big. Singing Michael Bolton's "To Love Somebody", Terry was either performing in an empty arena or had bored the audience into silence. But they soon picked up when he reached the high notes, and Terry's particularly tedious brand of old man crooning had seemed to work. Yawn. Let's just pray he doesn't make it through to the live shows.
Over in Cardiff (?!), Ceri Rees was back for a fourth attempt after failures in 2005, 2006 and 2008. She blamed her lack of success so far on the presence of former judge Simon Cowell, and had brought along a bunch of flowers to make a good first impression in front of the new judges.
Planning to perform "I Dreamed a Dream" from what she called "Lez Miserablez", Ceri couldn't quite get started with more than an awkward squeak, so Gary gave her another shot. Choosing some Whitney Houston instead, Ceri unfortunately didn't do much better. It wasn't fourth time lucky for Ceri, and she was dealt four noes from the judges. See you next year, love.
So the arena doors are shut, and things are about to get a whole lot more serious. Looking ahead to boot camp, we've got the lovely and camp Johnny Robinson, cheeky Frankie Cocozza, and Tulisa's sweetheart Luke Lucas to look forward to. Next week, it's our annual trip to the X Factor Boot Camp, and the remaining hopefuls perform at the O2 Arena. And it doesn't look like it's going to be easy: even cheeky Frankie is in tears.