Have I ever told you about the time I was a judge on X Factor?
No, not as a wannabe with thoughts of being a star, or a joke act set up for ridicule, but as someone whose musical musings played a role in the showbiz careers of some.
There is a lot of reading between the lines needed here. It was a brief stint and the word ‘some’ is doing heavy lifting.
I worked in production, I tell people. Truth is, I was more or less free labour working on various things from setting up stages and getting the food to whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
Despite its brevity, it was one of the best jobs I had, second to the current one.
Those who know me know all too well the stories of me getting Mr Cowell his breakfast and how he wanted his latte skinny but got full fat. How Sharon Osbourne and I got on like a house on fire for the exaggerated five seconds we conversed. And how I mentored the up-and-coming Conway Sisters (Google reminds me of their name), who made it much further in the show than I did working on it. ‘Mentored’ may not be the word they would use, but it was 16 years ago.
It started with an email from a course tutor in my final year of university which didn’t start with the ubiquitous “Mr Bell” or include the “disappointing,” “badly written” and “citing sources” I’d become accustomed to.
X Factor was in town and would anyone be interested in helping out, it read. It was long past the time I should have been applying for jobs, so here was an opportunity.
After replying, I found myself at Belfast’s Hilton early one sunny morning. I was given an T-shirt emblazoned with the X Factor logo and listened intently as the jobs were dished out.
There was no mention of judging at this point, but around lunchtime on one of the days, I was pulled aside and asked if I would sit in for a producer who, no doubt, had better things to do.
I then found myself in a stripped-bare function room where dreams were made and shattered, sitting in front of people singing for their lives, hoping to get the nod.
Myself and another member of the production crew had to determine if they would make good music, good TV, or get the “thanks for coming” send-off.
It would be a stretch to use the word ‘talent’ when talking about my ear for a tune, but before anyone accuses me of thwarting their dreams, I can remember saying someone had talent and should be put through to the next stage, only to be met with a stare of disbelief. After that, I took a nodding and agreeing approach.
I worked on the show for a handful of days and had the time of my life. There was talk of travelling to London to join the production. It was something I never followed up on, but I still wonder if I could have judged for real...