The X Factor commences this Saturday and Dermot O’Leary is excited!
How does it feel to be back?
It feels great, a bit odd to start with, not in a bad way, it’s just that this time last year I didn’t think it would ever happen. I started having drinks in early January with friends who work on the show and it was one of those things that started getting mooted, people were asking me if I would ever go back, then my agent started asking the same question.
Did you have any reservations about coming back?
To start with, I wasn’t sure. I felt like I had drawn a line in the sand. Then I gave myself some time to think about it and I realised I had missed the live shows, I missed the team and I missed being part of a show that’s part of the national conversation and culture. Like any job, if you do it for eight years it becomes engrained in you. I love making a live Saturday night entertainment show and there aren’t many around. I certainly still felt an emotional attachment to it.
People expected you to stick the knife into the show after you left, why didn’t you?
I didn’t because that would have been disloyal. I had a great eight years on the show and walked away with no real bitterness. There were a few conversations that I would have liked to have had which we didn’t have, but that was just regret, not bitterness. I worked on a show I loved for eight years and entertained people for eight years. I don’t want to sound like I am some sort of beauty queen but I am not wired that way, it’s not how I have been brought up. Even if you have certain issues then you don’t air that in public.
How did you feel when the show came back and you weren’t on it?
I was lucky that I was working in South Africa for two months while it was on. If I had been in the UK then it would have been slightly weirder. As I was away I was almost shielded from it. I spoke to Caroline and Olly a lot, even before they took the gig I spoke to them and told them they should take the job. I also told them what they should expect when they do take the job, it’s not The Xtra Factor, it comes with a certain pressure and level of focus. It’s TV presenting, it does require a level of concentration when you do a big live show. So I chatted to them about that but it’s the same thing as when I left Big Brother, you have to sort of let your babies go. I made my peace with it in my head.
You must have snuck a peek to see how they were doing?
I kept my eye on it! That was the lovely thing actually, I didn’t make a conscious decision not to watch it but it’s the first time I had my Saturday nights back in years, so I did go out a lot, which was lovely but I did still have my favourites by the end. Even the year I wasn’t involved in, it was nice to go, ‘I really want Lauren Murray to win!’
What do you make of the judging panel this year?
When I look at that panel what I want to see, as the host, is unpredictability, expertise and a little bit of insanity. Otherwise you may as well not do the show live, you want those great moments where people chuck water at each other and it’s not pre-planned, when people walk off, disagree or steal each other’s songs. The more orchestrated it is, the worse it is. But you will only get this type of thing when you’ve got people who can’t be produced. I mean, if they are asked to speak or 30 seconds then we want them to be able to, but you want people who will change their mind at the drop of a hat, that’s what instinctive live television is all about. That’s why I am excited.
What are your verdicts on the judges?
With Louis you never know what day of the week it is, the wind could be going one way and then suddenly it changes with him, I don’t think even he knows what he’s going to do before he absolutely does it. What I love about Sharon is she simply can’t be produced, Simon can try and influence her but she’s completely her own woman. Nicole is great because not only is she a great singer, she’s nuts and for someone that graceful, with that presence and that beautiful, she’s the least self-conscious person I know. She will get up and dance, she’ll go to Asda and work asa check-out girl with Jahmene, that for me is a great judge and a great mentor. It’s good to have one performer on the panel too. And then Simon is Simon, he knows the show inside out. One of the first things I said to Simon when we sat down for our chat is that I think Sam Bailey is one of the most important winners we have ever had, you need someone whose life has passed by but has that talent but hasn’t had the opportunity. It doesn’t matter if they go on to sell hundreds of thousands of records, that’s irrelevant. The winner, every now and again, is great if it’s an over or someone with a killer voice. You’ll find stars with longevity, whether it’s One Direction, Olly or Leona, but it’s great to have a winner like Sam who’s fulfilling a dream. I’m proud we have given someone that kind of leg up. I love the variety of winners and successes that come from this show.
Do you think Simon likes the fact the three other judges have the balls to stand up to him?
He’s a lot less intimidating in real life, but it’s easy to say that when you’ve known him for eight years. I think Simon forgets sometimes that he is Simon Cowell, if that makes sense. He loves to have a laugh with people but he carries that weight of reputation and expectation on his shoulders. He’s your boss so you do want to please him, in the same way you want the channel and executives to be happy. But you have to switch that off with Simon. That’s the good thing, Sharon and Nicole do. Louis is odd because he’ll stand up against Simon in the most obscure, strange ways, backing someone no one understands why he’s backing, and then other times he rolls over and lets you tickle his tummy! He’s the wildcard, you never know with him.
How do you rate the talent this year?
There’s nothing worse than getting to this stage and thinking you’ve found your winner. We’ve got very good talent but I don’t know who the winner is yet, that excites me. The great years, like Leona or Matt Cardle, at this stage the person is still in the pack, then there’s a stand out performance, like when Leona did Somewhere Over The Rainbow, when suddenly they stretch their legs and go, ‘I’m here to win’. I like the fact I don’t know who the winner is. There haven’t been that many fights on the panel yet, which is a bit of a worry! I don’t know whether it’s because Simon’s a dad, or the fact Sharon’s quite maternal, but it’s been spreading because there have been a lot of clean sweeps, four yeses.
One of the contestants in Manchester managed to storm the set, couldn’t you stop her?!
She just appeared from nowhere! In her defence she got told she wasn’t going to be able to be seen that day and there was a big sign on the door saying ‘judges room, keep out’, so she didn’t break the Da Vinci code to get in! So she got in and for me it’s really awkward because I’m with someone else’s friends and family and they are going, ‘Who’s that girl?’, so I had to usher them to one side and then this girl’s family, who are hard core Scousers, start cheering her on. They put her through because they admired her guts. All-in-all it was a rather eggy situation. Part of me thought, ‘Good on you’ but then I had to play politics with this other family. I was trying to be peacemaker but it was hard that day.
The audition days can be long, had you forgotten about that?
Yeah, I really had. My return was skillfully negotiated around a slightly later call time, which I cherish! When you get your head around the fact you’re going to work until 2am then it’s fine, I don’t mind working till 2am as long as I don’t have to start at 8am the next day! Then you get to about 10pm with three hours still to film and we have the Dermot box which is a box of snacks, it’s one of those, in case of emergency, break box for Haribo. It can be a dark, dark place when the blood sugar goes through the floor!
What are you most excited about for the live shows?
The 30 seconds before we go live are the best 30 seconds of your life. It’s even more exciting than the show itself, unless they make me do a dance I didn’t know about, which did happen two years ago. Someone decided we were going to do a dance but no one told me, so these girls started filing in and I’m like, ‘Alright, you know we’re about to go live?’. That’s when people go, ‘Your dancing’s a bit rubbish!’, and I didn’t even know it was happening! I really can’t wait for the live shows though, it genuinely feels like a party, it’s unpredictable and that’s how it should be.
Will there be more dancing?
God yeah, we can’t put that to bed, can we? Go on, let me! It will be sporadic, I don’t think it will be every week. I haven’t got it in the locker to do it every week.
Do you think there will be rows between the judges?
Oh yeah because at the moment they are getting on but when they get given their category that’s when they start protecting their young. Then it’s like four velociraptors! That’s fun!
See Dermot in action this Saturday on ITV at 8pm!