The shock elimination of Ella Henderson on Sunday wasn’t the first travesty to anger viewers of this year’s X Factor: back at the boot camp stage, the many fans of Joseph Whelan were amazed to see him fail to go through to judges’ houses.
“I did feel quietly confident that I was going through,” the 26-year-old tells RadioTimes.com. “The producers gave me really positive comments, saying I had nothing to worry about. They were high-fiving each other after my performance!”
When Whelan was later overlooked, he asked why he’d failed to progress and was told it was a simple case of there being so many strong vocalists competing this year. “I thought, that’s a lie! The competition was tough when I was there, but a lot of the best singers never even got on the TV.” If it were purely a case of singing talent, says Whelan, “different people would have been going through”.
Whelan – who releases his debut single Wish on 16 December – says he and his fellow contestants could see that some were already drawing more of the producers’ attention than others. “You get an idea because some people get a lot of camera time and a lot of work. James Arthur was the one everyone knew they were pushing as the winner. He had a lot of extra camera time. But saying that, so did I! Everyone thought I was guaranteed to go through. When I didn’t, people were like, what?”
The likeable Brummie rocker provided one of the highlights of the original auditions, but suffered due to a change in the rules this year, which altered the age limit for the older contestants’ category. “I got a phone call at boot camp saying they’d changed it from over-25s to over-28s. That made me think my chances were slimmer because I had to compete with the really young lads. The X Factor is notorious for liking boy bands and young male acts. So I felt like I was on the back foot.”
With James Arthur and Jahmene Douglas obviously strong contenders, this meant Whelan, had he made it as far as judges’ houses, would have had to oust tabloid favourite Rylan Clark from the boys category’s final three. “I sang well all the way through but it didn’t make a difference. They had something in mind and if you don’t fit that bill, you’re out the door.”
At boot camp, however, Whelan says he lost out to a different rival. “It was between me and Jake Quickenden. It was a lot more drawn out than on the TV, they were looking at me, then looking at Jake. Gary Barlow called one of the producers over and they were looking at a piece of paper.
“Then they put Jake through. I’m sure my name was on that piece of paper. Jake told me himself that he messed up his boot camp performance really badly. I didn’t mess up any of mine. It annoyed me a bit.”
Does Whelan tune into The X Factor every weekend? “Not really, purely because I haven’t got time. I try to catch up with it as much as I can. I have gigs on Saturday and Sunday nights. I was gutted when Ella went, she was my favourite. There have been some really bad decisions made.
“They said come back next year, but I’m not doing it again.”
So what is not as it seems on the finished, edited version of The X Factor auditions we see on television? “You saw the boot camp party. We had two songs played while we all drank alcohol-free mojitos. Then we were put on the coach and driven back! It looked wild, but it wasn’t.
“But the biggest surprise for me was the sheer talent there. There was one kid in particular, Alex Buchanan, who for me was the strongest singer in the competition. Everyone was intimidated by him. He was seriously good. He never got shown at all, not even a clip of him. A lot of people thought he had a chance. They were saying me and Alex, definites.”
Read more about Wish – and download a free, exclusive acoustic version of the song – on RadioTimes.com on 1 December.