10 of the most memorable first X Factor auditions

From cheeky Olly Murs and Harry Styles to the velvet vocals of Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke it's as if these first auditions happened only yesterday...

First impressions count, as they say, and it’s certainly true of these classic auditions from the X Factor vault. Acts get just a few minutes to make sure they won’t be forgotten by the judges, whether that’s for the right or wrong reason. From dancing to cheeky comebacks via stunning vocals here’s ten acts who’ve managed to stick in the mind…


Olly Murs

Well, we have to kick off with the man who’s gone from contestant to Xtra Factor host to guest judge to fully fledged main show presenter, don’t we? Murs rocked up in 2009 aged 25 with dreams of being a pop star. He can tick that one off the list. The judges couldn’t stop smiling as the cheeky crooner grooved his way around the stage singing Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious. It was the sixth series of the show and Murs eventually placed second to champ Joe McElderry. 

Leona Lewis

In 2006, 21-year-old receptionist Leona Lewis lit up the audition room with her rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz. She earned a round of applause from boss Simon Cowell, who eventually mentored her all the way to victory. It’s safe to say things worked out pretty well for Ms Lewis after the show, her winner’s single alone breaking a world record after being downloaded more than 50,000 times in less than 30 minutes. 

Harry Styles

In 2010, a 16-year-old lad called Harry Styles took a break from his studies and job in a bakery to pop by and audition. It worked out OK, didn’t it? He didn’t end up finishing the competition as a solo artist, but rather as part of a little band you may have heard of, One Direction. His audition went pretty well, with a confident performance of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely. Louis Walsh gave him a no, saying he didn’t have enough experience, but we won’t mention that. 


In 2008 the judges were clamouring to work with the groups after seeing JB, Astin, Marvin and Oritsé audition as boy band JLS. They kicked off with a cover of Boyz II Men’s If I Ever Fall in Love Again and, under Walsh’s guidance, ended up as that year’s runners up, behind Alexandra Burke. They were, at the time, only the fourth band to ever make the X Factor final.  

Ella Henderson

In 2012, it was seen as one of the “biggest shocks” of the show’s entire run when Ella Henderson was voted out of the show in week 7. It followed a clash with eventual winner James Arthur, as the judges sent the vote back to Deadlock after failing to reach a majority. It’s easy to see why the panel were gutted to see her leave, given this sensational performance of self-penned track Missed was her first of the show. X Factor wasn’t the end of the road of course, Henderson went on to sign with Simon Cowell’s label Syco and has a debut tour coming later this year.


Dubbed “not very good and incredibly annoying” by Simon Cowell after their first audition, one might not think things were going to work out all that well for Irish twins John and Edward. But the ‘marmite’ duo enthused their way through various live shows, including a pretty memorable rendition of Britney Spears’s Oops I Did It Again. They finished in fifth place with mentor Walsh even signing them after the show. Here’s how it all began…

Alexandra Burke

It was 2005 when we first saw Alexandra Burke. Then 16, Ms Burke caught the judges’ attention with a “modern” version of Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love For You. But, failing to make it past Walsh’s Judges’ Houses she came back three years later. Burke auditioned with the same song, was dubbed “world class” by Walsh and went on to win the entire series. All in the timing, eh?


Ah, Wagner. The Brazilian singer appeared in 2010 offering Simon Cowell the chance to hear him perform in a variety of languages. Cowell admitted he liked him the more the song went on simply because of how much fun he was having on stage. Wagner ended up in the live shows thanks to mentor Louis Walsh and finished up a rather unexpected sixth. Well, his performances did include the somewhat bonkers mash-up of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing and Circle of Life…

Little Mix

In 2011 the judges threw soloists Jade, Jesy, Perrie and Leigh-Anne a lifeline. They’d been kicked out at Bootcamp, but were then given the chance to team up and form a band, whizzing them straight to Tulisa’s Judges’ Houses. The bit where it’s always lovely and sunny. Yeah, I’d have gone, too. It worked like a dream, with the girls – who eventually swapped their name from Rythmix to Little Mix – going on to be the first band ever to win the show. Job. Done. 

Steve Brookstein


Well, the first ever champ had to have a pretty interesting opening audition, right? Brookstein performed for then judges Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh in 2004, but “blew it on the interview” according to Cowell. Osbourne described him as having a “defeatist attitude”. But Cowell threw him a lifeline and he came back for another go the next day. He went on to win the entire show, although not without drama. Mrs O branded him a “fake”, with then host Kate Thornton having to play referee between the judges. For five years, Brookstein held the record for the biggest number of votes ever received in the final, at a cool 6 million. Joe McElderry topped this in 2009 with more than 6.1 million recorded.