Before this series of The X Factor began, Louis Tomlinson was shaping up to be the least engaging and by far the most irksome of all four of the judges.
A press conference revealing the 2018 panel to the media saw the former One Direction star looking glum, disinterested and, frankly, a bit bored.
His three co-stars – Simon Cowell, Robbie Williams and Ayda Field – all had a genuine rapport and bounced off one another. Louis, meanwhile, only became animated when he stood up, mid-interview, to declare he was leaving to visit the gents for a pee. It wasn’t a promising start.
- The X Factor hits peak Robbie Williams on day one – but can the new judges keep viewers coming back?
- Everything you need to know about X Factor 2018
- RadioTimes.com newsletter: get the latest TV and entertainment news direct to your inbox
It also meant that before episode one, I had preconceptions of him being monosyllabic and dull. As my colleague enjoys reminding me, ahead of the series launch I described Louis as an ‘insipid personality vacuum’. Which, let’s face it, is hardly a stretch when he was arguably the fifth most interesting and charismatic member of One Direction.
But now, as the arena auditions are about to draw to a close, it transpires that Louis has been a genuine revelation – I might even go so far as to call him the best judge on the show.
He’s actually – shock – watchable, and more than that, he’s engaged, comes across as thoughtful in his feedback and, most importantly, is selective in the singers he says yes to.
Which is more than can be said for the rest. Ayda shouts about everything being “amazing” and “unbelievable” (displaying her lack of knowledge and experience in the music industry as a result), while Simon is too preoccupied with his handheld fan to really care what he’s listening to or who he’s putting through, green-lighting some incredibly questionable performers.
Louis, on the other hand, is something of a voice of reason. Instead of blindly saying yes, he’s almost stepped into the Mr Nasty role that was last occupied by Simon sometime in the mid-noughties. He’s actually honest, telling one singer that they needed “guidance” and their performance felt “a bit contrived”. More often than not, if an act has been given three yeses, you can bet Louis was the one who delivered the no. And this is No Bad Thing.
Because he appears to actually care about the quality of the singers continuing in the competition. And although admittedly that sounds like the bare minimum required of a judge on a TV talent show, it’s something that can often be rather lacking – as this, and previous, series have proved.
Louis is also the only member of the judging panel to have been up there himself to audition. And with that comes heaps of empathy for the contestants.
He’s often wiping away a tear and looking genuinely choked up over the singers, although admittedly several of the auditions have felt incredibly contrived and skewed towards him. Funny how all these lads who originally auditioned alongside the One Direction boys in 2010 have only now come out of the woodwork, eh?
But actually, it seems like he really does care – and isn’t just on the panel to pick up the pay cheque (something that Robbie joking-but-not-joking alluded to doing himself).
Simon Cowell previously revealed that Louis was so moved by Anthony Russell’s story last year that he stepped in and mentored him behind the scenes, away from any audience or cameras, after the singer pulled out of the show in 2017 owing to ‘personal reasons’.
“I knew that Louis had reached out to help him with his demons a long time ago,” Simon said of Anthony. “I think it says a lot about the kind of person Louis is: he doesn’t brag about it, he doesn’t talk about it, it’s a very personal thing for him. Louis genuinely looked after him.”
This anecdote proves Louis’ passion for the job, and the hope is that he’ll still care this much when it comes to Judges’ Houses and the live shows. Because if there’s one thing The X Factor desperately needs – aside from being axed by ITV – it’s more enthusiasm and excitement from its panel of judges.