It’s not the sob stories or – let’s be honest, now – the singing that has us utterly obsessed with X-Factor every year. Obviously, it’s the fashion. But during this year’s auditions, with Dannii absent (what, no performing hair?) and Cheryl’s malaria forcing her to miss bootcamp, we were concerned we would have to wait until the live shows for a hint of style (no offence, Louie).
So thank God – or should we say thank Simon? – for guest judge Nicole Scherzinger. To be brutally honest, we weren’t sure about the former Pussycat Doll until last week’s show (‘Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me’ isn’t the most sisterly lyric of all time, after all), but we’re basically in love with her now. Especially the way she pulled those “I’m *so* enjoying this” faces and boogied along in her chair while the contestants were singing. Bless.
Oooh, and then there’s the fashion. As she told Grazia Daily in an exclusive interview, she had a specific signature style in mind for X-Factor: ‘clean, classy, edgy and sassy.’
Hence her decision to wear an awful lot of Victoria Beckham. Although she has met briefly la Beckham herself (at their mutual friend Eva Longoria’s restaurant in LA, natch) she loves the clothes in their own right: ‘Her line speaks for itself,’ she says: ‘I love the style, the structure.’
‘Sometimes,’ she adds: ‘it’s hard to wear designer clothes because they’re designed for little runway models, not women with butt and thighs. Well, I’ve got a butt and thighs and these dresses fit my curves.’
And yet, while she may have stolen the show’s style agenda so far, Nicole claims she knew nothing of the nation’s X-Factor fashion obsession: ‘Honestly, I knew that Dannii and Cheryl were gorgeous, but I just wanted to make sure I represented well.’
‘I would always make sure I looked good in that kind of environment – it’s the biggest show in the UK! You have to put your best foot forward; you’ve got to look and feel your best – confidence is everything. Especially in this industry.’
The X-Factor is a big deal for Nicole. Like Cheryl, she got her break through a reality TV contest – US Popstars – finding her way from a small town in Kentucky to LA (in a girl band called Eden’s Crush – see the video below. Amazing) before becoming a Pussycat Doll.
‘I’ve been there. I know exactly what the contestants are feeling and going through - and I know the work it takes.’ That's why Nicole did all that singing along and chair boogying: ‘to support and encourage them. They knew I was on their side.’
As she’ll show in this weekend’s bootcamp episodes, she wasn’t afraid to disagree with Simon and Louie, either: ‘I was never feisty for feisty’s sake. But I followed my heart – if I disagreed, I disagreed.’
Stories of Louie following Nicole around on set like a lost puppy appear to be true (‘Louie cracked me up – Simon was always teasing him, because he would be so sweet and ask me if I needed anything – food or drink or anything like that – and he’d make sure I got it. Simon made fun of him for that…’)
Nicole adored them both right back, and calls Simon: ‘kinda a rock star… one of my new favourite people!’ It’s no surprise, perhaps, that this love fest has sparked a lot of tabloid rumours, namely that Cheryl is worried Nicole will take her place. Oh, and that Simon fancies her (it’s hard to deny that if you made a Venn Diagram from pictures of all of Simon’s ex and current girlfriends, the result would look a lot like Nicole).
But does she think he has a crush on her? ‘I don’t think so’ she says firmly: ‘plus I had the pleasure of meeting his finance who is a gorgeous woman and a pleasure to be around.’
‘Honestly,’ she says: ‘That’s a whole made up world – I know my world. There was a mutual respect between Simon and myself, but I wasn’t there to step on anyone’s toes. I just wanted to shine my own light on it.’
As for any supposed rivalry with Cheryl: ‘I know she is the absolute princess of the UK – I would never compare myself to her. I’m just a completely different individual. And obviously, considering the circumstances I was coming in to, I sent her my prayers and blessings.’ Besides: ‘she’s brilliant on the show. I know people in the UK can relate to her more than anyone else.’
Just to clarify, Nicole has absolutely no desire to take Cheryl’s place (‘I don’t even live in Britain…’ she says. Which is, er, quite a good point actually). But she does seem pretty keen on the X-Factor America job: ‘well, I had so much fun on X-Factor UK… so… I wouldn’t rule it out,’ she smiles. We *really* wouldn’t rule it out either.
X-Factor is on Saturday, 7.30pm, ITV1
By Hannah Marriott