The first of this year’s X Factor live shows has taken place, with 12 acts battling to stay in the competition.

The show got underway with Girlband, the first of the groups mentored this year by Louis Walsh. The quartet provided a lively start to the show with their version of the Bananarama hit Venus.

“You definitely had the hardest job of all – you were the first act on and I thought you did a fantastic job,” Cheryl Cole told them.

But Simon Cowell wasn’t so keen. “If I’m being honest with you it was like watching a bunch of Girls Aloud rejects. I’ve seen all this a million times before.”

Simon’s first act, former boyband member Austin Drage, was next to perform, singing the Police‘s classic Every Breath You Take – and receiving raves from the panel.

“You’ve got a really soulful voice and if you can keep it together you’ll go far in this competition,” Louis Walsh told him.

However Dannii’s first act, Daniel Evans, had less of a warm reception for his rendition of I Want To Know What Love Is.

“If this was Great Guy Factor you’d be flying through to the final,” Cheryl told him, “but as a recording artist I don’t know where you’d slot.”

Simon, meanwhile, said it was “like somebody singing in a pub”.

Cheryl’s first act, Alexandra Burke, was next to perform for the judges. The 20-year-old – who is favourite to win the show – received a rapturous reception. “You look like a diva, you sing like a diva, and you dance like a diva,” Louis told her, “that was incredible.”

Simon, meanwhile, called the song choice – Whitney Houston‘s I Wanna Dance With Somebody – “obvious” but otherwise praised her. “I think you gave your own interpretation of the song brilliantly,” he said before asking Louis to apologise to her for rejecting her in 2005.

There was also praise from the judges for boy band JLS – but Scott Bruton wasn’t quite so popular with the panel. “Sack your mentor,” Dannii told him after his rendition of the 60s hit Yeh Yeh, “that was the worst possible song choice.”

Oddly enough Simon Cowell agreed with them. “I agree with them about the song. If you make it through I promise I’ll give you a better one next week.”

And there were doubts from the judges over Rachel Hylton’s performance. “That was totally the wrong song,” Louis said of her rendition of With Every Heartbeat. “You’ve given her a hideous song,” Simon told Dannii. “This girl desperately needs a break and you give her a cheap piece of rubbish to sing.”

The judges were also enthusiastic about 17-year-old Diana Vickers and her version of U2‘s With Or Without You – and for girl band Bad Lashes.

“I think you’re edgy and I love the makeover,” Cheryl told them after they had performed Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love., “but I see you as more of an indie band.”

And Eoghan Quigg wowed the judges with his rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine. “I have decided I hate Simon,” Dannii said, “because you are sailing towards the final.”

Penultimate act Ruth Lorenzo – who sang Berlin’s Take My Breath Away in Spanish and English – divided the judges. “You definitely made an impression on me,” enthused Simon – so much so he called her ‘Rachel’ by mistake.

Louis, however, was unsure. “I’m not sure the British public will get you,” he said – before goading Simon into admitting that he “fancied” the 25-year-old.

Finally, it was the turn of Cheryl’s final act, Laura White, to take to the stage – and the judges loved her performance of the Alicia Keys song Falling.

“You are a major contender,” Dannii told her, while Simon described her performance as “outstanding”.

The results will be announced later on Saturday evening – with the bottom two acts performing again, and the judges deciding which should leave the competition.