It's all-change at The X Factor as Robbie Williams, Ayda Williams and Louis Tomlinson take up their seats alongside Simon Cowell on the judging panel. As the auditions begin on Saturday night, the newbies lift the lid on what to expect...

Robbie Williams, Ayda Williams and Louis Tomlinson on why they’ve got The X Factor…

The X Factor returns on Saturday night with a new-look judging panel that needs almost no introduction. Sitting alongside show boss Simon Cowell this time are multi-million-selling recording artist and former Take That star Robbie Williams, Loose Women panellist – and Rob’s wife – Ayda Williams, and One Direction star Louis Tomlinson.

“We’ve tried to get Robbie on every show we’ve ever made in 18 years and Ayda interviewed me in Los Angeles and it was the funniest interview ever; together they are insane,” says Simon. “Louis has been a contestant on the show, he’s a great guy and really talented. I think all the boxes have been ticked and I’m excited.”

As the auditions get underway at London’s Wembley Arena, Robbie, Ayda and Louis tell TV Times what’s in store…

Robbie, why did you want to join The X Factor panel this year? And are you happy to be working with your wife?

Robbie Williams: “There are literally MILLIONS of reasons to be on the panel this season. Ha, ha! The biggest reason for me is to find Britain’s best talent. I’ve done tour, promo, tour, promo for nearly 30 years – five albums with Take That and 12 albums of my own – now it’s time to branch out and start something different and this is the perfect vehicle to do it. Ayda’s been my rock for the past 12 years; she’s looked after me through thick and thin. It will be interesting for people to see us together.”

X Factor judges line-up

Ayda, there’s been criticism you’re not from a musical background. Do you see yourself as the underdog?

Ayda: “I’ve had enough experience with Rob’s career and my own career to make a difference to these contestants. Personally, I’ve auditioned for things for years and I’ve been through all the highs and lows, so I have a huge amount of empathy for them. If it wasn’t a challenge it wouldn’t be as much fun, so I’m happy to be the underdog. And the fact Rob and I get to work together – and against each other – is cute.”

How competitive are you both?

Rob: “Extremely. I’m more competitive than she is.”
Ayda: “He gets competitive when we’re reading bedtime stories to our kids!”

X Factor judges with Dermot

Robbie, Ayda, Louis and Simon alongside X Factor host Dermot O’Leary

Louis, you found fame on The X Factor with One Direction in 2010. What was it like sitting on the panel for the first time having started your career on that stage??

Louis: “On the first day it was as surreal for me as the contestants auditioning. It was a proud moment for me, definitely. Having done the show myself, I can empathise with and understand people in that situation. I think it’s important that these singers have someone who’s been through the process who can tell them: ‘It’s gonna be alright!’”

How are you all getting on with Simon?

Ayda: “We’ve started to pick up on Simon’s game, if we say something smart or have an idea, Simon repeats it and knows his version will make the edit. Louis and I keep referring to each other as the good people on the panel, the kind ones, we’re book ended by two Doctor Evils!”

So what’s the talent been like this year?

Rob: “We’ve got a very strong show, from the silliness to the whimsy, to the actual gold-plated talent. I am finding that, with the auditions, the thing that’s worse than being terrible is being average. You see a lot of average. But I can also happily say I’ve been blown away more than a few times.”

Robbie, your Take That bandmate Gary Barlow was a judge on the show from 2011 to 2013. Will you be asking for tips?

Rob: “When Gary was on the show I was jealous. Then when I saw him do incredibly well, I was even more jealous because he did a great job being a judge. Gary was an excellent judge, so if there’s anybody’s ear I’m going to be bending, it’ll be his.”

Robbie Williams putting an arm around Gary Barlow

 

Robbie reckons he’ll definitely be asking his former Take That bandmate Gary Barlow for tips

And Louis, have the One Direction boys been in touch since you landed this job?

Louis: “I got a couple texts from the lads, yeah. I’m sure between ’em they might be fighting for that seat at Judges’ Houses, so we’ll see about that.”

How confident are each of you about being the winning mentor?

Rob: “Give me any category and I’m confident I can win!”
Louis: “I’m really competitive! It was only during the last few days of auditions it dawned on me that this is a competition and I’d like to win it!”
Ayda: “My message to the other judges is watch out! I’m coming for you like a hungry wolf, don’t underestimate me. The boys think they’ve got it because they were in Take That or One Direction or because they have been running the show for 20 years. No, the underdog is coming to take the prize!”

The X Factor starts on Saturday September 1 at 8pm on ITV.

Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams pic: Rex