Welcome back! What made you decide to come back to the show this year and how does it feel to be back?
Well aside from a lot of begging and grovelling on Mr Cowell’s part, it just felt like the right time to come back. I’d had enough time away to appreciate it and get really excited to find new talent again.
Did you have any first day nerves when you started the auditions again or was it like riding a bike?
This time it was like riding a bike. The first time I did it I was terrified, but this time I was more excited.
Is there a particular type of contestant you are looking for this year – a specific genre, category, or music style perhaps?
I’m always looking for somebody fresh. I’m never looking for the next whoever; the next Justin Beiber, the next One Direction. I want somebody to come in that we don’t quite know if we get it or not. Something fresh that we haven’t got.
You once described Simon as your ‘frenemy’ – do you still think of him like that? How would you describe your relationship with him now?
I think Simon’s a bit like an annoying brother. We’re like brother and sister and he’s the annoying one.
We’ve heard that Simon has been winding you up during filming for the auditions – what’s he been doing and have you got your own back?
Simon has his very own way of being very annoying. He knows which buttons to push and he’ll push them, and push them, and push them. But I play the long game. I’m waiting. Don’t worry about me, I’ll get my own back.
So much is written about your wardrobe, do you look forward to planning your X Factor look or is it a daunting process given the huge focus there is on it?
When I first started X Factor it was never focused on what the judges wore, it was about the contestants. I try and remember that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about what clothes I’m wearing. Obviously I like to feel nice and wear nice clothes, I’m a girly girl, so when it comes to the live shows I like to wear the sparkly dresses. But mainly it’s about the contestants for me and if people enjoy my dress that’s nice.
Have there been any disagreements with your fellow judges so far? Tell us about the dynamics.
I think it would be uninteresting and not real if we didn’t disagree. Obviously it’s human nature and you feel different things for different people. So there’s been different points of view and disagreements.
Which artist out there at the moment sums up what the X Factor is all about for you?
I think Ed Sheeran’s definitely got the X Factor. The guy is a superstar. He writes amazing lyrics. His collaborations are spot on. His videos are fun. He’s unexpected, he’s not commercially what you would think of. He’s somebody that I would die for if he arrived at The X Factor to audition.
You’ve been known to get emotional during auditions – have you cried in any of the auditions so far, what has been the most emotional audition for you?
I have been moved in the auditions this series; it’s impossible to not feel human emotion where you’re that close to somebody. I was reunited with somebody I had on the first series I did (in 2008), and it was an emotional experience. So yes I have been touched this time around a couple of times but it’s not something I’m ashamed of or something I shy away from.
What are you most excited about for this year’s series? What are you hoping to see?
I hope this year we see somebody fresh and very different, and somebody that we can take around the world and say ‘this is a great ambassador for what we do.’
How’s the show going to be different this year?
I think the show is different this year because we’ve changed a few of the format points, and obviously the panel changes everything because you’ve got different dynamics, and we choose things for different reasons and are attracted to different people. Me and Simon have always had that good chemistry where we bounce off each other. Also, being back in the rooms and finding good characters that you can take to an audience, and seeing whether they agree with us, makes a difference. I haven’t yet, and I don’t want to but unfortunately I’m going to have to, experience this chair business [the six chair challenge at Boot Camp], where I have to switch people around in chairs which is making me feel physically ill at the thought!
You started out on a show like this and have said in the past you can relate to the contestants’ nerves on the day – what advice would you have for contestants on how to impress the panel, particularly Simon?
Don’t try and impress Simon, stop it! The moment you put that pressure on yourself and he says something that isn’t what you want to hear it’s going to break your confidence. You should go out there to prove to all of us. Just relax, and be confident, but don’t walk that line of cockiness. Once I get the acts as a mentor, I’ll sit them down individually and tell them that.
As you and Mel B have both come from girl groups, do you have similar opinions in terms of what you’re looking for from a group?
We do and a lot of the time Mel says things and I think ‘that’s exactly how I would put it, that’s exactly how I feel.’ Not only about groups, just in general, I agree with a lot of the things she says and thinks. She has a very good way of putting things. She’s a bit more blunt than I am in her approach, which I love. But definitely when it comes to the girl groups we have the same answer about what it takes to be a girl group.
How have you found it working with Mel B. Did you know her before working on the panel together?
I’ve met Mel a few times briefly – I went to the Spice Girls reunion and saw her backstage. We’ve passed like that, but I’d never actually sat down and had a deep conversation or worked with her before, and we just gelled really quickly. Maybe that’s from being part of a girl group – it’s easy to slide into having camaraderie with another girl. She’s a girl’s girl like that so I’ve enjoyed working with her.
You’ve previously described things as being ‘frosty’ between you and Louis –have things thawed?
Louis is Louis.
How was it going home to Newcastle for auditions? What would it mean to find a winner from there?
I was actually really proud and really pleased by the Newcastle auditions, we’ve never gone up there. There was some really good talent, there’s one person in particular I can’t wait to see at the arenas. If I get another contestant from Newcastle, because I had Joe (McElderry) previously, it would be very exciting.
How competitive are you and the other judges feeling this year?
I’m feeling more competitive than I ever have. By nature I’m not a competitive person. But this time I’m feeling more competitive than ever.
What’s the biggest ‘audition turn off’ for you?
The biggest audition ‘turn off’ is when they come in the room and they try and kiss you, or they come in and break-dance before they’ve introduced themselves. Doing what they think you want them to do is a big no no for me – I want things to be authentic.
What are the toughest things about being an X Factor judge?
The toughest thing about being an X Factor judge is being the person to tell somebody you don’t think that they’re ready for their dream. That’s tough, that’s horrible. Judges’ houses, all that business, is tough.