It was one of the most emotional moments of this year’s X Factor. When Lloyd Macey sang A Different Corner in George Michael week, he reduced judge Sharon Osbourne to tears.
Now as the battle for the coveted Christmas No.1 spot looks like a head-to-head between whoever wins this weekend’s X Factor final and the late, great pop icon on the first anniversary of his death, Sharon is backing George all the way.
“Oh God yeah!” says Sharon, of the campaign to get Wham!’s Last Christmas to No.1 in the UK.
“Wouldn’t that be great? That would be amazing. It feels right. A Different Corner was one of my favourites, which was why I was so moved by Lloyd.
“My happiest memories of George are taking my daughters [Kelly and Aimee] to see him perform.
“We lost so many stars last year that you can’t replace. Do you think there’s anybody around who can replace Prince? No. And there’s nobody as an artist and songwriter that can replace George.
“For somebody of my age, that was the soundtrack to our youth. It brought back so many memories in George Week, looking up at the screens with all those great videos. You look at those people who are no longer with us and you’re like: ‘Oh s**t.’ It’s frightening.
It’s just so horribly sad that he’s gone.”
Of course, Mrs O’s job right now – along with fellow X Factor judges Simon Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger and Louis Walsh – is to find new stars.
So who does she think of this year’s crop has got what it takes to make it big?
“I think my girls will,” says Sharon, 65, of Grace Davies, Rai-Elle Williams, Holly Tandy and Alisah Bonaobra.
“That goes without saying. Also Lloyd [Macey], Rak-Su and The Cutkelvins. There are so many contestants that are so talented and they don’t cross over with each other. They’re in their own lanes.
“It’s brilliant how well Grace and Rak-Su have done in the iTunes charts. It’s really opened up the show.
“When I think back to when we first started [Sharon was one of the three original judges in 2004 with Simon and Louis] nobody could play with a band, nobody could play piano, nobody could play guitar.
“Now look. It’s fantastic for a singer-songwriter to be able to come on and perform their own songs every week. It’s so important to keep moving on and letting all these artists in.”
However, despite the innovations there’s no disguising the fact that, at under five million every week, X Factor ratings aren’t what they used to be.
If it were up to her, is there anything she would do to improve the show?
“It would be great to get a group that actually plays instruments next year,” she says.
“And I’d probably change the steps we walk down from the stage! Pretty much every week I think I’m going to fall over.
“Every time we walk down them I’m like: ‘Oh God!’ When Louis slipped over on them one week, he cut his leg and everything.”
Talking of falling over, how is Simon bearing up since he took a tumble downstairs at his home which ended up with him in hospital and missing a week of the show?
“Simon’s great,” Sharon assures us. “And this year the show’s so chock-a-block with talent that everything is good.”
Not all of this year’s changes have gone down well with viewers, though.
The Prize Fights between contestants – with money-can’t-buy treats like supporting Little Mix or flying to New York to see Pink play – may be exciting for the young acts, but should they really need any extra encouragement to sing their hearts out on primetime Saturday and Sunday-night telly?
“No, they shouldn’t,” agrees Sharon. “But the prizes they’re winning are unbelievable.”
How does she feel about the judges no longer having a vote on which act goes home?
“It’s giving the public what they want,” she says.
“They choose who they want to see again and that’s it. You can’t fight with that. And for every artist it’s like: ‘Hey, you had your chance, now it’s down to the public.’”
As Sharon’s kids Jack, 32, and Kelly, 33, pointed out when they were their mum’s guest judges at Judges’ Houses, there’s a lot riding on the shoulders of these young, inexperienced contestants.
And in the case of Grace, the bookies’ initial hot favourite to win, there were stories that she wasn’t dealing with it well and had become a bit of a diva.
Sharon reveals what really went on with Grace.
“This girl was working at a regular job like everybody else, stacking shelves in some warehouse,” she says.
“She’s only 20. Then she goes from being just this regular kid to: ‘This girl’s gonna win.’
It’s this, it’s that – the pressure that hype puts on people her age and who have had no experience of anything like this before… You come in and you win the first week. It’s hard to digest.
“At 20, if that had happened to me, I would have been a real pain in the arse. This is a new world to these kids. You’ve got to deal with it very carefully. Everybody talked to her.
“It’s just about being truthful with people. Grace took it really well and focused on her music. She realised that she’s got tough competition. This year it’s anyone’s game.
“It’s no slam-dunk on any one person. You’re only as good as your last song.”
Simon told TV Magazine at the start of this year’s series that he’d given up trying to compete with
old rival Strictly Come Dancing when it comes to viewing figures.
But the large gap between the two primetime entertainment shows hasn’t put Sharon off returning.
“Oh yeah, I can’t wait for next year,” she smiles.
The only thing she’s not so keen on, though, is the end-of-series party.
“I’m not big on parties, no,” she smiles. “I’ve been to them all. Seen it, done it.
“It won’t be champagne in the dressing-rooms for us. Nicole, Louis and I will probably end up going to some restaurant that’s open late.”
As for Christmas plans, much like when she’s making X Factor, she’ll be both here and in LA.
“It’s the best coming home to the UK for Christmas,” she says.
“Of the two of us, my husband Ozzy is the harder to buy for. He’s like… what are those birds that collect shiny things?
“A magpie. I don’t know what he’s got for me this year.
“But he’ll probably give it to me the week before because he can’t wait. As soon as he gets it home he’ll be: ‘Open it now!’”
She doesn’t sound concerned. As long as George is singing Last Christmas from the top of the charts, Sharon will have got her wish.
IT’S THE FINAL! The X Factor: Live Final Saturday 7.05pm Sunday 7.20pm ITV
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