Gary Barker had a rollercoaster ride for his audition in the 2017 X-Factor series. The 29-year-old stay-at-home dad was persuaded by his fiancé, Leanne, to enter the competition. Barker then had a decision to make about which song would give him the best chance to showcase his skills. He went with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, partly because a video of him singing the song two years earlier had been uploaded onto social media and gained some success.
Barker, the Liverpool-born singer who went on to have a top ten hit with “Dreams Come True”, admitted to the judges that he was nervous as he stood before them. As the intro to “Uptown Funk” started up, Barker’s nerves perhaps got the better of him, and he started dancing and singing in a lacklustre manner. The judges looked unimpressed. After little more than thirty seconds, Nicole Scherzinger raised her hand. Barker’s dreams of making it on The X-Factor are apparently over in a flash.
Simon Cowell then delivered the verdict in a sombre tone. The judges were unanimous that Barker wasn’t what they were looking for. They wanted someone with an “incredible voice” and “originality” rather than simply being an entertainer. Barker pleaded with the judges to let him sing one more song for them, one that would “show my voice off”. With little expectation of improvement, the judges allowed him to sing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”.
This performance was more about Barker’s voice, with no dance moves to accompany it. As soon as he broke into the opening words, there was a marked change in the room. The disappointment washed away from Cowell’s face, replaced by a faint smile of astonishment. Louis Walsh nodded encouragingly. By the end of the song, all four judges had been fully convinced by Barker’s talent. A delighted Cowell told him, “I wasn’t expecting that!” Walsh added that he had an “amazing voice”.
Knowing he had won them over, Barker visibly relaxed and talked with the judges about his style. He admitted that he had always seen himself more as an entertainer than having a great voice. The judges refuted this. Sharon Osbourne told him they weren’t looking for “another cruise singer”, while Cowell pointed out, “You don’t see Sam Smith bouncing around” with dance moves. In a note of caution, Scherzinger advised Barker to work on finding the emotion in the songs he sang. This slight reservation from Scherzinger played out later in the series when she ended his journey in the six-chair challenge.
In a moving end to the audition, Barker’s five-year-old son, Freddie, ran over to hug him in celebration. Cowell quipped that Freddie’s approval made it “five yeses” from the judges rather than four. In delight, Barker exclaimed this to be a “life-changing opportunity” for him and his family.
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