Bookmakers have a Lancaster singer as second favourite to win The X Factor after his stunning comeback to the show left Simon Cowell in raptures and Louis Walsh red-faced.
Paul Akister is rated 6/1 with Paddy Power to win the hit ITV talent search after he sailed through the closed-room auditions on Saturday night’s episode.
Paul, 25, will now move on to the Wembley Arena stage of the audition process where he will compete for a place at Judges Houses for the second year running.
An audience of 8.7m watched as the Lancaster soulman performed an emotional version of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy at the auditions, filmed earlier in the year in Manchester.
Paul, who has slimmed down since last year’s series after being told by Walsh he lacked “confidence”, looked cool and collected dressed in all black.
He told the judging panel of Cowell, Walsh, ex-Spice Girl Melanie Brown and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini that the song reminded him of an ex-girlfriend who left him, but who he’d love to reunite with.
Louis Walsh, who last year ditched Akister before the live shows, grimaced in embarrassment during Paul’s flawless vocals. Afterwards Cowell said: “Paul, you’ve got a great voice. I really do believe in you. ” Then, staring daggers at Walsh, he said: “I think, Louis, you owe him an apology. You made a mistake, admit it.”
Unrepentant, the Irishman replied: ““No, no, I didn’t make a mistake. I did the right thing.”