When news got out that Panda Ross, a fan favorite from "The X Factor" Season 2, had tried out again for the show this year in New Orleans, Panda's "Fandas" rejoiced. While the soul singer's screentime last year had been brief, her memorable first audition, when she boldly serenaded her "boo" Simon Cowell with Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me," made a major impression. Bizarrely, she was never seen nor heard from again last season, which only made her followers even more eager to see her return.
But this year, Panda received even less screentime. Her audition didn't even air. Simon tells Yahoo Music's Reality Rocks, "She auditioned, but unfortunately, the story was the same. I just didn't want to tell her story again, with the same ending. There's a lot of stuff you have to lose in this show, and it just felt a bit gratuitous to do that."
Can this get any better? A certain Panda just walked on stage #xfnola
— THE X FACTOR (USA) (@TheXFactorUSA) June 12, 2013
However, Panda's tale wasn't exactly the same. In fact, Panda calls it a "total transformation story," since she'd spent her time between "X Factor" seasons shedding more than 80 pounds (after undergoing gastric bypass surgery) and perfecting her vocal technique. "I'm not bragging on myself, I don't toot my own horn, but honestly, over the past year I did all this vocal training; if you listen to my first CD compared to my CD now, you'll hear the difference. I don't know what it was, maybe just losing the weight, but it made my voice just so much different, better."
Panda's second audition for "The X Factor" was indeed successful, and she was subsequently flown out to Los Angeles in August for what she and 217 other contestants assumed was the Boot Camp portion of the season — unaware that the Boot Camp and Judges' Houses rounds were about to be replaced by a new "Four-Chair Challenge" segment. And when Panda found out that she hadn't made the show again, she said goodbye to her "boo" Simon in the most epic way possible. If only that moment had made it to air.
"It was weird. I'm still in shock. I don't know what happened," says Panda. "They fly us out to L.A., and there we are wondering what's going on, because they give us 50 bucks and tell us to enjoy the day in Hollywood. And I thought that was weird, because you go to Boot Camp to work. That night, they email us and tell us we have to be in the lobby at 6:45am. We sat in that room for 15 hours. I swear to God, we did not leave till 11:30 that night.
"So anyways, finally Simon came out and congratulated all 218 acts that had made it: 'You guys did amazing job, blah, blah, blah. I have an announcement to make, and the announcement is that we're going to be doing things differently this year and Boot Camp has been canceled. Everyone will be going back home. We have already chosen our top 40 from your initial audition, but we're going to continue to look over a few of the tapes, because there's some people that we do want to hear again.'"
While other contestants in the holding room were hopeful that they'd be one of the few contestants granted a last-minute reprieve, Panda reveals, "I don't know why, but to be honest with you, the moment Simon said that they canceled Boot Camp, the first thought that came to my mind was 'Panda, they're gonna screw you; they're not going to pick you again.'" But Panda decided to make her exit memorable this time around, even she was "100 percent sure they would never show me, because if they were to show that, it would definitely be good TV, but it would probably be the death of their show," she laughs.
"At that moment I wasn't even devastated or trippin', but I gave Simon the most evil look ever. But at the same time, I kind of had a smirky smile on my face. I knew what I was doing. I was trying to make him nervous. I had my hands behind my back, but the reason was because I had my oldies CD that I just made. I had four CD copies of it behind my back. I never, ever took my eyes off Simon, and he could tell I was staring him down. And I'm just standing on the stage, and at the end when everybody leaves, Simon was literally tweaking. I'm serious — his eyes were flinching! He was probably wondering what the hell is this crazy woman about to do, what has she got behind her back?
"I get to the edge of the steps and I holler real loud in this beautiful room — the acoustics were so amazing, my voice is loud, I don't even need a freaking microphone — and I said, 'Simon!' And I started singing 'And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going.' I don't think I've ever sung that song the way I sang it that day.
"I started walking down the steps but never took my eyes off of Simon with that evil look, and I was passing my CDs out to those judges, and when I got to Simon I took the CD and kind of slammed it in his chest. And I was like, 'And you, and you, and you, you're gonna love me, YEAAAHHHH!' I didn't want him to forget me. Simon said, 'But Panda, we do love you.' And I was like, 'Yeah, right, Simon. I know you love me and you're gonna miss me, and when you do, put that CD in your CD player! Deuces!' And I just walked off and left them standing there, like, 'What the hell?' It was hilarious. Inside I wanted to laugh, but I had to try and keep that straight face, because I knew that the cameras were looking dead at me."
Panda admits that once she was on her flight back home, what had transpired at the aborted Boot Camp finally hit her, and she posted some angry tweets that she later regretted and has since taken down. "I couldn't understand for the life of me what happened last year, and then to never, ever see me again, that was crazy," she says. "I didn't audition this year with the idea of winning. My whole thing about going to 'The X Factor' this time was to bring closure to my fans who never got to see what happened to me before. I just wanted an opportunity to redeem myself."
Panda says she won't try out for "The X Factor" or any other singing shows ever again (she has also auditioned for "Sunday Best" and "The Voice" in the past), but it seems like her brief time onscreen has opened doors to other television opportunities: She actually now has her own reality show in the works (watch this space!). "I'm a singer, but I think I'm a born actor. I was meant for the TV," she says. "So in my feeble mind, I was always just hoping I would get noticed by someone in the business that could recognize my talent."
Panda insists that she no longer harbors any hard feelings about getting shut out of Seasons 2 and 3 of "The X Factor," saying, "I don't believe God brought me this far to leave me, so onward and forward to the next thing! Believe it or not, I do still love 'The X Factor.'"
Presumably, she still loves Simon, too.