The X Factor
Kate Thornton (2004-6)
Dermot O'Leary (2007-14)
Olly Murs and Caroline Flack (2015-)
Louis Walsh (2004-14)
Simon Cowell (2004-10, 2014-)
Sharon Osbourne (2004-7, 2013)
Dannii Minogue (2007-10)
Brian Friedman (London auditions only, 2007)
Cheryl Cole (2008-10, as Cheryl Fernandez-Versini 2014-)
Kelly Rowland (2011)
Gary Barlow (2011-3)
Tulisa Contostavlos (2011-2, stand-in judge 2014)
Alexandra Burke (stand-in judge, 2011)
Nicole Scherzinger (2012-3)
Mel B (2014)
Nick Grimshaw (2015-)
Rita Ora (2015-)
Paula Abdul (London auditions, 2006)
Geri Halliwell (Glasgow auditions, 2010 and Liverpool auditions, 2012)
Natalie Imbruglia (Birmingham auditions, 2010)
Katy Perry (Dublin auditions, 2010)
Pixie Lott (Cardiff auditions, 2010)
Nicole Scherzinger (Manchester auditions and bootcamp, 2010 and London auditions, 2012)
Leona Lewis (London auditions, 2012)
Rita Ora (London auditions, 2012)
Mel B (Manchester auditions, 2012)
Anastacia (Glasgow auditions, 2012)
ITV2 coverage (The Xtra Factor):
Ben Shephard (2004-6)
Fearne Cotton (2007)
Holly Willoughby (2008-9)
Konnie Huq (2010)
Caroline Flack (2011-3)
Olly Murs (2011-2)
Matt Richardson (2013)
Sarah-Jane Crawford (2014-)
Web coverage (The F Factor):
Matt Edmondson (2010)
Thames and Syco for ITV1/2, 4 September 2004 to 17 December 2005 (33 episodes in 2 series)
TalkbackThames and Syco for ITV1/2, 19 August 2006 to 11 December 2011 (108 episodes in 6 series)
Thames and Syco for ITV1/2, 18 August 2012 to present
as The X Factor: Battle of the Stars, 29 May to 5 June 2006 (8 episodes in 1 series)
Phone-vote based talent show, very similar to Pop Idol, only without an upper age limit, and allowing bands and solo acts to audition.
In fact, the mechanics of the show are slightly more complicated. After the Hilarious Auditions shows, and the Boot Camp phase which whittles the chosen few down to a more manageable number, each of the judges is assigned one set of acts (Boys, Girls, Over-25s, or Groups) to mentor. After jetting their small group of remaining hopefuls to some of the worlds most glamorous locations, they choose the acts which will progress to the studio-based elimination phase. Every week during this phase, each act sings a song (two in the later stages), and the viewers vote for their favourite. But! The lowest-scorer isn't necessarily eliminated. The two worst achievers instead must sing again in the second show, and the judges decide who stays and who goes.
All these changes to the Pop Idol format have seemingly been made for the express purpose (aside from the unsuccessful attempt to avoid court cases - see below) to bring the judges into the spotlight as much as possible, essentially overshadowing the contestants themselves. This is evidenced by the fact that the first series' winner - Steve something - has apparently sunk without trace, whereas Cowell, Walsh and Co. live in solid gold houses and eat nothing but caviar and unicorn steaks.
This ramps up the tension, BUT shock horror - the judges are biased (and we didn't get that one from The Sun). Because they obviously want to keep their own acts in, this frequently results in very bad decisions (poor performers such as the Conway Sisters and Chico stayed in for far too long).
The X Factor, then, is nothing much other than a butchered version of its predecessor: the host's not as good, the rules make little sense (especially near the end when they change them again, eliminating the judges' say and making the contestants just sing again in the second show), and with pointless pantomime between the judging panel getting in the way of any actual talent that the show might theoretically uncover.
Evolution, not revolution
Over the years, several changes have been made to the format. The 2007 series was perhaps the series that saw the most changes, with the addition of a fourth judge in singer and Australia's Got Talent judge Dannii Minogue, the lower age barrier coming down to 14 years old, and the original Under-25 category being split into male and female solo singers. These changes coincided with judge Louis Walsh briefly leaving the format - he would be back half-way through the auditions, and some suggested this was just a stunt for the press. Presenter Kate Thornton also left the show after the 2006 series; her exit was more permanent.
The 2008 series saw a major change with original judge Sharon Osbourne being replaced by Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole, while the 2009 series saw the programme take a leaf out of Britain's Got Talent's book, with the initial auditions and the Boot Camp stage both being conducted in front of an audience in convention centres, rather than a closed room with just the judges. The 2009 series also saw the lower age barrier raised back up to 16 years old.
More tweaks were made for the 2010 series, with the judges each choosing from eight acts at the Judge's Houses stage. This change was partly introduced to give Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole a wider field of hopefuls to choose from, as both had missed some or all of the early stages of the auditions due to pregnancy and ill health respectively. A further change for the 2010 series saw the cut-off age for the 'Overs' category increased from 25 to 28.
The biggest changes were announced in May 2011. The month began with Simon Cowell's withdrawal from the judging panel for the new series, allowing him to concentrate on the USA version of The X Factor. Cowell announced that he could not judge both shows, and would no longer be a weekly judge on the UK edition. ITV went on to state that Cowell would continue to be an "enormous presence backstage". Two days later, Cheryl Cole declared that she would join Cowell in judging the American version of the programme, vacating her position on the British show. Unfortunately for Cole, her tenure as a judge on the American version of the programme was short-lived, as she was sacked after a mere two weeks.
By then, Dannii Minogue had told the world that she would also leave the programme, reportedly due to a scheduling clash with her judging commitments on Australia's Got Talent. The Manchester auditions of the new series were pushed back, in order to allow more time for the new judging panel to be put together. When it was finally announced at the end of the month, the new line-up of judges was Gary Barlow from Take That, Tulisa Contostavlos of hip-hop group N-Dubz, and Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child. Louis Walsh remained on the panel, the only original judge left. The 2011 series also saw the cut-off age for the 'Overs' category returned to 25 from 28, while the grand final was moved from Fountain Studios, taking place at Wembley Arena.
The 2012 series saw yet more changes. Kelly Rowland left the judging panel - a seemingly mutual decision. Her departure led to all manner of people being linked to the vacant judge's seat, including most notably former judge Dannii Minogue. However with the two parties reportedly being unable to agree on a fee, and with the first open auditions mere days away, the producers resorted to using a series of guest judges for the majority of the open auditions. One guest judge was former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, and it was Ms Scherzinger who would ultimately be installed as the fourth judge, starting from towards the end of the open auditions. Another change for the 2012 series saw the Bootcamp stage switched from London to Liverpool, reportedly due to London being completely booked due to the Olympics. The series also saw the 'Overs' category once again changed to 28, while the final took place at Manchester Central. The official line was that they were simply giving fans of the programme from outside London a chance to attend the final. Later reports suggested the actual reason was they forget to book Wembley Arena after the 2011 final, and found it was already booked up when they finally inquired as to its availability, meaning they had to look elsewhere.
2013 saw the programme air its tenth series, and with it came yet more changes. Former judge Sharon Osbourne returned to the panel, having last appeared as a judge during the fourth series in 2007. Meanwhile, the series also saw the return of contestants auditioning in front of the judges in a room without an audience, the first time this method had been used since the fifth series in 2008. The arena auditions remained resulting in an extra audition stage for the contestants. This additional phase meant more audition episodes were needed, resulting in the programme airing on both Saturday and Sunday evenings throughout its entire run for the first time. The Boot Camp stage also saw a change with each judge having to fill six chairs (representing a pass to the next stage) from the 24 contestants left in their category. Each contestant sung in turn, and if their judge liked what they saw, they would give them a seat in one of the six chairs, otherwise they would be sent home. However if the judge had filled all six of their chairs, but they preferred a later contestant, they could send home (with the sound of 4000 people in the arena shouting 'Swap!' ringing in their ears) someone who had already been granted a seat, and replace them with a later contestant. Newspaper reports at the time derided the alleged cruelty of this twist. Unsurprisingly Simon Cowell, while conceding it was controversial, reportedly stated it was something 'we all love'.
A further change to the 2013 series saw the introduction of a 'flash vote' during the live shows. After all the contestants had performed on the Saturday show, the voting lines opened for just 10 minutes. After the votes were tallied, the contestant with the fewest votes was then told they would be in the Sunday show's sing-off. The voting lines re-opened during Sunday's show, with the contestant with the fewest votes from the second vote also facing the sing-off. This added a new dimension to the judge's vote to save, as previously, the judges could send the vote to deadlock, unaware of who the contestant with the fewest votes was. However under the new system, sending the vote to deadlock would instantly eliminate the contestant who polled the fewest votes on Saturday.
2014 saw Simon Cowell and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (formerly Cole) return to the judging panel, while Mel B from the Spice Girls also joined the line-up. The series also introduced a Friday night episode for the first time, allowing the Boot Camp and Judges' Houses stages to be screened over three consecutive nights. ITV maintained this had been planned for some time. Its announcement around the same time it was confirmed that rival Strictly Come Dancing would air its first live performance show the same night meant few were convinced.
I won't do what you tell me
Since its inception, The X Factor had been criticised for many reasons. Some objected to an emphasis on the judges over the acts they're supposedly mentoring, others claimed the editing shows bias, or that the judges orchestrated publicity stunts on the broadcasts. Many contestants gave accounts of personal trauma they've experienced, hoping the audience would vote on an emotional connection rather than their performance. Other musicians have called the show "televised karaoke" and "a soap opera", accused it of "cheapening music", and being "like valium but less enjoyable".
These critical reactions have occasionally been addressed on the show - the sob stories were toned down, the annual flounce-out by Louis Walsh quietly dropped - but the show's musical policy remained resolutely middle-of-the-road, sticking to proven commercial hits. Mostly proven commercial hits from the Sony/BMG catalogue as that's where the winners release records, and where Simon Cowell's paycheques are signed.
Some music fans were so annoyed by the hoopla that they began campaigns to buy a particular song in a particular week, hoping to outsell The X Factor winner's single, whatever it was that year. In 2008, the chosen track was Jeff Buckley's rendition of "Hallelujah", which narrowly failed to beat Alexandra Burke's performance. Roles were reversed in 2009, when Joe McElderry's interpretation of "The Climb" was beaten by "Killing In the Name", a track by Rage Against the Machine notorious for its profane climax. This success inspired copycat campaigns by other fans - supporters of football clubs, Christian rock groups, and disgraced politicians all tried to score massive chart hits, and all failed.
In October 2007, Walsh let slip on Graham Norton's chat show that the houses that the contestants fly to before the studio knock-out stage do not in fact belong to the judges. A spokesman for the show claimed that viewers were not misled because at no point were the properties referred to as the judges' "homes". A spokesman called Pinocchio, presumably.
Theme music composed by Simon Cowell, Jos Jorgensen, Andy Love, Ashley Tabor.
Series 1 winner Steve Brookstein was a finalist on The Big Big Talent Show. Rowetta from the same series had spent the 1990s as a backing vocalist for the Happy Mondays. Her success demonstrated that any semi-professional singer or group could enter.
Kerry McGregor appeared in series 3, having finished second in A Song for Europe 1997. Her track "Yodel in the Canyon of Love" came up against the inevitable winner "Love Shine a Light".
Cheryl Cole's former Popstars: The Rivals co-star Nikk Mager auditioned for the show in 2008. Cole decided that she couldn't judge him, and left the panel, leaving his fate in the hands of the other judges. He didn't make it through to the Boot Camp stage, and the encounter left both Cole and Mager in tears.
Series 6 runner-up Olly Murs previously appeared on Deal or No Deal. He won £10.
When boyband The Wanted appeared in series 7, it was the end of a long journey for two members. Max George had been one-fifth of Avenue, who had been ejected from series 3 at the Boot Camp stage, on the grounds they'd been specifically formed for the show and had professional representation. Tom Parker had also auditioned for the programme, failing to make it past the first audition in front of the producers.
Nathan Fagan-Gayle, who reached the Judges' Houses stage of the competition in the ninth series, previously appeared in Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack. Carolynne Poole was first out of the live shows that year; as Carolynne Good, she had made third place in Fame Academy's 2003 series.
Lucy Spraggan had released a digital album in late 2011, before appearing in the following year's X Factor. When her audition aired a year later, the song "Last night" raced into the top ten, with the album following close behind. Both single and album were deleted a few days later, officially "to preserve the integrity of the contest". Spraggan left the contest through illness; the experience provided material for the song "Uninspired" on her 2015 album We Are.
Between 2008 and 2011, promotion for The X Factor included a song performed by all the year's finalists in aid of charity. Inevitably, this made the top of the singles chart.
Contestants who win the series aren't assured a long-lasting career - by 2015, only Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, and Little Mix had managed two hit albums while still under the winner's contract.
On the other hand, contestants who don't win the series do occasionally go on to have modestly successful singing careers. There have been number one singles for Chico Slimani (series 2), Diana Vickers (series 5), Cher Lloyd (series 7), and Ella Henderson (series 9). Classical group G4 (series 1) and Rhydian Roberts (series 4) both sustained success over two hit albums.
There was sustained popularity for the groups JLS (series 5) and One Direction (series 7), and series 6 performer Olly Murs. JLS became a big teen pop band for a few years, until One Direction became the world's biggest band. Olly hit as a performer targetted at mothers and daughters, his down-to-earth style allowed him to co-present the series some years later.
Almost inevitably, some of The X Factor alumni have competed in the Eurovision Song Contest. Andy Abraham (series 2) represented the BBC in 2008, where he finished joint last. Ruth Lorenzo went forward for Spanish broadcaster TVE in 2014, six years after making the final five on this show. Series 6 livewires Jedward (pedantically known on The X Factor as John and Edward) had become the biggest pop celebrities in Ireland, and appeared at Eurovision on behalf of RTÉ in both 2011 and 2012; their entries still proved more popular than the British entrants. Jedward went on to appear on the 2011 Celebrity Big Brother, which they also failed to win.
Series 3 runner-up Ray Quinn did become a reality winner, taking the Dancing on Ice crown in 2009, and again in 2014 in the all-stars series. Third-placed series 6 contestant Stacey Solomon won the following year's series of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!.
Matthew Raymond-Barker, who was eliminated from the 2010 competition at the Boot Camp stage, would go on to appear on the French version of the show while living in the country as part of his university course. The French-speaking Londoner was rather more successful across the Channel, as on 28 June 2011, he was crowned the winner of the French series, receiving a cash prize and a recording contract with Sony Music.
Joe McElderry, winner of the 2009 series of The X Factor, would go on to win the 2011 series of Popstar to Operastar, and found a new career singing standards for mums and grannies. In 2014, he also won winter sports series The Jump, and was the first X Factor alumnus to appear in Countdown's Dictionary Corner.
A stage musical based on The X Factor was made. The show, I Can't Sing was written by Harry Hill, and suffered delays and technical troubles before opening in London in March 2014. It closed two months later.
The seventh series of the show in 2010 saw a series of guest judges fill in for Dannii Minogue during the open audition stage of the show, while Minogue was away for the birth of her first child. Minogue returned to the judging panel for the Judge's Houses stage. Nicole Scherzinger, who appeared as one of the guest judges during the open audition stage, also appeared on the judging panel during the Boot Camp stage, as a result of Cheryl Cole's absence due to ill health. 2008 winner Alexandra Burke stood in for judge Kelly Rowland on the fourth live show of the eighth series due to Rowland being unwell, and being unable to travel from Los Angeles. Former judge Tulisa Contostavlos stood in for judge Mel B during the first part of the two part final of the 2014 series as a result of the former Spice Girl falling ill earlier the same week, and being unable to attend.
The music often played during the pre-opening title montage, and as the judges take to the stage, is the Munich Radio Orchestra's recording of "O Fortuna", which was composed by Carl Orff for his 1935/6 work Carmina Burana. Thanks in part to its use on The X Factor (and a classic advertisement for male grooming products), a survey released in December 2009 claimed it was the UK's most-played classical recording of the previous 75 years. The top ten.
Localised versions of the format have aired in no less than 47 territories around the world, including countries such as Chile, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.
2004 Steve Brookstein, as mentored by Simon Cowell
2005 Shayne Ward, as mentored by Louis Walsh
2006 Leona Lewis, as mentored by Simon Cowell
2007 Leon Jackson, as mentored by Dannii Minogue
2008 Alexandra Burke, as mentored by Cheryl Cole
2009 Joe McElderry, as mentored by Cheryl Cole
2010 Matt Cardle, as mentored by Dannii Minogue
2011 Little Mix, as mentored by Tulisa Contostavlos
2012 James Arthur, as mentored by Nicole Scherzinger
2013 Sam Bailey, as mentored by Sharon Osbourne
2014 Ben Haenow, as mentored by Simon Cowell
The X Factor: Battle of the Stars
2006 Lucy Benjamin, as mentored by Louis Walsh
A celebrity version - The X Factor: Battle of the Stars - aired in May and June 2006, as a Big Brother spoiler. Those who took part were:
- Lucy Benjamin (ex-EastEnders actress)
- Gillian McKeith (TV Nutritionalist)
- Michelle Marsh (glamour model)
- Chris Moyles (Radio 1 DJ)
- Nikki Sanderson (ex-Coronation Street actress)
- Matt Stevens (rugby player)
- Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee (TV magician and assistant)
- James Hewitt (ex-Army officer) and Rebecca Loos (model)
- The Chefs - Aldo Zilli, Paul Rankin, Ross Burden and Jean-Christophe Novelli (erm, chefs)
The show publicised the hashtags #xfactor and #WhoseTimeIsNow. Meanwhile, spin-off show The Xtra Factor publicised the hashtag #xtrafactor.