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The X Factor (UK TV series)

The X Factor
Genre Reality television
Created by Simon Cowell
Directed by Phil Heyes
Creative director(s)
  • Brian Friedman (2007–10, 2012, 2014–)
  • Brian Burke (2011–12)
  • Elizabeth Honan (2011)
  • Jerry Reeve (2013)
  • Mark "Swany" Swanhart (2013)
Presented by
Voices of Peter Dickson
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 11
No. of episodes 324 (as of 16 November 2014)
Executive producer(s)
Running time 60–150 minutes
Production company(s)
Distributor FremantleMedia
Original channel ITV
Picture format
Original run 4 September 2004 (2004-09-04) – present (present)
Related shows
External links
Official website

The X Factor is a British television music competition to find new singing talent, contested by aspiring singers drawn from public auditions. Created by Simon Cowell, the show began in 2004 and has since aired annually from August/September until December. The show is produced by FremantleMedia's Thames (previously Talkback Thames) and Cowell's production company SycoTV. It is broadcast on the ITV network in the United Kingdom and simulcast on TV3 in the Republic of Ireland, with spin-off behind-the-scenes show The Xtra Factor screened on ITV2. The "X Factor" refers to the undefinable "something" that makes for star quality. The show was devised as a replacement for the highly successful Pop Idol, which was put on indefinite hiatus after its second series, largely because Cowell, who was a judge on Pop Idol, wished to launch a show to which he owned the television rights.[1] The perceived similarity between the two shows later became the subject of a legal dispute.[2]

The original judging panel consisted of Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne and Cowell. Brian Friedman replaced Walsh in series 4, which also saw Dannii Minogue join the panel. However, Friedman later left and was replaced by Walsh. Cheryl Cole took the place of Osbourne in series 5. Gary Barlow, Kelly Rowland and Tulisa Contostavlos joined the panel in series 8 as replacements for Cowell, Minogue and Cole, though Rowland left before series 9 and was replaced by Nicole Scherzinger. Osbourne returned to the panel in series 10, replacing Contostavlos. Cowell and Cole returned to replace Barlow and Osbourne in series 11, while Mel B replaced Scherzinger. The first three series of the show were presented by Kate Thornton. Since series 4, the show has been presented by Dermot O'Leary. Also, in series 10, The Xtra Factor presenter Caroline Flack served as a backstage presenter during the Saturday night live shows. The show is split into different stages, following the contestants from auditions through to the final. In the original televised audition stage of the show, contestants sang in an audition room in front of just the judges, but from series 6 onwards, auditionees sing on a stage in front of the judges and a live audience. In series 10 and 11, both auditions formats were used. Successful auditionees go through to "bootcamp" and then to "judges' houses", where judges narrow down the acts in their category down to three or four acts to mentor for the live shows, where the public vote for their favourite acts following weekly live performances by the contestants.

There have been ten winners of the show to date: Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson, Alexandra Burke, Joe McElderry, Matt Cardle, Little Mix, James Arthur and Sam Bailey. Winners receive a recording contract with record label Syco Music with a stated value of £1 million. This includes a cash payment to the winner, but the majority is allocated to marketing and recording costs.[3] From 2004 to 2010, and again in 2013, the winning contestant's single was released in time for the end-of-year chart battle for the UK's Christmas number one, a spot which was gained in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2013. In 2011 and 2012, the winner's single was released a week earlier. All of the winners' singles have gone on to achieve the number one chart position nevertheless—Brookstein and McElderry both instead claimed the New Year's number one spot a week later in 2004 and 2009, respectively, while Little Mix achieved the top spot a week earlier in 2011. In 2012, Arthur achieved the number one spot a week earlier as well, but also claimed the New Year's number one spot, making him the first (and currently only) X Factor winner to regain the top spot with his winner's single.[4] As of June 2014, a total of 35 number-one singles have been achieved by artists who have appeared on the show, such as Lewis, Burke, JLS, Olly Murs, Cher Lloyd, One Direction and Little Mix.

The show is the originator of the international The X Factor franchise. The X Factor is the biggest television talent competition in Europe and has proved hugely popular with the public. Series 6 attracted 200,000 auditionees[5] and peaked at 19.7 million UK viewers (a 63.2% audience share).[6] More than 10 million votes were cast in the series 6 final.[7] On 15 November 2013, ITV announced that Cowell had signed a three-year contract renewing The X Factor until 2016.[8]


  • History 1
  • Format 2
    • Categories 2.1
    • Stages 2.2
      • Auditions 2.2.1
      • Bootcamp and judges' houses 2.2.2
      • The X Factor house 2.2.3
      • Live shows 2.2.4
        • Performances
        • Results
    • After The X Factor 2.3
  • Series overview 3
  • Judges and presenters 4
    • Presenters and other personnel 4.1
    • Judges' categories and their finalists 4.2
  • Reception 5
    • Ratings and awards 5.1
    • Series averages 5.2
    • Controversy and criticism 5.3
  • Ireland 6
  • International broadcasts 7
  • The Xtra Factor 8
    • Presenters 8.1
    • Spin-offs and specials 8.2
  • The X Factor: Battle of the Stars 9
  • Music releases by The X Factor contestants 10
    • Charity singles 10.1
    • The X Factor – The Greatest Hits 10.2
    • The X Factor Songbook 10.3
  • Merchandise 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


The X Factor was created by Sony Music A&R judge Simon Cowell as a replacement for Pop Idol.[1] Cowell, who was a judge on Pop Idol, wished to launch a show to which he owned the television rights.[1] Pop Idol '​s first series was massively successful, and while the second series was also successful, the viewing figures for its finale dropped.[9] Some—including Cowell's fellow Pop Idol judge Pete Waterman[10] considered Michelle McManus an unworthy winner.[10] In 2004, ITV announced a new show created by Cowell, with no involvement from Pop Idol creator Simon FullerThe X Factor.[1] The perceived similarity between the two shows later became the subject of a legal dispute.[2]



Unlike Pop Idol, The X Factor has no upper-age limit, groups can apply, and contestants are also split into categories. Cowell said, "We're trying to create a different competition. Hopefully we're going to be able to appeal to somebody over the age of 35 who keeps saying to me there aren't any artists I like in the competition. It's amazing, but we haven't catered for older record buyers who want to buy into the new Cliff Richard or whatever."[1]

For series 1–3 the competition was split into three categories: 16–24s (solo acts aged 16–24), Over 25s (solo acts aged 25 and over) and Groups (including duos). In series 4–5, the minimum age was lowered to 14, creating a 14–24 age group. With the addition of a fourth judge in series 4, this was split into separate male and female sections, making four categories in all: "Boys" (14–24 males), "Girls" (14–24 females), Over 25s and Groups. For series 6, the minimum age returned to 16, meaning that the Boys category became 16–24 males and the Girls category became 16–24 females. For series 7, the age group boundaries were changed, and the Over 25s became Over 28s, with the Boys and Girls categories becoming 16–28.[11] It was changed back to Over 25s for series 8,[12] before reverting to Over 28s in series 9.[13] In series 10, it became the Over 25s again.[14] In series 11, the minimum age returned to 14. From Series 11 onwards a wildcard category was added to the show alongside a fifth judge who would mentor the acts consisting of one from each of the other categories who failed to make it in their own groups.


There are five stages to the competition:

  • Stage 1: Producers' auditions (these auditions are un-televised, and decide who will sing in front of the judges)
  • Stage 2: Judges' auditions (either in an audition room (series 1–5), an arena (series 6–9), or both (series 10–)
  • Stage 3: Bootcamp (originally a series of challenges and knock out rounds, then the 6 seat challenge since series 10)
  • Stage 4: Judges' houses
  • Stage 5: Live shows (finals)


A round of first auditions is held in front of producers months before the show is aired, either by application and appointment, or at "open" auditions that anyone can attend. These auditions, held at various venues around the UK, attract very large crowds. The auditions themselves are not televised, but shots of crowds waving and "judges' cars" arriving are filmed and later spliced in with the televised auditions shot later in the year. The production team supply the crowds with "home-made" signs.[15] After waiting at the venue for hours and filming more inserts of screaming and waving, candidates are given a brief audition by someone from the production team.[15] Should they pass that audition (either for reasons of talent or for the potential of making entertaining television), they are given a "golden ticket" that allows them to sing to a more senior production member.[15] Only candidates who successfully pass that second and third auditions are invited to perform to the judges.[15] The televised version misrepresents the process by implying that the entire huge crowds all perform to the judges.[15]

A selection of the auditions in front of the judges – usually the best, the worst and the most bizarre (described by Louis Walsh as "the good, the bad and the ugly")[16] – are broadcast over the first few weeks of the show. In the first five series, each act entered the audition room and delivered a stand-up unaccompanied performance of their chosen song to the judges. From series 6–9, the judges' auditions were held in front of a live audience and the acts sang over a backing track. If a majority of the judges (two in series 1–3, or three from series 4 onwards) say "yes" then the act goes through to the next stage, otherwise they are sent home. From series 10, the judges' room auditions were brought back; successful acts then later went onto the judges' arena auditions.[17]

Over 50,000 people auditioned for series 1,[18] around 75,000 for series 2[19] and around 100,000 for series 3.[20] The number of applicants for series 4 reached 150,000,[21] 182,000[22] people auditioned for series 5, and a record 200,000 people applied for series 6.[5] Series 7 applicants were given the opportunity to apply by uploading a video audition to the Internet.[23] In series 9, for the first time, applicants could audition online via Facebook.[24] The show's producers also sent a "mobile audition van" to 18 locations throughout the UK and Ireland so they can audition singers who cannot make the arena auditions.[25]

Bootcamp and judges' houses

The contestants selected at auditions are further refined through a series of performances at "bootcamp", and then at the "judges' houses" (previously "judges' homes"), until a small number eventually progress to the live finals (nine in series 1, twelve from series 2 to 6, sixteen from series 7–8, thirteen in series 9, and back to 12 in series 10). Walsh revealed in October 2007 that the houses the contestants visit may not actually belong to the judges, but are sometimes rented for the purpose.[26] During these stages, the producers allocate each of the judges a category to mentor. In early series this allocation took place after completion of the auditions and prior to bootcamp, but from series 4, all four judges work together at the bootcamp stage. They collectively choose 24 acts (six from each category) for the next round, and only then find out which category they will mentor.

In series 4, 6, and 8 the judges found out which category they would be mentoring at the same time that the contestants found out their mentor, but in series 5, 7 and 9 the contestants did not know who their mentor was until they revealed themselves at the house. The judges then disband for the "judges' houses" round, where they reduce their six acts to three for the live shows.[27][28] In series 7 and 8, a total of 32 acts went through to judges' houses, giving each judge eight acts instead of six.[11]

From series 10 onwards, the format to bootcamp was changed: the judges find out their categories before bootcamp starts and challenge their contestants through the six seat challenge. Judges make decisions on who to put through to judges' houses straight after each act has performed, with those getting a yes taking a seat in the final six chairs on stage. It is up to the mentor to decide, which act they want to take to judges' houses, but once all six spots are full, if the mentor wants to send another act through to the next stage it means they have to replace one of those who were previously given a yes. This format was very poorly rated by many members of the British public.[29]

The current series saw the six-chair challenge used as the second stage of bootcamp. The first stage saw the acts performing in their usual group allocations, after which the contestants find out who will be their mentors before the six-chair challenge.[30]

The X Factor house

The selected finalists (either 9, 12, 13 or 16 acts) move into shared accommodation to take part in the show. The house accommodates both contestants and TV production staff[31] and footage from the house is often used in spin-off show The Xtra Factor. In 2009 the house, in West Heath Avenue, Golders Green,[32] received significant press coverage when it was mobbed by fans, leading to the police being called.[33] This led to concerns by the neighbours of the 2010 house in Hyver Hill, Mill Hill[34] that it would receive similar attention,[35] with a local farmer worried his land would be damaged,[36] but local businesses were said to be looking forward to increased trade.[37] The 2011 residence, Connaught House in Hertford Heath had cameras installed for filming.[38] In 2012, the finalists stayed at the Corinthia Hotel in London.[39]

Live shows

Entrance to Fountain Studios

The finals consist of a series of two live shows, the first featuring the contestants' performances and the second revealing the results of the public voting, culminating in one or more acts being eliminated. Celebrity guest performers also feature regularly. These live shows are filmed at Fountain Studios in Wembley, London. In series 1–5, both live shows were broadcast on Saturday nights. In series 6, the results show moved to Sunday nights. In series 1, nine acts were put through to the live shows, increased to twelve in series 2. In series 7, following the addition of four wildcards, it increased to 16.[11] In series 8, the judges selected four acts each to go through the live shows, without the inclusion of wildcards. Then in series 9, it reduced back to three each, but one wildcard was added, meaning there were 13 finalists. Series 10 reverted to 12 finalists. Series 11 initially did the same, but the addition of 4 wildcards in the live shows brought it back up to 16 finalists.


The show is primarily concerned with identifying a potential pop star or star group, and singing talent, appearance, personality, stage presence and dance routines are all important elements of the contestants' performances. In the initial live shows, each act performs once in the first show in front of a studio audience and the judges, usually singing over a pre-recorded backing track. Dancers are also commonly featured. Acts occasionally accompany themselves on guitar or piano.

In the first two series, acts usually chose a cover of a pop standard or contemporary hit. In series 1, much was made of the idea that each performer/mentor combination was free to present the performance however they wanted, including performer playing live instruments, or the addition of choirs, backing bands, and dancers. From the third series, each live show has had a different theme; each contestant's song is chosen according to the theme. A celebrity guest connected to the theme is often invited onto the show, and clips are shown of the guest conversing with the contestants at rehearsal. After each act has performed, the judges comment on their performance. Heated disagreements, usually involving judges defending their contestants against criticism, are a regular feature of the show. Once all the acts have appeared, the phone lines open and the viewing public vote on which act they want to keep.

Once the number of contestants has been reduced to four (series 1 and 3), five (series 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11) or seven (series 7), the format changes. Each act performs twice in the first show, with the public vote opening after the first performance. This continues until only two (series 1 and 3), three (series 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10) or four (series 7) acts remain. These acts go on to appear in the grand final which decides the overall winner by public vote. In past series some of the more memorable failed auditionees from the early rounds have also returned for a special appearance in the final. From its inception up to series 7, the final took place in the same studio as the live shows. However, from series 8 onwards, due to the success of the arena auditions, the final now takes place at Wembley Arena, accommodating a larger stage and a much larger audience (in series 9, however, the final took place at Manchester Arena as Wembley Arena was unavailable).


Before the results are announced, there are live or pre-recorded performances from one or more invited celebrities, often with performers connected to the week's theme. From series 6 onwards, the results show begins with a group performance from the remaining contestants. However, the song is pre-recorded and the contestants mime, due to problems with the number of microphones.[40] The two acts polling the fewest votes are revealed. Both these acts perform again in a "final showdown", and the judges vote on which of the two to send home. In the first four series the bottom two contestants reprised their earlier song, but from series 5 they were able to pick new songs. In series 3, a twist occurred where the act with the fewest votes was automatically eliminated, and the two with the next fewest votes performed in the "final showdown" as normal. Ties became possible with the introduction of a fourth judge in series 4. In the event of a tie the result goes to deadlock, and the act who came last in the public vote is sent home. The actual number of votes cast for each act is not revealed, nor even the order; according to a spokesman, "We would never reveal the voting figures during the competition as it could give contestants an unfair advantage and spoil the competition for viewers".[41]

Once the number of contestants has been reduced to four (series 1, 3, 7, 8 and 9) or five (series 2, 4, 5 and 6), the act which polled the fewest votes is automatically eliminated from the competition (the judges do not have a vote; their only role is to comment on the performances). One occasion in series 7 during the quarter-final saw the judges instead vote to send one of the bottom two through to the semi-final. Another occasion in the series 10 semi-final saw the judges vote to send one of the bottom two through to the final. In series 1, the eliminated acts also reprised one of their songs in the results show after being voted off. This has become less common in other series, instead being relegated to results shows with no final showdown.

After The X Factor

Joe McElderry, winner of series 6, performing on The X Factor Live tour in 2010

The winner of The X Factor is awarded a £1 million recording contract with Syco Music, in association with Sony Music. In series 5, this deal consisted of a £150,000 cash advance with the balance covering the costs of recording and marketing.[3] Other highly placed contestants may also be offered recording deals, but this is not guaranteed.[3] In series 1–3, the premise of The X Factor was that the winner would be managed in the industry by their mentor on the show. With Cowell, Osbourne and Walsh as judges/mentors, any of the three would be qualified to do so. Following the appointment of singer Minogue as a judge in series 4, the same principle could not universally apply. In fact, when Minogue won series 4 with Leon Jackson, a new outside manager was appointed.

The X Factor Live Tour is a live show that tours the UK and Ireland in the months following the conclusion of the series. It features an array of finalists and other memorable contestants from the most recent The X Factor series and is hosted by Jeff Brazier.

Series overview

To date, ten series have been broadcast, as summarised below.

     Contestant in (or mentor of) "Boys" category
     Contestant in (or mentor of) "Girls" category
     Contestant in (or mentor of) "16–24s" category
     Contestant in (or mentor of) "Over 25s" or "Over 28s" category
     Contestant in (or mentor of) "Groups" category

Series Start Finish Winner Runner-up Third place Winning mentor Presenter(s) UK sponsor Main judges Guest judges
One 4 September 2004 11 December 2004 Steve Brookstein G4 Tabby Callaghan Simon Cowell Kate Thornton Nokia[42] Louis Walsh
Sharon Osbourne
Simon Cowell
Two 20 August 2005 17 December 2005 Shayne Ward Andy Abraham Journey South Louis Walsh
Three 19 August 2006 16 December 2006 Leona Lewis Ray Quinn Ben Mills Simon Cowell Paula Abdul
Four 18 August 2007 15 December 2007 Leon Jackson Rhydian Roberts Same Difference Dannii Minogue Dermot O'Leary The Carphone Warehouse[42] Louis Walsh
Sharon Osbourne
Simon Cowell
Dannii Minogue
Brian Friedman
Five 16 August 2008 13 December 2008 Alexandra Burke JLS Eoghan Quigg Cheryl Cole Louis Walsh
Simon Cowell
Dannii Minogue
Cheryl Cole
Six 22 August 2009 13 December 2009 Joe McElderry Olly Murs Stacey Solomon Cheryl Cole TalkTalk[43]
Seven 21 August 2010 12 December 2010 Matt Cardle Rebecca Ferguson One Direction Dannii Minogue Geri Halliwell
Natalie Imbruglia
Katy Perry
Pixie Lott
Nicole Scherzinger
Eight 20 August 2011 11 December 2011 Little Mix Marcus Collins Amelia Lily Tulisa Contostavlos Louis Walsh
Tulisa Contostavlos
Gary Barlow
Kelly Rowland
Alexandra Burke
Nine 18 August 2012 9 December 2012 James Arthur Jahméne Douglas Christopher Maloney Nicole Scherzinger Louis Walsh
Tulisa Contostavlos
Gary Barlow
Nicole Scherzinger
Geri Halliwell
Leona Lewis
Rita Ora
Nicole Scherzinger
Mel B
Ten 31 August 2013 15 December 2013 Sam Bailey Nicholas McDonald Luke Friend Sharon Osbourne Dermot O'Leary
Caroline Flack
Louis Walsh
Sharon Osbourne
Gary Barlow
Nicole Scherzinger
Eleven 30 August 2014 14 December 2014 TBA TBA TBA TBA Dermot O'Leary Louis Walsh
Simon Cowell
Cheryl Fernandez-Versini
Mel B
  1. ^ Paula Abdul served as a guest judge for the London auditions.
  2. ^ Brian Friedman served as a guest judge for the London auditions following the departure of Louis Walsh, but was later reassigned the role of creative director and Walsh was reinstated. He was originally recruited to be a permanent judge.
  3. ^ a b c d e During the auditions and bootcamp, several guest judges served as temporary replacement for Dannii Minogue, who was not able to attend due to being pregnant. Geri Halliwell served as guest judge at the Glasgow auditions; Natalie Imbruglia at the Birmingham auditions; Katy Perry at the Dublin auditions; Pixie Lott at the Cardiff auditions; and Nicole Scherzinger at the Manchester auditions and bootcamp.
  4. ^ During week 4 of the live shows, Kelly Rowland was unable to travel back from Los Angeles as she had a throat infection. Alexandra Burke temporarily replaced her.
  5. ^ a b c d e f After Kelly Rowland's departure, Geri Halliwell (Liverpool), Leona Lewis (London), Rita Ora (London), Nicole Scherzinger (London), Mel B (Manchester) and Anastacia (Glasgow) all filled in as guest judges during the auditions until Scherzinger joined the judging panel as the fourth permanent judge for the final auditions in Newcastle and Cardiff.
  6. ^ Caroline Flack served as a backstage presenter during the live shows.

Judges and presenters

Judges Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole during filming of the London auditions for series 7

From series 1–3, the X Factor judges were music executive and TV producer Simon Cowell, and music managers Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, although Paula Abdul was a guest judge at the London auditions in series 3.[44] On 8 March 2007, it was announced that Walsh would not be returning as a judge for series 4.[45] On 4 June, it was confirmed that Brian Friedman, who was hired after impressing Cowell on his show Grease is the Word, would be replacing Walsh, along with the news of Australian singer and Australia's Got Talent judge Dannii Minogue. On 22 June, it was confirmed that Friedman had been reassigned the role of creative director and would be replaced on the panel by Walsh.[46] Minogue became the first female judge to win after her series 4 victory with Leon Jackson.

Speculation surrounded judging line-up changes for series 5, centering on whether Osbourne would return. On 6 June 2008, six days before filming for series 5 was due to begin, ITV confirmed that Osbourne had left the show,[47] and a number of other artists and producers were approached regarding her replacement, including Mel B, Paula Abdul, Sinitta, and former Pop Idol judge Pete Waterman. On 10 June, Cheryl Cole of Girls Aloud was confirmed as Osbourne's replacement.[48][49] Osbourne stated that she left The X Factor because she did not enjoy working with Minogue.[50][51] Despite rumours that Minogue would leave the show after series 5,[52][53] all four judges from series 5 returned for series 6.[54] Cole became the first (and currently only) judge to win two series in a row after her victories in series 5 with Alexandra Burke and series 6 with Joe McElderry.

Due to Minogue's maternity leave during series 7, a series of guest judges filled in for her at the audition stages before she rejoined the panel in September. The guest judges were Geri Halliwell, Natalie Imbruglia, Katy Perry, Pixie Lott and Nicole Scherzinger. In July 2010, Cole was diagnosed with malaria towards the end of the auditions, so Scherzinger returned as a guest judge for bootcamp.[55]

On 5 May 2011, it was confirmed that Cowell and Cole would not be returning to the judging panel for series 8. They announced that they were leaving to concentrate on the American version of the programme.[56] On 14 May, it was announced that Minogue would not be returning either. Of her decision, Minogue said "During discussions for me to return [to The X Factor] it became clear that unfortunately, this year, The X Factor audition dates in the UK clash with the live shows of Australia's Got Talent during June and July. For this reason I am unable to return.".[57] After Cowell, Minogue and Cole announced their leave, a number of celebrities were linked with judging roles, including Frankie Sandford,[58] Gary Barlow,[59] Noel Gallagher, Nicole Scherzinger,[60] Tulisa Contostavlos,[61] Kelly Rowland[62] and Alesha Dixon,[63] though Dixon ruled herself out, due to her commitments with Strictly Come Dancing,[64] she later joined Cowell's other show Britain's Got Talent.[65] On 30 May, it was confirmed that Barlow, Contostavlos and Rowland would join Walsh for series 8.[66][67] On 29 and 30 October, Rowland was unable to travel back from Los Angeles as she had a throat infection, and was unable to judge the fourth week of the live shows, so series 5 winner Alexandra Burke took her place.[68]

Barlow,[69][70] Walsh[71] and Contostavlos[72] returned for series 9. Rowland left due to other commitments.[73][74] Geri Halliwell, Leona Lewis, Rita Ora, Nicole Scherzinger, Mel B and Anastacia all filled in as guest judges during the audition stage of the competition until a permanent judge was found.[75] Scherzinger was confirmed as Rowland's replacement, and reappeared on the panel from the Newcastle auditions on a permanent basis.[76][77][78]

On 21 May 2013, ending months of media speculation, Contostavlos confirmed that she would not return as a judge for the tenth series.[79][80] The following day, Osbourne's return to the show and appointment as Contostavlos' replacement for series 10 was announced, along with confirmation of returning judges Walsh, Barlow and Scherzinger.[81] In a further twist, on 1 April, it was reported that Cowell would review contestants' performances for the tenth series through video link, alongside the panel of four judges,[82] but this did not happen. Osbourne later confirmed in July that her return was not permanent, and that she would leave once more at the conclusion of series 10;[83] Walsh confirmed on 6 August that series 10 would be his final series.[84] Barlow then announced during the first live show of series 10 that it would be his last series on the show.[85]

On 7 February 2014, it was confirmed that Cowell would return as a judge for series 11.[86][87] On 14 February, Cowell confirmed on Twitter that Scherzinger had left.[88] On 10 March, Cowell confirmed that Cole would return as a judge for the eleventh series.[89][90][91] On 30 May, despite having previously announced he would be leaving after series 10, Walsh confirmed that he was returning for his eleventh series.[92] On 10 June, it was confirmed that Spice Girls member Mel B would join the panel as Scherzinger's replacement for the eleventh series.[93] It was reported on 9 July that a fifth judge may join the panel for series 11,[94] but this did not happen.

Presenters and other personnel

Dermot O'Leary has presented the show since series 4

The first three series of the show were hosted by Kate Thornton. She was replaced from series 4 by Dermot O'Leary who signed a contract worth £1 million to present two series of the programme on ITV.[95] O'Leary was not forced to leave the Big Brother franchise and continued to present Big Brother sister shows during summer 2007, but he later announced that Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack was to be his last Big Brother hosting role so that he could focus on presenting The X Factor.[96] In 2013, Caroline Flack became a backstage presenter for the live shows on Saturdays.[97]

Friedman served as performance coach and choreographer (billed as "Creative Director") from series 4-7 and left before series 8 to join the American version. Brian Burke and Elizabeth Honan replaced him for series 8, although Friedman returned for three weeks in series 9 and Honan did not return. For series 10, Burke was replaced by Jerry Reeve and Mark "Swany" Swanhart. Friedman returned as creative director in series 11, replacing Reeve and Swanhart. Yvie Burnett has been The X Factor '​s vocal coach since series 2, but was replaced in series 7 by Ali Tennant and Savan Kotecha. However, Tennant's contract was ended before the live shows and Burnett was reinstated.[98] In series 7, Richard "Biff" Stannard started work as show song producer for Minogue's contestants,[99] and Grace Woodward joined the series as Fashion Director.[100] Voice-overs are provided by Peter Dickson and Enn Reitel.

For information about The Xtra Factor presenters, see The Xtra Factor below.

Judges' categories and their finalists

In each series, each judge is allocated a category to mentor and chooses a small number of acts (three or four, depending on the series) to progress to the live finals. This table shows, for each series, which category each judge was allocated and which acts he or she put through to the live finals.

     – Winning judge/category. Winners are in bold, eliminated contestants in small font.
Series Simon Cowell Sharon Osbourne Louis Walsh N/A
One Over 25s
Steve Brookstein
Rowetta Satchell
Verity Keays
Tabby Callaghan
Cassie Compton
Roberta Howett
Voices with Soul
2 to Go
Two Groups
Journey South
The Conway Sisters
Addictiv Ladies
Over 25s
Andy Abraham
Brenda Edwards
Chico Slimani
Maria Lawson
Shayne Ward
Nicholas Dorsett
Chenai Zinyuku
Phillip Magee
Three 16–24s
Leona Lewis
Ray Quinn
Nikitta Angus
Ashley McKenzie
Over 25s
Ben Mills
Robert Allen
Kerry McGregor
Dionne Mitchell
The MacDonald Brothers
Eton Road
The Unconventionals
Four Simon Cowell Sharon Osbourne Louis Walsh Dannii Minogue
Same Difference
Alisha Bennett
Emily Nakanda
Kimberley Southwick
Over 25s
Niki Evans
Beverley Trotman
Daniel DeBourg
Leon Jackson
Rhydian Roberts
Andy Williams
Five Simon Cowell Cheryl Cole Louis Walsh Dannii Minogue
Eoghan Quigg
Austin Drage
Scott Bruton
Alexandra Burke
Diana Vickers
Laura White
Bad Lashes
Over 25s
Ruth Lorenzo
Rachel Hylton
Daniel Evans
Six Over 25s
Olly Murs
Danyl Johnson
Jamie Archer
Joe McElderry
Lloyd Daniels
Rikki Loney
John & Edward
Miss Frank
Kandy Rain
Stacey Solomon
Lucie Jones
Rachel Adedeji
Seven Groups
One Direction
Belle Amie
Diva Fever
Rebecca Ferguson
Cher Lloyd
Katie Waissel
Treyc Cohen
Over 28s
Mary Byrne
John Adeleye
Storm Lee
Matt Cardle
Paije Richardson
Aiden Grimshaw
Nicolo Festa
Eight Gary Barlow Tulisa Contostavlos Louis Walsh Kelly Rowland
Marcus Collins
Craig Colton
Frankie Cocozza
James Michael
Little Mix
The Risk
Nu Vibe
2 Shoes
Over 25s
Kitty Brucknell
Johnny Robinson
Sami Brookes
Jonjo Kerr
Amelia Lily
Misha B
Janet Devlin
Sophie Habibis
Nine Gary Barlow Tulisa Contostavlos Louis Walsh Nicole Scherzinger
Over 28s
Christopher Maloney
Kye Sones
Melanie Masson
Carolynne Poole
Ella Henderson
Lucy Spraggan
Jade Ellis
Union J
James Arthur
Jahméne Douglas
Rylan Clark
Ten Gary Barlow Sharon Osbourne Louis Walsh Nicole Scherzinger
Rough Copy
Kingsland Road
Miss Dynamix
Over 25s
Sam Bailey
Shelley Smith
Lorna Simpson
Nicholas McDonald
Luke Friend
Sam Callahan
Tamera Foster
Hannah Barrett
Abi Alton
Eleven Simon Cowell Cheryl Cole Louis Walsh Mel B
Over 25s
Fleur East
Ben Haenow
Stevi Ritchie
Jay James
Lauren Platt
Lola Saunders
Chloe Jasmine
Stephanie Nala
Stereo Kicks
Only the Young
Overload Generation
Blonde Electra
Andrea Faustini
Paul Akister
Jack Walton
Jake Quickenden


Ratings and awards

Viewing figures of around 10 million were claimed for series 2 and 4, and 11 to 12 million for series 5. Over three million public votes were cast in series 2 and six million in the first part of the final. The series 3 final attracted 8 million votes[101] and a peak of 12.6 million viewers.[102] The series 4 final drew 12.7 million viewers – a 55% share of the terrestrial TV audience.[103] In series 5, 12.8 million tuned in to see 29 November 2008 show featuring guest Britney Spears, a new X Factor record.[104] The series 5 final peaked with 14.6 million viewers.[105] The series 6 final was watched by 19.1 million viewers (a 63.2% audience share)[6] with 10 million votes cast[7] and the series 7 final topped this, attracting 19.4 million viewers with over 15 million votes cast,[106] but the series 8 final was a large drop from this, with 13.456 million viewers.[107] Series 10 ended with the live final bringing in average viewer figures of just 8.5 million - considerably down from previous years.

The BBC's rival talent show Strictly Come Dancing initially beat The X Factor in viewing figures in 2004, although in recent years The X Factor has reversed this trend, and when the shows went head-to-head for the first time, The X Factor attracted a larger audience share.[108] It rates as ITV's most popular programme whilst it is broadcast, and is the first format (along with Britain's Got Talent) in years to knock Coronation Street off the top.

At the 2005 British Comedy Awards, The X Factor beat Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway to take the award for Best Comedy Entertainment Programme, prompting Cowell to remark "We're not a comedy programme, we're a serious factual drama".[109] In both 2005 and 2006, The X Factor won the award for "Most Popular Entertainment Programme" at the National Television Awards. At the same awards in 2007, the show also won the award for "Most Popular Talent Show". In 2008 it lost out to Strictly Come Dancing at the TV Quick Awards, TRIC Awards and National Television Awards, despite beating it in the ratings. In 2009, The X Factor won "Best Talent Show" at the National Television Awards.

The show won the Entertainment award at the 2010 Royal Television Society Awards, described as "Undeniably a brilliant, genre-defining piece of television; the team behind this show never rest on their laurels and are determined to continually raise the bar and set new standards. Must-see television, which everyone talks about on a Monday morning."[110]

At the 2011 National Television Awards, The X Factor won the Talent Show award, beating Strictly Come Dancing, Britain's Got Talent and Dancing on Ice. At the 2012 National Television Awards, The X Factor again beat Strictly Come Dancing, Britain's Got Talent and Dancing on Ice to the award. The show also won Best UK TV Show at the 2012 Kids' Choice Awards.

Series averages

Over the first seven series the show's viewing figures have generally trended up each series, however this was not the case for series 3. Over series 8, 9 and 10 viewing figures have declined year on year. Currently series 11 has shown an upward trend with the best average audience since series 8 as of 21 September 2014. Information from Broadcasters' Audience Research Board.

Series Series premiere Series finale Episodes
(inc. results shows)
Average UK viewers
in millions
(inc. results shows)
1 4 September 2004 11 December 2004 24 7.4
2 20 August 2005 17 December 2005 30 8.73
3 19 August 2006 16 December 2006 30 8.27
4 18 August 2007 15 December 2007 28 8.57
5 16 August 2008 13 December 2008 30 10.51
6 22 August 2009 13 December 2009 30 13.0
7 21 August 2010 12 December 2010 30 14.13
8 20 August 2011 11 December 2011 31 12.41
9 18 August 2012 9 December 2012 31 9.63
10 31 August 2013 15 December 2013 32 9.45
11 30 August 2014 11 (as of 28 September 2014) 9.91 (as of 21 September 2014)

Controversy and criticism

From the outset, The X Factor has attracted heavy criticism. Recurring allegations include: that the excessive commercialism of the show detracts from its supposed purpose of unearthing musical talent and even actively damages and distorts the UK music industry;[111] that auditionees at mass auditions are shabbily treated; that controversy is deliberately courted and orchestrated, and supposedly spontaneous scenes are staged and scripted; that problems with phone lines leave members of the public unable to vote for their favourite acts; and that contestants are manipulated and unfairly edited.

This criticism became very public in 2009 when a Facebook campaign targeted against The X Factor and its effect on British music took "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine to the Christmas number one spot at the expense of the X Factor winner's single by Joe McElderry.[112]

In 2009, The X Factor received heavy criticism when contestant Toby Barnes was booted off of the show after reaching judges' houses. His mentor, Simon Cowell, was forced to let him go after it was revealed that he already had a record deal and was signed to Universal Music and Polydor Records.


The first series was only available to Irish viewers through the Northern Ireland-based ITV station UTV, which is widely available in the Republic, but subsequent series have also been shown on the Irish terrestrial TV station TV3.

Series 1–4 of The X Factor effectively included Irish viewers on an equal footing, and Irish viewers were able to vote in these series via SMS or telephone. However, in series 5, voting from Republic of Ireland was discontinued, with the decision being blamed on new regulations introduced regarding phone competitions in the UK. In 2010 TV3 announced that Irish viewers would only be able to vote using voting numbers posted online once the live shows start.[113] These numbers change weekly.

The show held auditions in Dublin and Belfast for the first three series, with Belfast auditions continuing for series 4 before being dropped, though Irish singers could still audition in other cities. Dublin first round auditions returned in 2010[114] with the auditions held on 28 June. In 2011, The X Factor did not hold auditions in Ireland, instead replacing them with a new audition city, Liverpool. A source from The X Factor said: "There are only so many places we can go for auditions. We went to Dublin last year but we haven't been to Liverpool so we thought we should do it this year. Obviously this is a blow to the Irish contestants but it's only a short hop across the Irish Sea to Liverpool."[115] Auditions did return to Dublin in 2014, however.

Irish contestants have reached the live shows in series 1 (Tabby Callaghan and Roberta Howett), series 2 (The Conway Sisters), series 6 (John & Edward and Azi Jegbefume in girl group Kandy Rain) and series 7 (Mary Byrne, Rebecca Creighton of girl group Belle Amie and Niall Horan of boy band One Direction). Northern Irish finalists have included Phillip Magee (series 2), Eoghan Quigg (series 5) and Janet Devlin (series 8).

International broadcasts

Country Channel Premiere date
 Brazil Sony 2014
 British Columbia
 Denmark DR3
 Ireland TV3
 Malta TVM
 Poland Fox Life
 United States AXS TV

The Xtra Factor

The Xtra Factor
Created by Simon Cowell
Presented by Ben Shephard (2004-06)
Fearne Cotton (2007)
Holly Willoughby (2008–09)
Konnie Huq (2010)
Caroline Flack (2011–13)
Olly Murs (2011–12)
Matt Richardson (2013)
Sarah-Jane Crawford (2014–)
Voices of Peter Dickson (2004–09, 2011–)
Brian Blessed (2010)
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 11
No. of episodes 312 (as of 12 October 2014)
Producer(s) Thames
Location(s) Fountain Studios
Running time 60–80 minutes
Distributor FremantleMedia
Original channel ITV2 (UK)
TV3 (Ireland)
Picture format HDTV: 1080i (2010–)
SDTV: 576i (2004–10)
Original run 4 September 2004 (2004-09-04) – present
Related shows The X Factor
External links
Official website

The Xtra Factor is a companion show that is broadcast on digital channel ITV2 and on TV3 Ireland on Saturday and Sunday nights after the main ITV show. It features behind-the-scenes footage of The X Factor and shows the emotional responses of the contestants after the judges comment on their performances. The commissioning of The Xtra Factor was prompted by the success of Big Brother's Little Brother, a Big Brother companion show screened on E4.

The Xtra Factor features extra auditions, bootcamp performances and judges' houses performances and behind-the-scenes footage. In past series, there have been competitions and games featuring the judges and presenters. During the live shows the programme feature behind-the-scenes footage and answers live video and phone calls for the judges and contestants. Facebook statuses and Tweets are read out as well. It also shows the emotional responses of the contestants after the judges comment on their performances. A celebrity panel is usually featured, who give their opinions on the contestants.

Voiceovers from series 1–6 were done by Peter Dickson, and by Brian Blessed in series 7. Dickson returned in series 8 and has since continued his role.


Until series 3, The Xtra Factor was hosted by Ben Shephard. Shephard did not return for series 4 after being upset at not getting the main ITV presenting job,[116][117] and Fearne Cotton took over as presenter, for series 4 only, before leaving the show to concentrate on her career in America.[118][119] Allegations of a falling-out with Cowell were also reported.[120] For series 5, Cotton was replaced by presenter and close friend Holly Willoughby.[121] Willoughby first presented The Xtra Factor on 9 August 2008, a week before series 5 was broadcast. Konnie Huq replaced Willoughby as the new Xtra Factor presenter for series 7.[122] However, Huq decided to depart from the series in March 2011 because of work commitments.[123]

On 31 May 2011, Caroline Flack and Olly Murs were confirmed as the new co-presenters for series 8 by The X Factor '​s official Twitter page.[124] Both Flack and Murs returned in 2012, however, due to touring in America with One Direction, Murs only presented the live shows though he did recorded interviews with the contestants earlier in the series, while guest presenters such as Jedward and Westlife helped Flack with the audition stages. In April 2013, it was confirmed that Murs would not be returning for series 10 as he wished to concentrate on his own music career.[125] Comedian Matt Richardson was later announced to replace Murs.[126] On 4 June 2014, it was announced that Richardson would not return as co-presenter for series 11.[127] Flack confirmed on 11 June 2014 that she would not be returning to present the eleventh series of Xtra Factor.[128] The next day, it was confirmed that Sarah-Jane Crawford would replace Flack and Richardson as presenter.[129]

Spin-offs and specials

Cameras follow the finalists during their day, and in early series some of the footage was aired in a spin-off show called The Xtra Factor: The Aftermath, which was broadcast in the middle of the week on ITV2. The Xtra Factor: Xcess All Areas was a live show in which there were interviews, games and trips around the contestants' homes. The show also let viewers know which songs the contestants would be singing in the next live show. Both shows were axed after series 3 due to ITV2 cutting back on spin-off programing.

Each year after the series has come to an end, The Xtra Factor has a week of special programmes titled Best and Worst, featuring the best and worst auditions from the previous series, ranging from two to five episodes each year.

A 60-minute special titled The Winner's Story is broadcast each year over the festive period, featuring the winner of that year's X Factor. Cameras follow the winner from the announcement of the result through the lead-up to the Christmas number one. As from 2010, one week before each series due to start, there features a special called X Factor Rewind looking back at the previous year's contestants and what happened to them during The X Factor and what has happened to them since the show ended.

The X Factor: Battle of the Stars

The X Factor: Battle of the Stars was a celebrity special edition of The X Factor, which screened on ITV, starting on 29 May 2006 and lasting for eight consecutive nights. Pop Idol was intended to be broadcast in its place as Celebrity Pop Idol but was stopped shortly before transmission, when ITV selected The X Factor instead.

Nine celebrity acts participated, singing live in front of the nation and facing the judges of the previous The X Factor series: Cowell, Osbourne and Walsh. Voting revenues were donated to the celebrities' chosen charities.

The contestants were Michelle Marsh, Nikki Sanderson, Matt Stevens, Lucy Benjamin, Gillian McKeith, Chris Moyles, Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, James Hewitt and Rebecca Loos, and "The Chefs", a quartet of celebrity chefs comprising Jean-Christophe Novelli, Aldo Zilli, Paul Rankin and Ross Burden. The winner of the show was Benjamin, mentored by Walsh.[130]

It was reported on 26 August 2006 that Cowell had decided not to do a second edition, describing it as "pointless" and adding "we are never going to do it again".[131]

Music releases by The X Factor contestants

As of June 2014, the show has spawned a total of 35 number-one singles: the ten winners' singles (six of which have been the Christmas number one), four charity singles (one each by the finalists of series 5, 6, 7 and 8), and 21 other number-ones by contestants who have appeared on the show (including winners and runners-up).

By series 6 in 2009, it had seemingly become such a certainty that the X Factor winner would gain the Christmas number one slot every year that bookmakers William Hill were considering withdrawing from the 30-year tradition of betting on the outcome.[132] However, hostility to the show's stranglehold on the Christmas number one slot from some quarters had prompted attempts to propel an alternative song to the 2008 Christmas number one spot, and in 2009 a similar internet-led campaign was successful, taking Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" to Christmas number one at the expense of The X Factor winner Joe McElderry.[133] McElderry's single climbed to the top of the chart a week later.

In series 1–2, the winner's debut album would be released a few months after their victory in the show. The album would contain some new material but would consist largely of cover versions. This format changed with series 3 winner Leona Lewis. Cowell, Lewis's X Factor mentor and newly appointed manager, said: "We could have gone into the studio for a month, made the record quick, and thrown it out. It would have been the wrong thing to do."[134] The success of Lewis's debut album Spirit ensured that the debut albums of future series winners (such as series 4 winner Leon Jackson) would consist more of new material than of cover versions. Series 10 winner Sam Bailey, however, released her debut album The Power of Love in March 2014, the earliest ever debut album release by an X Factor winner.

Charity singles

During the fifth series of the show, the finalists released a cover of Mariah Carey's "Hero" in aid of Help for Heroes which reached number one in the UK singles charts. Following the success of the song, Cowell announced that a charity single would be released annually (though the process was discontinued in series 9). He is quoted as saying: "Following last year's record we made with the X Factor finalists in aid of Help for Heroes, we decided we wanted to do something annually on the show to help good causes."[135]

The 2009 finalists released a cover of Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" which was released in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital[135] and reached number one.[136]

The 2010 finalists released a cover of David Bowie's ""Heroes"", with proceeds once again going to the Help for Heroes charity.[137]

In 2011, the finalists released Rose Royce's "Wishing on a Star" and the proceeds were donated to Together for Short Lives.[138] This song features previous contestants JLS and One Direction.[139] In 2012, it was announced that the winner's single would also be the charity single.[140]

The charity single was scrapped from series 9 onwards, although the winner's singles of James Arthur and Sam Bailey were both released for charity.

Year Song Peak
(sales thresholds)
2008 "Hero"[141][142] 1 1
  • UK: 2× Platinum[143]
Help for Heroes
2009 "You Are Not Alone" 1 1
  • UK: Gold[143]
Great Ormond Street Hospital
2010 "Heroes"[144] 1 1
  • UK: Silver[143]
Help for Heroes
2011 "Wishing on a Star"
(featuring JLS and One Direction)
1 1 Together for Short Lives
2012 "Impossible"
(James Arthur – series 9 winner's single)
1 1
  • UK: 2× Platinum[143]
2013 "Skyscraper"
(Sam Bailey – series 10 winner's single)
1 1
  • UK: Silver[143]
Together for Short Lives
Great Ormond Street Hospital

The X Factor – The Greatest Hits

In celebration of the show's tenth series, The X Factor – The Greatest Hits was released on 25 November 2013. The album features 34 songs from 21 of the show's finalists.[145][146][147]

The X Factor Songbook

The X Factor Songbook is a 60-song compilation album released 24 November 2014.[149]


  • Series 1: The X Factor Revealed: The Greatest Auditions Ever (2005)
  • Series 2: The X Factor: The Greatest Auditions Ever (2006)
  • Series 3: The X Factor Revealed (2007)
  • Series 4: The X Factor – interactive DVD game (2007)
  • Series 4: The X Factor Sing – karaoke console game (2007)
  • Series 5: The X Factor: The Board Game (2009)
  • Series 5: Top Trumps X Factor – card game (2008)
  • Series 7: The X Factor – karaoke console game (2010)[150]
  • Series 1–3: The X Factor: Access All Areas (2007)
  • Series 6: The X Factor Annual (2009)[151]
  • Series 7: The X Factor Annual (2010)
  • Series 7: The Xtra Factor Annual (2010)[152]
  • Series 8: The X Factor Annual (2011)
  • X Magazine – weekly publication to accompany the seventh series in 2010.[153]

The X Factor brand has also appeared on clothing, jewellery,[154] perfume, make-up, toiletries,[155] bedding, gifts, confectionery,[156] soft drinks[157] and pizzas.[158] The Sun newspaper reported that the parents of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge were using The X Factor '​s logo without permission to publicise party accessories sold through their mail-order business.[159]


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