The good, the bad and Harry Styles: X Factor’s most memorable entrants

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<span>Photograph: TalkbackThames/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: TalkbackThames/Rex/Shutterstock

The sublime, the ridiculous and everyone in between have auditioned for the X Factor during its long run on British TV screens. Here are some of the most memorable contestants.

Leona Lewis

Described in the pages of the Guardian as a “genuine pop star” who arose from X Factor displaying “legit talent, making at least one banger (Bleeding Love) [and] breaking the US”. That single was, according to the Official Chart Company, the fastest-selling single by any X Factor winner. It was one of three UK number one singles and two UK number one albums released by Lewis after her win.

Little Mix

Arguably the most successful contestants not featuring Harry Styles. The girl group has recorded the most No 1 singles of any winner, as well as the most recent. They continue to be a substantial force in pop music in the years after their first appearance, with chart-topping singles and albums. They have also won several awards during their career, including Brits and MTV prizes.

One Direction

They may not have won their season – that honour went to Matt Cardle – but the boyband did well enough out of it. They’ve made three singles that sold more than a million copies – What Makes You Beautiful, History and Story of My Life – on their way to becoming one of the most recognisable musical groups on the planet, with a huge dedicated following. Their relationship did not survive, however, with Zayn Malik leaving after five years with the group.

Alexandra Burke

Her tearful duet with her hero Beyoncé is considered one of the series’ highlights. Such was the draw of The X Factor in 2008 that the world’s biggest pop star could be invited to “mentor” a hopeful. Burke won that year, and her cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was that year’s hottest single, selling more than a million copies. She is now a musical theatre star, having appeared in Chicago and starred in the stage version of The Bodyguard, the 1992 Whitney Houston film.


Not many X Factor contestants committed to a bongo solo during a rendition of Love Shack. Some might argue that even fewer pulled it off. On a show that became known for producing acts that looked and sounded more or less the same, the former PE teacher stood out. “Imagine if Bill Bailey was a cage fighter, or if Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler was a lounge singer,” the Guardian said at the time. He made it to the quarter-finals in 2010 before he was voted off.


The twins were known for their hairstyles more than their singing prowess, yet one of the most surprising things about them was perhaps that they never went on to have a No 1 single in the UK, such was their ubiquity at one stage. Nevertheless, two of their albums were certified platinum. Simon Cowell once promised to leave the country for six months if John and Edward Grimes won their season. Alas, they were voted off and Joe McElderry took the win.

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