From Steve Brookstein to Rak-Su: Where are all the 'X Factor' winners now?

Find out what happened to past X Factor winners (PA Images).
Find out what happened to past X Factor winners (PA Images).

When X Factor launched back in 2004, it was supposed to catapult each series winner into international stardom.

With judges Simon Cowell, Sharon Osborne and Louis Walsh, unknown hopefuls auditioned dreaming of one day landing that lucrative number one spot.

But as history has taught us, not all X Factor winners have been so lucky. While some continue to have successful singing careers, others have quietly faded into obscurity.

Take a look at each X Factor winner so far and decided for yourself whether they’ve turned out to be a signing sensation or a bona fide flop…

Steve Brookstein

Steve Brookstein (PA Images)
Steve Brookstein (PA Images)

Steve Brookstein proved that age is just a number when he won X Factor’s first ever series back in 2004 as part of the ‘over 25s’ category. Despite winning with a record-breaking 6 million votes, scoring a number one single and album (Heart and Soul) – things quickly went downhill from there…

Steve Brookstein in 2014 (PA Images)
Steve Brookstein in 2014 (PA Images)

Publicly falling out with Simon Cowell, Brookstein was dropped from his record label just 8 months after winning the talent show.

He’s trashed Cowell ever since, including calling him a ‘Mafia boss’ in 2010 and even going into detail over their feud in his Amazon published book ‘Getting over the X.’ While he has continued to release music, none have proved to be a commercial success.

Shayne Ward

Shayne Ward won the second ever X Factor in 2005.
Shayne Ward won the second ever X Factor in 2005.

Shayne Ward beat Brookstein to score the first X Factor Christmas number one with ‘That’s My Goal.’ He also proved to be a bankable star, as he earned a £1 million deal with Cowell’s label and his debut album ‘Stand by Me’ was certified platinum four times.

His second album proved to be a hit too, but by the time his third came out, sales dropped significantly and he found himself no longer under Cowell’s label.

And went on to play a central character in Coronation Street. (ITV images)
And went on to play a central character in Coronation Street. (ITV images)

Despite the setback, Ward continued to appear regularly on the telly, competing on Dancing on Ice and even a West End stint in Rock of Ages.

But perhaps his most surprising success has come as his transition into acting. From 2015 – 2018 Ward starred on Coronation Street as Aidan Connor and quickly became a viewers favourite. His shocking suicide exit storyline riveted viewers and he’s been nominated for a British Soap Award.

He’s been back in the headlines recently for putting on weight, for which he’s hit back and accused the media of ‘fat shaming’ his appearance.

Leona Lewis

Leona Lewis in 2006 (PA Images)
Leona Lewis in 2006 (PA Images)

Arguably the most successful X Factor winner to date, Leona Lewis has had several huge pop hits, and has successfully made a name for herself over the pond in the States.

She scored a Christmas number one with ‘A Moment Like this’ in 2006 and went on to have a massive international hit with ‘Bleeding Love.’

Family portrait 🖼💕

A post shared by Leona Lewis (@leonalewis) on Aug 29, 2018 at 11:57pm PDT

In addition to selling a whopping 20 million albums and recording the theme song for the movie Avatar she has also completed two world tours.

But a familiar X Factor curse claimed Lewis – she felt out with Cowell. Irritated after being told to do a cover album, she moved to rival label Island Records by 2014.

Today Lewis continues to make music, and is in a longterm relationship with German dancer Dennis Jaunch. The pair appear to live Stateside now and outside of work enjoy a quiet life with their menagerie of pets.

Leon Jackson

Leon Jackson won the 4th series of The X Factor in 2007.
Leon Jackson won the 4th series of The X Factor in 2007.

Scottish crooner shocked the nation when he beat fan and bookies favourite Rhydian Roberts to win the 4th series. His debut single, a rather bizarre rendition of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston’s ‘When You Believe’ hit was a massive Christmas number one.

Unfortunately his album and second released single flopped, prompting the unforgiving Cowell to drop him from Syco.

1st Thanksgiving 🇺🇸

A post shared by Leon Jackson (@leonjacksonmusic) on Nov 24, 2016 at 1:02pm PST

Jackson, now a dashing 28-year-old, has continued to make music, but he has yet to achieve another hit. Little is known of his current status, but judging from his Instagram account he appears to have relocated to the USA.

Alexandra Burke

Alexandra Burke in 2008 (PA Images)
Alexandra Burke in 2008 (PA Images)

Alexandra Burke’s incredible voice made her a hot contender to follow in Leona Lewis’ steps to success. Indeed her first single went straight to Christmas number one and she’s gone on to tour with none other than Beyonce herself.

She’s also competed in Strictly Come Dancing and also found success as a West End performer.

Starring in musicals The Bodyguard and Sister Act, her most recent West End stint was this year as Chess in Chicago.

Joe McElderry

Joe McElderry in 2009 (PA Images)
Joe McElderry in 2009 (PA Images)

Jo McElderry’s sweet personality earned him the hearts of the nation when he won the series in 2009. But he failed to make it to number one with his first single, after an online protest called for ‘Rage Against the Machine’s’ single to take top place and stop the X Factor Christmas number one dominance in the process.

McElderry has gone on to blame the upset for the failure of his next single and album to chart well, and he was quickly dropped by Syco.

He seems determined to not fade into the background however, and he’s since won Popstar to Opera in 2011 and then The Jump in 2014.

A quick look at his Instagram reveals he continues to make and perform music, and he even went on a nationwide tour this year.

Matt Cardle

Matt Cardle in 2010 (PA images)
Matt Cardle in 2010 (PA images)

Matt Cardle achieved the unthinkable back in 2010 – he beat One Direction to win X Factor. And he even managed to score that year’s Christmas number one and stayed at the spot for three weeks.

Just kickin it with the pigeons 🦉#upontheroof

A post shared by Matt Cardle (@mattcardleofficial) on Aug 22, 2018 at 9:35am PDT

His follow up albums and singles sadly didn’t do nearly as well, and in 2016 he found himself in the midst of a lawsuit when the writers of his single ‘Amazing’ sued Ed Sheeran for plagiarism.

Sheeran settled the case, and it remains uncertain whether Cardle will have received any compensation. He’s since admitted he lying about several aspects of his life while on X Factor, including that he was a painter and decorator, claiming he thought it would make him seem more interesting.

Little Mix

Little Mix are one of the few X Factor success stories.
Little Mix are one of the few X Factor success stories.

Little Mix didn’t get off to the greatest of starts. They were stitched together from failed solo auditions but against all odds they’ve had massive success both here in the UK and stateside. Their first single reached number one and they’e gone on to sell an impressive 30 million albums.

These four though… 💛💙💜🧡

A post shared by Little Mix (@littlemix) on Aug 22, 2018 at 8:50am PDT

They’ve also had 18 music videos, four studio albums and of course lots of tabloid attention from band member Perrie Edwards on-and-off again (now definitely off) relationship with One Direction’s Zayn Malik.

James Arthur

James Arthur in 2012 (PA Images)
James Arthur in 2012 (PA Images)

James Arthur’s first single shot to number one, but then he caused national outcry when he went on an unexpected homophobic rant while performing his single ‘Recovery.’

Stunning fans, petitions began online to take his music off air and he was promptly dropped by Syco. Tabloids had a field day the coming years with tales of Arthur’s substance abuse and womanising ways.

Thank you @capitalofficial 🙌🏻 #SummerTimeBall

A post shared by James Arthur (@jamesarthurinsta23) on Jun 9, 2018 at 9:50am PDT

But despite it all Arthur made a triumphant return this year with his number one single ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ and he has publicly blamed his past behaviour on mental health struggles.

Sam Bailey

Sam Bailey in 2013 (PA Images)
Sam Bailey in 2013 (PA Images)

Sam Bailey proved that the X Factor still had selling power when her debut single became the first X Factor Christmas number one since 2010. Her album also nabbed the number one spot and she even opened for Beyonce in Birmingham.

Well done! LOVED IT!! #mammamialondon

A post shared by Sam Bailey (@sambaileysinger) on Aug 14, 2018 at 3:57pm PDT

Today Bailey is a proud mum and keeps her fans regularly updated with her whereabouts on Instagram. However, she found herself in hot water when it was exposed post X Factor that she had performed professionally as a singer many a time prior to auditioning for the show.

She’s still gone on to perform regularly though, performing at Butlins holiday camps and in 2015 playing Mamma Morton in the West End Chicago.

Ben Haenow

Ben Haenow in 2014 (PA Images)
Ben Haenow in 2014 (PA Images)

Ben scored yet another Christmas number one for X Factor in 2014 but his success was short-lived. His second single ‘Second Hand Heart’ a duet with American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson proved a major flop – peaking at number 21 in the charts. By 2016 he was dropped by Syco.

While Haenow has continued to release albums and singles, so far they have yet to perform well, and his latest album ‘Alive’ reached number 74 in the charts.

Louisa Johnson

Louisa Johnson in 2015 (REX/Shutterstock)
Louisa Johnson in 2015 (REX/Shutterstock)

Winning 2015’s series at just 17-years-old, Louisa Johnson is the youngest X Factor winner ever. Despite winning at social media, (she has almost 1 million Instagram followers), major success in music has yet to materialise.

Her debut single ‘Forever Young’ only reached number 9 in the UK and remains the lowest performing X Factor debut ever. She’s still recording music and performing nationwide, but parted with Syco this July.

Matt Terry

Matt Terry in 2016 (PA Images)
Matt Terry in 2016 (PA Images)

Matt Terry sadly didn’t get his coveted X Factor number one, but instead his debut single ‘When Christmas Comes Around’ peaked at number three in December 2016.

Frustratingly Terry had to wait almost a year before his debut album Trouble was released, which reached 29 in the charts.

However, it’s not all gloom and doom for Terry as he partook in the emotional star-studded Grenfell charity single ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ which reached number one and in the chart topping ‘Subeme La Radio’ with Enrique Inglesias and Sean Paul.


Rak-Su in 2017 (PA Images)
Rak-Su in 2017 (PA Images)

Arguably one of the coolest acts to ever win X Factor Rak-Su have had four iTunes hits and their debut single ‘Dimelo’ peaked at number two.

They’ve supported fellow X Factor band Little Mix on their tour and their extended play was released in February 2018.

X Factor returns to ITV September 1st at 8pm.

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