The X Factor: Simon Cowell’s show is dead – but it has been for years

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

“COWELL WIELDS AXE” roared the front page of The Sun today, as it alleged that Simon Cowell, bored of gazing over a world made in his image, has chosen to cancel The X Factor once and for all after 17 years. The story quotes an insider, who says “Simon remains at the top of his game … He owns the rights to the show, and it’s his call – not ITV’s – whether or not he drops it. Clearly the last thing he wants is for X Factor to fizzle out with a whimper and become a bit of a joke”.

About that last bit. If you wanted to produce a perfect scientific diagram of the concept of fizzling out, then it would probably look something like a graph of X Factor viewing figures over the years. After the show’s biggest year in 2010, ratings went into freefall, steadily losing droves of eyeballs every time it returned. What’s more, the show hasn’t actually been on television since 2018. For all of today’s attempts to mimic an explosive ‘The King Is Dead’-style dramatic impact, the truth is that most people assumed it quietly passed away in its sleep several years ago.

Still, though, at least it’s official, with ITV adding that there are “no current plans” for another series. This should come as some relief. The knowledge that The X Factor is dead means that we don’t have to brace ourselves for any more gimmicky lineup shuffles (thank heavens the Louis Walsh Hokey Cokey can now finally cease), or nonsensical new rules, schemed up to artificially inflate the stakes. And let’s all take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief that there won’t be any more brand-weakening spin-off exercises like The X Factor: The Band or The X Factor: Celebrity. God knows if the world needs anything right now, it’s not Martin Bashir singing Nat King Cole songs.

But, while it ended as a complete irrelevance, that wasn’t always the case. At its peak, The X Factor was a genuine powerhouse. Look at the list of the most-watched TV shows of the 2010s: the only non-sporting event in the top five is the final of the 2010 series.

The calibre of star that the show could attract in its heyday was incredible. Beyoncé duetted with Alexandra Burke, with Rihanna and George Michael also making guest appearances. Lady Gaga sloshed around inside a giant bathtub. Whitney Houston made one of her final appearances on the show. Olly Murs did a song with the Muppets. There was one year where Take That seemingly performed The Flood three times a week. Some of the world’s most famous singers pulled out all the stops for The X Factor, such was the sheer heft of its popularity.

And while it never really succeeded in its quest to find the biggest singers in the world, it sometimes came close. Most X Factor contestants have faded into obscurity, but others became household names. In One Direction it created a boyband phenomenon, and in Little Mix the biggest British girl group since The Spice Girls. Leona Lewis briefly looked as if she could be a world-beater, and there was a time when Olly Murs seemed set to be the next Robbie Williams. Perhaps most interestingly, The X Factor was also responsible for introducing us to Stacey Solomon and Rylan Clark; two adequate singers who have transformed into slightly beloved TV hosts.

I wrote about The X Factor every weekend for this paper for half a decade, dutifully liveblogging every Saturday and Sunday night for four and a half months of the year at the expense of a social life. In the end I quit, partly because there was not enough money in the world to convince me to keep going, but even as X Factor’s most peripheral imaginable figure I found myself slightly sucked towards the show’s orbit. Louis Walsh rang me, offering to sneak me into the X Factor studio for a taping. I got sent a box of yoghurt for describing a yoghurt advert that aired between the television show. Wagner started sending me memes via email.

Besides, we all have our favourite X Factor moments. The unending tragedy of Gamugate. Nicole Scherzinger snatching the microphone from Jahmene Douglas’s hands mid-sentence with a look of world-destroying fury on her face. The literal insanity of It’s Chico Time. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

There is also perhaps an element of damage limitation behind Cowell’s decision to announce the end of The X Factor now. Increasingly, former contestants are beginning to tell horror stories about the demands imposed upon them by the show and their subsequent record deals. The news comes just days after Rebecca Ferguson from the 2010 series claimed that her management forced her to continue working after a miscarriage, and kept her on a constant course of antibiotics to prevent her body from wearing down. It is an ignominious end indeed.

While it seems The X Factor may be over for good, Cowell has a new singing show that will be debuting this winter, called Walk The Line. I will not be liveblogging it.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting