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The X Factor is a British television singing competition, contested by aspiring singers drawn from public auditions. It is broadcast on the ITV network in the United Kingdom and on TV3 in Ireland, with spin-off "behind-the-scenes" shows The Xtra Factor and The X Factor 24/7 screened on ITV2 and TV3. The six series of the show to date have aired from August/September through to December. The show is produced by FremantleMedia's talkbackTHAMES and Simon Cowell's production company SYCOtv and is currently sponsored by TalkTalk in the UK and Domino's Pizza in Ireland. The X Factor of the title refers to the undefinable "something" that makes for star quality.

The X Factor was devised as a replacement for the highly successful Pop Idol, which was put on indefinite hiatus after its second series, largely because Simon Cowell wished to launch a show that he owned the television rights to. The perceived similarity between the shows later became the subject of a legal dispute. It is the biggest television talent competition in Europe, with 182,000 auditioning for series 5. The prize is a recording contract with record label Syco with a stated value of £1,000,000. This includes a cash payment to the winner, but the majority is allocated to marketing and recording costs. The show has proved hugely popular with audiences, with the series 5 final attracting 14.5 million UK viewers (approximately a 55% share).

In the initial televised audition phase of the show, contestants sing in front of judges and, from series 6, a live audience, in the hope of getting through to the "boot camp" round. After a further selection process, the judges are each given a category to mentor and the chosen finalists then progress to the final phase of the competition, during which the public vote for their favourite act following weekly live performances by the contestants. There have been five winners to date: Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson and Alexandra Burke. The winner's first single is usually released in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to become the UK's Christmas number one single. As of series 5, each winner's single has reached number one in the UK Singles Chart; four of them entered at the top of the chart and were number one at Christmas (see music releases by X Factor contestants).

Versions of The X Factor have also appeared in a number of other countries. The show has become successful throughout the world, most notably in Denmark and the Netherlands, where two seasons have been shown and a third is expected, as well as in Italy, Spain, Colombia, Portugal and India.


The first series of The X Factor began on 4 September and ran to 11 December 2004. A second series ran from 20 August to 17 December 2005. A celebrity special edition, The X Factor: Battle of the Stars, was shown from 29 May to 5 June 2006. The third series aired from 19 August 2006 and concluded on 16 December 2006. Series 4 began broadcasting on 18 August 2007 and finished on 15 December 2007. The show was given another three-year contract with ITV and Series 5 ran from 16 August to 13 December 2008. Series 6 began airing on 22 August 2009 and will run until 19 December 2009. The 100th episode aired on 19 September 2009.

Nokia decided not to renew their sponsorship beyond series 3, and The Carphone Warehouse sponsored series 4 and 5. Series 6 is sponsored by telecomms company TalkTalk which is owned by The Carphone Warehouse.


The show is primarily concerned with identifying singing talent, though appearance, personality, stage presence and dance routines are also an important element of many performances. The single most important attribute that the judges are seeking, however, is the ability to appeal to a mass market of pop fans.

For series 1–3 the competition was split into three categories: Solo Singers aged 16–24, Solo Singers aged 25 and over, and Vocal Groups (including duos). In series 4–5, the age limit was lowered from 16 to 14, creating a 14–24 age group. This was split into separate male and female sections, making four categories in all: 14–24 males ("Boys"), 14–24 females ("Girls"), Over 25s, and Groups. For series 6, the age limit returned to 16, meaning the four categories were: 16–24 males ("Boys"), 16–24 females ("Girls"), Over 25s, and Groups

There are five stages to The X Factor competition:

  • Stage 1: Producers' auditions (these auditions decide who will sing in front of the judges)
  • Stage 2: Judges' auditions
  • Stage 3: Boot camp
  • Stage 4: Visits to 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. 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. Should they pass that audition (either for reasons of talent or for the potential of making entertaining television) they are given a "golden ticket" allowing them to sing to a more senior production member. Only candidates who successfully pass that second audition are invited to perform to the judges. The televised version misrepresents the process by implying that the entire huge crowds are all interviewed by the judges.

A selection of the auditions in front of the judges – usually the best, the worst and the most bizarre (described by judge Louis Walsh as "the good, the bad and the ugly") – 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. In series 6 (2009), the judges' auditions were held in front of a live audience – following the format of ITV's other talent show, Britain's Got Talent – and the acts sang over a backing track. If a majority of the judges (two in series 1–3 or three in series 4–6) say "yes" then the act goes through to the next stage, otherwise the act is sent home.

Over 50,000 people auditioned for series 1, around 75,000 for series 2 and around 100,000 for series 3. The number of applicants for series 4 reached 150,000, 182,000 people auditioned for series 5, and a record 200,000 people applied for series 6.

Boot camp and visits to judges' houses

The contestants selected at audition are further refined through a series of performances at "boot camp" (held at a venue such as a country hotel or an arena), and then at the "judges' houses", until a small number eventually progress to the live finals (nine in series 1 and twelve from series 2 onwards). Judge Louis Walsh revealed in November 2007 that the houses the contestants visit do not actually belong to the judges, but are rented for the purpose.

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 boot camp, but from series 4 all four judges have worked together at the boot camp. They collectively choose 24 acts (six from each category) for the next round, and only then find out which category they are to mentor. The judges then disband for the "visits to the judges' houses" round, where their six acts are reduced to three for the live shows.

Live shows

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 The Fountain Studios in Wembley, London. In series 1–5, both live shows aired on Saturday nights. In series 6, the results show moved to Sunday nights.


In the first few weeks of the finals, each act performs once in the first show in front of a studio audience and the judges. Acts usually sing over a pre-recorded backing track, though sometimes live musicians and backing singers are featured. Dancers are also commonly featured. Acts occasionally accompany themselves on guitar or piano (or mime an accompaniment), though almost always over a backing track.

In the first two series, acts usually chose a cover of a pop standard or contemporary hit. In the third series an innovation was introduced whereby each live show had a different theme (for example, Motown), thus increasing the show's similarity to Pop Idol. The contestants' songs are chosen according to the theme. This format has continued in subsequent series. 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. In series 1, much was made of the idea that each performer/mentor combination was free to present the performance however they wanted, including the performer playing live instruments, or the addition of choirs, backing bands, and dancers. Future series placed less emphasis on this element.

After each act has performed, the judges comment on their performance, usually focusing on vocal ability, image and stage presence. 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.


Before the results are announced, there are performances from one or more invited celebrities – often major international pop stars. Sometimes these performers are connected with the week's theme and featured in the earlier show; other times they are unconnected. In series 6, the results show began with a group performance from the remaining contestants. This performance is not judged or voted on and does not count towards the result.

After all the build-up performances have taken place, 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 earlier series the bottom two contestants reprised their earlier song, but from series 5 they were able to pick new songs. Ties became possible with the introduction of a fourth judge in series 4. In the event of a tie the show 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". In series 3, a twist was introduced in one of the live shows 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.

Later stages

Once the number of contestants has been reduced to four (series 1 and 3) or five (series 2, 4, 5 and 6), the format changes. Each act performs twice in the first show, with the public vote opening after the first performance. The second show reveals which act polled the fewest votes, and they are automatically eliminated from the competition (the judges do not have a vote; their only role is to comment on the performances). In series 1 the acts also reprised one of their songs in the second show.

This continues until only two (series 1 and 3) or three (series 2, 4, 5 and 6) 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.

Post X Factor

The winner of the competition is awarded a recording contract, stated to be worth £1 million, with Syco in association with Sony Music Entertainment. In series 5, this deal consisted of a £150,000 cash advance with the balance covering the costs of recording and marketing. Other highly placed contestants may also be offered recording deals, but this is not guaranteed.

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 music executive Cowell and managers Osbourne and Walsh as judges/mentors, any of the three would be qualified to do so. Following the appointment of singer Dannii 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. It is still believed that if Cowell or Walsh win a future series then they are entitled to manage their act in the industry.

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. Simon 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." The success of Lewis's debut album Spirit ensured that the debut albums of future series winners (with Jackson as an example) would consist more of new material than of cover versions.

Judges and presenters


From series 1 to 3, the X Factor judges were music executive and TV producer Simon Cowell, music manager and TV personality Sharon Osbourne and music manager Louis Walsh.

After the third series, Walsh was dropped from the show, being replaced by American choreographer Brian Friedman and Australian singer and actress Dannii Minogue. After a week, however, Friedman was re-assigned the role of Creative Director because Simon Cowell believed the judging panel was not working. Walsh then resumed his place on the panel, and the series 4 judging lineup was finally confirmed in June 2007 as Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne, Louis Walsh and Dannii Minogue.

Speculation surrounded judging lineup changes for series 5, centring on whether or not Sharon 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, and Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole was confirmed as her replacement four days later. It was confirmed that a number of other artists and producers had been approached regarding Osbourne's replacement, including former Spice Girl Melanie Brown, Paula Abdul, Sinitta, and former Pop Idol judge Pete Waterman. Osbourne stated that she left The X Factor because she did not enjoy working with Dannii Minogue.

During series 5 it was rumoured that judge Dannii Minogue would leave the show after the series' conclusion, and that Sharon Osbourne would return to replace her in series 6. These rumours continued during the lead-up to series 6. Others tipped to replace Minogue included Robbie Williams, Victoria Beckham, Charlotte Church, Lily Allen, Sinitta and Randy Jackson. Simon Cowell reportedly held discussions about model Kate Moss joining the show as the contestants' "stylist". However, Minogue did not leave and all four judges from series 5 returned for series 6.

The judges' appearance on screen is accompanied by several pieces of music including Tomoyasu Hotei's Battle Without Honor Or Humanity, Craig Armstrong's O Verona, O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and Come With Me by Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page.

Presenters and coaches

The show was hosted up to series 3 by Kate Thornton. Thornton was replaced from series 4 by Dermot O'Leary who signed a contract worth £1 million to present two series of the programme on ITV1. O'Leary was not forced to leave the Big Brother franchise and continued to present Big Brother sister shows during summer 2007. However, Dermot announced that Big Brother: Celebrity Hijackmarker was to be his last Big Brother hosting role so he can focus on presenting The X Factor.

Brian Friedman has continued in his role as performance coach and choreographer (billed as "Creative Director") since series 4. Yvie Burnett has been X Factor vocal coach since series 2. 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, other contestants in small font.

Series Simon Cowell Louis Walsh Sharon Osbourne Dannii Minogue Cheryl Cole
One Over 25s

Steve Brookstein

Rowetta Satchell

Verity Keays


Voices With Soul

2 to go

Tabby Callaghan

Cassie Compton

Roberta Howett
Two Groups

Journey South

The Conway Sisters


Addictiv Ladies

Shayne Ward

Nicholas Dorsett

Chenai Zinyuku

Phillip Magee
Over 25s

Andy Abraham

Brenda Edwards

Chico Slimani

Maria Lawson
Three 16-24s

Leona Lewis

Ray Quinn

Nikitta Angus

Ashley McKenzie

The MacDonald Brothers

Eton Road


The Unconventionals
Over 25s

Ben Mills

Robert Allen

Kerry McGregor

Dionne Mitchell
Four Groups

Same Difference


Over 25s

Niki Evans

Beverley Trotman

Daniel DeBourg

Alisha Bennett

Emily Nakanda

Kimberley Southwick

Leon Jackson

Rhydian Roberts

Andy Williams
Five Boys

Eoghan Quigg

Austin Drage

Scott Bruton



Bad Lashes
N/A Over 25s

Ruth Lorenzo

Rachel Hylton

Daniel Evans

Alexandra Burke

Diana Vickers

Laura White
Six Over 25s

Olly Murs

Danyl Johnson

Jamie Archer

John & Edward

Miss Frank

Kandy Rain

Stacey Solomon

Lucie Jones

Rachel Adedeji

Joe McElderry

Lloyd Daniels

Rikki Loney

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 the series 2 semi-final, and six million in the first part of the final. The series 3 final attracted eight million votes and 12.6 million viewers. The series 4 final drew 12.7 million viewers – a 55% share of the terrestrial TV audience. In series 5, 12.8 million tuned in to see the 29 November 2008 show featuring guest Britney Spears, a new X Factor record. The series 5 final peaked with 14.6 million viewers.

At the British Comedy Awards 2005, 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 Simon Cowell to remark "We're not a comedy programme, we're a serious factual drama". The award was presented by Ricky Gervais. 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 won the "Most Popular Talent Show" category. Series 13 judges Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh were present to receive the awards.

The BBC's rival talent show Strictly Come Dancing initially beat The X Factor in viewing figures, 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. It rates as ITV's most popular programme whilst it airs, and is the first format (along with Britain's Got Talent) in years to knock Coronation Streetmarker off the top.

The programme has typically been an awards show favourite, having been crowned "Best Talent Show" for two years. However, it has more recently lost out to Strictly Come Dancing at the TV Quick Awards, TRIC Awards and National Television Awards, all in 2008, despite overtaking it in the ratings.


Series 1–4 of the "UK" version of The X Factor effectively included Ireland on an equal footing, and Irish viewers were able to vote in these series via SMS or telephone. However for series 5 in 2008, the decision was made to discontinue Irish voting, with the decision being blamed on new regulations introduced regarding phone competitions in the UK. The first series was available to viewers only through the Northern Ireland-based ITV station UTV which is widely available in the Republic, but subsequent series have also been shown on Ireland's terrestrial TV station TV3. The show has held auditions in Dublin and Belfast for only the first 4 series. Irish acts have reached the finals in series 1 (Tabby Callaghan and Roberta Howett), series 2 (The Conway Sisters) and in series 6 (John and Edward Grimes). Northern Irish finalists have included Phillip Magee (series 2) and Eoghan Quigg (series 5).

The Xtra Factor

The Xtra Factor is a companion show that airs on digital channel ITV2 and on TV3 Ireland on Saturday and Sunday nights after the main ITV1 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 was hosted up to series 3 by Ben Shephard. The voiceover on series 1 to 3 was Peter Dickson. Shephard did not return for series 4 after being upset at not getting the main ITV presenting job, and Fearne Cotton took over as host, for the fourth series only, before leaving the show to concentrate on her career in the US. Allegations of a falling-out with Simon Cowell were also reported. For series 5, Cotton was replaced by presenter and close friend, Holly Willoughby. Willoughby first presented The Xtra Factor on 9 August 2008, a week before series 5 began airing. The first show recapped on series 4 of The X Factor and revisited the series 4 finalists.

Cameras follow the finalists during their day, and in early series some of the footage was aired in a spin-off show 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 2 to 5 episodes each year.

A 60-minute special titled The Winner's Story airs 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 No. 1.

The X Factor Live

The X Factor Live is a live show that tours the UK and Ireland in the new year, following the conclusion of the TV series. It features an array of finalists and other memorable contestants from the most recent X Factor series.

The X Factor: Battle of the Stars

Main article and detailed results: The X Factor: Battle of the Stars
The X Factor: Battle of the Stars logo
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 meant to air in its place as Celebrity Pop Idol but was stopped shortly before transmission, when ITV picked The X Factor over it.

Nine celebrity acts participated, singing live in front of the nation and facing the judges of the previous The X Factor series, Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis 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 Lucy Benjamin, mentored by Louis Walsh.

It was reported on 26 August 2006 that Simon Cowell had axed the show, describing it as "pointless" and adding "we are never going to do it again".

Controversy and criticism

Music releases by X Factor contestants

Charity singles

During the fifth series of the show, the finalists released Hero in aid of Help for Heroes which reached number one in the UK singles charts. Following the success of the song, Cowell has announced that a charity single will be released annually. He is quoted as saying:

The 2009 single is a cover of the Michael Jackson song You Are Not Alone which was released in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospitalmarker and reached number 1 on its first week.


  • 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 game (2007)
  • Series 5: The X Factor: The Board Game (2008)
  • Series 5: The X Factor Top Trumps (2008)

  • Series 1–3: The X Factor: Access All Areas (2007)
  • Series 6: The X Factor Finalists of 2009: Annual 2010 (2009)


  1. Factor Brightdance - TalkTalk Brightening your X Factor
  2. Described as "something you can't quite put your finger on" by judge Cheryl Cole, The Xtra Factor, 23 November 2009
  3. Nokia drops X Factor sponsorship, BBC News, 10 May 2007
  4. "Walsh's charm factor", Whitby Gazette, 30 October 2007
  5. Who'll get a £1m Xmas present?, Daily Mail, 11 December 2004
  6. New X Factor proves ratings hit, BBC News, 21 August 2005
  7. The appeal of the Macdonalds, The Independent on Sunday, 25 November 2006
  8. X Factor's Dannii Minogue says she 'won't miss' Sharon Osbourne, Daily Telegraph, 11 August 2008
  9. "Walsh's X Factor house 'not his'", BBC News, 11 October 2007
  10. Fans of X Factor's Laura White complain to Ofcom over voting, The Guardian, 14 November 2008
  11. "Hallelujah: how Leonard Cohen became an X Factor winner without trying", The Times, 13 December 2008
  12. Sharon: 'I quit 'X Factor' because of Dannii', Digital Spy, February 17 2009
  13. Dannii Minogue faces the X Factor axe,, 29 January 2009
  14. 'X Factor' judge decision next week? Digital Spy, 5 February 2009
  15. Dannii's still got the X Factor, as Cowell does U-turn,, 7 February 2009
  16. "DS Fantasies: The new 'X Factor' panel", Digital Spy, 12 March 2009
  17. "The X Factor final is a rating winner", talkbackTHAMES
  18. "Everything you need to know about the X Factor final 12", The Independent, 10 October 2008
  19. "Britney Xposed", The Sun, 1 December 2008
  20. X Factor in top comedy award win, BBC Newsround, 15 December 2005
  22. "Find out all about GMTV presenter Ben Shephard | Presenters | GMTV"
  23. "TV Holly Willoughby's nice F-earner", News of The World
  24. "Loos, Hewitt booted off X Factor", Irish Examiner, 2 June 2006
  25. "Simon scraps Celeb X Factor", The Sun, 26 August 2006
  26. Hit's for kids Daily Mirror, 25 October 2009

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