The X Factor is ending after 17 years. Do you care? Probably not. The TV talent show helmed by Simon Cowell has been on a rickety path of self-destruction for some years now, after some weird casting decisions (remember when Louis Tomlinson, Robbie and Ayda Williams, and, er, Rita Ora were judges? Us neither), accusations of a corrupt agenda surfaced and Gen‑X (Factor), frankly, grew up.
It was a more tantalising concept when the show first graced our screens back in 2004. Girls Aloud had recently won the short-lived Pop Stars: The Rivals in 2002 and made pop waves with the genuinely brilliant, Xenomania-produced Sound of the Underground. Suddenly, pop was exciting again, no longer led by cheesy Louis Walsh-type boy bands grabbing the air and air-kissing adoring teen fans. The prospect of discovering a brand-new pop act using a similar format seemed totally plausible. And let’s not forget that in 2004 we didn’t really have much choice – there was no Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu. It was The X Factor on ITV or Casualty on BBC come Saturday night. Unless you were old enough to go out, that is.
Anyway, along came judges Cowell, Sharon Osborne and Louis Walsh. And so did… Steve Brookstein, the winner of the first ever series, who sang jazz renditions of Simply Red, Van Morrison and Phil Collins. His forgettable version of Against All Odds failed to make it to the covetable Christmas No.1 spot and his career aspirations died with it. Poor Steve.
Some years later, The X Factor was officially a British TV phenomenon. By series seven, which saw carpenter Matt Cardle win, it was racking up approximately 14.3 million viewers per episode. To put that into perspective, by the last season in 2018, it had a paltry 6.1 million faithful viewers clinging on for dear life, who watched Dalton Harris (who?) win.
To commemorate its legacy, here are some of our favourite – and least favourite – moments from the show’s 17 years on our screens.
The best bit. Roll the carpet for Rachel Lester, Holly Jervis and AbLisa. You are the real winners.
Joining the judges in 2008 and winning the series with vocal powerhouse Alexandra Burke, Cheryl was teetering on the edge of becoming the nation’s sweetheart. Those dimples, that Geordie accent and her no-nonsense approach to Simon’s nonsense instantly made her a fan favourite.
More annoying than funny, to be honest. Did Honey G, Wagner and Chico really have the “X factor”? Give us a break. But we did get Rylan Clarke out of it and, er, Jedward, who are now raging socialists.
Lots of them. Tears, tantrums and proclamations from contestants “doing this for my dead dog”. Snore.
Alexandra Burke and… Beyoncé
Some might argue The X Factor ended in 2008, when Alexandra Burke brought on Beyoncé as part of her final-round performance. We’d agree. You can’t really top that, can you?
Because without the Worcester-born Cheryl lookalike, we’d not have this utterly brilliant piece of performance art:
Rage Against the Machine
After five years of The X Factor winners dominating the Christmas No.1 spot, the public put its foot down and set up the Rage Against X Factor campaign, encouraging people to buy the shit out Rage Against the Machine’s angsty alt-metal 1992 track Killing in the Name to beat Joe McElderry to the top position. With 502,672 downloads in its first week, Rage won. And so did the people.