It's been a torturous year for fans of X Factor, despite the fact not a single episode of the show's aired since Christmas 2010. The speculation over the US version's judges dominated the showbiz headlines since New Year, and then Cheryl Cole was ignominiously given the boot after two-weeks in the prized job. Was it because of her Geordie accent? Or her lack of chemistry with the other judges? Maybe it was her downbeat attitude? It depends which news story you're reading, really. We'll probably never know for sure, because the matter's almost certainly going to be "spun" to ensure Cole doesn't look like a total fool, and Cowell and Fox likewise for taking a risk on someone who fell at the first hurdle.
With all eyes on the US version, the UK original has been in mounting crisis--faced with replacing its two most popular judges. There was the sudden possibility of Cole returning to the British show now she's been axed from the US remake, but she's allegedly been ignoring phone calls to that end. And, to be frank, it's hard to see how Cole could return to X Factor without it looking like she's run back home with her tail between her legs.
Regardless, ITV have now confirmed the judging line-up for this year's X Factor, which starts auditions on Wednesday. They are: Take That's singer-songwriter Gary Barlow, ex-Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland, N Dubz's lead singer Tulisa Contostavlos, and returning judge Louis Walsh. Dermot O'Leary will be back as host, having failed to secure the US X Factor gig (beaten by fellow Brit Steve Jones), while Caroline Flack and X Factor runner-up Olly Murs are replacing Konnie Huq on The Xtra Factor show.
So how secure do the X Factor's now appear? The US version has possibly been damaged by a public perception that it's an uncertain creative mess, but I'm pretty sure the "Cheryl Cole incident" will be a minor blip on the radar for Americans--as 97% of them have no clue who she was. The key thing is that the remake has its creator Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul (reuniting after American Idol) and L.A Reid, who may not be a household name, but his credentials in the music biz that put Cowell's to shame.
Cole's role has also been taken by ex-Pussycat Doll singer Nicole Scherzinger, who proved her worth when she guest-judged on the UK X Factor last year, but who was initially hired to co-host the show. Welsh presenter Steve Jones, a total newcomer to Americans, will now have to face presenting this gigantic show by himself. I'm guessing he's handsome and intelligible enough to get the job done, but I still think he's a strange choice. Maybe he'll rise to the occasion, who knows. American presenters are painfully vapid, so Jones could pull "a Cat Deeley" and endear himself by virtue of exhibiting a real personality.
One thing that's come to my attention is how the US X Factor judging panel is incredibly ethnic: with Cowell the only white person. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it is an unusual quirk of losing Cole.
What about UK X Factor? Gary Barlow's a great signing, but he's so much of a nice-guy that I can't see him taking Cowell's role in spirit. Kelly Rowland's career isn't big enough to get you excited about her inclusion (did she have any other plans this year?), but she's still a global name and I can see her working nicely as an opinionated judge. Tulisa Contostavlos faces the biggest struggle for acceptance, perhaps, as she's seen as the direct replacement for Cole... but most people over-30 don't know who she is! N Dubz are no Girls Aloud, let's face it. However, having seen her in interviews and on a BBC3 documentary once, she could actually be a surprisingly effective judge. She's definitely more "street" than Cole ever was and, in my opinion, more intelligent, too. As for Louis Walsh--well, you just can't get rid of him, can you? Expect more "you remind me of a young..."-style appraisals.
I have a feeling the UK version will miss having a clear replacement for Cowell, however--in the same way American Idol's new panel (Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson) have failed to do much beyond offer misplaced praise and support... when a verbal kick in the teeth would sometimes be the kinder thing.
But what do YOU think? Are these trans-Atlantic X Factor changes going to work for their respective countries? Will the US version soar to success simply because of Cowell/Abdul? Will the UK version find a new lease of life with its three new judges, or will it to hit the same snag Britain's Got Talent has been caught on this year without Cowell: audiences WILL tune in because they love the brand, but everyone can see the new judges aren't as good and the show's worse for it.
We won't really know how successful all these changes will be until both X Factor's start airing episodes in a few months time, but what's your gut feeling about all this?
Here are a few words from the UK X Factor talent:
ITV's Director of Television, Peter Fincham:
"The X Factor is more than just a television show: it's by far the nation's biggest platform for emerging talent and I'm delighted to be confirming a line up of judges who have experience right across the music business to pick the stars of the future. As multi-million selling artists, songwriters and pop masterminds, Gary, Tulisa, Kelly and Louis have huge breadth of appeal with our audience and the ability to engage both the UK's next generation of music talent as well as ITV's viewers."Simon Cowell:
"These four are totally up for it, each of them bring a different attitude. They have had a ton of hits between them and they are all committed to finding a star. I have a feeling Louis and Tulisa will have slightly different points of view as to what the next star should look and sound like!"Director of Entertainment, talkbackThames, Richard Holloway:
"Each year we aim to grow and evolve the show. This year will be no different. All I can say is expect the unexpected!"Gary Barlow:
"I'm extremely excited about working on The X Factor. I've always been a fan of the show and always enjoyed performing on it too. My one goal is to find a global super star. If I don't find one I won't have done my job."Tulisa Contostavlos:
"I'm so excited to be the joining The X Factor and want to bring something fresh and new to the panel. I'm not going to be afraid to speak my mind and mix things up a little. I am hoping to find some hot new talent and mentor a winning category. It is also going to be great to get to know and work alongside the other Judges. Let the fireworks begin!"Kelly Rowland:
"I am so excited to join The X Factor UK and be able to spend time in one of my favourite places in the world. The music coming out of the UK right now is incredible with artists like Adele, Jessie J and James Blake, so I'm confident this season of The X Factor will give me opportunity to hear a few diamonds in the rough. Being a judge is never easy, but I promise to be as sternly honest as I can and also encourage everyone who crosses the stage. I can't wait to meet the world's next superstar!"Louis Walsh:
"I'm delighted to back for my eighth series of The X Factor, it's my favourite job in the world and I'm really excited this year to work with Gary Barlow and the rest of the new panel. I'm the last original judge standing and I'm determined to find an act that can win this year and show the others how it's done!"