FURIOUS X Factor fans last night claimed Cher Lloyd has an unfair advantage after show boss Simon Cowell fixed it for her to duet with judge Cheryl Cole on her debut album – and then put her through to the final.
Pop guru Simon, 51, gave the fragile 17-year-old a huge boost before last night’s crucial semi-final public vote.
He confirmed on live telly that Cher and Cheryl would sing together on a track produced on the teenager’s first album.
Cher’s £2million deal means she will be the biggest winner of the series, regardless of the result of this weekend’s final.
Last night she found herself in the bottom two for the second time, but survived as the judges chose to send home Tesco worker Mary Byrne instead.
But Simon’s move sparked an outcry from fans and fellow judges, who are angry at the show of favouritism.
Cheryl, 27, had tried to muddy the waters after being asked by a fan whether she would duet with Cher on her first album.
She said: “I want to concentrate on Cher’s music and show her as an artist.”
But Simon cut in and insisted: “It’s a brilliant idea – Cher and Cheryl to duet on her debut album. We have a verbal contract.”
Cheryl suddenly agreed, adding: “Oh, well maybe I could rap on a track with her. That would be cool.”
The admission on the live Xtra Factor spin-off show on ITV2 added tension between the acts and judges.
Cheryl had already angered her other singer Rebecca Ferguson, 24, over song choices and for allegedly favouring Cher.
And Dannii Minogue, 39, blasted Simon for playing “tactics” by boosting the chances of Cher and his band One Direction over their rivals.
Simon’s record label Syco_News even published a “Vote Cher” slogan with her phone number on Twitter yesterday.
It stated: “Vote Lines still Open! To vote for Cher Lloyd call 0901 61 61 104.” It then urged users to re-Tweet the message.
Only later, following complaints from fans of the other acts, did they repeat the message for her rivals.
One viewer blasted Simon on a web post, saying: “He’s really worried the public won’t vote for his favourites and has done all he could to try and help them.”
And one show fan, called MeeZee, added: “Simon’s favouritism towards Cheryl’s acts is just so obvious. It’s unfair.”
A record-breaking 20million viewers tuned in last night to see Mary, 50, voted off the show.
Cher joined favourite Matt Cardle, 27, Rebecca and boyband One Direction in this weekend’s final.
The youngster impressed the judges with her emotional rendition of Britney Spears’ Everytime, with Dannii, Cheryl and Simon all voting for her.
Louis Walsh, 58, was the only judge to vote for Mary, who performed It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World by James Brown. He is the first mentor to be eliminated.
The spectacular show saw performances by X Factor 2008 winner Alexandra Burke, 22, The Black Eyed Peas, and the cast of US musical show Glee.
An X Factor spokesman said: “We’ve nothing to add or say about what Simon said on Xtra Factor.”