But when 20 million watch this weekend’s final, it will be the culmination of a series that has been beset by accusations of foul play, with hundreds of complaints to Ofcom.
From last-minute changes of the rules to the manipulation of the running order, Nicole lampert shows how, week by week, the people behind The X Factor influence viewers to ensure the result THEY want.
1. AUTO TUNEGATE
From the first audition show, it was obvious something strange was happening. Though there were plenty of duds such as Peter Rattray (left), some contestants sounded so good they could give Jose Carreras a run for his money.
It turned out producers were using a clever little gizmo called ‘auto tune’. The device - which improves vocals - is standard when recording albums, but it has no place on a talent show.
A furious Simon Cowell promised to make sure it was never used again.
The X Factor bosses tried to wriggle out of it by claiming the sound was altered for production reasons.
‘We do not use and have never used audio technology that would unfairly reflect any singer’s original performance,’ they claimed.
2. THE PROFESSIONALS
The X Factor contestants are meant to be amateur with no professional representation.
But no sooner had the final line-up been announced then we learned that ‘painter and decorator’ Matt Cardle (pictured) was actually a seasoned musician with an album under his belt.
Meanwhile, Katie Waissel was still under contract to an American record label - The X Factor bosses spent thousands of pounds getting her released from this shortly before her, supposedly, spontaneous first audition.
3. THE MANUFACTURED GROUPS
September 25 & 26
Despite the plethora of bands who had applied for their chance in the spotlight, the clear favourites at bootcamp were the groups put together by the judges, boy band One Direction (below) and the girls, Belle Amie (left).
After the girls were eliminated on November 1, band member Sophia Wardman said their mentor Simon should have helped them more because girl bands always struggle on The X Factor.
Group favourites: The girls, Belle Amie, who were put together by the judges
Male contenders: The boy band One Direction
‘I think for us, we just wanted a little bit more help, just because it’s harder for us to get people to like us, to get the right song and the right styling,’ she said.
She was backed up by Louis, who berated Simon for ignoring Belle Amie: ‘Simon has put all his energies into One Direction and it’s not fair.’
No comment from The X Factor.
Outrage: Gamu was sent home because her family had been denied their visa
TO RECAP: Katie Waissel forgot her words at the final audition, Cher Lloyd sang with all the dulcet tones of a fishwife while Gamu Nhengu’s velvet voice was pitch perfect and sent shivers down the spine. So which contestants did Cheryl Cole take through?
There was outrage when Gamu (right) was sent home, but the decision seemed justified when it was revealed that her family had been denied their visa renewal and would be forced to return to their native Zimbabwe. This, in turn, is in the process of being overturned.
At the time, Cheryl said: ‘I’m sad for her, but I have to stress it did not have any influence over my choice.’
5. LOUISE LOSES OUT... AGAIN
Each of the four judges is supposed to be in with a chance of winning the show with their categories. But while Cheryl had one of the strongest teams for the third year in a row (she won the previous two series with Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry, having mentored the girls and boys), once again Louis got dealt a duff hand.
Confusingly, the age for Louis's older category was raised from 25 to 28. It meant show favourites such as Matt Cardle were not mentored by him. 'I nearly walked when they gave me the catory,' Louise, pictured with Simon Cowell, said at the time.
No comment from the X Factor.
Judge Factor? Once again, Louis (pictured here with Simon Cowell, left), was dealt a duff hand of singers
6. JUDGE WHO WON'T JUDGE!
With two of her acts - Katie Waissell and Treyc Cohen - in the sing-off, Cheryl (left, with her two acts) refused to vote. She was taken aback when she was second to be asked to choose - normally she’d have voted last.
The judging went to a majority decision which saved Katie, even though her rival polled many more public votes.
Sing-off controversy: Cheryl pictured with her two acts, Katie Waissell and Tracey Cohen. She refused to vote
Host Dermot O’Leary later revealed producers had known Cheryl would refuse to choose. ‘We thought it might happen before the break when we found out who was in the bottom two,’ he said. ‘We decided if she wasn’t going to vote, we would go to the majority verdict.’
The X Factor spokesman says: ‘A judge can abstain from voting. Cheryl was unable to take the vote to deadlock as it requires a valid active vote.’
7. TWITTER CONSPIRACY
Katie was in the bottom two again a week later, with one of the favourites Aiden Grimshaw.
This time the decision did go to deadlock and Aiden lost. The singer complained he already knew he was going as he had read it on Twitter.
Meanwhile, favourite Matt Cardle said he was surprised to see talent lose out: ‘In terms of the show, Aiden was expendable. I was shocked when Simon sent him home, but then Katie is better for the show than Aiden is,’ Matt said. ‘She gets the coverage, she gets the show attention.’
A spokesman for The X Factor, says: ‘People make lots of unfounded predictions on the internet about the order of the contestants based on various popularity polls. There is not a leak.’
8. THE SLOT PLOT
The running order can have a big impact on how well a contestant does.
Research shows moving one slot nearer to the end of the show increases the chances of being safe from elimination by 5 per cent.
The place everyone wants is last, when they are freshest in the viewers’ minds.
Band FYD performed first on the opening live show and were the first to go out. They blamed their time slot, saying: ‘There’s a big disadvantage in going on first.’
Cheryl’s acts, two of whom are in the final (Rebecca, left, and Cher, right), and finalists One Direction almost always got the last slots.
Again, no comment from The X Factor.
9. WAGNER SAGA
At first, he was a joke. But when Simon Cowell stopped laughing and realised that Wagner (left) was being used as a tool by people angry about the show, it was time for the eccentric Brazilian to go.
First, there were the allegations that he was a benefit cheat. Then came the gossip that he was getting more votes than some of the favourites, causing many to pick up the phone for the first time.
For the first time in weeks, there was also a double eviction - just to make sure they got rid of him. No comment from The X Factor.
10. MARY CRIES FIX
For the first time in the show’s history, the public did not get to choose the finalists.
This was despite the official website saying the act with the fewest votes would leave.
The public were over-ruled and larger-than-life diva Mary Byrne - ahead of unpopular teenage rapper Cher in the voting - got booted off in a sing-off.
‘It’s a fix,’ said Mary (right).
‘It’s obvious Simon Cowell didn’t want me in the final and I get that. I’m not as marketable as Cher.’
In response to the controversy, an X Factor spokesman says: ‘The terms and conditions for The X Factor vote, which are available online and referred to on the programme, make very clear that the elimination of a contestant can be as the result of either a combination of the viewer vote in conjunction with the judges’ decision or the viewer vote alone.
‘The format of each week’s elimination is decided in advance of the programme by the production team.