Controversy and criticism of The X Factor

Controversy and criticism of The X Factor

The X Factor is a British television music competition to find new singing talent. It is contested by aspiring singers drawn from public auditions and has been franchised in many countries.

Since it was first broadcast in 2004, The X Factor has been the subject of much controversy and criticism in the United Kingdom and many other countries where it was broadcast.


Legal dispute

Simon Fuller, the creator of Pop Idol, claimed that the format of The X Factor was copied from his own show, and, through his company 19 TV, filed a lawsuit against The X Factor producers FremantleMedia, The X Factor creator Simon Cowell and Cowell's companies Simco and Syco.[1] A High Court hearing began in London in November 2005, and the outcome was awaited with interest by media lawyers for its potential effect on the legal situation regarding the copyrighting of formats. However, in the event the hearing was quickly adjourned and an out-of-court settlement was reached at the end of the month.[2]


The Danish version of The X Factor has been criticised by Danish music contract expert and consultant for The Danish Musicians' Association (Dansk Musiker Forbund) Mikael Højris. According to Højris, the contracts for participation in the show are unfair for participants and almost amount to serfdom to DR1 (the channel airing the show) stating that clauses in the contracts forbid the participants - whether they pass the first round or not - from performing or participating in any other musical event for three months. He also criticises that participants are obliged to travel at their own expense.[3]

United Kingdom

Judges and presenters

In series 1, tabloid reports claimed that the show was fixed, after judge Louis Walsh allegedly cheated and tried to help a band that he had previously managed to get through to the final stages. Footage of Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne coaching contestants to argue back to the judges was also being sold over the Internet to the highest bidder.[4]

Shortly before the first ever live show, Osbourne claimed that Cowell had "rigged" the show by editing footage to make his contestants more appealing to viewers.[5]

The show received a record number of complaints in December 2004, after Osbourne made a verbal attack on Steve Brookstein in the series 1 finale.[6] As a result, her future on the show was uncertain, but she later made an apology[7] and was allowed to return.[8]

Osbourne and Walsh were criticised in series 2 for tactical voting, due to an alleged pact against Cowell carried forward from series 1.[9] Later in the same series Walsh was heavily criticised for casting the deciding vote to keep Irish group The Conway Sisters in the show at the expense of the popular Maria Lawson, especially after it was revealed that he had worked with the Conways personally prior to the show.[10] The Conway Sisters had supported Westlife, a band managed by Walsh, on one of their tours.

On one occasion, Walsh announced after the live Saturday show that he would quit the series, claiming that the other two judges had been "bullying" him.[11] This included various verbal assaults on Walsh, and Sharon Osbourne even throwing water over him, live on air. Walsh's announcement was claimed by many to be a publicity stunt, especially when he decided to return to the show the following Saturday night.[12]

In series 5, during a live broadcast, Dannii Minogue broke down in tears after Walsh accused her of "stealing" a song for one of her acts that he had wanted for one of his (even though, according to that week's judges' rota, Minogue had priority). In press reports earlier in the week, Walsh had called Minogue "cold and heartless" for vetoing his song choice.[13] Fellow judge Cowell came to Minogue's defence and twice rounded on Walsh, forcing him to apologise to Minogue over his treatment of her. Going into a commercial break, Minogue left the panel to go backstage, as did new judge Cheryl Cole (who, as revealed on This Morning the following Monday, had left the panel to comfort Minogue, further disproving rumours that there was tension between the two judges). By the end of the break Minogue had not returned, but during a contestant VT she appeared back on the panel and continued with the rest of the show. Later on the ITV2 broadcast, Cowell once again defended Minogue's actions and called Walsh "childish".[citation needed]

In series 6, controversy began following the first live show on 10 October, after Minogue commented on press reports regarding contestant Danyl Johnson's sexuality, sparking an online backlash.[14] She subsequently made an apology for her comment, which was accepted by Johnson.

During series 7, two of Cole's acts, Katie Waissel and Treyc Cohen, were in the bottom two. According to the rules of the show, one act had to be sent home, but Cole refused to vote against either of them. Host Dermot O'Leary told Cole that it was her job to vote, but she declined to make a decision. Cohen was eventually sent home on a majority vote.[15] Fans complained that the results were "rigged" in an attempt to save Waissel but Cowell later denied this.[16]


In series 3, one boyband, called Avenue, were accused of cheating. It emerged that they already had a management deal with music mogul Ashley Tabor, who reportedly hoped to use the show in order to publicise the boys.[17] It was also revealed that one of the members, Jamie Tinker, once had a recording contract with recording company SonyBMG, for whom Simon Cowell works; though this was judged not to be against the rules of the show.[18] The boys later lost their places in the final 12,[19] though they insisted that they were not cheats.[20]

During series 4 the producers discovered that Sisi Jghalef, a member of six-piece girl group Hope, had a criminal conviction, which is in contravention of the show's rules. Jghalef was asked to leave, and Hope, who had already been selected as finalists, continued as a five-piece.

Later in series 4, 15-year-old Emily Nakanda pulled out of the show after being discovered in a "happy slapping" video, in which she apparently attacked another girl. Both her mentor, Sharon Osbourne, and her family were said to be upset with her behaviour. She was given the option of leaving of her own accord or being forced out, and she chose to withdraw.[21][22]

The lowering of the minimum contestant age from 16 to 14 in series 4 attracted criticism from some quarters. Groups such as the Family and Parenting Institute expressed concern that children of this age might be not be sufficiently emotionally robust to cope with the experience.[23] The minimum age was put back to 16 for series 6.[24]

After the second audition episode of series 5 had been broadcast, Simon Cowell vowed to make changes to the show by reducing the emphasis on contestants' "sob stories", conceding that they had been "out of hand" in the previous series and viewers were "starting not to believe them".[25]

Series 5 auditionee Alan Turner was later criticised in the press for allegedly lying to the judges in his original audition. Turner had told the panel that he had been fostered since the age of four, did not know his real parents and had been sexually abused aged four, but his father and uncle publicly disputed the claims.[26] Producers vowed to stand by the hopeful, who had been put through to bootcamp, insisting that his place on the show was "never in jeopardy".[27] Meanwhile, Turner insisted that the show's editing had made him appear dishonest.[28] His mother later claimed that her son had made false claims which had "hurt [her] beyond belief".[29] In one episode, Cowell asked Turner face-to-face whether his story was true, and was satisfied that indeed it was. Ultimately, however, Turner was eliminated at the final stage before the live shows.

Series 7 auditionee Shirlena Johnson was removed from the competition after bootcamp, over concerns about her mental health. In Johnson's first audition, she performed "Mercy" by Duffy, but she performed it so incoherently that the song became almost unrecognisable. She had apparently hidden her mental health issues from the producers, but Johnson's mother claimed they already knew about her medical history, while the producers stated that they had only received the information on 23 August. A spokesperson for the show said "The welfare of contestants is of paramount importance, and for this reason, it has been agreed that Shirlena Johnson should not continue in the competition."[30]

During the judges' houses stage in series 7, Zimbabwean singer Gamu Nhengu was a hopeful in Cheryl Cole's category. Fans expressed anger when Cole did not pick Nhengu for the live shows, despite singing perfectly. Instead, Katie Waissel was chosen, as was Cher Lloyd, even though both Waisell and Lloyd failed to finish their song choice. Cole later defended herself by saying "I went by my gut instinct and I thought my decision was best".[31][32] Waissel's very inclusion in the show was controversial as it was revealed that she already had a recording contract in the U.S. prior to auditioning.[33]

In series 8, failed ex-auditionee Ceri Rees was reportedly persuaded to go on the show by the producers so people could laugh at the lack of talent, with several well-known celebrities condemning the show for broadcasting the audition.[34] Later on in series 8, contestant Frankie Cocozza was asked to leave the competition for boasting about using cocaine. The rules of the series strictly prohibit drug use during the show. His mentor, Gary Barlow, said that he was "hugely disappointed" by Cocozza's behaviour, but wished him luck with his future.[35][36] Cocozza was replaced by Amelia Lily, who was eliminated by mentor Kelly Rowland in the first live show and then voted back in by the public.[37]


There is anecdotal evidence from blogs and discussion forums that some of the first-round X Factor audition sessions held in front of the producers have been poorly organised, with auditionees forced to wait for many hours outside in the cold with few facilities and little information about when they will be seen.[38] Attendees have also complained about queue-jumping, exorbitantly priced refreshments, the very short period of audition time that they are given, and the fact that selection decisions are left in the hands of unqualified production staff. It has been alleged that some of the "open" audition events are simply an opportunity for producers to get shots of large crowds, rather than a serious attempt to find talented contestants.[39] The auditionees tire of such shots, but are reprimanded by production staff if they complain or fail to participate.[38] The production team supply the 'home-made' signs ('I have the X Factor', etc.) that the contestants brandish.[38]

It is claimed by one journalist that some contestants — described as "sad no-hopers picked so the judges can mock them" — are deliberately sent forward to the televised audition rounds simply to provide entertainment value.[40]

According to the Daily Mirror, and several other newspapers, the auditions for series 7 have involved the use of voice manipulating technology to make some singers sound 'better' than the actually were. ITV did admit to doing this, but claimed that it was done after filming had taken place, so the contestants did not know that their voices had been altered.

ITV has admitted that they used voice manipulation in the auditions [41] This came about after viewers noticed the difference in singing by Gamu Nhengu in her audition.

Accusations of staging

There have been suggestions that much of the controversy surrounding the show, such as the bickering between the judges, is deliberately orchestrated to attract publicity, and that some supposedly "spontaneous" scenes are rehearsed or refilmed.[42][43][44]

Several contestants have alleged that they were manipulated by the show's producers. Series 4 runner-up Rhydian Roberts reportedly complained that he was "stitched up" and "unfairly edited to look like an idiot",[45] and series 5 finalist Rachel Hylton has claimed that she was "set up" and "exploited" by TV bosses.[46]

Voting irregularities

After series 3, it was discovered that ITV had overcharged viewers who voted via interactive television by a total of approximately £200,000. ITV said a data inputting error was to blame and that they would refund anybody affected on production of a telephone bill. They also indicated that they would make a £200,000 donation to Childline.[47] This error, and those by other broadcasters, eventually led to a temporary suspension of all ITV's phone-in services on 5 March pending an audit and meeting with ICSTIS.

In October 2007, it emerged that "serious technical issues" had resulted in viewer votes being ignored in the series two final, though it was found that the problems did not "alter the actual outcome" of the vote.[48] ITV put in place a scheme which allowed affected consumers to be offered refunds.[48]

Following the result of the series 4 final, won by Leon Jackson, media watchdog Ofcom received a number of complaints from viewers who said that they were unable to register their vote for Rhydian Roberts, despite trying up to ten times.[49] After complaints topped 1,100, ITV issued a statement which assured viewers that "Leon won The X Factor fair and square" and did so with a winning margin of 10%.[50] A subsequent Ofcom investigation found that Roberts had not been unfairly disadvantaged and that 0.99% of viewers that called couldn't get through to vote for Roberts, compared to 1% for Jackson.[51]

In week two of series five, fans of contestant Ruth Lorenzo complained that at one point during the live show an incorrect telephone number was displayed on screen. Lorenzo ended up ranked in the bottom two alongside Girlband. ITV denied that the mistake affected the result. A spokesperson commented: "During one short sequence, a single digit was missing from Ruth Lorenzo's vote number. The incorrect number was on screen for less than three seconds, and this was accompanied by an audio announcement giving the correct number. The error would not have changed the outcome of the vote. The mistake was that the digits 0901 61 61 03 were shown instead of 0901 61 61 103."[52]

Controversy about X Factor voting arose again in week 5 of series 5 following the elimination of Laura White, who had been considered one of the most talented finalists. Thousands of viewers complained to Ofcom about a lack of transparency in the voting, saying that they could not get through to vote for White, or that their votes had been miscounted. ITV denied all allegations, stating that there were "absolutely no issues with the phone lines or the voting system".[53][54]

Impact on the music industry

The X Factor has been criticised for being a "soap opera" rather than a search for real talent.[55] Musician Sting criticised the show, calling it "televised karaoke" with the contestants being encouraged to "conform to stereotypes",[55] and saying that real musical talent is more likely to be found in "pubs and clubs".[55] Damon Albarn also criticised the show for "creating a mindset that suggests you can get something for nothing and that it's easy to acquire status and fame."[56]

Soul singer VV Brown criticised the show for misleading young singers about how the music industry works, claiming at the 2009 MOBO Awards "I don't like it – it's making kids think that they can get really famous easily, rather than working really hard to achieve something".[57] Scottish singer Amy Macdonald criticised the show for making it more difficult for talented youngsters to break through.[58]

American musician Moby claimed that although the show does produce good talent, it "cheapens" music, and criticised the show for telling the singers how to "sound" and "look".[59] Calvin Harris, who invaded the stage during a performance by contestants John & Edward in the 2009 X Factor finals, claimed he did so as he believed the show was a "joke" and also in protest that Simon Cowell had a "frightening stranglehold" of the British charts, claiming Cowell is "not really a music fan" and the show lacks creativity musically.[60]

Noel Gallagher attacked the show for having "absolutely nothing to do with music and everything to do with television" and questioned the use of judges such as Dannii Minogue who, he suggested, "wouldn’t know talent if it kicked [her]".[61] Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan also claimed his disbelief at how the judges can be taken seriously as music critics, considering Minogue has had few pop hits herself. He also expressed his disbelief at how popular the show was, claiming "The X Factor is like something The Riddler would do in Batman. It sucks out everyone's brains," and believed that the music produced from the show was "appalling".[62]

Series 6 X Factor contestant Diana Vickers expressed that she was "glad [she] didn't win The X Factor",[63] as she would not have had the freedom to write most of her album or appear in a theatre show. She did not want to be signed to Cowell's label as she said she wanted to be "[her] own artist".[64] She said that "the originality is stripped away from those who do make it" and that The X Factor should be used as a platform for musicals who have already exhausted every other opportunity.[citation needed]

La Roux singer Elly Jackson claimed that The X Factor had "ruined the music industry" and that the show overshadowed new artists who were writing their own material.[65] Cowell responded to this particular criticism, arguing that the money made from the sales of the X Factor contestants music is then used to develop new artists.[65]

Another criticism of The X Factor is that the winner routinely achieves the number one spot in the UK Christmas singles charts, which, it is claimed, has "taken the magic" out of the event. In 2008, a campaign was launched to encourage people to buy Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah"[66] instead of 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's version; however Burke beat Buckley's version to the number one Christmas spot, with Buckley charting at number two. A similar campaign was launched on Facebook in December 2009, encouraging the public to buy Rage Against the Machine's 1992 song "Killing in the Name" to prevent the X Factor winner being the Christmas number one for the fifth year running. By 9 December (less than a week after launching) over 500,000 people had signed up, with the group growing at about 4,000–5,000 people per hour and gathering much media interest.[67] The group figure as of 16 December stood at near 800,000, and over 855,000 the following day. The campaign was ultimately successful with a winning margin of around 50,000 copies.[68]

Product placement

In series 3, media watchdog Ofcom upheld a complaint that The Xtra Factor had inappropriately featured close-up shots of the products of then sponsor Nokia.[69]


  1. ^ "X Factor copyright case adjourned", BBC News, retrieved 15 May 2007
  2. ^ "X Factor copyright case settled", BBC News, retrieved 15 May 2007
  3. ^ Berlingske Tidende: DR beskyldes for at stavnsbinde unge (Danish)
  4. ^ "'X Factor' judge accused of cheating", Digital Spy
  5. ^ "Osbourne brands Cowell "f*****g w****r"", Digital Spy
  6. ^ "Sharon Osbourne facing 'X Factor' axe?", Digital Spy
  7. ^ "Osbourne apologises for 'X Factor' rant", Digital Spy
  8. ^ " Osbourne to return for 'X Factor 2'", Digital Spy
  9. ^ "The axe factor for Cowell", The People
  10. ^ "X-Factor Maria's agony", The Sun
  11. ^ Louis Quits X Factor? Digital Spy
  12. ^ Louis agrees comeback deal Digital Spy
  13. ^ Dannii 'is cold and heartless', The Sun, 18 November 2008
  14. ^ Dannii Minogue outing Danyl Johnson as gay
  15. ^ Thomas, Liz; Johnson, Chris (8 November 2010). "Controversy as Cheryl Cole refuses to vote: Treyc Cohen sent packing on X Factor as Katie Waissel is saved by Simon and Louis". Daily Mail (London). 
  16. ^ Nathan, Sara (11 November 2010). "Simon Cowell 'furious' after Dermot O'Leary stokes X Factor fixing claims". Daily Mail (London). 
  17. ^ Simon and Louis Have Been Duped, They're Livid Daily Mirror
  18. ^ 'X Factor' boyband cause more controversy Digital Spy
  19. ^ X-Factor Boyband Dumped Daily Mirror
  20. ^ Axed, but boyband Avenue insist they're not cheats Daily Mirror
  21. ^ "Emily axed from the X Factor", The Sun, 3 November 2007
  22. ^ X Factor Emily quits over attack Yahoo
  23. ^ "X Factor children will risk Cowell barbs", The Times, 12 March 2007
  24. ^ X Factor series 6 application form
  25. ^ "X Factor: Simon Cowell says stop all the sobbing". Sunday Mirror. 24 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  26. ^ "X Factor hopeful exposed as a fake". Daily Mirror. 26 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  27. ^ "X Factor denies contestant claims". BBC News. 27 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  28. ^ "X Factor faker Alan Turner talks to the Mirror". Daily Mirror. 28 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  29. ^ "Fostered?! He did karaoke with us a few weeks ago". The People. 31 August 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008. 
  30. ^ McConnell, Donna; Nathan, Sara (25 August 2010). "Mother of X Factor contestant Shirlena brands show 'cruel' and claims bosses KNEW of daughter's mental illness". Daily Mail (London). 
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Rachel Quigley (7 September 2010). "X Factor bosses decide to keep Madonna wannabe Katie Waissel in the competition... despite her U.S. record deal". Daily Mail. 
  34. ^ "X Factor blasted for 'cruel' audition of Welsh contestant Ceri Rees". Wales Online. 20 September 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  35. ^ Robertson, Colin (8 November 2011). "Frankie Coczza kicked off X Factor". The Sun. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  36. ^ Littlejohn, Georgina; Mendoza, Nadia; Magrath, Andrea (9 November 2011). "Shamed Frankie Cocozza arrives home after being kicked off the X Factor as contestants and judges react to the news". Daily Mail. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  37. ^ Sperling, Daniel (12 November 2011). "Amelia Lily returns to 'The X Factor'". (Digital Spy). Retrieved 12 November 2011. 
  38. ^ a b c Hassan, Genevieve (21 August 2009). "What happens at an X Factor audition?". BBC News. 
  39. ^ Get Ready For The Manchester X Factor Open Auditions – 18 June 2006 X Factor Blog
  40. ^ "The Fix Factor: Just how real is Simon Cowell's hit show?" Daily Mail, 29 September 2007
  41. ^!image-number=8
  42. ^ "G4: X Factor is just panto", The Sun, 25 Nov 2006
  43. ^ "The Fix Factor: Just how real is Simon Cowell's hit show?", Daily Mail
  44. ^ ITV admits staging X Factor shots, BBC News, 15 August 2007
  45. ^ "Do you want Rhyd of me?", The Sun, 9 October 2007
  46. ^ I was exploited and undermined – Raging Rachel lets rip at Simon Cowell & Co, News of the World, 20 November 2008
  47. ^ "Reality Show Rip-Off". Sky News. 28 February 2007.,,30000-1253691,00.html. Retrieved 28 February 2007. 
  48. ^ a b "'X Factor' final hit by phone scandal, Digital Spy
  49. ^ "Watchdog looks into X Factor vote", BBC News, 17 December 2007, retrieved 17 December 2007 — Many fans believe that the contest was somehow rigged to the benefit of Leon Jackson. Though unproven, there were 'apparently' thousands of votes that were not properly counted.
  50. ^ "ITV defends Leon's 'X Factor' win, Digital Spy
  51. ^ "Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue number 108, 8 May 2008" (PDF). 
  52. ^ 'X Factor' bosses play down phone error
  53. ^ X Factor fans urge phone vote probe, The Press Association, 13 November 2008
  54. ^ 'X Factor' bosses issue Laura statement, Digital Spy, 13 November 2008
  55. ^ a b c "Sting calls X Factor 'TV karaoke'". BBC News. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  56. ^ "Blur's Damon Albarn calls for the end of 'The X Factor'". NME. 27 December 2007. 
  57. ^ "VV Brown criticises The X Factor". Metro (British newspaper). 1 October 2009. 
  58. ^ Larkin, Mike (2 January 2008). "Tonsillitis? More like lazy-itis - star Macdonald attacks X Factor's Leon over cancelled concert". Edinburgh: The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 9 October 2011. 
  59. ^
  60. ^ Crerar, Simon (16 November 2009). "Calvin Harris slams X Factor after stage invasion with pineapple". The Times (London). Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  61. ^ Wallis, Sara (14 October 2008). "Noel Gallagher: X Factor causes "instant mental illness"". Daily Mirror (Trinity Mirror). 
  62. ^ "Kasabian's Tom Meighan condemns 'appalling' X Factor for 'torturing' Susan Boyle". NME. 26 November 2009. 
  63. ^ "Diana Vickers: I'm glad I didn't win X Factor". Metro (British newspaper). 20 October 2010. 
  64. ^
  65. ^ a b "Simon Cowell respons to X Factor criticism". STV. 18 December 2009. 
  66. ^ Knapton, Sarah (17 December 2008). "Alexandra Burke's Hallelujah faces challenge from Jeff Buckley version Leonard Cohen's classic Hallelujah could be Christmas number one and two after Alexandra Burke's version went head to head with the famous cover by Jeff Buckley.". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  67. ^ "Rage Against The Machine to take on 'The X Factor' for Christmas Number One". NME. 4 December 2009. 
  68. ^ "Rage win Christmas chart battle". BBC News. 20 December 2009. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  69. ^ Nokia drops X Factor sponsorship, BBC News, 10 May 2007

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