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How The X Factor UK Has Changed Over the Years - The Look

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by Katie Thompson (subscribe)
University of York Graduate, aspiring to be a journalist with dreams of one day publishing my own novel. Blog: twotwothompson.wordpress.com/ Published work can be seen at www.theyorker.co.uk and www.yorkvision.co.uk
Published September 22nd 2012
Chapter 1: The Look
Since its birth in 2004, Simon Cowell's controversial brainchild The X Factor has had a monumental effect on the music and television industry over the years. As the viewing figures have peaked and the budgets have increased, the show has gone through a vast array of changes, from judging panels to Tulisa's hair colours. With so many series and developments in the show's format to name, one couldn't possibly squeeze them all into a single article, so welcome to Chapter 1 of How has The X Factor changed over the years? In this chapter, we'll be focusing on something which is debatably more important than the music- the look.

The Auditions

Seasoned X Factor fans will remember the good old days of the show when frightened auditionees didn't have the help and hindrance of a live audience to bolster their performance. It's hard to believe now, but prior to 2009, the auditions took place in a simple conference room or similar with a wooden floor and a makeshift 'X' to stand on. I know this from personal experience, as I was embarrassingly rejected by a bemused-looking producer in 2007, in the simple comfort of a box room at Arsenal's Emirate Stadium. Not that I'm bitter, of course.

x factor audition change
My failed attempt at an X Factor audition back in 2007


The contestants may have been missing the microphone and the backing track to help them along, but what they lacked in theatrics they made up for in a more genuine, a capella performance. Of course, I'm not suggesting there's any correlation between Leona Lewis' commercial success and her more subtle audition, but you have to question whether or not Joe McElderry would have been more on the radar had he simply been standing on an X.

'It's a pantomime'

Talking of Leona Lewis, which talented songstress was heard slagging the show off in 2009? That's right she may have won, but it didn't stop her accusing the show of being more about the theatrics than the music. The aforementioned change in auditioning process has undoubtedly contributed to the 'pantomime' of the current show; while in the early years singers could have relied on little more than a smoke machine to carry them through their heartfelt Bonnie Tyler ballad, nowadays we have dancers, smoke, fire and all manner of props- remember last year's finalist Marcus Collins performing on a jumbo jet? Naturally, as the show has progressed, so has the budget, and for the first time since the show's genesis in 2004, 2011's epic finale took place live at Wembley. Well, where else could Gary Barlow squeeze in a 747?

x factor marcus collins jumbo jet final
Theatrics: Marcus Collins on the jumbo jet


The wardrobe

2004-2006 was a far simpler time. Prior to Dannii Minogue's arrival in 2007, the extent of the judges' fashion varied little. Rather modestly, The X Factor could offer the viewers nothing more than the simplicity of Simon's high waists and monotone t-shirts, and Sharon's occasionally-changing hair. Alas, then came Dannii, and with it, a new focus on fashion. More specifically, the weekly war between Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole in 2008-10, and even later on, between Kelly Rowland and Tulisa Conta...Countess...Candyfloss. Whatever. The Saturday fashion battles became such that the papers were crammed with images of Cheryl's latest Quality Street-inspired dresses and Tulisa's catsuits, and it was easy to forget that it was actually a singing competition. That's not to say that the fashion fights were a bad thing however sartorial savvy has been the subject of many a hilarious moment throughout The X Factor series, from bitchy quotes such as 'you're looking less orange this week Cheryl.'- 'Thank you Simon, and your teeth are looking less white', to some serious wardrobe malfunctions. (Anyone remember Cheryl's 'Minnie Mouse' hair do?) From Louis' changing hair dye to Tulisa's tattoo, personal image has become far more important to The X Factor over the years, and may in years to come end up trumping the singing element altogether.

cheryl cole x factor minnie mouse hair
Cheryl Cole and her questionable Minnie Mouse do.
Image: Kevin McKay/Talkback Thames/Rex Features


It may be a singing show, but eight years on the box have shown us that The X Factor is certainly about more than just pleasing the ears. From set changes to dress changes, the series has evolved tremendously as it has become more of a commercial success. Tune in next time to take a look at how the judges have changed, and controversy they've brought with them.
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