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

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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: Published work can be seen at and
Published September 26th 2012
In eight years of The X Factor, we've heard more bad singers than we've had hot dinners, seen more bust ups than the Queen Vic and felt the pain of more staff-sackings than the News of The World. Of all the controversies that have shaken Simon Cowell's multi-million business model, few have been more scandalous than the ever-changing panel of judges – welcome to Chapter Two of How Has The X Factor UK Changed Over The Years? – The Judges.

2004-2006: Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne

It seems light years ago that we saw the original line-up of judges gracing our screens. Simon Cowell was still battling the demons of his high-waisted trousers from his Pop Idol days, Sharon Osbourne was riding the coattails of her expletive-laden reality show The Osbournes and Louis Walsh was happily plodding along, blissfully unaware that the very same songstress he had catapulted into stardom two years previously would soon be joining him on the judging panel herself –but more on that later. The original judging panel represented the much simpler, more innocent days of yore. Before the cynicism set in, there was once a time when the show seemed to be more about singing than appearances (see Part One) and Simon Cowell's brainchild actually instilled the belief that there was talent to be discovered in Britain – but who cares about the contestants?! In its early days The X Factor was still finding its feet in the media-controversy stakes, but that didn't stop Sharon from hilariously displaying her acid tongue in 2006. In a one-off celebrity special, The X Factor: Battle of the Stars, Sharon, a good friend of the Beckhams, told fame-hungry Rebecca Loos that next time she should try singing 'with her knickers on.' Miaow.

sharon osbourne x factor
Ouch! Rebecca Loos wasn't the only one to feel Sharon Osbourne's sting

2007: Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne and Dannii Minogue (-1 Louis Walsh!)

Four years into a now highly successful talent show, not even the chart success of Leona Lewis could convince Mr Cowell to stick with the formula. 2007 was the year of big shake ups and consequently a whole barrage of staff changes. First up, the nation was shaken by the devastating loss of Kate Thornton's warm and genuine presenting skills, only to see her feminine charms being replaced by those of the very un-feminine, but charismatic, Mr Dermot O'Leary.

But what about the judges? Debatably a publicity stunt, The X Factor hit the headlines once again when it was declared that Louis Walsh would not be joining the judging panel for the fourth series. Thus the question remained as to who would replace the lovable grey-haired pop mogul. Who would replace him? Pete Waterman? Simon Fuller? Brian Friedman? You heard right – or perhaps, you hadn't heard of him at all, which is forgiveable, as to most he was simply known as the man who choreographed Britney Spears' Oops I Did It Again video and not a lot else. Alas Brian didn't have much of a spot on the judging panel; in fact, Simon Cowell was quick to acknowledge his 'mistake' and soon brought Louis back into the top spot, tossing Brian Friedman off to one side like he did Kate Thornton, only he at least had the dignity of returning to his original creative director role.

So, asides from Louis' minor absence for all of five minutes, what other judging controversies rocked 2007's show? Up until 2006, Sharon Osbourne would have probably assumed you meant a scorpion if you were to warn her about something small and Australian with a deadly sting. That sting, however, was to come in the form of the beautiful Miss Dannii Minogue – so picked for the judging skills she displayed on Australia's Got Talent. Dannii brought with her a new judging category and a decrease in the average judging age to a cool 47, but she wasn't running low on bad air either. Before long the public began to notice the clash between the two female judges and the tension began to rise between a certain Miss Minogue and a certain Mrs Osbourne- causing the latter to leave the show the following year, later branding Miss Minogue as someone who was 'there for her looks, not for her contributions to the music industry.' Ouch.

2008-10: Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole

Sensing a pattern here? If The X Factor had been nothing more than a simple account of Sharon Osbourne's catty comments, it would have undoubtedly still been as successful. Alas, however, after four years of loyal service she departed at the end of the fourth series without having had a winning category, only to be replaced by somebody thirty years her junior. Perhaps, then, Dannii Minogue would have been wise to stay in Sharon's good books, as she too was about to feel the sting of having to work with a new judge whose youth and good looks surpassed her own. Step up, Mrs Cheryl Cole, 25 years old and beaming with the knowledge and experience of having competed in a talent competition herself six years previously, judged formerly by the one and only Louis Walsh. Awkward.

If only that had been the sole reason for awkwardness. Once again, Simon Cowell found himself rubbing his hands as he watched the column inches grow thick with rumours of bitchiness between Cheryl and Dannii, the biggest scandal of which was undoubtedly the 'airtime' scandal of 2008 – it was reported that Dannii had complained of getting considerably less airtime than the year before, while Cheryl was basking in her new-found popularity and camera-hogging. Dannii was quick to tell the press that the pair were nothing more than just colleagues, and even admitted to not having Mrs Cole's phone number. All was not lost, however, as the girls showed some sisterhood solidarity in 2010, choosing to both shun Jamiroquai live on screen in retaliation to some contentious remarks he had made prior to his appearance. Girl power!

cheryl cole dannii minogue x factor
Tension: no love lost between Dannii and Cheryl

2011: Louis Walsh, Gary Barlow, Tulisa Contostavlos and Kelly Rowland

Hold the phone! After an engagement, pregnancy and a bout of malaria between them, 2010 saw the final series for Simon Cowell, Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole, and with it, the biggest shake up in The X Factor's history. The papers were fraught with rumours as to who would fill the three vital roles, from Robbie Williams to Scary Spice, but in the end all was settled with Take That frontman Gary Barlow, Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland and N Dubz rapper Tulisa Contostavlos. Louis Walsh delightedly entertained the idea that he had become the 'head judge' following the departure of Simon, but, akin to the younger-ladies-replacing-older-ladies days of yore, Louis found himself with considerably less camera time and authority than a certain Mr Barlow, and even had the added embarrassment of Dermot O'Leary always asking for Gary's opinion first.

With the new line up came a whole new scandal, in the form of a ratings slump of 3 million viewers compared to the previous year. Competing for a spot against arch rival Strictly Come Dancing, series 8 of The X Factor would need some serious fine tuning if it was ever going to overcome Kelly's cringeworthy catchphrases such as 'you put it down!'

Thankfully, there was a saving grace in the form of youngest-judge-ever Tulisa Contostavlos, who, for the first time in the show's eight-year history, came out victorious as a mentor for the groups. As girl band Little Mix warbled their way to the top spot, viewing figures peaked at 16.55 million and it would appear that The X Factor was out of hot water for the time being.

2012: Louis Walsh, Gary Barlow, Tulisa Contostavlos and Nicole Scherzinger

In the blink of an eye we're now into present day and firmly into the 9th series of The X Factor, which has hardly left the papers since last year, thanks largely to a controversial bit of footage that we all assumed to be Tulisa. Scandal aside however, 2012 saw the departure of Kelly 'sick-day' Rowland, who gave up after a meagre one year due to conflicting schedules. Not content with giving the viewers what they wanted, ITV decided to keep the coveted fourth judge's position a closely guarded secret, choosing instead to have all manner of temporary judges fill the spot during the crucial audition stages, from Rita Ora to Geri Halliwell. After much speculation, however, it was confirmed in June of this year that former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger had bagged the role. As a seasoned X Factor fan myself, I can only hope that this pussycat has more claws than a certain Mrs Osbourne.

x factor series 9 2012
The 2012 line up: L-R Louis, Nicole, Tulisa and Gary

So there you have it – the vast array of judging changes in the past eight years. We've seen the good, the bad, the ugly, even the damn right controversial – but that's nothing compared to the contestants who've graced the stage over the past eight years. Tune in next time to find out just how much has changed in the contestant stakes, from singers being kicked-off to the famous public enemies of more recent years. Jedward, anyone?
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