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The X Factor: This contest has truly been extra special

As the remaining acts prepare for The X Factor final, Jeananne Craig looks back on this year's collection of highs, lows and verbal blows

The stage has been set, the acts have been gargling their hot water and lemon, and Louis Walsh has no doubt been rehearsing his last "you remind me of a young ..." of the series.

This year's X Factor may have been thrashed by Strictly Come Dancing in the ratings stakes, but there has still been the occasional shock and surprise to keep fans entertained.

So before the winner is crowned, and the power ballads, sob stories and judges' squabbles are put to bed for another year, let's run through this year's highlights ...

Cheryl and Simon's return

A few years ago, it seemed as though Simon Cowell and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (then Cole) had drawn an un-erasable line under their professional friendship for good, after Cowell unceremoniously sacked the Girls Aloud star from the X Factor USA judging panel. So it was a delight for fans - and the media - to see the pair seated side by side on the UK show again this year.

There's still the occasional tiff (Simon comparing Cheryl to Kermit the Frog in her green dress), but the pair seem to have patched things up for our viewing pleasure. And, no doubt, their hefty pay packets.

Comedy value

What 34-year-old call centre worker Stevi Ritchie lacked in vocal prowess, he made up for in likeability. Despite his rather woeful first audition (in which he struggled through Olly Murs' Dance With Me Tonight, before partaking in some solo salsa dancing), he impressed Simon with his "kind eyes" and made it to the arena auditions. Once there, the dad-of-one got the crowd whooping and cheering along and eventually landed a wild card slot in the live shows, where he ramped up the novelty factor even more, with performances cheesier than a fondue in the Swiss Alps.

There was his shirt-ripping rendition of Livin' La Vida Loca, his Phantom Of The Opera impersonation, and most memorably, his Egyptian-themed I'm Still Standing in week seven. Sadly for Stevi, he wasn't standing for long; he promptly got voted out in the sing-offs the same week.

The stage invader

When Stereo Kicks sang Michael Jackson's You Are Not Alone in week five, they were right: an imposter had joined them on stage. Funny (or not so funny, depending on your sense of humour) man Lee Nelson, real name Simon Brodkin, appeared for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment before a crew member shoved him into the wings. With eight members, viewers could be forgiven for not noticing the new addition to the band.

Dedicated X Factor fans will recall a similar incident back in 2009, when superstar DJ Calvin Harris appeared on stage with a pineapple on his head during a Jedward performance.

Famous fans

Who'd have thought Kate Moss was such a big X Factor fan? The supermodel took a break from pouting to appear on Channel 4's Stand Up To Cancer Gogglebox special alongside Noel Gallagher and Naomi Campbell, bopping along to Lauren Platt and head-banging her way through Andrea Faustini's Earth Song ("don't talk to me about Andrea - I'm obsessed ..."). And then there was her assessment of 'posh' contestant Chloe-Jasmine Whichello: "She's not Downton Abbey - isn't she Essex?"

Stereo Kicks vs Katie Hopkins

If there's one person you can call on to stoke up some trouble, it's 'rentagob' Katie Hopkins. Appearing on The Xtra Factor, she claimed Stereo Kicks looked "like teenage boys waiting at an STI clinic to find out some really bad news". The lads' mums weren't too happy with the comments, however, and things reportedly got so heated that Hopkins had to sneak out of a back entrance to leave the studio.

Mel B

With her no-nonsense approach, the Leeds-born Spice Girl has managed to inject some much-needed 'zigazigaa' into the show. Particularly when, after a succession of hopefuls professed their love for Cheryl, straight-talking Mel asked: "What am I? F***ing chopped liver?"

The X Factor final is on UTV tonight, 8.30pm, and tomorrow, 8pm

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