As Simon Cowell pulls the plug on his hit show, singers Janet Devlin and Eoghan Quigg recall the glory days and predict we haven’t heard the last of it
It was the Saturday night talent show that, at its peak, was watched by almost 20 million viewers and launched the careers of One Direction, Little Mix, Olly Murs and Leona Lewis.
But after 17 years, over 40 number one singles and countless awards, The X Factor’s creator Simon Cowell has pulled the plug on the primetime entertainment show.
ITV has confirmed that there are ‘no current plans’ for another series of the talent search, which first aired in 2004. However, the statement did say ‘at this stage’, which has prompted speculation that it might return in the future.
In February 2020, it was revealed that Cowell was resting the show for the year but with no plans to resurrect it, it seems likely he has decided to end it himself — before the axe falls.
At the height of its success, The X Factor was the must-see weekend show that provided the watercooler conversations in work the following Monday. The series seven final attracted a whopping 19.4 million viewers with over 15 million votes cast. That final was won by Matt Cardle but it was a five-piece boy band, who entered the show as solo contenders before being put together as a group, that went on to become The X Factor’s biggest triumph. As of 2020, One Direction have sold a total of 70 million records worldwide, won nearly 200 awards and notched up the highest grossing tour by a vocal group in history. Its members are currently on a break.
However since 2011, ratings have been in sharp decline and the show was overtaken in the battle for viewing figures by the jewel in the BBC’s entertainment crown, Strictly Come Dancing. The X Factor hasn’t been without its controversies too, with leading lights in music accusing it of commercialism, putting profit and fame before talent and even ruining the industry. Some auditionees spoke out about poor treatment and many viewers claimed the show focused too much on contestants’ sad back stories to manipulate votes.
In 2009, a Facebook campaign targeted against The X Factor and its impact on the music scene resulted in the Rage Against the Machine single Killing in the Name, taking the coveted Christmas number one spot. The X Factor winner that year, Joe McElderry, was the show’s first festive casualty. His single, The Climb, went to number one in the Irish charts that Christmas but was denied the top spot in the UK. On December 27, it moved up the charts to number one, but the Facebook campaign had proved its point.
In Ireland, the X Factor had huge support. Winners of the show, including McElderry, reached the top of the Irish charts every Christmas from 2006 to 2013. The inclusion of Dublin music mogul Louis Walsh on the judging panel meant Irish acts often went through to the live shows. Auditions were held in Belfast and Dublin for the first three series, with Belfast auditions continuing for series four before being dropped.
Dungiven man Eoghan Quigg was just 16 years old when he finished third in series five of The X Factor in 2008, mentored by Cowell himself. The 29-year-old dad-of-three, who now lives in Derry, made it to the final but lost out to runners-up JLS and overall victor Alexandra Burke.
Quigg was due to be signed by Cowell’s Syco Records but when he pulled out, the teenager was signed to RCA instead. But while JLS and Burke went on to enjoy chart success, Quigg’s career took a different path. He branched out into playing football, acting and radio presenting, while still performing at home. These days he’s the front-man of a wedding band, The Housem8s and stills sings solo too. And he says he has ‘absolutely no regrets’ about taking part in the show.
“The X Factor gave me the platform to do what I wanted to do and I have nothing but fond memories of it,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It was the biggest reality show on television in its heyday. It gave us years of great entertainment and TV moments.
“I remember my mum being a fan from the start, even before I took part. The fact it was on television, coming into autumn and winter, was good timing and there was such a huge buzz around it.
“When I entered, I never expected to get into the live shows, never mind the final and it was a brilliant experience.”
Quigg said he wasn’t particularly surprised to hear that Cowell was axing the series. But he predicted a return could be on the cards further down the road.
“The format did get a bit repetitive, and change is good,” he said.
“I stopped watching it, mainly because I was too busy working on Saturday nights, doing gigs, but my mum began to lose interest towards the end. From her perspective it had become too stale, and it was losing out to Strictly Come Dancing in the ratings.
“In saying that, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it could come back again. I think a break is good because it will give people a chance to miss it; to reminisce about the good old times.
“Never say never.”
Quigg said he had many happy memories of his time on the show, but a highlight was watching Burke duet with Beyonce in the final.
“That was amazing. I mean, Beyonce!” he said. “The X Factor got brilliant guests on like Michael Buble and Mariah Carey, but for me, seeing Beyonce perform, was a stand-out moment.”
Co Tyrone singer Janet Devlin was also 16 when she successfully auditioned for the eighth series of the show in 2011. Devlin, who was mentored by Kelly Rowland, finished in fifth place, with Little Mix scooping the top prize that year.
Devlin, from Gortin, has released several albums since, including last year’s Confessional, and continues to make music. But the 26-year-old also had personal struggles, including alcoholism and suicide attempts.
Suffering from social anxiety and loneliness, when she was living in Sheffield and recording her debut album, the teenage girl turned to drink to help her cope.
She’s in a good place now — happy, healthy and gearing up for an autumn tour, including shows in Dublin and Belfast. And despite those dark times, she says she has no regrets about doing the show either.
“The X Factor wasn’t to blame for my issues,” she said. “It wasn’t the source of my problems.
“I entered the show in a really good year, when it was at its peak and ratings were high.
“But I think it’s a good time now to pull the plug on it. Viewing habits have changed. I do gigs online and I watch music online too.
“It used to be a great way of discovering new talent, but most of that is done via the internet now.”
Devlin said she believed that the show wouldn’t be gone forever.
“It will come back again when people are ready to watch it,” she said.
“I think 10 years down the line, people will miss it. There’ll be that nostalgic value to it.
“I’m glad I took part. It was good for me.”
Over the course of 17 years, The X Factor changed its judging panel many times with celebrities like Cheryl Cole, Dannii Minogue, Nicole Scherzinger, Gary Barlow, Sharon Osbourne, Louis Tomlinson and Robbie Williams all sitting in the judges’ hot seats. Numerous big-name acts lined up to perform as guests, from Britney Spears to Bruno Mars, Rihanna to Lady Gaga. Then there were the novelty acts like Chico, Wagner and Irish twins Jedward, who were quick to celebrate the news of the cancellation.
Taking to Twitter, the pair posted: “Xfactor has been axed. Mission Complete."
Local music promoter and artist manager Michelle McTernan, who has nurtured young up-and-coming artists such as Crossmaglen’s Odhran Murphy, said she wouldn’t be shedding any tears over the axing of the show.
“I think The X Factor gave too many young hopefuls a false sense of security, allowing them to think they could be overnight successes,” she said.
“It takes a lot of hard grafting, knock-backs, playing pubs, clubs, support slots and at A&R showcases, to make it in the industry and to enjoy longevity.
“It’s better to go about it organically; the old-fashioned way. Then it’s real.
“The X Factor undoubtedly did produce some talented acts, like Leona Lewis, but the show was just too fake and focused too much on the sob stories. It’s had its day now. Let's hope that’s the end.”