Katie Waissel survived a third X Factor sing-off on Sunday as the competition's judges sent rival solo artist Treyc Cohen home.
However, the decision to save the blonde 24-year-old was shrouded in controversy after Cheryl Cole, who mentors both singers, refused to choose between them.
Waissel found herself in the bottom two alongside Cohen, 26, with the pair polling the lowest number of viewer votes. But instead of choosing one of her acts, Geordie singer Cole told host Dermot O'Leary: "I don't have to send anyone home."
The Girls Aloud star's decision left the two singers' fates in the hands of three remaining judges, with Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh opting to save Waissel, despite saying she was the weaker singer.
Fans of Cohen, who gave a moving version of Toni Braxton's Unbreak My Heart in the sing-off, were left feeling cheated following the decision, claiming judge Cole should have been forced to vote. There were also growing claims on internet websites that producers were rigging the show to keep Waissel in.
The contestant, from Harewood, Hertfordshire, was one of the favourites to leave X Factor after her version of No Doubt's Don't Speak left judges Cowell and Minogue unimpressed on Saturday's show. But she made it to the last nine acts of the competition despite stumbling over the lyrics of her survival song Please Don't Give Up On Me. The hopeful ended her "save-me" song by sitting on the stage, pleading the title of the song.
Leaving the show, Cohen said: "I've had the best time, I've met some great people. I've made some good lifelong friends."
On The Xtra Factor on ITV 2, Waissel said: "Treyc should be here. I just really want to be here, in this competition. I really thought I was going home. It's not my time. I want to continue - I want to show everyone that I am me."
Painter and decorator Matt Cardle stole the show this weekend with an emotional version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Ewan MacColl, made famous by Roberta Flack. The 27-year-old, from Essex, received a standing ovation from all four judges, with Cole describing his performance as "spine-tingling".
He later revealed it was a poignant song for his family after his mother took on her best friend's four children when she died. Cardle said he sang the song at the eldest son's wedding a couple of years ago.