27 May 2011

Cheryl Cole sacked from X Factor

Pop star Cheryl Cole has been dropped from the US version of the hit TV show X Factor, it has been confirmed. Channel 4 News culture editor Matthew Cain looks at the reasons behind her exit.

Cheryl Cole has been sacked from the US version of the X Factor

Nobody has yet been told why or how, but clearly there was a problem with her performance. For some reason Cheryl Cole just was not connecting with the thousands of Americans who came along to audition for the first series of the show. Whether her strong Geordie accent is to blame is unclear.

It would seem ludicrous if it is as her performance was heavily screen-tested before she won the role, and it is obvious from her performance as a judge on the UK version of the X Factor that she speaks with a thick accent. That is part of the reason why UK viewers fell in love with her.

Whatever the reason, it sounds as if the network bosses at Fox were behind the shock move. Head judge and show producer Simon Cowell is known to have fought for months for Cheryl to be given the judge’s role.

Right now his judgement is being called into question.

Read more: are the rumours about Cheryl Cole and the X Factor simply panto?

Error of judgement?

Cowell is often held up as a genius for spotting Cheryl’s potential as a judge on X Factor here in the UK, in the process converting her from just another member of reality show pop group Girls Aloud into the nation’s sweetheart.

But although he made the right call on that occasion, he has made mistakes on this front in the past. Not only did he hire Kelly Brook as a presenter of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, firing her after just a few days’ filming because “the format doesn’t support another judge”, but he also sacked Louis Walsh as a judge on X Factor in 2007, hiring choreographer Brian Freidman as a replacement, only to fire him a few days later.

This time, the rather vague reason given was that things were not working out.

So is Cowell such a genius TV producer after all? X Factor is, after all, only an (admittedly much better) re-working of the Pop Idol/American Idol format – in fact, the formats are so similar that Idol creator Simon Fuller hit Cowell with a lawsuit when X Factor launched here in 2004, eventually settling out of court.

And Cowell has been quite open in interviews about his other big hit Britain’s Got Talent being a re-working of classic TV talent show Opportunity Knocks.

Read more: Cheryl Cole's X Factor controversy

Music mogul

Cowell’s talents as a music mogul are also open to question. He first made his name as the A&R man behind novelty records by artists like the Teletubbies, Power Rangers, Robson and Jerome and Zig and Zag. But although several of his acts enjoyed huge hits, few of them had any longevity.

The same could be said of several of the winners of X Factor. Steve Brookstein, Leon Jackson and Shayne Ward. Where are they all now? Even Leona Lewis, X Factor’s most successful winner so far, saw her career veer off track with her second album, which failed to live up to the critical or commercial success of her first.

Simon Cowell’s talents as a music mogul are open to question.

It even failed to make the top 10 in the States and failed to produce any hit singles.

Compare that to the longevity of Pop Idol’s very first winner, Will Young, who is still going strong 10 years later and is about to release his fifth studio album. Famously, Cowell failed to spot Young’s potential, calling him “distinctly average” on the show.

I wonder if now, with X Factor USA in crisis, Cowell will start to see his empire crumble around him just like the Roman emperors before him.Has he basically made the mistake of all empire builders throughout history and overstretched himself?


The latest series of Britain’s Got Talent, without Cowell as a judge and with replacements Michael McIntyre and David Hasselhoff, has seen ratings dip considerably. It seems that the performance of Cowell himself was a key part of the franchise’s success.

But he can only juggle judging duties on so many shows, and right now he is much more interested in launching his X Factor format on the other side of the Atlantic than he is in judging either X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent here.

He is already a huge star in the States thanks to his long-running role as a judge on American Idol, a role he retired from to concentrate on launching his own show there. But since his departure, Idol has gone from strength to strength, with J-Lo and Aerosmith legend Steven Tyler joining as judges, and both Beyonce and Lady Gaga performing at the final last week, making it for many viewers the best final ever.

Perhaps Americans do not want to see their native talent judged by a load of Brits.

While the future for X Factor USA looks at best uncertain. Whatever the reasons behind Cheryl’s sacking, Cowell should have seen them coming. For a start, how many unknown Brits can one show take in a country as famously patriotic as America? Welshman Steve Jones is already lined up as the main presenter – a virtual unknown over there.

And Cowell himself is already at the helm, possibly the most famous Brit in the US. Perhaps Americans do not want to see their native talent judged by a load of Brits, despite all the talk about our special relationship.

Former Pussycat Doll singer Nicole Scherzinger who could replace Cheryl Cole on the US X Factor

Cheryl’s replacement as a judge is almost certain to be American Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. But with several days already shot with Cheryl on the panel, the changing line-up will need some explanation. And there is a serious danger of the show’s launch looking shambolic.

In the UK too, the future of the show is starting to look uncertain – for the first time in its history. The new judging panel for this year’s series, which starts filming next week, is made up of N-Dubz singer Tulisa, Destiny’s Child star Kelly Rowland and Take That frontman Gary Barlow.

Could Cheryl return to UK X Factor?

Dannii Minogue will not be returning – another controversial and unexplained decision – so the only familiar face will be Louis Walsh, revealed by several polls to be the least popular judge on the show. But this line-up has been thrown into question by Cheryl’s sacking from the US version of the show.

If she swallows her pride and returns to the UK judging panel, this will undoubtedly be good for the show. But again, it could have the unfortunate effect of making things look shambolic.

Particularly as during last year’s series the rules were changed several times – for example when the age range of the “older” group was lowered so that different contestants ended up with different mentors, and when the “wild card” rule was introduced, which smacked suspiciously of judges trying to rectify mistakes made when choosing their final candidates.

But ultimately, none of this will matter if Cheryl does agree to return as a judge. And if she does, she might just prop up Cowell’s empire – in the UK at least.

X Factor might be in crisis on both sides of the Atlantic but it would be premature to write Cowell off just yet…