Has Gary Barlow got the Cowell Factor?
Michael Deacon assesses the new X Factor panel, which contains Gary Barlow, Kelly Rowland, Tulisa from N-Dubz and Louis Walsh - but not Cheryl Cole.
The panel for the next UK series of The X Factor contains no big surprises - all three of the new judges had been the subject of press rumours for months - and yet, now that it's confirmed, it feels almost discomfitingly strange.
We've known for some time that Simon Cowell wouldn't be there (too busy with the American X Factor), and that Dannii Minogue wouldn't return (not entirely her choice), and that Louis Walsh would remain. All the same, fans of the show will look at the new line-up and wonder if - like the panel on the current series of Britain's Got Talent - it lacks the authority of familiarity.
Gary Barlow can be drily amusing, but TV talent judges don't need wit so much as domineering conceit - in which case, his Take That bandmate Robbie Williams might have been a wiser choice. Kelly Rowland, also new to the panel, was overshadowed in Destiny's Child by Beyonce Knowles, and may be too bland to make a much more powerful impression here (then again, we might have said the same about Dannii Minogue, but she appears to have been popular with viewers).
The best signing, at least at this stage, looks to be Tulisa Contostavlos, from the pseudo-grime pop group N-Dubz. In interviews she comes across as cheerful, chatty, good-humoured and down-to-earth - and, although she dresses glamorously, she shows no interest either in dieting herself skinny or in going topless for lads' mags (she did once appear on the cover of FHM, but displayed not much more than her arms and legs). She has that "ordinary girl" appeal that The X Factor's producers once spotted in Cheryl Cole - the woman Tulisa is replacing.
A lot of fuss has been made of Cole in the past few days, first because she was fired from the US X Factor and second because she apparently refused to return to the UK version. But the big question, for fans of TV talent contests, is not whether Tulisa can replace Cole but whether Barlow can replace Cowell. Britain's Got Talent, which Cowell only rejoined last night, has looked meek without him. To make up for Cowell's absence on The X Factor, Barlow will have to show a new side of himself. His Take That bandmates insist that he's "grumpy". He'll need to be nastier than that.