After six years away, Sharon Osbourne returns to The X Factor panel. Michael Hogan explains why this can only be a good thing.
I’m afraid it’s here already: one of the annual signs that summer is over. It’s time to face the music, as the supersized karaoke contest that is The X Factor returns to our screens on Saturday night.
This 10th series of Simon Cowell’s column inch-gobbling creation is notable for several reasons. It’s the last run for original judge Louis Walsh. There are fresh tweaks to the format, kicking off with all-new double auditions. This year’s contestants must impress first in an intimate audition room, then onstage at Wembley Arena in front of a 4,000-strong audience.
Most momentous of all, however, is the return of a familiar face. Sharon Osbourne, First Lady of The X Factor, is returning to the judging panel after quitting six years ago.
Is it a welcome return? I’d argue it is. Osbourne is opinionated and amusingly eccentric. She’ll add spice to the auditions and unpredictability to the live shows. She’s a producer’s worst nightmare – which makes her a viewer’s dream.
Osbourne lists her pet hates among hopefuls as “singing with an American accent, miming lyrics with their hands and winking mid-song”. Yes, yes and yes. She had a notorious on-air rant at contestant Steve Brookstein during the show’s first final in which she described him as "fake" and "an average singer". He went on to win but she’s since been proved right. Little has been heard of Brookstein since.
As Brookstein learned, she's a feisty, formidable figure who is not to be messed with. She whipped husband Ozzy into shape, revived his career, made her whole family famous, survived colon cancer and has been known to send unsavoury gifts in Tiffany boxes to those who cross her.
She’ll be a vast improvement on the previous incumbent of that fourth swivel chair, Tulisa Contostavlos. From her tattooed forearm salute to her pronunciation of “ballids”, the dead-eyed and frequently inarticulate N-Dubz singer never truly chimed with viewers. In her debut series, Tulisa mentored eventual winners Little Mix (aka “my little muffins”) so had to be retained. There was a feeling, though, that her card was marked. After a mediocre second series saw her left with no acts three weeks before the final, she was cast aside. Just in the nick of time too, as she’s since been plagued by a drugs scandal.
Tulisa was also too similar to her neighbour behind that shiny table, Nicole Scherzinger. They’re both brunette, young-ish females who found fame with bands, followed by so-so solo careers. Cut-price versions of Cheryl Cole, if you will. The 60-year-old Osbourne will add variety and wisdom to the judging quartet. She’ll push up the panel’s average age by a decade and it will be refreshing to see a mature woman in such a yoof-obsessed prime time slot – especially when the show is scheduled against the Arlene Phillips-free Strictly Come Dancing.
Walsh is the veteran impresario, Osbourne the experienced manager-cum-promoter. They’ll balance the two artists: excitable, flirtatious Scherzinger and dry, deadpan Gary Barlow. Osbourne fell out with former colleague Dannii Minogue (saying she “didn't fancy the prospect of six months sitting next to her”) but should have good chemistry with the current panel. She’s long been friends with both Walsh, coining his affectionately camp nickname “LouLou”, and Scherzinger, who made her debut on the show as Osbourne’s guest adviser at Judges’ Houses back in 2007.
She’ll be a one-woman campaign against blandness and provide plenty of talking points. From storming off-set to throwing water, outrageous Osbourne has never been shy to make a bitchy quip or start a pantomime spat. For a series that’s more about entertainment than musical credibility, her comeback could just be the shot in the arm The X Factor needs.
The X Factor returns on Saturday, 31 August