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Up Front: Will we fall back in love with x-factor?

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Cheryl Cole first appeared as a judge in 2008.

Cheryl Cole first appeared as a judge in 2008.

Nicole Scherzinger

Nicole Scherzinger

Gary Barlow.

Gary Barlow.

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Cheryl Cole first appeared as a judge in 2008.

Perhaps it's because he's been playing the Daddy Cool media jig of late, but never let it be said that Simon Cowell doesn't know a sickly child when he sees one.

This year, the music impresario has once again taken the reins of his most successful baby; the talent show that started 10 years ago. Since then, The X Factor has become a televisual behemoth bothering Christmas charts and creating doe-eyed boyband deities. Cowell has long been dubbed a karaoke Sauron, but even powerful dark lords have an off day. Last year's series was billed as a ratings flop. Something had to change, and so it was back into the fray for Cowell. Auditions started back this week for the coming season, and while the yearly unveiling of the X Factor judges makes up much of the soap opera. Sharon Osbourne, reinstated last year after a lengthy hiatus, has gone. The only constant presence in the line-up is Louis Walsh.

Sure enough, fans were beside themselves to see both Cowell and Cheryl Cole reinstated after a protracted panto (Cole was dismissed from the US edition of The X Factor in 2011, then snubbed an offer from Cowell to return to the UK show, preferring to sue him instead). Of the myriad lithe beauties that have come and gone, none have had Cole's sticking power.

Fresh from judging duties down under with X Factor Australia, Mel B is this year's wild card pick. Already, Cowell has crossed swords with the artist formerly known as Scary Spice.

Cole's return is a hard-won home run for Cowell (he had to literally get on his hands and knees for her to take the gig, apparently). Yet with huge, white-hot buzz comes great expectation, and the question soon needs to be asked. Can this ailing show be saved? The smart money says the usual central casting auditionees will be present and correct as ever: the stage-struck teenagers, the last-chance salooners, the tear-drenched backstories. So far, so predictable. Essentially, the future fortunes of Cowell's project lie in the judging panel's hands.

Cowell will no doubt be hoping to recreate the good old days ... but three years is a lifetime in pop. For any chance of survival, Cowell will need to not just do away with the musical deadwood, but also to recalibrate his dynamic with his fellow panellists.

One thing's for sure: The X Factor hasn't been about actual music for a long time. Cowell has tinkered with the format on a constant basis; reinstating one-on-one auditions, sharing digital recordings of performances, installing big-name guests. But make no mistake, this is no music show. It is, just as it has always been, good clean family fun. Many will come for the Cowell-Cole pairing. Whether they will stay for the bells and whistles is anyone's guess.

Staying Power

Cheryl Cole first appeared as a judge in 2008.

She mentored both Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry to X Factor victory.

Video of the Day

The singer left for the X Factor US in 2011 but was famously sacked.

X Factor judges and contestants past

Enter the X factor circus

GONE BUT NOT (REALLY) FORGOTTEN

Nicole Scherzinger

Fresh from the US X Factor, Nicole certainly looked the part, but her 'shamazing' phraseology ended up becoming a little lost in translation. She made up last year's panel alongside Gary Barlow, Sharon Osbourne and ... yep, Louis Walsh. Dress wars: up to ninety.

Kelly Rowland

In 2011, it was confirmed that Kelly would replace Dannii Minogue on the eighth series of The X Factor, only to be replaced by Scherzinger the following year. Rowland cited conflicting schedules for her departure.

Dannii Minogue

A talent show alumnus herself, Dannii took up the reins in 2007 and promptly mentored Leon Jackson to victory. Her run-ins with Sharon Osbourne – and brief fling with Cowell – have become the stuff of X Factor lore.

Gary Barlow

In Cowell's absence, someone had to be the panel's voice of reason/dissent/honesty, and Barlow fit the bill from 2011-2013. He certainly had the musical chops to back it all up, but viewers were still hankering after Cowell's particular brand of panto villain.

Types of contestant you can definitely expect

1. The one singing for his recently-departed mum

Against the lilting strains of Coldplay's Trouble, this contestant bravely opens up on camera about his terrible, life-changing loss, and every performance is positively charged with emotion. He'd go far ... if only he didn't look like your bank manager.

2. The blue-collar firebrand

The nine-to-five grind hasn't kept this girl down, and she'd do anything to escape the shelf-stacking/street cleaning/factory floor work that has kept her from the top of the charts for years.

3. The Bambi-boy

He's lily-skinned, chocolate-eyed and possibly the brand new owner of a messy quiff and some skinny jeans. Possibly paired up with some other Bambi-boys for full effect.

4.The genuinely talented one

Out by week two. They don't call the music industry a cruel and shallow trench for nothing.


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