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Fights, flirting and €12,000 dentistry -- what to expect from the new X Factor

IT'S a clear-cut case of 'Simon who?' when it comes to the new series of the hit programme The X Factor.

Acres of headlines have been devoted to how the music mogul's absence will affect the judges' dynamic for the eighth series of the talent contest, not to mention Cheryl Cole's no-show.

The Herald was treated to a sneak peak of the eighth series of the X Factor at the launch bash at the O2 in London -- and can confirm it looks set to be the best series yet.

As proof that the X Factor juggernaut is bigger than any of the previous judges' considerable egos, the revamped show looks set to be just as sizzling.

Take That's Gary Barlow has clearly taken over the role vacated by Simon, with his sharp-witted put downs and no-nonsense manner.

Not afraid to tell it as it is, the stern star doesn't suffer fools gladly and clearly relishes putting the boot in to tone deaf performers, of which there's a delightful abundance.

Even having a fiftysomething X-rated Tina Turner impersonator from Hong Kong straddling him during one of the earlier auditions couldn't throw him off his stride.

Doe-eyed Kelly Rowland looks set to be the sugary-sweet presence on the panel but at least has an excellent musical pedigree.

With her wacky southern expressions and affable manner, she's instantly likeable and seems keen to give even the most eccentric contestant a fair shot. She has already confessed that she finds Gary "very handsome" so expect to see lots of flirting going on.

Our own Louis Walsh is his usual hilarious self, with his caustic comments and obvious glee at the fact that he's the only remaining judge to still be on the panel. "I'm the only survivor," he quipped.

But it's N-Dubz beauty Tulisa Contostavlos who looks set to steal the show. Despite her radical Cheryl-Cole style makeover, complete with €12,000 dental job, in person she's nothing like her.

In fact, the half-Irish singer makes the feisty Newcastle babe looks like a shy and retiring wallflower in comparison.

One audition sees her narrowly avoiding a physical run-in with returning auditionee George Gerasimou who lost his cool after he received no votes.

After being removed from the stage by security guards he continued his expletive-filled rant, branding Tulisa a "dog".

Asked afterwards why she didn't "smash" the 19-year-old hopeful in the face, Tulisa replied: "I'm an X Factor judge now and I'm not allowed to do things like that."

Yep, there's definitely interesting viewing ahead.