The 64 most genuinely insane things that actually happened on The X Factor

Never forget Gamu-gate

Picture in your mind: it’s a cold winter Saturday night in 2009, a few years before you’ll reasonably have anything better to do like hang out with your mates or drink exactly one can of Carlsberg before immediately being sick. You and the family have just ordered a curry, the telly’s warmed up and Dermot O’Leary is here to deliver you two hours of The X Factor. Your Saturday night starts right here.

Sad as it is that The X Factor has dragged its slow demise out over the last 10 years, you can’t deny it was the best thing on TV in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Everyone watched it. Like, we’re talking 20 million people at its peak. For context, Love Island’s highest audience is about 3.7 million. And why wouldn’t you? Onstage and offstage the show was a soap opera of high stakes competition, flashy performances and celebrity dramz you couldn’t get anywhere else. Some of the shit that went down on Saturday nights made even Glee look like child’s play. If you’ve forgotten just how wild reality TV could get, read on:

Sharon Osbourne going on this massive rant at Steve Brookstien in the very first final in 2004

Over time, X Factor finals became more celebratory affairs, where judges critiques were more congratulations than actual feedback, but in the dark days of 2004, Sharon stops just shy of calling Steve Brookstien a dickhead. It’s quite something. 

Chico making It’s Chico Time while he was on the show and subsequently having a number one with it

For some, the moment we realised the Great British Public can’t decide things for themselves was the day we voted Brexit, but for others, it was the day we spent real-life money propelling this to the top of the charts. You probably learned a dance to it in primary school.

Sharon chucking water at Louis in 2005

Look there are many valid reasons why you wouldn’t want to stan Sharon Osbourne but you can’t deny the problematic fave’s crowning moment was when she drenched Louis Walsh live. 

Edna calling out Simon for being rude and tbh fair

Simon just being a cock to vulnerable auditionees leaves a sour taste in the mouth most of the time because even when people point out how much of a cock he is, he still ends up making them look stupid, but Edna was having none of it and even got an apology out of him. Result.

The fact Leona Lewis actually graced The X Factor in 2006 with her presence at all

For better or worse The X Factor would not exist without Leona. Her victory and subsequent worldwide hit Bleeding Love basically reinvented the show’s image as an outlet for genuinely talented people. In hindsight, it’s actually a joke they even held the competition at all while she was on it.

Louis Walsh being fired for like two episodes in 2007

Simon attempted to bin Louis off multiple times but for reasons unfathomable to human reason the show didn’t work without him, so Louis’s humiliating sacking was made doubly humiliating when he STILL came back to the show.

Brian literally telling Hope to stop making sex faces during performances

Brian was reinstated as the show’s resident choreographer after Louis’s return and he had a lot of fun with the show’s first attempt to make a girl band out of failed contestants, whose outfits and performances were an Ofcom employee’s worst nightmare.

When Sharon walked off during the first show because two of her contestants were in the bottom two

Judges straight up peacing out when they had two contestants in the bottom two became quite commonplace later on, but Sharon’s is still the most iconic for promising to quit the show entirely as well (she was back the week after).

Emily Nakanda getting disqualified after happy slapping someone

It was only after 14-year-old Emily had been in the show for two weeks when the video emerged of her beating someone up in the streets. It was pretty dark and she quietly jumped before she was pushed.

Rhydian’s entire energy

Only a year after Leona redefined what The X Factor was supposedly looking for Rhydian arrived with glowing bleached hair and both middle fingers up singing Go West. He proved quite divisive but was widely expected to win until he didn’t.

Same Difference singing love songs together

As a 10-year-old you thought Same Difference was everything you wanted out of life. It was like the High School Musical we really wanted until you look back and realise some of the song choices were seriously dodge. Also very creepy smiles.

The epic feud between Dannii and Sharon

Hooooooooly shit this was the good kush. Sharron openly despised Dannii, meanwhile, Dannii was allegedly shagging Simon. Rumours of Shaz and Dan dropping into each others’ dressing rooms for screaming matches, feeding rumours to the press, and literally never interacting during the show defined The X Factor in 2007. The beef was so rare Sharon left. Go and watch their appearances on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. 

Leon Jackson randomly winning lol

It is hilarious this was allowed to happen.

Liam Payne auditioning in front of Cheryl when he was 14

It’s hard to know whether Cheryl realised that the Wolverhampton boy in front of her would one day go on to father her child, but I guarantee you Liam considered it even then.

The charity single that felt like millennial Live Aid

Remember when Mariah actually performed it alongside them? God bless the troops.

Laura White’s exit being debated in parliament

It’s wild to think at one point The X Factor traded in this kind of cultural relevance but there was genuinely a time when this was life or death serious.

Diana Vickers and Eoghan Quigg’s romance that was actually mega weird

Diana Vickers as an entity is probably worth a whole paragraph in of herself (tl;dr, she deserved better) but the real points here go to Eoghan, who ran on stage during Diana’s final performance to give her a big hug. Also, have you seen the Quigg now? He’s a chonk.

The Britney Spears comeback episode

You’d think given the hype producers instilled around Britney’s first UK performance in years that The X Factor was literally raising her from the dead, but in fact, she was here to mime her way through Womanizer so badly even Cheryl was probably left scratching her head.

Beyoncé appearing in the 2008 final to duet with Alexandra Burke who basically wet herself on stage and TBH FAIR

I’m struggling to think of a better moment in The X Factor nay my life that was as off the wall batshit as actual Beyoncé walking out on stage to sing Listen with Alexandra, who spent the whole performance yeeting snot over her. I wonder sometimes if Beyoncé still thinks about it.

Sinitta’s iconic 2009 judges’ houses outfit

Honestly respect Sinitta for the drip. 

When this guy chucked his mike on the floor and stormed off

Every female judge has their day in court, i.e. their first outright dickhead auditionee. The way to pass the test is to let the dickhead erupt onstage while you sit there and watch without taking the bait. Then they go offstage and Dermot tells them they’re a naughty boy. The end. Well done Cheryl.

Jedward rehearsing in front of Whitney Houston being a thing that happened in real life

These days John and Edward are hitting up BLM protests because they’re good lads, but back in the day, they did awful awful things to Britney Spears’s catalogue. 

The birth of solo Cheryl which was the event of the decade

The outfit. The Ashleydramz. The obvious miming. Fight For This Love being an unstoppable banger. Cheryl might have peaked way early but what a peak it was.

Daniel’s bisexuality being mocked by Dannii Minogue

When news of Daniel Johnson’s bisexuality hit the tabloids it was treated as a bit of a scandal even though Daniel made it quite clear it wasn’t a secret. When he performed a love song with female pronouns Dannii asked him why he swapped them rather than mind her own business and was subsequently trashed for it. She apologised dw.

Calvin Harris jumping on stage with Jedward and nobody knowing who he was

Before the alleged dickpics, before the millions of dollars, before he dated Taylor Swift and Rita Ora, Calvo made his name putting a pineapple on his head and raiding the stage while Jedward performed. A career highlight for sure.

The guest performances suddenly becoming the biggest moments of your weekend

When they upgraded the studio they also massively upgraded the guest performances, who quickly became the reason to watch the show: Whitney Huston, Lady Gaga, George Michael, Paul McCartney? Pretty much everyone who performed on the show went to number one the week after, it was that powerful.

Robbie Williams forgetting his words while singing with Olly Murs

Poor Olls.

When people got so angry at X Factor hogging the Christmas number one they bought Rage Against the Machine instead

Apparently people were so bothered by the whole Christmas number one thing that they completely ruined Joe McElderry’s dreams by denying him his X Factor birthright of  Christmas number one. Meanies.

Cher Lloyd’s audition which you thought was the edgiest moment in pop culture

In hindsight this was just plain weird, weirder still were her attempts to pass off Swiss Beatz version of Viva La Vida as her own. At least we got Cher Lloyd by Cher Lloyd out of it.

That time the negativity in this room was unreal

And tbf it was.

Ablisa and the legend of the face-punching

There are a lot of moving parts to this cinematic masterpiece. First is the girls unironically naming themselves Ablisa, second is the woefully bad singing, third is when one of them asks Natalie Imbruglia who she even is, and fourth is when Ab or Lisa punches Ab or Lisa using her wrist. Outstanding.

When it was discovered they autotuned the auditions lmao

Oh dear.


Cheryl and The X Factor have since denied rumours Gamu was dropped at the judges’ houses stage because she was facing deportation, with the former maintaining that she picked the likes of Cher Lloyd and Katie Waissel because they were better emotionally equipped for the live shows. Gamu-gate was such a national outrage that even Queen Cheryl couldn’t hack it, particularly given she opted for contestants who had previously messed up auditions.

Dannii and Cheryl throwing shade at Jay Kay after he was a sexist pig about them

Jamiroquai felt like an odd pick for X Factor anyway but Jay Kay, who fronts the band, genuinely said of Cheryl and Dannii in the days leading up to his performance: “What the fuck, when have you ever done anything? You’re useless. The pair of you.

“I mean you look great and I’d like to fucking shag you but that’s all.”

Cheryl and Dannii refused to applaud his performance and quite right too.

Wagner performing She Bangs which is a video I see in my nightmares

Over the course of the series, Wagner morphed into a bit of a cult figure and many a decent singer were crushed under the weight of his popularity.

One Direction being terrible literally the entire time but coming third anyway because obviously

Hilariously none of the 1D boys did well during auditions (Zayn’s was never even televised) but managed to make it through as One Direction and despite never being very good they were impervious to criticism up until their third-place finish. The rest, you know.

When they changed the rules at the last minute to let Cher Lloyd into the final

Traditionally X Factor finals were three-act affairs, and whoever was sent home in the weekends leading up to it was down to the public and not the judges. However, producers decided to expand the final to four (presumably so Cher Lloyd would feature) and also moved the goalposts seemingly mid-show to account for a face-off between Cher Lloyd and Mary Byrne, the latter of which was sent packing. It was later revealed Cher would have been voted out had the judges not intervened. The injustice.

The unholy mismatch duet that was Matt Cardle and Rihanna

Aside from Matt very audibly having a cold and butchering most of the high notes the best part is Rihanna clearly deciding if she’s going to do this she’s gonna do it properly and basically getting with him at the end of it. 

Rihanna and Christina Aguilara’s final performances were basically porn

Ofcom was nooooooooot happy.

Harry Styles whispering “just think of how much pussy you’re going to get” in Matt Cardle’s ear in front of 20 million people

Personally I think they should have included Matt in the Watermelon Sugar video because of how ironic that moment turned out to be.

Cheryl getting fired from the US show

Your childhood more or less ended when Cheryl got so publicly wronged by The X Factor machine she dropped off the face of the earth until 2012. Even sadder was her eventual return, proving there’s a little Louis Walsh in us all.

When this girl said it was a bit rich for Tulisa to say they weren’t good singers

As I said, everyone has their day. Just look at her face.

Matt Cardle turning out to be a 9/11 truther

A telling reminder not to let white boys with guitars win The X Factor.

Tulisa and Louis Walsh accusing Misha B of bullying her

A shocking rewatch nine years on. Both Gary Barlow’s memoir and Misha’s own recollection suggest Louis and Tulisa were encouraged by producers to air backstage gossip live in front of millions (ratings were falling after all). Despite Kelly Rowland and Gary Barlow’s best efforts, 19-year-old Misha can only watch in horror as the argument erupts. The accusations completely fucked her chances in the competition.

Kelly leaving for a week and being replaced by Alexandra Burke

Look I will go to my grave stanning Alexandra Burke and after one pint I can recite an essay about how she deserved better. Now is not that time. For now, let’s all laugh at her saying OK dot com.

The Kelly vs Tulisa feud

The whole reason Kelly dipped was allegedly because she was ill, but many reckoned she was just that pissed at Tulisa. She never got over it and did a Sharon Osbourne at the end of the series.

Frankie Cocozza getting kicked off the show for doing cocaine

While all this was going on, producers were also encouraging Frankie to go out and get shitfaced most nights of the week (a privilege not afforded to other contestants) so that he could cultivate his reputation as the show’s bad boy. They ended up getting more than they bargained for when he was caught bragging about doing coke.

Amelia Lily being voted back in and coming third

Frankie’s exit left the door open for a previously axed contestant to return – enter Amelia Lily, who managed to win enough last-minute support she came third. Also deserved better, imo.

The M&S advert where they kept changing the order of appearance depending on who was the favourite

The infamous M&S ad featured all of the contestants, but as some of them were kicked off The X Factor it was updated and reordered to reflect who was still on the show. The current favourite would always end up singing the last line. Hmmmm.

Little Mix somehow managing to win despite numerous setbacks

Normally acts who would make good pop stars in real life don’t win The X Factor, girl bands never get further than round three. Somehow Little Mix managed it and are killing it nearly 10 years on.

No baby no…

Nicole’s day in court. A classic.

Tulisa’s sex tape leaking over the summer which basically ruined everything for her

You really have to feel for Tulisa, who jumped from low-level fame with N-Dubz to mainstream ubiquity so quickly the tabloids couldn’t help but take her down a peg, and boy did they. First came the sex tape, then came underperforming solo material, then came the gross sting orchestrated by a Sun journalist. Tulisa’s performance of Sight Of You is the polar opposite of Fight For This Love and it’s a hard watch.

Melanie McCabe auditioning like four or five times and never getting through


Rylan breaking down at judges’ houses

Probably the smartest X Factor alumnus of them all, knew what he wanted and exploited the show as much as it exploited him. 

Gary accusing Tulisa of having “fag ash breath”

Hoooooooooooo boy. Look at her face! LOOK at it!!!!! She wore nicotine patches the next night as a fuck you but the damage had been done.

Literally everything involving Christopher Maloney

M-dog basically killed The X Factor stone cold dead. Serving as both a novelty act and a gran-pleaser, he dominated the public vote every night and when he got voted off midway through the final he hightailed it out of London so he didn’t have to be involved with the rest of it. A true agent of chaos.

Ella Handerson getting booted off despite everyone thinking she was going to win

Simon basically said fuck that from afar and gave her a record deal anyway. Ghost still bangs.

Rhianna’s performance of Diamonds where she got rained on was fucking amazing


Nicole’s mic in the 2012 final not working during her duet with Jahmene, forcing them to share one

Seriously look at her face afterwards, like if you were the mic guy backstage you’d be cacking your little pants.

The downfall of James Arthur

This actually has its own article which you can read here.

The obvious racism from the British public manifesting in all the superior black contestants being voted out before the 2013 final

Tamera Foster, Hannah Barrett and Rough Copy all felt like the young and exciting popstars The X Factor was meant to champion, but all of them were booted out in favour of Sam Bailey, Nicholas McDonald and Luke Friend, whose hair was really really gross.

Sam Bailey winning which proved beyond all doubt the show had lost its teenage audience

Look mad respect to Sam because she has a lovely voice but you can practically hear Simon Cowell screaming into a pillow from America.

The iconic ONLY THE YOUNG shouting man who showed up during the results


Fleur East performing Uptown Funk a month before it was due to release and forcing Mark Ronson to release it early

It’s hard to imagine a time before Uptown Funk was inescapable and overplayed but for some reason, Mark Ronson was holding out to release it in January 2015. That was until Simon Cowell decided in December 2014 it was the perfect fit for Fleur and it ended up being one of the best performances the show had ever seen. So popular was Fleur’s cover of the track it shot to number one on iTunes, prompting Mark to whack it out early. A last hurrah before The X Factor officially died. Fleur also deserved better, btw.

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