RIP X Factor, these 13 iconic live shows performances will live on forever

I felt Wagner slapping the bongos deep in my soul


When it was announced that ITV had cancelled The X Factor indefinitely last week, the most shocking thing about it to the nation is that we all thought it had been cancelled for years. After the mortifying Celebrity X Factor came X Factor: The Band, a completely unwatched one week long competition where the winning girl band didn’t even get to release a winner’s single and a member left within their first year together. All in all, a disaster. But it’s a crying shame we’ll never get the mayhem of X Factor live shows on our screen ever again.

But when The X Factor was at its peak, there has never been a unifying show quite like it. Everyone in the country watched. It was the definition of a cultural phenomenon, and despite us all moaning about it and its endlessly predictable contestant character arcs and formulaic nature, it was OURS. And amongst a sea of unethical audition processes and a complete, late 00s disregard for mental health, it has birthed some of the biggest artists in the UK over its 15 season run. And whilst social media fondly remembers the auditions about once a month, it’s the nonsense, camp spectacle of the live shows that are burned into my brain forever. Here are 13 of the most iconic performances from the live shows that will stay with me for years after The X Factor is dead and buried.

13. Wagner performing She Bangs whilst slapping on bongos

The X Factor loves a novelty act. One man or woman or group of twinks that get a place in the live show over serious, much better vocalists just to rile up audiences at home, give some brevity to the evening’s events and to make Simon Cowell pretend to hate them in the judging even though he’s practically looking at them with pound signs in his eyes.

Wagner is my king. The way he banged on them drums was a cultural reset. The passion and enthusiasm in his eyes is so unwavering and hypnotic. If you want a daft X Factor act, who was doing it like him?

12. Any wild Kitty Brucknell spectacle, but specifically this deranged It’s Oh So Quiet one

I love how much The X Factor committed to Kitty Brucknell being a kind of new Lady Gaga. Watching back, making her say “I’ve got loads of fans on Twitter calling themselves #KittysDivas” is the most 2011 thing ever but was surely marketing genius at the time. Kitty literally got booed by audience members because The X Factor was brutal and they decided she was annoying, but she was a good performer!

The vocals are bit cursed but she put on a good show, and the harrowing costumes in this Björk cover was The X Factor live shows at their most unhinged.

11.  The gay awakening that was Aiden Grimshaw singing Mad World on Halloween week

Picture the scene. 14-year-old me has come out of the closet a week ago and then I sit down to watch Halloween week and the love of my life Aiden Grimshaw performs this haunting and intense Mad World cover. I didn’t know where to look! I then embarked on a one-man-stan mission for Aiden where I was probably the only person in the country who bought his debut album when he randomly got a record deal. I will always hold a torch for this man!!!!

10. Katie Waissel sitting on the floor during her save me song

I mean, it’s one way to get people to save you. Slump to the floor in your toga and backcombed hair and literally just beg people to not give up on you. Singing gone out the window, cursive vocals left in the bin and just straight up begging. A classic.

9. Diana Vickers singing Call Me in leg warmers

This is PEAK X Factor late 00s culture. Backcombed hair and cursive vocals, Diana Vickers was THEE girl to be. I fully remember thinking she was the coolest person I’d ever seen. This cover is what Blondie wish the original sounded like. The way she literally… yodels? And does NOTHING with her face? The way she doesn’t even stand up and everyone dances round her? That’s history.

8. Misha B doing Rolling in the Deep with her own rap verse

It’s actually disgusting that Misha B wasn’t the biggest pop star on the planet for a while. She is a VOCALIST, she had an amazing grip on her style and she performed so dynamically and was just bursting with star power. This is just peak 2011 brilliance, Rolling in the Deep is the perfect song for her to do and that original verse? That’s artistry, darling. She was a ready made superstar and the world did her dirty.

7. Leona Lewis singing Summertime

I don’t know why they even bothered to make the other contestants do the X Factor live shows on Leona Lewis’ season, because it was an exercise in cruelty. There was no way anyone else was winning. Are you listening to this? It’s literally Whitney Houston / Mariah Carey level of excellence. It’s perfect, mesmerising and what The X Factor should always have been about: platforming talent.

6. One Direction’s chaotic group numbers but specifically this Viva La Vida mess

I love that we all just let One Direction off for the horrible vocals because we loved them all so much, but this one is SO FUNNY. The way Harry and Liam pound the floor when Zayn is singing like they’re in an amateur dramatics production of Guys and Dolls is hilarious. Niall’s unbridled enthusiasm with his chorus of “ahhs” is outrageous. Louis’s leg and shoe outfit combo. Priceless.

5. Ruth Lorenzo blowing the world away with her Purple Rain vocals

Sorry but are you actually hearing this? HAVE YOU HEARD THEM PIPES? It’s jawdropping. Ruth was one of the best vocalists to ever go on X Factor, and she had big competition on her season to win sadly… but this? This is the Lorenzo legacy.

4. Little Mix wowing with Don’t Let Go

Little Mix are by FAR my favourite X Factor export of all time, and their live shows performance of Don’t Let Go was their song of the season for a reason. The En Vogue classic is perfect for their brand, they sound amazing and to be honest they should have just released this as their winner’s single. The slightly naff way they spring up from behind the steps is the icing on the cake.

3. Fleur East pretty much inventing Uptown Funk

I think people have actually forgotten that when Fleur East sung Uptown Funk on X Factor the song hadn’t officially come out yet. Her cover was so good and people were buying so many copies of it on iTunes (very retro) that Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars had to rush release it to capitalise on the buzz. Are you comprehending that? That was how big the X Factor live shows were in their hey day, and this was honestly kind of their last hurrah.

Fleur was such a star and it’s vile that she didn’t win despite being literally one of the most ready-to-go pop icons ever on the show.

2. ALEXANDRA BURKE DUETTING WITH BEYONCÉ

Alexandra Burke sang with Beyoncé. Can we just let that settle for a second please. Actual Beyoncé THEE Knowles. Sang on The X Factor UK. How on earth they negotiated this booking is beyond me but if anything will make you realise the cultural relevance of the X Factor live shows it’s this.

1. Cher Lloyd singing Stay

Everyone remembers where they were when Cher Lloyd sang Stay on Halloween week 2010. It’s the best live performance to ever be on the X Factor. It’s so iconic and… great? Cher isn’t even that good a vocalist (honestly, frequently a mess), but this just works in every possible way. There’s no 2010 gimmick, there’s just a girl singing the best she ever has to a brilliant song. It’s so atmospheric and special. Peak UK culture, and it’s moments like this that make me sad that X Factor will never get the country all feeling this way ever again.

Recommended stories by this writer: 

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

From Misha B to Diana Vickers: Where are X Factor’s most iconic finalists now?

There’s been 31 Little Mix music videos, but which one is officially the best?