X Factor's strongest year yet leaves Simon Cowell smirking

2010 version of televised karaoke show ends this weekend having already given a big win to ITV bosses

Four months of buildup! Millions of pounds earned by ITV! Thousands of people auditioned! Hundreds of cliches uttered by the judges! It's. The. X Factor. Final.

At times it has felt as if the world's supplies of dry ice, glitzy frocks and heartrending backstories would be exhausted long before The X Factor reached its finale. But this weekend, over a double bill of two-hour specials, television's most overblown talent search will finally crown its champion.

From an initial lineup of 16 acts, four remain: Matt Cardle, Rebecca Ferguson, boyband One Direction and, controversially, Cher Lloyd – the 17-year-old with a sometimes trying singing/rapping style saved by the judges last week at the expense of "Tesco" Mary Byrne.

Not that Mary, likable but with an alarming tendency to bellow, was thought likely to win. That will come down to a battle between the beautifully soulful but apparently motionless Rebecca, achingly sincere and high-pitched Cardle, and One Direction, who look as if they all turned up at the hairdressers clutching the same picture of Justin Bieber (not such a bad thing, given their fanbase).

After nine weeks of taking to the stage alone, tonight the finalists will have company: duetting with celebrity singers. Rebecca will be joined by Christina Aguilera, Matt by Rihanna, and Cher will team up with Will.i.am.

Robbie Williams, who managed to mess up his own song last year with X Factor runner-up Olly Murs, will sing with One Direction. Good luck boys.

The duets do bring one advantage for viewers – variety. By the final, even the most avid viewer feels the pull of the mute button as the opening strains of yet another heartwrenching ballad threatens to reduce Cheryl and/or Dannii to tears.

Nobody, of course, has yet seen Simon Cowell weep. And why would he? The autumn schedules have been awash with reality shows – I'm A Celebrity, The X Factor, The Apprentice and a resurgent Strictly Come Dancing have all been vying for viewers – but The X Factor has continued to bring in massive ratings.

Amid the flurry of firings, trials, sing-offs and phone voting on offer, the show has had its strongest year. Little wonder he's still smirking.

Tomorrow night the four remaining acts will sing to an audience expected to peak at around 20 million. So whoever triumphs, and without wishing to sound like Louis Walsh reaching for the superlatives, none of the acts can really be called losers. Ditto Cowell. And indeed ITV. In the X Factor final, everybody wins – except, perhaps, the music.


Vicky Frost

The GuardianTramp

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