All change at X Factor UK: Last year’s judging panel mostly fired… except Louis Walsh!

Opinion: We UK-based X Factor viewers have had it really good for years. We were the first country to get X Factor, complete with original ascerbic judge Simon Cowell. Even though it rolled out across Europe and even further afield, UK X Factor was always the flagship series, always the one that people talked about.

This year turns all that on its head. Simon has abandoned his native UK for the American version of X Factor, and he’s poached the nation’s sweetheart Cheryl Cole to go over there and judge alongside him. And today we got the news that Dannii Minogue has been dropped from the show. Suddenly the UK judging panel looks remarkably empty.

All that’s left is Irish clown Louis Walsh. (no offense to Irish people). That would be the same Louis Walsh whose biggest moneymakers were Westlife and Boyzone. He’s a great talent spotter. If you’re in a boyband. And the date is somewhere between 1995 and 2005.

So the inevitable recasting news started to drip through. First up was Take That mastermind Gary Barlow. Solid news – in stark contrast to past judges, Barlow’s been making hits for decades. He’s a songwriter, a musician, he’s seen the highs and lows of success. He’s also a tiny bit dull, but we’ll have to see him in the job for a while before we can judge the judge. At least he’s got the right qualifications.

Next up is N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos. Incredibly young, Tulisa has enjoyed a stratospheric success in the last few years. Adults won’t have a clue who she is, but that’s not the point. She’s there to attract young urban acts and the kind of audience who’d want to listen to them. It’s a shrewd choice for X Factor, especially since Simon Cowell was clearly keen to lock in some urban star power last year with Cher Lloyd. If X Factor can produce an authentic British urban act, they should be able to sell by the bucketload.

I’m assuming at this point that they’ll opt to keep Louis Walsh as a judge. It’s important to keep a familiar – if somewhat useless – face on the panel so as not to alienate viewers. American Idol did it this year with Randy Jackson, and Britain’s Got Talent kept Amanda Holden when both Simon and Piers Morgan jumped ship for their American shows.

Which means that we can expect a second judge to be named soon. With Louis and Gary on board, it’s likely to be a female judge. I’d suggest the return of Sharon Osbourne, but my feeling is someone a bit younger and more glam for the weekly frock-off.

The big question is – will the show suffer from a sweeping change of the judging panel? Well, Britain’s Got Talent’s viewership seems to be slightly down on previous years. But that feels like a combination of unseasonably good weather and a slightly samey series. American Idol has actually grown its viewership where most pundits thought Simon’s departure would kill the show off. It didn’t.

Clearly the right choice of judging panel can make or break a talent show. Still, there’s a temptation to feel short-changed by Simon ditching us for the more high-profile gig. Judges can polarize the audience – people loved and hated Cheryl Cole in equal measure, and they’ll probably give Tulisa Contostavlos a suitable trial by fire as well. It’s sad that Dannii Minogue, having slowly won over the British audience, has been forced out of the show. Right up until last year, she was pretty clearly the judge with the most focus on talent, and became my personal X Factor hero.

Of course, the positive of Simon going is that the show can begin to change. None of the forced bickering between him and Louis and none of the brown-nosing that was so uncomfortable to watch either. A frequent complaint about Cowell in recent years is that he’d lost that biting way of delivering the truth to bad singers – he seemed to become averse to insulting people in the end. Hopefully one of the new judges can pick up the ‘nasty’ role, because X Factor has been missing that lately.

And hopefully we can kiss goodbye to novelty acts slipping through to the live shows.

These big changes at X Factor HQ have the potential to alienate the viewership or reinvigorate the show. Losing Simon may not kill the show off, and as long as they put some solid talent through, we might actually see one of the strongest series’ of X Factor for years.

I’ll be holding my breath for the next judging announcement and obviously for the series when it airs this autumn. But I’m interested as always to hear what you lot think – are you looking forward to the changes or do you think that it’s the beginning of the end for X Factor? Leave me a comment!

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