The X-Factor began making dreams come true after exploding out of the bitter darkness in 2004, and since then many memorable faces that we definitely haven’t forgotten have become irrepressible stars that have changed the world of music. At least, that’s what you’d think, considering the hordes of people all over Britain that still seem intent on lining up to be abused by square headed man-trousers, Simon Cowell and friends. Maybe because they thought they sounded great in the shower, or they looked fantastic miming into a hairbrush, or because slightly less than five of their co-workers had told them to never sing in the office again, which was a few less than the year before.
Winners of the X-Factor are given a £1 million record deal, generally manage a Christmas number one, and a tour sometime later that also includes the contestants that they beat, who are presumably made to stand behind them and look sullen. But is winning the X-Factor the dream-ticket that it suggests it is? Where are any of the stars now? The first winner, Steve Brookstein’s first album Heart and Soul went to number one, went certified gold and sold 105,080 records. His second sold just 3,632 records. This may have been due to the difficulties he went through with the Sony label he was signed on to after winning, and a general lack of advertising, but it’s hardly a fate fitting of someone who has the much coveted X-Factor which, if you’ve been wondering, is the same ingredient that Coca-Cola refuses to disclose.
There have been success stories for winners of X-Factor, though. It would look very suspicious if there hadn’t. Leona Lewis shot to stardom with Bleeding Love, which was everywhere, and she is still recording as a singer, but there isn’t nearly the same hearsay around her. Olly Murrs has released four albums, the number most of the more successful winners seem to have managed, and become a presenter, so he seems to be living the life that X-Factor contestants all yearn for. JLS did well enough to move onto becoming a successful brand of contraceptives and clothes. Little Mix’s first album even did better than the Spice Girls’ debut.
The show still seems to continue to sell vast numbers of records, but winners get chewed up and spat out once the novelties worn off and there’s a whole new set of warblers to abuse or adore, usually by the time the previous winner’s just done a second album. It’s not uncommon over the Christmas period to see previous contestants releasing a Christmas covers album or adorning posters for pantomimes across the country, which doesn’t seem to be such a huge achievement when considered alongside Alexandra Burke starring in The Bodyguard on the west end. But once we begin to move away from more recent winners of The X-Factor, we see stars beginning to fade back into the obscurity they once exploded out of. You might have already forgotten who Steve Brookstein is. Winner of the fourth series, Leon Jackson, hasn’t really done anything since 2011. Shayne Warde was on Dancing On Ice. Amelia Lily’s last single went to 83.
Finalist of the second series, Andy Abraham, had to file for bankruptcy, even though his first album went platinum. He came last in Eurovision but continued to do live shows long after. He only lost by just over one percent, but still disappeared from the public eye years later. Of course, music is a fickle business, and winning a contest judged by an equally fickle public isn’t going to be a good judge of success. Possibly much like the judges themselves. There’s simply no way of knowing. But if it’s a contestants dream to do very, very well for about six months, and then quite well for a few years before gently dissolving into being at best an occasional contestant in something and at worst a disgusting normal person with an interesting anecdote, signing up for the X-Factor wouldn’t be a bad idea.