The X Factor winners: where are they now?

What fate awaits James Arthur? Perhaps the careers of his predecessors can offer an insight...

The ninth series of The X Factor reached its climax on Sunday with a triumphant James Arthur crowned king of the singers in front of 10,000 fans at Manchester Central. A dream achieved, no doubt – but what next for the Casanova-esque crooner?


Based on the careers of past winners, James could be about to embark on anything ranging from bona fide international superstardom to a life spent touring seaside towns in pantomime…

Series 1 (2004)

Winner: Steve Brookstein

The show’s first victor notched up no end of votes during his time on the programme and scored a number one single with his first post-X Factor release. However, his drawing power evaporated almost overnight and he was dumped by Sony BMG eight months after being signed. Besides a stint performing on a P&O cruise ship in 2007, Steve was most recently spotted in 2010 performing in a 100-capacity Cornish pub, where tickets to see him sing were priced at £2.50.

Series 2 (2005)

Winner: Shayne Ward

After triumphing on The X Factor in 2005, Mr Ward’s debut recording became the fourth-fastest selling UK single of all time and a string of hit singles and albums followed in its wake. Indeed, so successful was Ward that he was reportedly considered as a replacement for Jason Orange in Take That at one stage. However, once the hits started drying up and Syco began to focus on other stars, he was shown the door and was last seen treading the boards alongside Justin Lee Collins in the London heavy metal musical Rock of Ages.

Series 3 (2006)

Winner: Leona Lewis

Unarguably the biggest success story ever to come out of The X Factor, Leona’s career has gone from strength to strength, the singer even having accomplished what all British musicians dream of doing: cracking America. She’s won three Grammy Awards for her music, sold millions of albums both here and across the pond, and notched up a string of worldwide hit singles with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. So, no, unlike some people on this list, she’s not likely to be donning a Widow Twankey costume this December.

Series 4 (2007)

Winner: Leon Jackson

Who he? You might well ask. Leon Jackson scored just one hit single after his time on the show before disappearing without trace. He was dumped by Sony after his third single, Creative, crashed into the charts at No 94 and he’s barely been seen since. Apparently he once performed on stage with Michael Bublé. Erm…yep, and that’s about it.

Series 5 (2008)

Winner: Alexandra Burke

Best known for her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which sold more than a million copies in the UK, Burke followed up her initial success with a string of top ten singles, a bestselling album and a few TV stints here and there. She’s got another album coming out next year too, so things turned out hunky-dory for Alexandra after her win.

Series 6 (2009)

Winner: Joe McElderry

Poor old Joe’s more famous for being beaten to the Christmas number one spot in 2009 by an internet campaign that propelled Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name to the top of the charts. After that farrago, his musical career floundered and he found himself on another talent show, winning the second series of Pop Star to Opera Star. He’s made something of comeback recently, though, having sold 35,000 copies of last year’s Classic Christmas album and notched up appearances in a string of West End shows throughout 2012.

Series 7 (2010)

Winner: Matt Cardle

The singer-songwriter bagged a number one with his first single but cast doubt over the future of his career by publicly blasting Syco for being “very pop” and describing himself as “not pop”. Unsurprisingly, he parted ways with the Sony-owned label in May. But Matt found himself back in the charts in October when his first album for the brilliantly-named So What Recordings, The Fire, made it to number 8 and earned the X Factor champ some plaudits from the critics, who praised his new hard rockin’ sound. 

Series 8 (2011)

Winner: Little Mix

The Artists Formerly Known as Rhythmix romped home at the end of last year’s X Factor and went on to enjoy a fun-filled 2012. They released their autobiography in August (one wonders how they divvied up the typing) and their debut album DNA came out in November, earning decent reviews and making it to number three on the UK singles chart. Having now been “positioned as a sort of updated Girls Aloud” and with one of their number, Perrie Edwards, dating One Direction’s Zayn Malik, 2013 looks like it’ll be pretty bright for the feisty foursome…


So what’ve we learned from the careers of previous X Factor champions? Firstly, it’s obvious that a win on the show isn’t a cast-iron guarantee of success. Secondly, it doesn’t usually pay to be a man if you end up bagging the top slot on the programme. But most importantly, we’ve learned that after appearing on the show, you’ll always have an audience. Even if that audience is just a saloon bar of punters who’ve paid less to see you than they have for their pints. Oh well, that’s showbiz!