Gary Barlow talks X Factor departure

The Take That frontman has refused to deny reports that he will leave the talent contest after its current tenth series

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The sun was shining for The X Factor arena auditions this morning and head judge Gary Barlow was looking dapper on the red carpet. But as the talent contest gears up for its tenth series there has been growing speculation that the Take That frontman will take a step back from the show next year to concentrate on his band’s seventh album and a possible arena tour.

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Now in his third year on the show, Barlow has refused to deny the reports of his imminent departure. “It’s far too early to think about next year,” he said, avoiding committing to a future on the show beyond the current series. “It’s all about this year.”

And it looks like Simon Cowell’s replacement on the panel has had his authority swiped from under his nose by returning judge Sharon Osbourne. “She’s completely taken my head judge mantle,” he lamented. “She’s smashed it. But it’s great to have her back – we’ve got the Queen with us this year and it does feel like we’re in the room with royalty.”

After weeks of closed room auditions, today is the first time this year’s acts have performed in front of a live audience at Wembley Arena. So which category is Gary hoping to mentor?

“At this point I think the groups are the strongest which is interesting. In the three years I’ve been here, we’ve never seen the groups look so strong. If there was a category to have I think it would be that one. There’s also a really fantastic over so I think that category could be strong as well. But it’s going to be interesting because obviously we’re in front of an audience today for the first time and I think a whole new act appears on stage when you put an audience in front of them.”

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The tenth series of The X Factor returns to ITV in August.