X Factor: the mystery of the fourth judge

As the spotlight moves back on to Rita Ora, just who will be joining the judging panel for X Factor 2015? Emma Daly sifts through the latest insider info...

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Until we finally see the official announcement of this year’s X Factor judging panel, it’s safe to say names will continue to fly on and off the list of possibles. One minute it seems someone’s almost definitely in, the next they’re definitely out. Cut to a week later, they’re possibly back in again. It’s like trying to do a Rubik’s cube. You think you’ve got it and then bam, there’s a rogue square on the wrong side.

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From the show insiders I’ve spoken to, the nods and winks have been in the right places to suggest that Cheryl Fernandez-Versini will indeed return to join Simon Cowell and that Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw will take up the third spot.

That nabs one seat from one of last year’s panel: seemingly Louis Walsh. While this has yet to be confirmed by X Factor, sources told me last month that Louis was 95% certain to leave. Of the Grimshaw rumours, Walsh then went on to basically write it on his forehead, telling the Daily Star: “He’s got my job. I’ve flat out left. I’m not going back to the show, absolutely gone.” Having up until that point denied he’d either been hired or fired, it doesn’t get much clearer, does it? Well, that it is until you remember that Louis makes a habit of saying he’s leaving and then doesn’t…

Anyway, then comes the mystery of the fourth judge. Again, there’s been no confirmation that Mel B is leaving, with ITV once again acknowledging the ongoing speculation but saying nothing official has been announced. But judging by the rumours, it would be more of a surprise if she did return (although some show insiders do tell me that personally they’d be keen to see the former Spice Girl back).

But who would take the fourth judging place if not Mel? Well, the spotlight is now squarely back on Rita Ora, with bookies William Hill even suspending bets on the star after her odds tumbled from 5/2 to 4/6.

In April, show insiders told me that while The Voice coach had been on a list of possible new judges, it had subsequently been decided that this wouldn’t be pursued. It was apparently thought that a former guest judge recently seen on another shiny floor show on the other side would be unlikely to excite viewers.

But now, those insiders say that having looked at other people, they’ve gone back to considering Rita and that “discussions have been ongoing”. It’s also thought Grimshaw’s place on the panel could have tempted her given they’re friends. And she’d be a welcome addition, with Cowell having said that he was impressed by her on The Voice. The Mirror reports that the boss is on an “extreme charm offensive”, with a source telling them Cowell’s “throwing the kitchen sink” at the situation. Judging experience, you would imagine, is always a benefit.

Having said that, co-host Olly Murs hinted this week that the line-up could include someone “completely unknown”. “You’ve got to remember Louis, Simon and Sharon back in the day when they were on the panel weren’t celebrities at the time, so anyone can do it,” he told OK!

“Well, not anyone could do it, you’ve got to be a strong personality with a good opinion – who knows, it could be someone completely unknown!”

Fellow host Caroline Flack added another curveball, pushing the conversation back to the idea of the panel having three male judges alongside Cheryl.

“I think it might be a boy,” she told me last week (although she clarified: “That’s like me predicting someone’s birth by the way. That’s me thinking it might be a boy, that’s not inside knowledge or anything”).

And it seems that anyone with even a remote connection to the show is having to fend off rumours that they’re signing up. Robbie Williams tweeted on Saturday: 

Speaking to press at Capital FM’s Summertime Ball, One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson denied rumours he was to take a spot behind the desk, having often been seen at the studios last year. “I’ve got a tour to do so unfortunately not.” Band member Niall Horan, apparently someone Walsh would like to see on the panel, said he’d be “the worst judge ever” adding an extra “terrible” for good measure.

Former judge Tulisa’s name has dipped in and out of the speculation, although show insiders admitted they’d be “surprised” if she made a return. Having said that, her Bond girl-esque entrance into Judges’ Houses last year seems worthy of another invite when X Factor heads to sunnier climes.

Cowell’s shows have form for looking within their own pool of talent for new judges, and Mika’s is another name that’s cropped up. The singer has been a judge on the Italian version of the show since 2013 and The Daily Star reports that Cowell is a fan. True, it’s possible the filming schedules on the two shows could clash but then Mel B jetted between America’s Got Talent and The X Factor last year, so double judging can be done.

One thing’s for sure, until that official announcement (which may not be until nearer July), this game of fantasy musical chairs is going to keep us guessing…

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The X Factor returns later this year on ITV