Dermot returning to X Factor? What is it with Cowell and comebacks?

The former host would join a long list of stars who’ve made a 'dramatic' return to the big X - but if true, what's behind Dermot's change of heart, asks Emma Daly

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Despite Dermot O’Leary having spent just one series away from The X Factor, talk of him making a ‘dramatic return’ as host isn’t all that surprising. Somewhat premature perhaps – Caroline Flack and Olly Murs have just about got the words out that they’re leaving and I don’t get the impression that any signing has been done on any dotted lines – but this is X Factor. And it loves a comeback.  

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Sharon Osbourne left after five series only to return four years later. So much fuss was made that Louis Walsh joked he wanted to leave and come back just for the fanfare. Which, of course, he may well do this year. Another potential bum-back-in-original-seat situation.

Both Cheryl and Simon Cowell left in 2010 before reappearing in 2014. New signing Rita Ora had been a guest judge before and ‘new’ co-hosts Caroline Flack and Olly Murs (a former contestant, former guest judge, former co-host…) had already fronted spin-off show Xtra Factor. Heck, even voiceover artist Peter Dickson quit and came back quicker than he could say ‘BUPSI’. 

Look at the contestants, too. Monica Michael returned to the 2015 show after being booted out in 2014. She was then subsequently dropped ahead of the live shows, only to be brought back as this year’s Wildcard. 2008 winner Alexandra Burke had already made it to Judges’ Houses in 2005. It’s like a kids’ birthday party: in, out, in, out, shake it all about…

The return of O’Leary would be welcomed by many, of course. He’s a hugely popular host who ran a tight ship for eight years. #BringbackDermot was a long-running hashtag throughout the most recent series. I, naturally, miss the Dermot Dance. But these comebacks tend to be a cheap thrill. A big fuss and then it settles in: it’s the same show. Again. Where is the ‘unexpected’ we’re constantly told to expect?

Insiders suggest to me that the report in the Sun of O’Leary being able to ‘name his price’ is a bit far-fetched. But, money aside, from speaking to him earlier in the year a return would feel to me like a change of heart. After all, he told us if he was in charge he would “rest” the show for a year. And when there was talk that he was first in line to front The Voice when ITV takes over, he said he felt was he was “done” with singing shows.

“I’ve done eight years on the X Factor, so I’m not looking to do another show like that. That’s why I left,” he said.

Perhaps O’Leary – who has plenty of ideas up his sleeve, and adores working on his own documentaries – is being tempted with talk of having more control, more of a chance to put his stamp on things. As he told me, he’s no camera monkey. This is his industry and he cares about how it works. But we’ll have to watch this space, because I’m told proper discussions haven’t started with anyone.

As for who else is rumoured, Emma Willis and Stephen Mulhern shot up the list of potentials, alongside Rylan Clark-Neal. Hmmm… now where have I seen him before?

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The X Factor returns to ITV later this year