Dermot O’Leary’s X Factor return, the in-room auditions comeback and talk of Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne both heading back to the judging panel may make you feel like you’ve woken up somewhere around X Factor 2007. But while there’s certainly a feeling that the singing show is going back to basics, not all of the show’s more divisive tweaks are being dropped: including that Six Chair Challenge.
Oh the Six Chair Challenge, a yearly divider of viewers. It’s still relatively new, brought in during the 2013 series. Some hate it. Singers are quite literally singing for a seat as the crowd boos and jeers. Some love watching the judges sob and squirm over their decisions. During his one-year absence O’Leary himself branded it “uncomfortable”, saying the show needed to learn a thing or two from its warmer rival Strictly Come Dancing. I know, dangerous ground. Simon Cowell probably mentioned it in their renegotiation meeting. That and suggesting the whole show should be rested for a year…
Anyway, those six egg cup-style chairs look set to be polished and brought back out for yet more musical chair madness. A source close to the show told me that while it’s not 100% confirmed, those Six Chair shows rate well – last year they brought in more than 8 million viewers – and, importantly, “Simon’s a fan”. If Cowell likes the idea and it’s drawing eyeballs, it’s safe to say that that gets the tick of approval, regardless of whether it fits into this idea of going back to the good old days. Someone will just have to hug Dermot.
Changes on the panel may actually be less than everyone’s expecting, too. Nick Grimshaw, having said he’s off, obviously needs replacing. But I certainly don’t get the impression there’s an interest in seeing Rita Ora leave. There have been no particular rumblings that Cheryl’s leaving either. And, by all accounts, things may well stay the same over on Xtra Factor with Rochelle Humes and Melvin Odoom proving popular as the new spin-off hosts last year.
So it feels like the stripping back will work in viewers’ favour. All the juicy bits aren’t being cut out, rather the naff bits are being shown the door. The attempts to make part of Judges’ Houses live won’t be repeated, for example. Cowell – like the rest of us – wasn’t impressed by the half-live-half-recorded shambles of 2015. In fact his word of choice was “hell” when we spoke about it backstage at the time. Cue the usual barrage of emotional music, HD tears and glamorous swimming pools. Hurrah.
So while we can look forward to a more familiar X Factor, don’t get too nostalgic for the very early days of the show. There’ll still be an edge. It can’t be too nice and fluffy, otherwise we might as well all watch The Voice, right?
The X Factor returns later this year on ITV