X Factor 2016 – everything you need to know…

From the host to the judging panel and format changes to Judges' Houses, here's your ultimate guide to the new series

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When does the 2016 series start?

The X Factor returns on Saturday 27th August at 8pm with a double helping in the first weekend. The second show is at 8pm on Sunday 28th August.  

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Who’s the host?

Caroline Flack and Olly Murs are both out, Dermot O’Leary is back. Murs is ‘focussing on the music’ (we’ve heard that one a few times this year) while Flack went off to spend the summer drenched in the Mallorcan sun hosting Love Island (good choice, Caz). Yep, Mr ‘Your Saturday night starts here’ skipped just one series before announcing his return. It means the hugs will be back. It means the classic spin and then golf club swing will be back. IT MEANS THE DANCING WILL BE BACK. 

It’s a change of heart for the host. After all, he told us himself 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 shortly after his departure. He also said if he was Simon Cowell he’d “rest” the show for a year, which must have made for an interesting topic of conversation when they met. O’Leary himself compared it to De Niro and Al Pacino meeting in Heat

I’m told reports he could ‘name his price’ are a bit far-fetched. The return of exec producer Mark Sidaway may have played its part. Sidaway’s been off working on another of Cowell’s talent shows – Latin American talent search La Banda – rejoining X Factor’s fellow execs Amelia Brown (who’s leaving later in the series to have a baby) and Syco’s Lee McNicholas after a series away. O’Leary has spoken fondly of him before – and he thought up the Dermot Dance, so they’re clearly a winning team. Or perhaps Derms just realised Saturday nights can be rather boring… 

Speaking of his return, Dermot said: “To start with, I wasn’t sure. I felt like I had drawn a line in the sand. Then I gave myself some time to think about it and I realised I had missed the live shows, I missed the team and I missed being part of a show that’s part of the national conversation and culture. Like any job, if you do it for eight years it becomes engrained in you. I love making a live Saturday night entertainment show and there aren’t many around. I certainly still felt an emotional attachment to it.”

And it was an easy decision to bring Dermot back, according to Simon Cowell: “He came to see me in LA about three months ago and I hadn’t seen him for a while. I was so happy to see him, I think he thought it was going to be an awkward conversation. I just said, ‘There’s nothing to be awkward about, I should have phoned you, you should have phoned me, everyone misses you so come back’. That was it and I think it’s been good in a way because I think you can take him for granted. I think Olly and Caroline did a great job but the public relate this show to Dermot, so now he’s back, and even I look at him in the clips and think, ‘God, he’s so good!’.”  

But more importantly, there will definitely be more Dermot Dancing, right? Over to you Derms:

“God yeah, we can’t put that to bed, can we? Go on, let me! It will be sporadic, I don’t think it will be every week. I haven’t got it in the locker to do it every week.”  

Who are the judges? 

Ah, the annual game of ‘guess who’. It started off with the departures. Nick Grimshaw went first. He would rather sit at home and watch the show, he said. Can’t blame him really. He was juggling his early morning radio show with the show and got an awful lot of stick for his efforts. A curry and a moan about someone else seems far more enjoyable.

Then came Cheryl. The party line is she’s getting back in the studio to (all together now) focus on her music. But insiders tell me she jumped before she was pushed. This presumably has something to do with the return of Louis Walsh. There’s no love lost between the two since the days of Girls Aloud, Cheryl claiming he didn’t do enough to claim to be their manager, rather he just “took a cheque”. There were signs of burying the hatchet in 2014, but maybe one series of niceness was enough. 

So who are this year’s fabulous four?

Obviously, Simon Cowell is in – it’s his show. This year he’ll be joined by returning favourites Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne and Nicole Scherzinger.  

“The good thing about having a Twitter account is they [viewers] tell you what they think, it’s a bit like your mum and dad when they go, ‘Simon, you have screwed up’,” Simon explains. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, I just didn’t realise how much the viewers missed everyone. In a strange way, that’s what I learnt, so this line-up was the easiest decision we have ever made, there was no speculation, it was just this is who’s going to be on the show.”

But apparently Nicole didn’t need much convincing and was keen to take up Cowell’s offer of a return because she wanted to “have fun this year”. 

“It feels like home sweet home,” said the former Pusscat Doll. “I’ve missed the UK and obviously me, Sharon and Louis were together on our last season. I haven’t been on a show with Simon in a few years and he’s really awesome, he’s not as scary as I remember! It’s a great feeling on the panel, a really natural, family, homey vibe, nothing is forced and there’s a lot of positive, fun energy.”

And former fan favourite Sharon Osbourne is keen to reiterate the “back to basics” approach this series of X Factor is going to have – a far cry from the constant experimentation of the last few years.

“Simon said he wanted the show to be back to the way it was, small audition rooms, he wanted everyone to have fun,” explains Sharon.

“Listen, we’re all competitive with one another because we all want to win, nobody wants to sit there the last few weeks with no one in your category, but at the same time, we’re not so badly competitive. We want to take it seriously but at the same time enjoy what we’re doing and have fun on camera and off air too.”

Famously, Sharon and Louis were partners in crime in previous series – so will we be seeing that again?

“Oh yes! Nothing can stop that one! I do write naughty notes. When people come in I’ll write notes and pass them on to him and he’s like, ‘Stop it!’.”

Although Louis, who took a year off for 2015, seems to think the panel are getting on pretty well right now, so perhaps we’ll have to wait until the live shows for the real mischief.  

“We’re not laughing together just yet because everyone’s getting on so well, it’s all four of us, we’re very much a team this year.” 

Are the auditions changing?

The rooms are back, hurrah! The in-room auditions have been in and out like a jack-in-the-box during recent series, with arena auditions favoured. But I think viewers will be pleased to see the small rooms back. It’s more intimate with the singers, more up close and telling with the judges and it adds an extra element when they do actually move into the arenas for following rounds. 

I personally liked last year’s outdoor Bootcamp too, which saw them return to the format of ‘mansion’ trips. It gives us a chance to see a bit more of the singers away from their auditions and is a nice break from Wembley Arena with its artificial lights and moody atmosphere. 

As Louis Walsh puts it: “We need great characters, funny stories and we needed to go back to the small rooms and get people to walk in and tell us their story.” 

And then it’s bootcamp, right?

If they make it past the judges in the room auditions, the class of 2016 “will perform for the judges again, with a choreography challenge and of course the all-important performance challenge where they will be grouped together to sing in lines.”

And once the judges have decided who from the girls, boys, groups and overs has made it through the all important judging categories will be revealed on screen. 

Will there be a Six Chair Challenge this time?

Despite its ‘marmite’ nature, we will – as we have previously speculated -see the return of the Six Chair Challenge. It’s the round that’s basically a really mean game of musical chairs: sing well, you get a chair and you’re through to Judges’ Houses… but don’t celebrate yet, a better singer can pinch your seat. In front of a live Wembley crowd no less. 

A source close to the show told me, those Six Chair shows rate well – last year they brought in more than 8 million viewers – and, importantly, “Simon’s a fan”. 

At this stage “the hopefuls will have to impress a live audience of thousands as well as the judges” if they are to be one of the chosen six who make it to Judges’ House. 

Is Judges’ Houses going to be live again?

It seems pretty safe to say there won’t be a repeat of the half-live-half-recorded shambles of last year’s series. Cowell himself told me it was “hell” and anyone else I’ve asked has raised an eyebrow very much suggesting, ‘are you kidding?’ This is good news. Judges’ Houses needed no tampering. I for one simply enjoy being told how to feel by the changing music in the background, while playing ‘who will cry first’ bingo. I also like nosing online at where the judges are staying, because they’re so very rarely their actual houses anymore. Louis Walsh once stayed in a pink hotel in Bermuda. Happy holiday hunting!

We’re told to “expect big personalities, outstanding vocals and outrageous performances as the lucky final few and their judges go all out to make sure that they win the title of X Factor Champion 2016 and secure a life changing record contract.” 

How will the live shows go?

Live shows should be a bit more standard this year, without the scheduling interruption of the Rugby World Cup, which saw some Saturdays skipped in favour of bumper Sundays. It may well mean we go back to a longer run of live shows, too. Last year there were seven instead of the usual ten, the date changes meaning we missed some of the fun – Halloween’s usual fancy dress bonanza didn’t go ahead, for example, because it was the first live show.

Any changes with the Xtra Factor?

Indeed there are. Not only will the ITV2 show be returning this year with a brand new format, but also a brand new presenting line-up in the shape of Radio 1 DJ Matt Edmondson and X Factor alumnus Rylan Clark-Neal. 

This year the spin-off show will be available live from the very first audition show, allowing fans to react immediately after the ITV show.  

Capital Radio DJ Roman Kemp, will “be on hand to bring viewers all the social media news and reaction to that week’s auditions” and those tuning in can see a new segment titled ‘Louis’ Gap Year’ that “will give viewers an exclusive look at what Louis Walsh got up to during his time off last year as we follow him and Sinitta on a trip around the world.”

Also, expect the usual “unseen auditions, interaction with fans on social media, backstage gossip and access to the all-important X Factor judges.” 

I want more X Factor, are there more ways to enjoy the show?

Of course the absolute best way to keep up with the show is here on RadioTimes.com, but for those looking for official interactive action will be pleased to hear that the nation’s “biggest TV show on social media” is not looking to lose that crown.

The X Factor App for IOS and Android will give fans lots of features, including the ability to vote for free in the competition for their favourite singer.  

X Factor is also available on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat – as well as with exclusive content on the website. 

Is this the last series? People always say it’s going to end…

There’s been an awful lot of talk of resting, or axing, but ITV gave us a pretty to-the-point line about the future of both X Factor and BGT on the channel. “ITV fully intend to continue with X Factor and BGT in 2017 and beyond.”

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The X Factor returns on Saturday 27th August at 8pm