Exclusive: Dermot O’Leary says X Factor’s Simon Cowell still has “fire in his belly”

Cowell's latest venture is X Factor: The Band, which concludes tonight

X factor: The Band (ITV)

Dermot O’Leary has spoken exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the most unorthodox X Factor series yet and why Simon Cowell isn’t just “going through the motions” after 15 years.

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X Factor: The Band airs its live final tonight, having launched on Monday (9th December) after only being announced in early November.

A replacement for the scrapped X Factor: All Stars, The Band is Cowell’s attempt to form a chart-topping pop group “in record-breaking time.”

Speaking to RadioTimes.com, host O’Leary said: “We didn’t have as long to prepare but it went really smoothly. There were no bells and whistles in the first auditions. It’s properly stripped back with Simon in his own office behind his own desk. There’s something quite raw about it.

“Simon is just doing what he does best, which is being a brilliant label boss. Then we have these industry experts like Naughty Boy and Ella Eyre giving their opinions and advice. I think we’ve really hit on something.

“I think everyone ups their game when they’re under a bit of pressure and it feels really exciting to be a part of too.”

O’Leary added that Cowell is always “quite instinctive” so the sudden switch from All Stars to The Band wasn’t totally unprecedented. “He’s the boss, so it means circumstances can change quite quickly depending on his instincts.”

Dermot O'Leary - The X Factor 2018

Putting together a successful pop group in such a short space of time might sound like a tall order, but O’Leary thinks that it’s easier now than ever, with “the modern auditionee” coming to The X Factor with “very definite ideas of who they are”.

“The modern auditionee already has their own music out there, sometimes they have a profile, and they know what they want to bring to the creative process, so matching people up might be challenging,” he said. “But that’s much better than guys turning up not knowing one end of the microphone from the other and not knowing what they want to sing.”

Part of the ‘stripped back’ approach to The Band is cutting down the judging line-up to just two – Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger.

“We’ve got in Nicole one of the greatest vocalists in this country, and I’m going to say ‘this country’ because we have kind of adopted her,” O’Leary said. “She can do West End and she’s a recording artist and she’s an all-rounder.”

As for Cowell, O’Leary insisted that the TV personality and record boss is still passionate about finding fresh musical talent, even after 15 years of The X Factor.

“Then you’ve got Simon who’s still got fire in his belly,” he said. “He still wants to find a star, he’s not just going through the motions. So they’re a great duo.”

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Though The X Factor: Celebrity and X Factor: The Band have underperformed in the ratings, ITV recently announced a new five-year deal with Cowell, confirming that The X Factor would return – in some form – in 2020.

The X Factor: The Band live final airs tonight at 8pm on ITV