10/02/2014 13:45 | By Adam Postans, Contributor, MSN TV

X Factor 2014: Can Simon Cowell save the ITV show?

Simon Cowell is returning to the UK panel of The X Factor after leaving the US show. But is it too little, too late?

Simon Cowell returns to X Factor (© Simon Cowell returns to X Factor. Image. Rex)

The big man is coming back. As you’ll no doubt be aware, Simon Cowell has confirmed his return to ITV’s X Factor. About time too. The show has been desperately flagging during his three-year absence while he concentrated on the ill-fated US version, which is being canned after struggling in the ratings ever since it debuted.

Last year’s one-sided final, won at a canter by Sam Bailey, attracted an average of only 9.6 million – the second lowest in its history. Viewers have been switching off in droves and the programme has taken a rightful drubbing from Strictly Come Dancing.

It’s really no surprise, and not just because Cowell was otherwise engaged on the other side of the Atlantic.

"The last two series in particular have been atrocious"

The last two series in particular have been atrocious. The obsession with arena auditions takes away the intimacy of the rooms, even with their partial reinstatement in 2013, and with it a contestant’s “journey” from small beginnings to the cauldron of live TV.

Most of the tweaks the producers have introduced to freshen up the format have been disastrous (RIP the Flash Vote: October 10, 2013 - October 26, 2013).

The no-hope comedy contestants who are required to lift the live shows, such as Wagner, Chico and even Jedward, have been appallingly cast of late. (I’m looking at you, Rylan Clark).

Worst of all, the X Factor has forgotten it has a duty to entertain and make viewers smile as the nights draw in. Instead, crying has become its weapon of choice from everyone on screen. It’s drowning in a tsunami of tears.

But what will Cowell’s return herald? First and foremost, he’ll be hands-on again in the crucial role of show-runner. He was too detached while over in the US. The UK version is, after all, his baby.

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It’s Cowell’s role as a judge, though, that will be most prominent. He isn’t the be all and end all that some people like to remember through rose-coloured specs, but there’s little doubt his presence has been sorely missing.

Since he left, the judges have appeared more like an employment tribunal panel than pop stars: a sighing Gary Barlow grumped his way through the shows.

After a promising first series, Tulisa looked like she didn’t want to be there. Bored is not a good look. Nicole Scherzinger speaks a language all of her own, which rapidly went from funny to annoying.

Sharon Osbourne went doolally too often; her: “She’s a paediophile!” [sic] comment about 16-year-old Nicholas McDonald’s backing dancer was bizarre at best and failed to read the mood of the nation in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile and subsequent BBC underage sex scandals.

And Louis Walsh, who’ll probably stay on, has become a one-man parody and needs some new material beyond the “You remind me of...”

Cowell, in contrast, has a dominant presence you can’t replace. He’s the one everyone wants to watch, the one the contestants want to please. It’s hard to pin down exactly what he has – call it the X factor – but he is essential if the series is to survive beyond the next three years already snapped up by ITV.

So much else needs repairing, but starting with Simon Cowell as a judge is a good start. If nothing else changes, however, not even the big man himself can save his baby from being thrown out with the bathwater. And unlike most people on X Factor, I won’t be crying about that.

  • What do you think? Is Simon's return key to the show? Have your say by leaving a comment.
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