Over the last few days a number of previous X Factor contestants have called out the show for its alleged treatment of contestants. Jedward, Cher Lloyd and Rebecca Ferguson have all spoken out on social media discussing exploitation of artists by the music industry at large.
And this isn’t the first time the X Factor has been hit with negative accusations. Just last year, ex-contestant Misha B came forward claiming the show pushed the “angry black girl narrative” on her whilst she appeared on the show. Misha said appearing on the show led to her feeling suicidal after performing. X Factor has subsequently reached out to Misha B and said they take the welfare of contestants seriously.
These accusations are only a few in long line of complaints against the show since it started. When the X Factor began in 2004 it was the prime time for nastiness as entertainment and Simon Cowell and his fellow judges tried to make meanness popular. And they succeeded.
For a number of years X Factor was the most popular show going. Every year from September onwards Saturday nights were spent clued to the telly with your takeaway watching Simon rip into some very normal person who just wanted to sing. Obviously we all love watching people like One Direction and Little Mix succeed but a big part of the success of X Factor was watching the general public fail and have Sharon Osbourne laugh them out the building. Head to YouTube now and “worst X Factor auditions” flood the timeline.
Sometimes they were funny, but looking back now the majority of auditions and moments on screen are just downright uncomfortable. The judges’ insults were often nothing to do with the singing and if they were they were unnecessarily cruel. There were moments of groping, cultural appropriation and fat shaming that hopefully would never be aired today.
These are some of the worst X Factor moments that should never have made it to TV:
When Simon said someone looked half dead
Simon is pretty much known for his harsh insults in the early days, but he hasn’t even got better over time. In 2015 Simon literally told a young contestant they looked half dead.
When Simon said someone’s mouth was too big
Yet another classic insult from Simon that literally makes no sense. She’s a singer. Isn’t it good she’s got a big mouth??
When Sharon basically annihilated Steve
In the first series, Sharon Osbourne was just as savage as she is today. In the final rather than give contestant Steve a critique on his performance, she got real personal and assassinated his character.
She said he was over confident, that he talked a load of BS and she didn’t like his “humble” act because he wanted to sell his Volkswagen. Sharon maybe you should learn a thing or two about being humble from Steve.
When Brian said the girls couldn’t be too sexy and slagged off drag queens
Back in 2007 one of Simon’s acts the group Hope were given a very sexy dance by choreographer Brian Friedman. He then proceeded to criticise the girls for dancing “too sexily” for a dance he literally created.
And then he went one step further and said the girls needed to look like “ladies” otherwise they’d look like “men in drag”. Sorry but what’s wrong with men in drag Brian?
Dannii Minogue made a very bad joke about bisexuality
In an episode in 2009 Dannii Minogue caused thousands of Ofcom complaints with an ill informed joke.
One of her contestants Danyl allegedly identified as bisexual and sang the song “I’m Telling You” which is originally sung by a woman to a man. Danyl switched the words so it suited a man singing to a woman.
Dannii said in her critique: “If we’re to believe what we read in the papers, there was no need to switch the gender reference in that song.”
It had nearly 4,000 Ofcom complaints and even Simon looked shocked at what she said. Dannii did end up apologising for it the next day.
When Simon compared three contestants to ‘before during and after Weight Watchers’
It was definitely one of Simon’s worse insults in the early days when he compared a group of three girls to “before, during and after” Weight Watchers. Skip to 6:05 to see the horrible comment in action.
And if you needed more convincing of nasty things he’s said these are just a few more he’s chucked at contestants – he said one was “too old to be a barbie doll”, told another “I really hate your image, almost creepy” and that another would “devalue the competition”.
When Simon said he thought Rylan liked a ‘back door’
— FRQ.fm (@FRQfm) October 15, 2016
Whilst Rylan seemed to take it in good spirits many people on Twitter criticised Simon for the joke claiming it was the sort of “casual homophobia” that needs to be stopped. Simon apologised for the “joke” immediately after he said it.
When Simon said a contestant looked like a man dressed as a woman
What is with the judges’ obsession of using men dressing up as women as an insult? In case you haven’t seen Drag Race, drag is one of the best concepts on Earth.
When Louis Walsh groped Mel B live on the show
This was probably the most uncomfortable scene to watch in X Factor history. When Mel B appeared as a judge on the show in 2014 Louis Walsh was filmed groping her bum repeatedly whilst they were live on telly filming the Xtra Factor.
Mel B calls him out on it live on air and whilst he moves his hand away everyone else just laughs and then he cosies up closer.
Louis mentioned the moment on an interview later and said he “grabbed her arse as a joke”. There’s nothing funny about it Louis.
When Robbie asked someone their deadname
It was great to see a transgender contestant on X Factor in 2018. What wasn’t great was Robbie Williams just casually asking the contestant to reveal their deadname on the show for the world to hear.
He asked contestant Felix for the name they had when they were born and then when they knew they were Felix. His questions got a lot of backlash on Twitter as many people couldn’t see why Robbie was asking such personal questions.
When Sharon didn’t know the name of one her contestants
In 2016 Sharon appeared to forget the name of her own contestant Saara. Whilst nowhere near as bad many other offences on this list, it just shows a lack of professionalism and care for the contestants she was meant to be mentoring.
And then Rita did it too
Guys c’mon it’s just embarrassing at this point.
When there were multiple instances of cultural appropriation, firstly Honey G
The 2016 version of X Factor was hit with multiple accusations of cultural appropriation. The first was the entire contestant that was Honey G.
The white female rapper was accused of “offensive” cultural appropriation whilst on the show. A Guardian piece in particular called her out saying her act was “a caricature of blackness as stupid and illicit”.
And then a contestant dressed as a geisha
That same year Finnish Saara was dressed as a geisha for her performance and she and choreographer Brian Friedman were accused of cultural appropriation.
They both denied it was cultural appropriation and went on to say how much they both loved Japan.
When they fat shamed a pregnant contestant
— 🥃Russell (@RussellHayward) January 10, 2019
Fat shaming a person is a dick move regardless of their pregnancy status and yet the judges spent most of their critique arguing about the way the contestant looked.
In fairness they apparently didn’t know she was pregnant but the woman had told the presenter beforehand she was, so someone could have easily stepped in and been like “btw guys she’s pregnant”. And regardless of pregnancy, why are they commenting on her weight in the first place?
Then Simon put her through to the next round because he wanted to know “how far she was willing to go” to achieve her dream which sounds a little odd to me.
When Sinitta wore a Native American headdress
Sinitta’s outfits at judge’s houses are the stuff of TV legend, we will never forget the leaf outfit, however she probably all wishes we could forget one of her looks.
In 2014 Sinitta turned up in a Native American headdress. Yes really. Only seven years ago.
When Louis Walsh said a contestant was like a little Lenny Henry
Does anything good ever come out of Louis Walsh’s mouth? Probably not. But this has to be one of his worst offences.
Back in 2010 Louis said on the live shows contestant Paije Richardson looked like a “little Lenny Henry”. The comment was taken by many on Twitter as racist, especially considering Lenny Henry is a comedian and Paije is a singer.
Louis said he meant it as a compliment but did later apologise.