Yes Britain, it's that time of year again. After week upon week of auditions, boot camp, judges' houses, eliminations, comebacks, tears, tabloid revelations, Dermot dances, and the odd bit of singing thrown in too, the television event of the year finally reaches its nerve-shattering conclusion on Sunday night, as over 15 million of us tune in to see one act declared the X Factor champion 2011.
That's right. ONE act. ONE champion. ONE 'life-changing record contract'. ONE winner.
But as each December passes, the real world value of the title X Factor Winner seems to diminish at a rate as exponentially high as the interest in Simon Cowell's bank account. Indeed, for four years running, the elected 'winner' of each series of the X Factor has been eclipsed in record sales by the runner-up.
So is winning more a curse than a blessing? Let's take a look at the stats...
Poor Leon Jackson was dropped from his record label just 14 months after romping to victory in the X Factor final of 2007. The Scottish crooner amassed sales of just 150,000 for his debut album Right Now, and his single Don't Call This Love was humiliatingly beaten by Peter Kay's spoof talent show winner, Geraldine McQueen. Runner-up Rhydian, meanwhile, outsold Leon threefold, shifting over 450,000 copies of his self-titled first album, with a follow-up taking him over the half million threshold.
The sales of 2008 champ Alexandra Burke have been more than OK.com, racking up 800,000 units of her debut album Overcome, but even she comes up short against serial hit-makers JLS. The London foursome have sold over two million albums to date, notching up eight No.1 singles along the way. By comparison, Alexandra, who hasn't released an album in over two years, is beginning to feel like a distant musical memory (save for her ill-conceived, best-forgotten and unlikely to be repeated appearance as a guest judge earlier this series).
Joe McElderry charmed X Factor phone voters in 2009 but only 100,000 were willing to pick up a copy of his album Wide Awake the following year. His defeated adversary Olly Murs has gone on to dominate the charts ever since, racking up four No.1 singles and combined sales of almost one million for his two album releases. Third place finisher Stacey Solomon also enjoys a high profile, carving out a niche for herself as a TV personality and appearing as the face of a ubiquitous festive advertising campaign, the soundtrack to which, Driving Home For Christmas, featuring Stacey's velvet vocals, is released 18 December.
Not even 12 months on from Matt Cardle's X Factor triumph, he is already being overshadowed by those he outpolled this time last year. One Direction almost doubled Matt's debut week album sales of 70,000, with Up All Night shifting 138,000 units in its first seven days. Runner-up Rebecca Ferguson is on course to replicate the boy band's success with Heaven, released this week, selling 47,000 copies on its first day, besting the 28,000 achieved by Cardle's Letters. Rebecca is also establishing herself as a critics' darling, earning four and five star reviews across the board, a level of acclaim uncommon amongst X Factor alumni.
And talent show runners-up outselling winners is not a uniquely British occurrence. Across the pond, recent American Idol champions have suffered the same fate as their British counterparts, with 2010 runner-up Crystal Bowersox outperforming winner Lee DeWyze, and second place finisher Adam Lambert outselling 2009 victor Kris Allen.
These numbers paint a stark picture for winners of the X Factor. Not since Leona Lewis in 2006 has the result of the phone vote been reflected in real world music industry sales. So is winning all it's cracked up to be? Should Little Mix, Marcus Collins and Amelia Lily really be pleading for your vote this weekend or praying they finish second best?
When it comes to the X Factor, maybe the mantra that was drummed into us at school sports days is true after all - it's not the winning that counts, it really is the taking part...
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