"Simon Cowell ruined Christmas". Not my words, but those of inaugural X Factor winner Steve Brookstein. He's got a point. Looking back over the years, the coveted Christmas No. 1 spot has been won by only the most select musical genii. Mr Blobby. Bob the Builder. Nicole Kidman. It's like a who's who of the greatest musical acts of all time. Or, at least, it was. For a good chunk of the 2000s, the nefarious influence of Cowell's brainchild has poisoned the once pure well of musical excellence.
However, the tide is finally turning. The X-Mas spell has been broken, with just one of the last four chart toppers being a contestant. It appears, at long last, the public is becoming disillusioned. After all, why pour your heart and soul into supporting someone for ten weeks as they toil through increasingly tenuously-themed rounds - who could forget that timeless Halloween classic, Let Me Entertain You - if they're just going to drop off the face of the Earth as soon as they've won? There's also considerably more transparency in the artificiality of it all; there seems to be little more to it than Twitter popularity contests (Union J, anyone?) and desperate attempts to recreate the runaway success of One Direction (Union J, anyone?).
Louis Walsh, the once likeable, eccentric leprechaun of Saturday night television is now little more than a sorry joke, taken as seriously as that uncle who you only see at Christmas and who never fails to have one too many. The return of Sharon Osbourne as Walsh's foil smacks of a show desperately swimming against a current it simply cannot fathom. True, the bickering pair were one of the main draws of the early X Factor iterations. However, it's hard to imagine the dynamic, much like Walsh's increasingly shaky grasp on musical relevance, will really cut the mustard any more. Perhaps the return of Simon Cowell himself would give the show something of a shot in the arm, but even his influence has been diluted by his ubiquitous position on the Britain's Got Talent judging panel.
So where does this all leave the X Factor? While it's too soon to consign it to the televisual equivalent of a bargain bin at an M6 service station (also known as the Shane Ward slot), only the truest of diehard fans would refute the show's ailing state.
The ratings may not have begun their precipitous slide in earnest yet, but they have now fallen in successive years, and there's no denying that the chart performances of the acts beyond the traditional Noel battleground has suffered dramatically, with few winners or otherwise managing to outlast their first single.
Cowell has promised to change "every aspect" of the X Factor (although presumably not the name, the fact it's a singing contest, the fact it's on telly, etc.) in order to revitalise it, but it may be time to face facts. This year's warblings could well prove to be its death rattle.
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