It's 10 Years Since X Factor's Most Iconic Series Began – How Many Of These Moments Do You Remember?

From Ablisa and Wagner, to One Direction and Cher Lloyd, the 2010 series featured many memorable contestants.

On 21 August 2010, The X Factor burst back onto our screens with what would go on to become the most successful series in its history.

Not only did it launch a raft of artists who would have a huge impact on the charts – including a little band called One Direction – it also set ratings records.

While it may seem difficult to imagine now, The X Factor was by far and away the most popular show on TV with nearly 14 million of us tuning in each week. A whopping peak of over 19 million watched the live final. As a nation, we were absolutely hooked.

To mark 10 years since the series launched – and introduced us to memorable contestants like Ablisa, Wagner, Katie Waissel and Gamu Nhengu – we’re looking back at how it cemented The X Factor’s significance in the pop culture landscape.

It was the third consecutive year that the panel was the same


Simon Cowell, Cheryl (then) Cole, Louis Walsh and Dannii Minogue were once again the judges, but Dannii was missing from the auditions and bootcamp stages, as she was on maternity leave, pregnant with her son Ethan with then-boyfriend Kris Smith.

With Dannii absent, it was up to a whole host of guest judges to fill in for her

Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Shutterstock

Geri Halliwell was first up in Glasgow, with Natalie Imburgulia joining in Birmingham, Katy Perry in Dublin, Pixie Lott in Cardiff and Nicole Scherzinger in Manchester. Simon, Cheryl and Louis took on the London auditions as a threesome.

The 2010 series was making headlines before it was even on air


During filming of auditions in Cardiff, Cheryl was taken ill and was later diagnosed with Malaria.

Cheryl contracted the disease on a trip to Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa, with rumoured then boyfriend Derek Hough. Cheryl spent four days in intensive care at London’s Cromwell hospital, before being moved to a respite ward for another week. In the meantime, auditions in Manchester went ahead without her.

Those auditions served as Nicole’s first appearance on the panel

With Cheryl still too sick to judge Bootcamp, the former Pussycat Doll filled in for her during filming there too.

This stint on the show led to Nicole being announced as a co-host of the new US version of the show in 2011, alongside Steve Jones. However, when Cheryl was dropped from the US panel after just a few days of filming Stateside, Nicole moved into her seat, prompting years of reports of a feud between the pair.

Steve Jones, Nicole Scherzinger, L.A Reid, Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole attend the 2011 Fox Upfront
Steve Jones, Nicole Scherzinger, L.A Reid, Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole attend the 2011 Fox Upfront
Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images

Nicole also took up a permanent position on the UK panel, serving as a judge on and off between 2012 and 2019.

As the auditions began airing in the August of 2010, viewers fell in love with many contestants. Gamu Nhengu’s audition marked her out as an early favourite (more on her later)...

While Katie Waissel’s performance made her one to watch – albeit not necessarily for her singing...

A certain Liam Payne returned to audition two years after making it through to Judges Houses’, impressing with his rendition of Feelin’ Good...

And four other lads by the names of Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik also tried their luck…

A 16-year-old Cheryl look-a-like by the name of Cher Lloyd was told she was “right up my street” by her idol…

While no-one could have predicted what happened next when best friends Abi and Lisa took to the stage to perform a tuneless rendition of That’s My Goal

“She punched her in the face!”

However, the show faced accusations that it had exploited one contestant

Shirlena Johnson was later asked to leave the show because of concerns over her mental health.

Producers said the medical report from her general practitioner, requested during bootcamp, arrived late.

Viewers also picked up on the fact some contestants’ auditions appeared to have been auto-tuned


X Factor bosses later admitted to using vocal enhancement processes.

A spokesperson said at the time: “The judges make their decisions at the auditions stage based on what they hear on the day, live in the arena. The footage and sound is then edited and dubbed into a finished programme, to deliver the most entertaining experience possible for viewers.”

Bootcamp saw former judge turned creative director Brian Freidman put the contestants through their paces

While some rose to the challenge, others struggled with his choreography.

Zayn Malik in particular had an aversion to dancing, and walked out of one class, not wanting to throw any more shapes...

During bootcamp, it was Nicole who suggested raising the age of the Overs category from 25 to 28, as she believed there was so much talent in the older group.


But that wasn’t the only ingenious suggestion Nicole had.

After a number of contestants were sent home in Boys and Girls category, she suggested forming a new boyband and a new girlband out of them.

For the girls, Geneva Lane, Rebecca Creighton, Esther Campbell and Sophia Wardman were selected to form a band who later became known as Belle Ami, while Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles were picked as the boyband. No prizes for guessing what they later became known as.

Both Dannii and Cheryl staged triumphant returns to the show as it reached its Judges’ Houses stage


The Boys were flown off to meet Dannii in Melbourne, where she was joined by guest judge Natalie Imburglia, while Cheryl stayed closer to home following her health scare, as she and hosted the Girls at Coworth Park in Berkshire.

Meanwhile, Louis was joined by former judge Sharon Osbourne in County Limerick in Ireland.

Simon’s judges’ houses in Marbella, saw him joined once again by Sinitta

Because, who else?

Talkback Thames/Shutterstock

There were plenty of memorable performances at Judges Houses

One Direction took on Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn and went from cobbled-together group to serious contenders. They later performed this song again in the live final, prior to being eliminated.

Wagner took on Florence + The Machine...

While Treyc Cohen and Cheryl’s ‘readiness’ earned a parody on Harry Hill’s TV Burp…

But like most things with The X Factor, there was controversy when Cheryl did not pick Gamu as one of her final four acts

Despite Gamu giving an impressive performance, Cheryl instead picked divisive contestant Katie Waisel along with Cher Lloyd, who had messed up her audition.

The subsequent media storm became known as Gamu-gate, with around 1,000 people complaining to ITV, and over 200,000 joined a Facebook page called Gamu Should Have Got Through. Cheryl was also reported to have received death threats over her decision to send Gamu home.

After Judges Houses, the final 12 were...

Aiden Grimshaw, Matt Cardle, Nicola Festa, Rebecca Ferguson, Cher Lloyd, Katie Waissel, John Adeleye, Mary Byrne, Storm Lee, One Direction, Belle Ami and F.Y.D.

However, there was a surprise in store, the introduction of a wildcard twist

Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Shutterstock

This meant that four previously axed contestants returned to the competition. They were: Paije Richardson, Treyc Cohen, Wagner and Diva Fever.

Throughout the live shows, there were some absolutely iconic performances. Wagner singing Love Shack has stayed very much with us for the last 10 years…

As did Rebecca Ferguson’s dance version of Sweet Dreams…

And Cher Lloyd doing Shakespeare’s Sister’s Stay With Me…

Then there was Aiden Grimshaw doing Mad World…

One Direction doing Something About The Way You Look Tonight was also A Moment...

As was Matt Cardle singing First Time Ever I Saw Your Face…

Having failed to endear herself to the British public, Katie Waissel was a constant presence in the bottom two

After landing in the bottom for the third time, things got the better of her during a performance of Please Don’t Give Up On Me, as she sat on the floor and proclaimed “oh, sod it”.

After her fourth time singing for survival, she underwent a dramatic transformation in the hope of inventing herself…

Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Shutterstock

And while she was safe the following week, she was finally axed from the competition in week eight thanks to a double elimination

There was an infamous showdown between Cheryl and Wagner

Cheryl was less than impressed with comments Wagner had made about her upbringing during a press interview, and made sure he knew exactly what she thought during a live show.

Cheryl also found herself at the centre of controversy during week five of the competition

After two of her acts – Treyc Cohen and Katie Waissel – landed in the bottom two, Cheryl abstained from voting, and therefore the result had to be decided by a majority vote.

The move was criticised by many, who claimed Cheryl was paid in her role as a judge to make difficult decisions, while there were also allegations that the show was fixed to save Katie, which were vehemently denied by The X Factor.

Over on The Xtra Factor, Konnie Huq’s time as host didn’t go completely to plan

Ken McKay/Shutterstock

After succeeding Holly Willoughby, the former Blue Peter presenter made a number of gaffes during her one series hosting the ITV2 spin-off show.

The most memorable of which saw her tell all the finalists that they would get to go on tour, only to have to backpedal after realising it would only be the top eight contestants.

She also royally annoyed Dannii live on the show...

There were some incredible guest performers during the series, most notably Lady Gaga doing Bad Romance in a bathtub dressed as a bat…

Cheryl took the the stage to showcase Promise This…

Rihanna had a full-on food fight as she performed Only Girl In The World...

Jamiroquai had a less than warm reception from Cheryl and Dannii

Frontman J Kay had made some comments about them in the press during the week prior to the band’s performance, which led to the pair refusing to applaud.

Nicole Scherzinger gave us this iconic performance of Poison (which is still a 10/10 banger and deserved better)...

The cast of Glee performed Don’t Stop Believin’ during the semi-final...

When the final rolled round, it was Matt, Rebecca, One Direction and Cher who vied to win the show

Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Shutterstock

During the famous duets, Matt Cardle teamed up with none other than Rihanna

It was a performance that rivalled Alexandra Burke’s duet with Beyoncé, as many viewers noted the electric chemistry between Matt and Rihanna.

In fact, over 2,800 complaints were made to TV watchdog Ofcom over performances in the finale, which also saw Christina Aguilera perform Express from the Burlesque soundtrack.

Christina also duetted with Rebecca Ferguson on Beautiful…

While One Direction teamed up with Robbie on She’s The One...

And Cher Lloyd got to perform with Black Eyed Peas’ on a mash-up of Where Is The Love? and I Got A Feeling...

After an incredible final, it was Matt who was crowned the winner

It was also the second win for his mentor Dannii.

Rebecca finished as runner-up, with One Direction in third place, and Cher fourth.

Matt’s winner’s single was a cover of Biffy Clyro’s When We Collide

It charted at number one and managed to stay there the following week to be crowned Christmas number one.

But the final moments of the series were remembered for a very different reason

This was thanks to Harry Styles whispering “just think about how much....” (we’ll let all you lip-readers fill in the blanks) in Matt’s ear, which was caught on camera.


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