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Music fans rage against Cowell's X Factor

Campaign to stop TV show from claiming Christmas number one angers judge

As Christmas number ones go, it is definitely not one to sing along to with the family. But the prospect of an expletive-ridden, politically charged, rap metal anthem topping the Yuletide charts was growing ever closer as a viral campaign to claim the coveted top slot took off.

More than half a million people have signed up to a Facebook campaign to try and propel US band Rage Against The Machine's 1992 single "Killing in the Name" to the top of the charts instead of the "traditional" X Factor winner's Christmas single.

And yesterday there were signs the campaign was riling X Factor judge Simon Cowell – and chief financial beneficiary of any X Factor number one – whose show's winners have claimed the prize for the last four years.

Speaking at a press conference with the competition's finalists, Stacey Solomon, Joe McElderry and Olly Murs, Cowell said: "If there's a campaign, and I think the campaign's aimed directly at me, it's stupid. Me having a number one record at Christmas is not going to change my life particularly. It does however change these guys' lives and we put this opportunity there so that the winner of the X Factor gets the chance of having a big hit record.

"It's quite a cynical campaign geared at me which is actually going to spoil the party for these three. I also think it's incredibly dismissive of the people who watch and enjoy the show... to treat our audiences as if they're stupid and I don't like that."

Cowell played down any impact of the recent trend of the X Factor winner taking the top spot. He said: "Everyone has this slightly distorted view of Christmas number ones being incredible. There was that ghastly Cliff Richard song a few years ago, Bob The Builder. So we haven't exactly taken away anything special, it just so happens that our record, to coincide with the show, goes out at Christmas."

If "Killing in the Name" does get to number one it will reignite the controversy over it's provocative lyrics, which include the lines: "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" and "Motherfucker! Uggh!". In 1992 the Radio One DJ Bruno Brookes played an uncensored version of the song – which contains 16 extreme expletives – on his Top 40 countdown, leading to 138 complaints.

It is not the first time there has been a campaign against the enormously successful franchise. Last year, X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's hopes of securing the Christmas number one spot with her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" were nearly dashed by a similar last-minute viral campaign.

Angry that a song they loved was being appropriated by one of Simon Cowell's proteges, hundreds of thousands of people vowed to buy an earlier version by Jeff Buckley, who covered the song on his 1994 album Grace.

The campaign's organisers again chose to raise support using a Facebook group, in which they wrote: "Following the rather depressing news that this year's X Factor finalist will be covering Leonard Cohen's beautiful Hallelujah, I think everyone should download the Jeff Buckley version, instead of buying the inevitably soulless version churned out by Simon Cowell's Crimbo flash in the pan."

Although the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful – Burke's single became the fastest-selling by a female solo artist, shifting 576,000 copies – Buckley's version did secure the number two spot, with 81,000 copies sold. Leonard Cohen's original track came in at number 36.

Yesterday Cowell confirmed that this Saturday's final will see Stacey perform a duet with Michael Buble, Olly with Robbie Williams, and Joe with George Michael.

The X Factor final is on ITV1 this Saturday and Sunday.