Matt Cardle is crowned pop king of 'X Factor'...

...but the real winners are ITV and Simon Cowell, says Tom Sutcliffe

On Radio 4 on Sunday morning, Sister Wendy Beckett revealed that she didn't know what The X Factor was, proof – if you needed it – that she really must live a life of religious seclusion. Frankly, though, it's astounding that she hasn't heard it in the background – even if the nearest television is 10 miles away. The opening credits feature a meteor-like logo plummeting towards the capital city, but if a comet should ever strike London it would probably be marginally quieter and involve fewer flashing lights. You look forward to the commercial breaks for their quiet understatement.

Of the three finalists, Matt Cardle was the first to perform, singing Katy Perry's "Firework" as a group of dancers writhed across the stage in what looked like a dance interpretation of a nerve gas attack. As the final notes faded away, the judges got their first opportunity to explore the upper reaches of critical hyperbole. "I thought it was absolutely fantastic," said Dannii Minogue, whose subtle nuances of judgement have come to be one of the programme's highlights. Then they cut to an outside broadcast from Colchester – where Stacey Solomon startlingly proved that even a programme entirely constructed from crescendos can always spike the volume. It sounded like a parakeet being fed into a shredder. "She has made your face outta a pizza," she shrieked, bouncing over to a woman who proudly unveiled the mozzarella-based artwork.

One Direction's performance, you may not be surprised to learn, was universally admired as an unprecedented pinnacle of the choral arts. "That was a fantastic performance", Dannii said. In Doncaster, Michelle Keegan tried to out-scream Stacey. Rebecca Ferguson turned up to sing Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" on a Tron-style set and – as the X Factor judges have already said around 500 times this series – "nailed it", undistracted by the large troupe of dancing bin-bags which invaded the stage.

We were on tenterhooks. How would Dannii call it, and what grace notes of discrimination would she bring to her commentary? "That was a fantastic performance", she said, wisely deciding that, at this late stage of the proceedings, there was no point taking a risk with novelty of thought. "The lines are frozen," shouted Dermot in the run-up to the first elimination – something that was also true of most viewers' faces, still in shock after a choral version of a Lady Gaga hit by the worst of the early auditioners – including the world's worst Michael Jackson tribute act and those two girls who ended up having a fist fight on stage. When the votes were announced, it was One Direction – the boys who put the 'l' in 'band' – who had to say goodbye.

Matt came back to sing his potential Christmas single. "I'll take a bruise, I know you're worth it," he crooned, "When you hit me, hit me hard." Rebecca sang "Distant Dreamer" and we quickly cut back to Colchester, where the Lady Mayor winced as Stacey introduced her. There was a recap of the recaps of the earlier recaps – and then Dermot O'Leary delivered the public's verdict. The one who could really sing had lost, and Matt was the winner. As were ITV and Simon Cowell, of course. O'Leary had reminded us earlier of "those all-important numbers". Now they could start to count them: viewing figures, ad revenue, singles sales and tour income. And Sister Wendy Beckett doesn't need to worry any more about what she might be missing.

* Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson said his Strictly Come Dancing experience had helped him to regain his "energy and drive" last night after he was kicked off the show. EastEnders actor Scott Maslen was also hanging up his dancing boots after the semi-final double-elimination. Next week's final will now see actress Kara Tointon, Countryfile presenter Matt Baker and psychologist Pamela Stephenson compete for the glitterball trophy.

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