Viewers of the X Factor are “racist” because they consistently vote to eject the best black singers, the actor Chris O’Dowd has claimed.
Despite the ITV talent show producing several black winners, the IT Crowd and Bridesmaids star said that the millions of viewers who watch the talent show and vote for their favourites remain prejudiced against black contestants.
O’Dowd told Radio Times: “I’m a big X Factor fan. Generally my favourites go out in the first few weeks and, of course, because the viewing public is so racist, all the black, strong singers go out in round five every year.”
Simon Cowell’s talent search has produced a number of black stars, including Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, who won the public vote by an overwhelming margin in 2006 and 2008.
X Factor winners: Where are they now?
X Factor winners: Where are they now?
1/10 2013: Sam Bailey
The clear winner from the outset, Sam Bailey went on to beat teen singers Luke Friend and Nicholas McDonald. Bailey's cover of Demi Lovato's 'Skyscraper' went straight to number one on 22 December 2013, becoming the first X Factor winner in three years to gain the Christmas number one spot. Her debut album is due to be released on 24 March. She is also currently pregnant with her third child.
2/10 2012: James Arthur
He secured the biggest-selling X Factor winner's song ever with 'Impossible', but last year's victor James Arthur has been at the centre of controversy recently. Arthur got into a Twitter spat with fellow former contestant Lucy Spraggan when he used a homophobic lyric in a rap. The singer apologised on-air for 'abusing [his] position as an X Factor winner' after a performance on the results show a few weeks ago. Arthur's new single 'Recovery' is currently number 19 in the Official UK Singles Chart.
3/10 2011: Little Mix
Girl band Little Mix are one of The X Factor's success stories. Formerly known as Rhythmix, the group released an autobiography in August 2012 and their debut album came out that November, reaching number three. Little Mix's Perrie Edwards is engaged to One Direction's Zayn Malik which, you know, helps with the the whole fame thing. The band toured earlier this year and have enjoyed US success too. Their latest album Salute was released on 15 November.
4/10 2010: Matt Cardle
Singer-songwriter Matt Cardle performed 'Unfaithful' with Rihanna during the 2010 X Factor finals. He famously criticised Syco for being 'very pop' when he, apparently, wasn't. Shortly afterwards, he left Cowell's label. Cardle returned to the charts when his first album 'The Fire' made number eight and was well-received by critics. He recorded a duet with Spice Girl Melanie C, 'Loving You', in the summer and will be touring new album 'Porcelain' in April 2014.
5/10 2009: Joe McElderry
Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name' famously beat Joe McElderry to the Christmas number one in 2009, following an internet campaign to do battle with Cowell's chart machine. McElderry's luck failed to pick up and he soon found himself winning yet another talent show, Pop Star to Opera Star. Recently, he's enjoyed some success in the classical world and appeared in several West End shows. He is signed with Universal Music's Decca label.
6/10 2008: Alexandra Burke
Alexandra Burke's cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' sold more than a million copies in the UK, a success she followed with five top ten singles and a hit album. Burke has been a brand ambassador for a women's deodorant and signed a modelling contract in 2010. She joined The X Factor as a guest judge during the final of the eight series. The 'Bad Boys' singer has another album out next year but it will be released on RCA records after her recent split from Simon Cowell's label.
7/10 2007: Leon Jackson
'When You Believe' became the fastest-selling single of 2007 when winner Leon Jackson released it before Christmas, but he was dropped in 2009 following poor sales. His third single 'Creative' only reached number 94 in the charts and half his tour dates were cancelled. At present, Jackson is reportedly writing a second album that he will release independently.
8/10 2006: Leona Lewis
She's The X Factor's darling and one of the only acts still with Simon Cowell's label. Leona Lewis enjoyed huge international success after winning the 2006 show and releasing her first single 'A Moment Like This'. Recently, she has struggled, with sales of her latest album 'Glassheart' down steeply from those of her debut in 2007.
9/10 2005: Shayne Ward
After his victory on the second show, Ward achieved the fourth fastest-selling UK single ever with 'That's My Goal'. Several other hits and three albums followed and at one stage, he was reportedly considered to replace Jason Orange in Take That. Ward was dropped six years later to make room for other upcoming stars on Syco's label and has since turned his hand to performing in London musical Rock of Ages with Justin Lee Collins. The Mancunian singer appeared in Dancing on Ice in January 2013 but was eliminated in the fifth round.
10/10 2004: Steve Brookstein
The first winner of The X Factor, Steve Brookstein scored a number one single with 'Against All Odds' but was dumped by Sony BMG just eight months afterwards for being a one-hit wonder. Since his brief success evaporated, Brookstein has performed on cruise ships and was spotted in 2010 performing in a small Cornish pub for £2.50 a ticket. Brookstein no longer appears in publicity for The X Factor and as a result, he has repeatedly hit out at both the show and Simon Cowell. He is, however, still singing, and has a new album 'Soul Journey' out in February.
However there have been occasions where the judges have stepped in to rescue talented black performers after a lack of viewer votes left them singing for survival.
In 2011, Misha B, described by the Huffington Post as the “blackest contestant the competition has ever had”, was regularly placed in the bottom two. The Post said the public’s rejection of a confident performer, “rooted in black culture” who chose not to bleach her skin lighter like other crossover black singers, was “racist”.
Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, the body set up to promote racial justice in public life, said O’Dowd had raised a valid issue.
Mr Woolley said: “I wouldn’t describe voters as racist but there’s something more subtle going on which makes it harder for contestants with a ‘darker’ physical complexion to win public support. Generally the ‘blacker’ the artist is, the harder it is for the public to warm to them.”
This prejudice was not limited to The X Factor but other talent shows and wider society. Mr Woolley said: “Whether it's in the arts or business we need a sensible debate if we are to unpick and deal with some deep seated prejudice especially when it simply ignores talent.”
The X Factor producers rejected O’Dowd’s claim. The show was praised last year for giving a platform to talented ethnic minority hopefuls – 40 per cent of the 2013 finalists were black or mixed race.
A programme source said: “The X Factor has a long standing record of celebrating a diverse range of artists including two former winners, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, and numerous others who have reached the final stages of the competition including this year’s semi-finalists Rough Copy, along with JLS, Marcus Collins and Jahmene Douglas in previous series.”
O’Dowd was sucked into a race row himself when he starred in the film The Sapphires as a talent scout who manages an Aboriginal girl group in the ‘60s.
A DVD cover for a film was called “racist and sexist” for relegating its female stars to the background to give the Irish actor centre stage.
The original DVD cover for The Sapphires features the dark-skinned singers in prominent positions, with O’Dowd at the back. But on the US version, released last year, O'Dowd takes centre stage while The Sapphires fade into an entirely blue background.
US distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment has apologised for the cover which prompted the real-life members of The Sapphires to complain to the US civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.
Last year, X Factor contestant Hannah Barrett revealed that she has been subjected to “horrible, racist comments” during her stint on the ITV show.
She told Reveal magazine: “I’ve received a lot of horrible, racist comments on Twitter. People say I'm too dark to be a singer. People say: 'You're black and ugly' and nasty things like that....The sad thing is that most of them are made by black people who just have lighter skin than me.”