And the winner is... X Factor

Simon, Louis and Sharon will get rich pickings from show long after victor's hits have dried up
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It is one of TV's best-loved money-spinners - and as The X Factor reached a crescendo last night, its stars were contemplating riches too. Not the finalists, Ray Quinn and Leona Lewis, who were competing for a virtually guaranteed number one single like the winners before them, but the judges.

The show's creator, Simon Cowell, and fellow judges Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne, will still be spending the hundreds of thousands they earned from the show long after the victor's hits have dried up.

While the 2005 winner, Shayne Ward, was lamenting his failure to make the top 10 with his third single, "Stand By Me", Cowell was still watching the money roll in from that year's series. As well as his £400,000 fee for appearing in the show, he raked in a fortune because his company, Syco, produces the show. Osbourne took around £250,000 and Walsh more than half that last year, while in 2006 each of the trio has seen a big pay rise.

Cowell is now estimated to be worth £60m on the back of his TV projects - including his American Idol franchise - while Osbourne is reckoned to be valued at £100m together with her rock star husband, Ozzy. Her worth has been boosted by advertising deals, such as her Asda campaign, and a chat show, both of which came via the exposure on The X Factor.

In addition, the series is thought to generate a cut of the acts' profits for their mentors (each judge is assigned a singer or group to nurture). Girls Aloud recently revealed they are still paying a cut of their income to Walsh from their association with him on the 2002 talent show Popstars: The Rivals, even though they no longer have any management agreement with him.

The production companies working on The X Factor, Talkback Thames and Cowell's Syco TV, are tight-lipped about how much last night's final would generate in phone votes. But a spokeswoman for the show said they expected to exceed the three and a half million votes cast for the 2005 final.

The votes cost 35p a call and 35p a text (plus standard mobile charge), and none of the money goes to charity.

That is in stark contrast to Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC prime-time reality television Saturday night entertainment show, which has gone head-to-head with The X Factor over the past few weeks.

BBC1's dance competition reaches its finale next week. Last year, the programme raised £1.5m for Children in Need.