It was Andy Warhol who proclaimed that everyone would get their 15 minutes of fame, but it was Simon Cowell who made it happen. Once again, the sofa-based population is bracing itself for the business end of The X Factor, which sees 12 wannabe pop acts fighting it out for one elusive recording contract.
The X Factor is a ratings juggernaut. The live shows attract viewing figures that only football matches and soaps can rival – last year's final captured a 55 per cent share of terrestrial television audiences, a massive 12.7 million viewers. The judges – this year, Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole – have become even more dazzlingly famous than they already were. But what of the contestants? Do they get their full Warholian quarter-hour?
Even if the fame doesn't last, the winning act and the runners-up are all but guaranteed to have at least one chart-topping single or album to tell the grandchildren about. Previous winners Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis and Leon Jackson produced No 1 singles, with runners-up G4, Journey South and Ray Quinn all following suit.
The aftermath is often slightly less glamorous. Brookstein's second album, 40,000 Things, peaked at No 165 in the charts, while series two runner-up Andy Abraham's Eurovision Song Contest entry "Even If" climbed to just No 67 in the charts. Only Lewis (last seen cavorting on a London bus in Beijing) and Ward (whose second album, Breathless, went platinum, selling 450,000 copies) have enjoyed any lasting success. Abraham is currently rumoured to be considering a celebrity boxing match. Quinn will soon be starring in panto in Peterborough.
But does the audience care? Of course not. One of the following 12 acts will probably be topping the charts come Christmas Day (the odds are currently 1-4). Most of the remaining 11 will, by then, be forgotten.
Boys, aged 14-24 (mentor Simon Cowell)
Eog Han Quigg (odds 10-1)
The 16-year-old Irish boy has been lavished with praise so far, all four judges entranced by his cuteness. Having worked his way through boot camp, he gave a dismal performance at Cowell's house and seemed odds-on to be told to go back to his GCSEs. Luckily for him, the hard-nosed music magnate trusted his instincts and waved him through.
Austin Drage (4-1)
Drage was hitting the headlines long before he made it into the final 12. No generic sex scandal for him, though: his crime was by (platonic) association. After he had breezed through the audition stage, someone discovered that four years previously his group, 5Boyz, had toured with Cheryl Cole's band, Girls Aloud. The press soon realised what a non-story it was and started cooing about his well-defined body instead.
The 21-year-old from Essex was apparently rejected by McFly for being too ugly. The latter appears not to have knocked his self-confidence too much; on his Bebo profile page he describes himself as "exceptionally talented".
Scott Bruton (33-1)
Bruton is one of many contestants who claim never to have had a singing lesson. Some might argue this is appropriate, given that his most recent job was as a Bluecoat at Pontins. It hasn't all been plain sailing; he's already been the subject of a kiss and tell (romps, baby oil and post-coital renditions of Shayne Ward all feature), and has had to quit Pontins in order to pursue his X Factor dream. Something of an outsider, Scott could well be the dark horse the competition needs.
Enjoy unlimited access to 70 million ad-free songs and podcasts with Amazon Music Sign up now for a 30-day free trialSign up
Girls, aged 14-24 (mentor Cheryl Cole)
Laura White (3-1)
Cole seemed genuinely starstruck when telling White she was through to the final 12: "You know, I've loved you from day one... I've watched you progress. I think you're amazing," was how she put it. Miss White should be used to the fame. The 17-year-old has already been performing for six years, and sang in front of 15,000 people at the turning-on of the Bolton Christmas lights. She is now the joint favourite to win the competition with Alexandra Burke.
Diana Vickers (9-1)
At 17, Vickers is one of the most inexperienced of the final 12; aside from occasional singing competitions, she has never performed publicly. She claims she is not interested in fame but, as is often the case, fame is already interested in her. An almost apologetically mild exposé has already appeared, breaking the earth-shattering news that she is no "angel" and is in fact a "wild child" who loves boozy nights out.
Alexandra Burke (3-1)
Three years ago, Burke (right) got to the judge's house stage, only to be kicked out by Walsh for being too young. This year, she has gone one stage further, and is now the oldest female solo act in Cole's group, at the ripe age of 20. She has allegedly been receiving "coaching" from Joss Stone, a childhood friend. The bookies have responded accordingly and currently make her joint favourite to win, with White.
Over 25s (mentor Dannii Minogue)
Daniel Evans (20-1)
He has a job reminiscent of bin-man Abraham and a back-story that sharply yanks the collective heartstrings, and many have accused Evans of overplaying the sympathy card. A pool cleaner from Essex who lives and works in Spain, Evans has, after many years of almost applying, finally entered The X Factor following the death of his wife last year.
The judges were clearly touched by the 38-year-old's story and duly sent him to boot camp, a decision that prompted questions concerning the relevance of a candidate's background. Overdramatisation or not, the expat made it through to the judge's house stage and subsequently into the final 12. Evans will argue that heart strings can only pull you so far.
Rachel Hylton (9-1)
To have only one tear-jerking back story in the final 12 would not have filled ITV's official quota. The 26-year-old Hylton is another contestant hoping that The X Factor will put her life back on the right track. After giving birth to the first of her five children aged just 13, Hylton's life quickly spiralled out of control. She became involved with drugs, lost custody of her children and spent time in prison. But the birth of her fourth child heralded a new start, and she looked to music to turn her life around. The judges have been impressed with her performances; producers presumably less so after allegations of cannabis smoking in the contestants' hotel.
Ruth Lorenzo (16-1)
With her fellow over-25s proving to be card-carrying emotionalists, the 25-year-old Lorenzo didn't want to go down without a fight. Her mother dutifully told the world that Lorenzo is lucky to be alive, because her umbilical cord almost strangled her at birth. After the severing of said strangulation device, they apparently knew she was going to be a singer because of her deafening screams. Now working as a performer and PR consultant for Polaris World (the golf resort with the bafflingly memorable adverts), she's hoping to prove that her mother's instincts were right. She got through with some well-timed bawling, and will be hoping that her quirky habit of singing in both English and Spanish pays off.
Groups (mentor Louis Walsh)
Bad Lashes (22-1)
Despite having never performed together in public, this girl band from the North-east have stormed all the way to the final. The group may initially seem to lack self-confidence – one member describes herself as a toilet singer, another admits she felt out of her depth in the final 30 of a previous X Factor – but the girls have made all the right noises to appeal to the masses.
Girlband have a name that balances precariously between originality and laziness. They appeal to some (Walsh liked them), but the four girls from Bristol have polarised opinion and are huge outsiders to win. This is certainly not due to a lack of experience. One member, Layla Manoochehri, says she has been singing for 20 of her 22 years (an impressive feat by any standards), during which time she has supported Blue on tour, recorded a rock album in Germany, and even tried her hand on Pop Idol.
JLS complement their mysterious band-name with some unique first names: Marvin, Ortise and Aston sound more like gangsters, cars or film stars than a boy-band. Thankfully, the fourth member Jonathan puts the nominal feet back on the ground, though even he calls himself JB. The band members are not total amateurs. JB attended the Centre for Young Musicians, Ortise once sang a track in a Nigerian recording studio, and Marvin has already been with a record label and, like one of his competitors in Girlband, has toured with Blue. The band have impressed the judges so far, and look a good bet to win the battle of the groups.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies