As The X Factor returns, all 14 winners so far – ranked
It’s September the literal First and we’re already hurtling towards Christmas with the return of The X Factor to ITV tonight, for its 15th (fifteenth!) cycle.
With a refreshed panel of judges and a few format changes to look forward to, it’s not actually shaping up to be that much of a slog this year – but Lord knows we’ve had some ups and downs since Kate Thornton first introduced the format back in 2004.
So here are all 14 winners thus far, ranked in precise order of greatness.
14. Steve Brookstein (2004)
Was Steve a worthy winner? Did he turn in solid performances week in, week out? Did he suffer unfairly at the hands of a cynical machine led by deceased wanker Max Clifford? Who knows! He’s honestly been too much of a prat on social media for me to remember.
13. Matt Terry (2016)
Strong and stable vocalist Matt was an easy frontrunner in 2016, but all you need to know about his chart career is that after the release of his big lead single he was resigned to tweeting his excitement at being “#1 place away from @Spotify Top 50!” Would Saara Aalto have fared better? Probably not, but I’m still bitter she didn’t win.
12. Ben Haenow (2014)
Fleur East’s genuinely headline-hitting performances weren’t enough to derail the progress of this poster boy for white male mediocrity. Ben seemed like a nice enough guy but it says something that not even the help of KELLY CLARKSON HERSELF could make the nation take notice of what he went on to do.
11. Leon Jackson (2007)
The first X Factor winner to well and truly sink without a trace. Sorry, Leon. We hardly bought or streamed ye.
10. Matt Cardle (2010)
He’s got one hell of a voice (and actually his latest album is his best yet), but Jesus Christ, in a Top 4 that also had Rebecca Ferguson, One Direction and Cher Lloyd, how the everloving fuck did we end up with this result?! And why did they launch his career with an awful Gary Barlow co-write? No wonder the ratings indicate the show went into decline after its peak here.
9. Louisa Johnson (2015)
Louisa turned out some exceptional vocal performances and, in fairness, has provided some decent bops since her win. But her victory was just so…….. easy. There was never any question about it. We stan a JOURNEY, and there was never anything like that here. And that’s NOT ME SAYING Best Behaviour shouldn’t have been a Number One smash, and it’s NOT ME SAYING Yes isn’t my most-streamed song of the year so far, because both of those statements would be false.
8. Sam Bailey (2013)
She was never realistically going to have a big recording career, given the sheer speed at which Syco shoved out her Mother’s Day-friendly covers album, but Sam genuinely delivered week after week on the 2013 season; a year almost completely devoid of promising popstars. So with a lack of any better prospects, why couldn’t we give the trophy to the nice woman with the amazing voice? You’d have preferred Luke fucking Friend?! And to be fair, a few of her performances – like this one here – were MOMENTS.
7. James Arthur (2012)
Earnest-white-man-with-guitar music does precisely zero things for me, unless the man in question is Niall James Horan, and so I haven’t been particularly fussed about James’s work since he won six years ago. But he was an exciting talent at the time, and the #SALES he has managed since have helped him to become someone the show is properly proud of. As for that stupid stuff he said in the period immediately after his win… I cautiously accept that people can grow, but I do not forget, no sir.
6. Joe McElderry (2009)
Could Joe have done better as a popstar if his career was handled slightly differently? Considering his first album post-Cowell did better than its predecessor, maybe so. But then that second album was also more boring than the first, which delivered consistent bops, so swings and roundabouts. In any case, you’d have to be a right wanker to dislike him.
5. Rak-Su (2017)
Christ, after a few years in the wilderness, bosses must have been CHUFFED to see one of the show’s acts selling so well – and with their own material too. It’s still early days for these guys but here’s hoping things pan out.
4. Shayne Ward (2005)
Double-A sides peaked with No U Hang Up and If That’s OK With You, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter.
3. Alexandra Burke (2008)
Wow, here’s me thinking Joe is the winner who got the most unfair deal afterwards, but no, it’s definitely Alexandra. One amazing era (Bad Boys! Broken Heels! All Night Long! Start Without You!), followed by obligatory behind-the-scenes troubles and a second album that sold a fraction of the copies. Her unfair treatment on Strictly and the low sales of her most recent output just make the fact that she’s not a globe-straddling banger queen all the more difficult to accept. She had BEYONCE for God’s sake.
2. Leona Lewis (2006)
Leona peaked very early, but what a peak! Bleeding Love was a complete game-changer on many levels, and the whole Spirit album campaign was magnificently pulled off. Glassheart remains her best album, not that you’d tell from the sales figures; and One More Sleep deserves to be a festive mainstay on the same level as All I Want For Christmas Is You. She’s not had a hit in what feels like 70 years, but without Leona, The X Factor would unlikely have made it past Leon.
1. Little Mix (2011)
Seven years later and still at the very top of their game, Little Mix’s career has been executed so well that the only negative thing there is to say about them is their pretty weird name. Move, Black Magic, DNA, Touch, Power… they have one fucking OPUS of a Greatest Hits collection in them, and they’re nowhere near done yet: album number five is due at the end of this year.