Simon Cowell on how he views the future of X Factor
Simon Cowell has backed The X Factor to thrive long into the future - as long as it keeps uncovering genuine talent.
While ratings have dipped below 5 million for its current series, it remains one of the most watched programmes on ITV 1. It is contracted to the channel until 2019.
Acts discovered through the show, including Harry Styles, Little Mix, Olly Murs, JLS, Leona Lewis, Zayn Malik and James Arthur, have scored 44 domestic No.1 singles and 25 No.1 albums, and sold more than 300m records worldwide since its first series in 2004.
"I remember the year Leona Lewis came on  and when she did Summertime on the live show it was one of the best performances I've ever heard," said Cowell, speaking in a rare and exclusive interview in the latest issue of Music Week. "If we can still find people like that - and the same goes with Got Talent as well - then we've got a long future. It's only when you don't put enough attention into the contestants that I think we have a problem."
On the dynamic between The X Factor and Syco, Cowell's joint venture with Sony, he said: "For the label, it's great. If you can break an artist off the show, it's the best A&R process in the world."
The X Factor has undergone a number of format changes this year. The show's climactic elimination sing-off has been replaced by a "Prize Fight" contest between the two contestants with the most votes from the public - the act with the lowest number of votes now exits automatically.
Also gone are the novelty acts: the likes of Honey G, Jedward, Wagner and Chico have been shipped out in favour of more traditional talent, with contestants encouraged to perform their original compositions.
"When you're making the show you can sometimes think too much about being a television producer. You try and tick every box and then it becomes a bit formulaic," said Cowell. "So you end up with a novelty act in the final and therefore, by putting a novelty act through, somebody else didn't get a chance and I didn't feel comfortable with it."
Cowell pointed out that iTunes has become an invaluable tool in gauging the show's success. Rak-Su, the current favourites to win the 2017 series, have achieved two No.1s on iTunes with self-penned tracks in recent weeks, with fellow frontrunner Grace Davies also making the Top 3.
"iTunes is really important to us. It’s the best market research you could ever have, because it’s so brutal," said Cowell. "Streaming takes a lot of time; iTunes is instant. It’s a very quick snapshot of how badly or how well you’re doing, so I love it.”
Simon Gavin who is Syco's global head of music has applauded the calibre of talent on this year's X Factor.Bookies' favourites Rak-Su have scored iTunes No.1s with original compositions Dimelo and Mona Lisa, while songwriter Grace Davies has also recorded multiple Top 10 entries. Rak-Su edged out Davies to win last weekend's Prize Fight, which offered the opportunity to record in LA with acclaimed producer Ali Tamposi.
It is the 14th series of the programme, which began in 2004 and has spawned the likes of One Direction, Little Mix, Leona Lewis, James Arthur, Ella Henderson, Louisa Johnson and Olly Murs. "I think it's one of our strongest years," Gavin told Music Week. "My first year was 2012 and we had such a breadth of talent on that show. It had James [Arthur] and Union J and then you had Rylan [Clark], who was fun but also really good."They all brought something to it and I feel like these guys have got it this year. Rak-Su have it, Grace has it, the Price brothers have it, the Cutkelvins have it... I feel like we're quite defined really early on, which is quite unusual."
Simon Gavin centre of picture
A former MD of the A&M and Verve labels, Gavin spent 18 years with Universal prior to making the switch to Syco in 2012. On The X Factor's emphasis on singer/songwriters on this year's series, he said: "It's a massive new dimension and it's really exciting because I come from an A&R background, so when you meet a contestant that can actually write it is like A&R-ing a record within the show."
Gavin added that X Factor's track record for breaking new stars in its 13-year history can easily be underestimated. "Because it's been around for so long, you actually forget how powerful it is," he said. "Look at people like James Arthur, One Direction or Louisa [Johnson]. Little Mix are the biggest girl group around now and, if you look at the American show, Fifth Harmony."If you've got the talent, drive and ambition this is definitely a show that you can do really well with."
Read Music Week's full interview with Simon Cowell in the current print edition of Music Week or the online subscription