Can Simon Cowell Revive 'X Factor' U.K.?

 Nino Munoz / FOX

The X Factor creator Simon Cowell will return as a judge on the U.K. version of the show this Saturday night amid hopes that its ratings can be revived in what will be its 11th season.

Cowell's return as a judge on the ITV show for the first time since 2010 comes after the singing competition's U.S. cancellation by Fox earlier this year. Since his departure, the U.K. version has been in a ratings slump, losing out to BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, the public broadcaster's version of Dancing With the Stars, over the past two years.

Cowell has rejiggered the judging panel in the hope of chemistry that will draw more viewers.

Former Spice Girl Mel B, currently in the U.S. for America's Got Talent and previously a judge on the Australian version of X Factor, will be a new judge on the show this season. And former Girls Aloud member Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, formerly Cole, will return for the first time since 2010 to give the ITV hit show added girl power.

U.K. viewers liked the interactions between Cole and Cowell on the show, but the two were believed to have had a falling out when the U.S. version of the show dumped her after only a brief stint. They have since made up.

Cowell and the two female stars on the ITV show this season replace Sharon Osbourne, Take That star Gary Barlow and former Pussycat Dolls member Nicole Scherzinger.

The fourth judge, talent manager Louis Walsh, is the only judge who has featured on every season of the British version of the show.

ITV late last year renewed X Factor for three more years, lauding its big ratings. However, X Factor last year drew the lowest season finale ratings since 2005, with some viewers saying the show had become stale. The season 10 finale drew an average of 9.7 million viewers despite musical guests Elton John, One Direction and Katy Perry.

ITV's director of television, Peter Fincham, has said that X Factor is "an enormous program with or without Simon," but the network is understood to have long been hoping for his return, which will show whether he continues to have drawing power.

"I think in a weird way it’s good I’ve had a break from the show," Cowell told ITV ahead of the season launch. "I’ve watched the show from a distance, and now I feel like I’m in control again."

He predicted a livelier competition this new season. "You’re going to hear a different kind of singer this year," Cowell said. "The show is going to look different in terms of the lineup, and on this year there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. … So anyone who gets to the live shows has earned their spot."

One controversy that has given X Factor added publicity late this week is a decision by the BBC to premiere Strictly Come Dancing in the same time slot as X Factor on ITV.

"I always think that when people do that the people they are pissing off are the viewers," The Guardian quoted Cowell as saying about the BBC decision. "And they say this isn't a ratings battle, it is, that's why they did it."

He concluded: "They are two of the most popular shows of the year, it doesn't make sense to make viewers choose. … We are not necessarily expecting to win although we would like to. We are going all out to make a better show."

International audiences will also get a chance to watch Cowell return to the U.K. X Factor. Music-focused network AXS TV will bring the show to the U.S., with episodes airing a day after they are broadcast on ITV.

The show will also air live in South East Asia on the RTL CBS Asia Entertainment Network. The deal will bring the show to homes in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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