'X Factor' Mystery: Who Fired Cheryl Cole?


Fingers have pointed at Simon Cowell and Fox reality chief Mike Darnell.

After the unceremonious dumping of Cheryl Cole as a judge on the U.S. version of X Factor last week, the question of whodunit has become the object of a furious game of spin and counterspin.

Some British tabloid reports have fingered Fox reality chief Mike Darnell as having pulled the trigger -- supposedly leaving X Factor producer and star Simon Cowell devastated over the decision. But a source with knowledge of events makes it clear that Darnell should not be the one to take the blame.

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"Mike has been a supporter of hers from Day 1," said the insider. "He's been nothing but infatuated with her. ... Everyone understands that Simon has a lot of say-so in his shows."

Darnell declined to comment on the situation, and obviously he has no stake in antagonizing Cowell as Fox prepares to launch what it hopes will be a massive new franchise with him in the fall. "You can imagine what an uncomfortable position this is for Mike," the source said. Cowell's rep was unavailable for comment.

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There are many hands working on X Factor, which is a co-production of Cowell's Syco Television, Fox and Fremantle North America. Yet Darnell has been cited in reports such as one over the weekend in the Daily Mail, which postulated that the longtime Fox executive is "the man behind Cheryl's spectacular fall from grace and worldwide humiliation."

Citing the more lurid shows offered during Darnell's tenure at Fox -- such as Who's Your Daddy?-- the article portrays Darnell as the person "behind booting her from the show."

Some counterspin turned up in another British paper, News of the World, which portrayed Cole as "snubbing all Simon Cowell's attempts to contact her." In that account, Cole specifically blames Cowell -- not Darnell -- for her ouster after only four days.

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That version of the story holds that Cowell had pressed a reluctant Cole to do the U.S. version of the show before turning on her. "I know that this was Simon's decision, and that's why it's so hurtful that he didn't tell me," the paper quotes her as telling a friend. "I don't know why nobody told me I hadn't been performing well."

Various factors -- Cole's thick accent, weight and low profile in the U.S. -- have all been cited as reasons for the departure, but neither the star nor her reps have made any comment. 

Cowell announced Monday that Cole also would not return to the U.K. version of X Factor.

Email: Kim.Masters@thr.com
Twitter: @KimMasters

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