The X Factor is a British reality television music competition to find new singing talent. The contestants are aspiring singers drawn from public auditions. Created by Simon Cowell, the show began in 2004 and has since aired annually from August/September until December. The show is produced by Fremantle's Thames (previously Talkback Thames) and Cowell's production company Syco Entertainment. It is broadcast on the ITV network in the UK and simulcast on Virgin Media One in Ireland. "X Factor" refers to the undefinable "something" that makes for star quality. The series consists of auditions, bootcamp, judges' houses, several weeks of live shows, semi-finals and the final. The series had a spin-off behind-the-scenes show called The Xtra Factor, which aired directly after the main show on ITV2. This lasted for the first thirteen series, when it was cancelled by ITV in January 2017. It is replaced by an online spin-off show Xtra Bites exclusively on the ITV Hub. The first three series were presented by Kate Thornton, then from series four to eleven, the show was presented by Dermot O'Leary. Series 12 was presented by Caroline Flack and Olly Murs with O'Leary returning for series 13 onwards.
The original judging panel consisted of Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne and Cowell. In 2005, Paula Abdul joined the show as a guest judge whilst Osbourne was away then joined the panel in 2006 for three sets of auditions. Brian Friedman briefly replaced Walsh in the fourth series, which also saw Dannii Minogue join the panel. Friedman left during the auditions, and Walsh replaced Friedman. Cheryl Cole replaced Osbourne in the fifth series. Gary Barlow, Kelly Rowland and Tulisa joined the panel in the eighth series as replacements for Cowell, Minogue and Cole. Rowland left before the ninth series and was replaced by Nicole Scherzinger. Osbourne returned to the panel in the tenth series, replacing Tulisa. Cowell and Cole (later Fernandez-Versini) returned to replace Barlow and Osbourne in eleventh series, while Mel B replaced Scherzinger. In the twelfth series, Mel B and Walsh were replaced by Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw. For the thirteenth and fourteenth series, Walsh, Osbourne and Scherzinger returned, replacing Grimshaw, Fernandez-Versini and Ora. Following the conclusion of the latter series, Walsh and Scherzinger quit after thirteen and four years respectively, as a judge, and Osbourne announced she would only return for the live shows; before it was later announced that she quit. Louis Tomlinson, Ayda Field (credited as Ayda Williams) and Robbie Williams joined Cowell for the fifteenth series.
The show is split into different stages, following the contestants from auditions through to the final. In the original televised audition stage of the show, contestants sang in an audition room in front of just the judges, but from the sixth series onwards auditionees sing on a stage in front of the judges and a live audience. In series 10 and 11, both auditions formats were used. In series 12, the room auditions were scrapped, leaving just the arena auditions. The room auditions were revived in series 13, and no arena auditions followed. Successful auditionees go through to "bootcamp" and then to "judges' houses", where judges narrow down the acts in their category down to three or four acts to mentor for the live shows, where the public vote for their favourite acts following weekly live performances by the contestants. There have been 15 winners of the show to date: Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson, Alexandra Burke, Joe McElderry, Matt Cardle, Little Mix, James Arthur, Sam Bailey, Ben Haenow, Louisa Johnson, Matt Terry, Rak-Su and Dalton Harris. Winners receive a recording contract with record label Syco Music with a stated value of £1 million. This includes a cash payment to the winner, but the majority is allocated to marketing and recording costs. From 2004 to 2010, and again in 2013 and 2014, the winning contestant's single was released in time for the end-of-year chart battle for the UK's Christmas number one (in 2005 through to 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014, the winner's single has reached number one). As of November 2016, 41 number-one singles have been achieved by artists who have appeared on the show, such as Lewis, Burke, JLS, Diana Vickers, Olly Murs, Cher Lloyd, One Direction, Little Mix, Arthur and Ella Henderson.
The show is the originator of the international The X Factor franchise. A prominent show in British popular culture, The X Factor proved hugely popular with the public during its peak. The sixth series in 2009 peaked at 19.7 million UK viewers (a 63.2% audience share). At present, the programme is contracted to run until 2022.