The X Factor isn't due back on our screens for six blissful months, but already the rumours are flying: with each new envisioning of the Simon Cowell creation, the previous year's talent takes the hit. Cowell has become so infamous for his ruthless letting go of staff that when he pretended to fire Britain's Got Talent judge Amanda Holden live on Radio One, she believed him (especially when he said he wanted to bring in Cheryl Fernandez-Versini because she was younger). Here are 12 of Cowell's more unfortunate employees:
1. Louis Walsh
The X Factor stalwart returns for his 12th series as a judge in 2016, but he’s admitted to being sacked by Cowell, even though the Syco boss frequently told him he wanted him back. “He’d have had me back in the middle of the series, if he’d had his way,” Walsh recently told The Telegraph. According to The Sun, Cowell gave Walsh special treatment and fired him in person: “They are close friends so Simon wanted to do this the right way. Simon spoke to Louis and told him that it's 95 per cent certain that he'll be 'stood down' this year."
2. Mel B
The former Spice Girl lasted just one series of X Factor as a judge before one of the show’s many revamps. In 2015, The Sun reported that “Simon and the producers are now looking for a replacement for Mel.”
3. Konnie Huq
Blue Peter’s longest-serving female presenter couldn’t work the same magic while presenting The Xtra Factor, where her calamitous goofs saw her last just the one season. The details about her departure are hazy, but perhaps some clues can be found in the Black Mirror episode Huq co-wrote that aired a few months later.
Fifteen Million Merits was a depiction of a dystopian world in which workers must earn “merits” in order to compete on a talent show in the hope of gaining access to a better life. Rupert Everett played a particularly unpleasant judge in the episode.
4. Kate Thornton
Thornton, who made her career editing Smash Hits, spoke out about how she’d been treated after being told to leave the show after presenting it for three years until 2007. In a 2009 interview with Closer, Thornton didn’t hold back, saying: “'I’ll never talk to Simon again. He fired me to create headlines without even telling me beforehand, when we had been good friends.”
“Sharon and Louis Walsh really supported me, but at the end of the day it was a game of ‘Simon Says’ and he wanted me out.
“I wouldn’t watch the show now because it would be like seeing your ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend. You don’t have feelings for them anymore, but you don’t want to see it.”
5. Cheryl Fernandez-Versini
Fernandez-Versini sued Blue Orbit, the production behind X Factor USA for $2.3 million (£1.4 million) for loss of earnings in 2014 after Cowell dropped her as a judge after just half an episode. The reasoning was placed on her thick Geordie accent and lack of charisma, but Cole was still understandably upset by the fact Cowell, who had been working with her for years by this point, didn’t fire her face-to-face.
She famously sent the mogul a furious text message reading: “F--- you, f--- Fox, f--- the orange and purple outfit. F--- the big hair, f--- the UK X Factor. F--- you all. I hate you.” Fernandez-Versini later admitted that “Simon was right to get rid of me” because she “wasn't well in the head when that was going on, so it wasn't going to work.”
Cowell was similarly remorseful about the situation, admitting later: “If I could go back in time I would have kept her on the show. It was stupid doing what I did. I didn't sack her personally. That was the second-biggest mistake I made.”
Fernandez-Versini was reportedly paid £1.5 million to re-join the show in 2014.
6. James Arthur
The career of 2012 X Factor winner James Arthur was cut short after Cowell fired him and dropped him from his label, Syco, in April 2014. Arthur was embroiled in a series of controversies following his X Factor success, including homophobic slurs and shaming kiss and tells, but it was a particularly offensive lyric – “I am going to blow your family up like I am a terrorist” – that caused Cowell to give him the heave-ho.
7. His security guard
Cowell sacked his security guard – via the third party of the guard’s firm - in December after the man failed to stop thieves from breaking into his London home and stealing valuables worth six figures. Cowell, his partner Laura Silverman and their child, Eric, were all in the house at the time.
8. Natalia Kills and Willy Moon
Cowell had no shame in discussing the firing of the flagrantly offensive New Zealand X Factor judges in 2015. Natalia Kills and Willy Moon, a couple, caused international scandal after their scathing attack on contestant Joe Irvine.
Cowell subsequently told The Daily Mail: “It was hateful. She [Natalia] sounded mad. It didn't even make sense."
"Where they cocked up was that they didn't apologise straight away. If they'd both been genuinely sorry and called me, and apologised to the guy and his family, who knows what could have happened? They didn't. They were quite defensive.
"It is sometimes a fine line, but there's a definite line and they crossed it. I don't think anyone's ever gone as far as that on any show we've ever made."
9. Ben Haenow
Adding weight to the suggestion that X Factor can no longer produce bona fide stars, 2014’s winner, Ben Haenow, was dropped from Cowell’s label in January after barely a year in the contract. The Sun reported at the time: “Simon made the decision with a heavy heart. He was a big supporter of Ben but it’s simply down to business — Fleur East, who came second, has done much better.”
10, 11 and 12. Paula Abdul, Steve Jones and Nicole Scherzinger
Although Scherzinger would go on to judge the UK version of The X Factor, she came under the knife in 2012 along with her fellow US X Factor judges Paula Abdul and Steve Jones. The Hollywood Reporter detailed the “one key confab” with Cowell in which all three lost their jobs at the same time.
Abdul was deemed “irrelevant to the mix” while Jones had the news broken to him by an X Factor producer. Scherzinger was told her contract wouldn’t be renewed. Cowell was seemingly not involved with breaking the news.
History repeated itself a few years later, when Scherzinger was dropped from the UK X Factor after only a year on the panel.
X Factor winners: where are they now?