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Are ‘X Factor’ losers the real winners

As has become traditional since Simon Cowell took over the pop world, last Sunday’s ‘X Factor’ final was amongst the most gripping and exciting moments on the annual music calendar. After thousands of contestants had thrown themselves at the mercy of the nation and sang their little hearts out, just two remained.

For the winner, international superstardom awaited. But for the losers? Inevitable doom and a return to stacking shelves or sweeping roads. Or at least that’s what most of us might have expected. The reality is actually very different. Because it has now been confirmed that all four finalists have signed record deals.

Winner Matt Cardle, who will be looking to score a number one with his debut single, ‘When We Collide’, on Sunday, won a contract with Cowell’s label Syco as part of his victory. Meanwhile, the three acts he defeated, Rebecca Ferguson, One Direction and Cher Lloyd, have also been snapped up by the music mogul. It also seems unlikely we have seen the last of Katie Waissel, another show reject.

Which raises the question, what’s the point in winning if you’re guaranteed to get a major leg-up into the industry anyway, receiving exactly the same benefits from Cowell’s global contacts and industry wisdom? In fact, it seems there is also considerably less pressure on the acts who have been picked up in the aftermath of the show and not been saddled with the glittering, high-profile champion mantle.

Take last year’s show, for example. It’s taken Joe McElderry, very publicly humiliated by Rage Against The Machine in the festive chart run-down, almost 12 months to launch his pop career. Debut album ‘Wide Awake’ may have landed at number three, but comeback single ‘Ambitions’ stalled at six while his latest effort, ‘Someone Wake Me Up’, recently peaked at 68.

Simple comparisons with other competitors suggest that when it comes to the chart crunch, McElderry has been outstripped by the same people he beat just 12 months ago. Both Olly Murs and Diana Vickers have scored number one singles, while their debut albums also both placed higher than Joe’s.

JLS are another act who have defied expectations and gone on to establish themselves as one of British music’s biggest pop bands and potential heirs to Take That’s boyband throne after scoring a host of hit singles off the back of a pair of winning albums, ‘JLS’ and ‘Outta This World’, despite finishing second in 2008.

Could it be that the level of expectation placed upon whoever stands at the centre of popping champagne corks and falling tickertape is often actually a hindrance? For further evidence of that, see Steve Brookstein, Leon Jackson and Shayne Ward, none of whom have achieved anywhere near the levels of success expected of them despite taking the big prize.

So what does Matt Cardle have to do to make sure he doesn’t follow in their footsteps into pop ignominy but instead takes his place alongside Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis at pop music’s top table? Keep Simon Cowell onside and watch his back is surely the best advice.

Who are the real winners in ‘The X Factor’? Are you more likely to be successful by failing to claim the big prize? Who do you think will be the biggest star from this year’s top four? Have your say below…