As 'X Factor' Finale Approaches, Simon Cowell Considers Some Major Changes

Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell

Fox and Simon Cowell have brought numerous changes to “X Factor” over its three seasons and as it heads into its finale this week it is still looking for a ratings boost to make a fourth season viable.

Cowell tells Billboard that conversations for next year are ongoing with Fox and they are considering format changes, airing the show just once a week and a possible role change for himself.

“The most important thing is that I believe in the brand of ‘X Factor,’ what it stands for and what it has done for artists’ careers,” he says, confident the show will return in the fall. “We have to protect the brand. The audience who watches the show stays with it -- you can see it on all the social media reports.”

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Kelly Rowland, a first-year judge whose charge Jeff Gutt is in the finals, suggests a change that would get the show on par with “The Voice” and “American Idol.” “I wish there was a process where they could record,” she says. “I think that by the time they are finished, they should have product and that’s what’s missing. It takes a long time for the product to come to life.”

The ratings from Nielsen reflect an audience erosion over the show’s 2-1/2 months on the air. The Sept. 25 premiere had 7.61 million total viewers; a Tuesday night head-to-head matchup with “The Voice” in late October attracted only 4.76 million; the middle of the sweeps period used to determine advertising rates, Nov. 13, pulled in 5.77 million. The final four competition show on Dec. 12 was watched by 4.89 million. The final live episodes are broadcast tonight and Thursday (Dec. 18 and 19).

Yet despite a decline at TV, by allowing iTunes to post “X Factor” tracks on its singles charts, it appears one act has developed an audience. Alex & Sierra, ballad specialists under Cowell’s watch, have sold well enough over the last four weeks that their names have been a constant presence in iTunes’ top 200; in the 48 hours after each show they are consistently top 10. Sony/Syco is not releasing sales numbers so none of the releases will be on Billboard’s charts.

Ironically, though, this could well be best remembered as the season of “Say Something.” Christina Aguilera recorded a new version of the song with the New York duo, debuted it on “The Voice” and saw it shoot to No. 1 on the Hot 100. It was also the song that provided Alex & Sierra their breakthrough moment and brought “X Factor” back into music conversations on the Internet.

“I see room in the marketplace for Jeff, for Carlito, for Alex & Sierra,” Rowland says. “They’re all so different and I think that’s positive.”

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Cowell says the Dec. 11 show with the final four contestants was “my favorite show. We finally found our groove with that one.” Demi Lovato, in her second season as a judge, says she was more comfortable dispensing advice and that Rowland and fellow judge Paulinha Rubio had a better chemistry than previous panels.

Naturally, the judging panel was in a mood to put a positive spin on the season as the finale approached. Cowell says this year’s class “got lucky with the songs that were out and available to us this year that were on the charts for a long time.”  Rowland says winning boiled down to the singers who show they “have charisma that goes with (the) songs so people want to hear your story and connect with you in a way that’s relatable.”

And Lovato, a little down on herself for not having a contestant in the finale,says “there are always egos, but I think there are less egos this season. (Alex and Sierra are) more grateful, more humble. It’s incredible to watch them evolve so much.”