Former contestants of The X Factor have shared their accounts about their time on the show as part of a new BBC investigative podcast.
Titled Offstage: Inside The X Factor, the audio show is a six-part exploration of the ITV talent competition that was created by Simon Cowell and launched the careers of One Direction, Little Mix and Leona Lewis, among other stars.
Despite its success at giving everyday people lucrative careers in the music industry, the programme has been retrospectively criticised for its reported treatment of contestants and staff in the years since it ended in 2018.
The podcast, which launched on Friday (26 January), sees journalist Chi Chi Izundu speaking to former participants about their experiences.
One of many claims came from a former live finalist, who said that producers concocted a “total set-up” that involved her smudging her eye makeup to make it seem that she’d been crying.
Laura Conway was a part of the show’s second season in 2005, taking part with her three sisters to form the act The Conway Sisters.
She told Izundu of her belief that contestants were encouraged to create moments of drama.
Conway recalled: “The producers made me put water on my eyes and smudge my mascara… and made it look like I was crying. That was a total set-up.”
She also commented on her struggles to cope with the attention that the show brought, with reporters hanging around outside her school in Sligo, Ireland. “One of my ex-boyfriends said he was approached [and] offered a couple of thousand for a bad story about me,” Conway added.
Ultimately, she said she regrets the experience “100%”, noting: “I think personally it set me back many years.”
Another contestant, Sarah Lowe, did not progress past the audition stage, but expressed that the experience has stayed with her, 19 years on.
After singing a short portion of her song, Lowe was asked to stop before the judges critiqued her.
“I mentally said ‘No’ as soon as you walked in, I’m afraid,” lead judge Cowell told her.
“He judged me before I even started to sing,” Lowe explained on the podcast.
Lowe was inconsolable after being rejected by all three judges. She then explained that producers encouraged her family, who’d been waiting outside, to fight her corner, resulting in some members begging on their knees for her to be given a chance.
She recounted how she would later be mocked in the supermarket by strangers after the audition aired.
“I went into Asda, and there was a lady getting on her hands and knees and saying, ‘Please, Simon, can I have some more?’ I was so ashamed.”
Lowe added: “I’ve still not really got confidence.”
In a statement sent to the BBC, Fremantle, the X Factor’s production company, said: “Duty of care is of the utmost importance to us, and we take the welfare of everyone involved in its shows, including contestants and members of the production team, incredibly seriously with thorough and robust support systems in place.”
Elsewhere, former show judge Sharon Osbourne recently explained why she wouldn’t be a part of the show again.
Offstage: Inside The X Factor is available now on BBC Sounds.