the-x-factor-season-3-live-show-8- Alex & Sierra

Remember way back in 2011 when The X Factor USA first launched? Back when Simon Cowell was predicting audiences of 20 million an episode and that his Fox singing competition was going to be the new American Idol…

Well as we know things haven’t really worked out as Simon said.

A couple of weeks ago The X Factor pulled in just 3.75 million viewers and a measly 1.0 18-49 share. Ouch.

Okay to be fair that was on Thanksgiving night, a terrible night for TV ratings. But it isn’t like The X Factor has been doing all that better across the rest of its season. Ratings are sharply down year to year, following a sizeable drop from 2011. Now commentators are predicting that this season may be the show’s last…

But just when the Simon Cowell show seemed to be nearing the end of its road something rather interesting happened. And their names are Alex and Sierra.

Yep, the old school, Sonny and Cher style duo have suddenly given The X Factor the one thing it’s been desperately needing from Day 1. A breakout act.

On the show’s December 4th episode the duo performed Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name, followed by a cover of the current Top 10 hit Say Something by A Great Big World. The latter earned the duo a standing ovation from the judges. And something even more.

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By the next day the performance was number one on the Itunes Chart (as I write it’s still Top 10). The Say My Name cover also went Top 10. And even country group Restless Road hit the Top 20 with their version of the Avicii smash Wake Me Up.

Last season’s standouts Emblem 3 and Fifth Harmony both saw their debut albums hit the Billboard Top 10, but neither have had singles perform at this level. These are the sort of stats Fox will be paying attention to. But is this late in the game success enough for The X Factor?

I hope so as I’m a big fan of the show’s format and there are a lot of things the X Factor does right. The acts are less polished than The Voice, which just seems to feature former backing singers and acts dropped from their record labels. And the show’s performances are a heck of a lot more contemporary and innovatively staged than the increasingly sleepy American Idol.

Plus The X Factor has worked hard to freshen up its format each year. This season’s Four Chair Challenge was terrific TV and a dramatic way to narrow down the field. Meanwhile Kelly Rowland has been a great addition to the judging panel alongside Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell (but let’s not even mention the bizarre and incoherent Paulina Rubio).

Unfortunately The X Factor faces many challenges beyond its control. The short Fall season necessitates constant double eliminations. Fox’s baseball coverage means the show has to be taken off air for two weeks each year, which always results in a big ratings fall just when the show is gaining momentum. Thursday nights at 8pm the X Factor results face the juggernaut that is The Big Bang Theory, broadcast TV’s number one 18-49 show. And the show has to air new episodes every Thanksgiving week which is always a terrible timeslot. Add in talent show fatigue and the success of The Voice and you can see why The X Factor is struggling.

But maybe the success of Alex and Sierra will see a last minute ratings climb as The X Factor nears its finale. Maybe Fox will finally decide to give the show a better slot in 2014? And maybe Paulina will actually finish a complete sentence that makes sense…

Okay – well two out of three isn’t bad!