The 30 Greatest Albums From X Factor Contestants
With some under-rated classics and the obvious smashes, take a trip down a decade-long memory lane with the 30 best albums the show has helped produce, ranked in order of brilliance below.
Disagree with the ordering? Sound off in the comments.
30. Christmas, With Love by Leona Lewis (2013)
Accompanied by one of the most bonkers X Factor performances of all time for lead single ‘One More Sleep’, Leona fabulously sashayed into the realm of seasonal releases with this collection of Yuletide gems. A big, high-camp instant classic – just a shame it immediately sounds terrible on January 1.
29. Evolution by JLS (2012)
For their fourth and final studio album, Louis Walsh’s pride and joy released an album of Timberlake-esque R’n’B tunes that largely held its own. It didn’t sell anywhere near as strongly as its predecessors but still had its fair share of #jams.
28. Breathless by Shayne Ward (2007)
Shayne’s career was spectacularly botched when the label left four years between this sophisticated second album and its ropey follow-up Obsession. But Breathless has a lot going for it: it’s basically a ballad-free zone, and the high note on the title track is OBSCENE.
27. Union J by Union J (2013)
As original as a plain cheese sandwich, Union J hardly set themselves apart from their obvious rivals with this eponymous debut, but it wasn’t without its charm: lead single ‘Carry You’, for example, was an unexpected delight.
26. Young Love by Jedward (2012)
Reaching the dizzy heights of No63 on the UK charts, it’s safe to say Jedward’s audience outside of their native Ireland was on the decline by the time their third album came around. But it’s a shame: despite the inherent awfulness of their early releases, some of the original songs here are very good indeed. ‘Happens In The Dark’ is a particular fave.
25. Letters by Matt Cardle (2011)
Letters sold pretty well considering Matt’s unfair reputation as one of The X Factor’s “flop” male winners, and in fairness it’s a pretty pleasant listen. It’s as thrilling as a long tube journey, but the songwriting and production is rarely less than sweet and likeable.
24. Jukebox by JLS (2011)
JLS absolutely loved an unbearably tacky lyric, and they’re scattered liberally around this third album (‘3D’ is a particular minefield). But the quality is also upped considerably from predecessor Outta This World, with ‘She Makes Me Wanna’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’ sticking out as two of their best singles.
23. James Arthur by James Arthur (2013)
Shrouded in controversy surrounding idiotic comments and controversial behaviour, James Arthur’s album is one Syco will likely want to forget. But actually, we have to admit it is a pretty decent effort – even if James himself has made a habit of criticising it.
22. Overcome by Alexandra Burke (2009)
We wanted the same kind of top-drawer amazingness Leona delivered with Spirit two years prior, and we didn’t get it. But despite its lack of cohesiveness, Alexandra Burke’s debut had glimmers of brilliance: ‘All Night Long’ was perfectly fine before Pitbull got his hands on it for the single remix, and there’s also a pretty nifty track written by one Pixie Lott.
21. Sticks + Stones by Cher Lloyd (2011)
Blighted by ‘Swagger Jagger’, one of the worst singles an X Factor act has ever put their name to, Sticks + Stones had its work cut out but delivered some really promising corkers. ‘Want U Back’ rightly found big success in the US, while ‘Grow Up’, ‘Over The Moon’ and ‘End Up Here’ were also great pop moments from a great pop star.
20. Take Me Home by One Direction (2012)
One Direction’s second album was basically a copy-and-paste jobby from their debut, meaning it was rammed wall-to-wall with songwriters’ finest pop creations but was just a tiny bit less exciting than it was first time around. Also loses points for inclusion of ‘Little Things’.
19. Pop by Same Difference (2008)
NO WAIT COME BACK! Same Difference may have been unbearably shiny on the fourth season of The X Factor, but their debut album is a hidden gem. Bar some needlessly corny covers (‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’? Really?), it’s gloriously unpretentious, shamelessly camp and any pre-teen High School Musical enthusiast’s idea of a good time.
18. Echo by Leona Lewis (2009)
Echo was never going to match the heights reached by Spirit, but still did a pretty good job. ‘I Got You’s failure to reach the Top 10 remains a sore point with us, and ‘Naked’ could have been ace single too. The token cover of ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ is no ‘Run’ but it’s also pretty goosebump-y in its own right.
17. DNA by Little Mix (2012)
The X Factor’s first group winners made a solid start with their 2012 debut; front-loaded with two amazing singles (‘Wings’ and ‘DNA’) and supported by a string of decent sass-pop belters. Closer ‘Madhouse’ is great, and ‘Going Nowhere’, co-penned by Nicola Roberts, hinted at more sophisticated things to come.
16. Wide Awake by Joe McElderry (2010)
Many afficionados will tell you that this debut from serial reality TV winner Joe McElderry is an overlooked classic, and while ‘classic’ may be stretching it a bit, it’s still a far better album than the terminated record deal will have you believe. The title track is a stunner, ‘Someone Wake Me Up’ was an underappreciated second single and we still have a big soft spot for ‘Ambitions’.
15. JLS by JLS (2009)
With a market free of competition from The Wanted or One Direction, JLS had the playing field to themselves when they bought out their hugely successful debut; packed with inoffensive urban pop including a few great singles and a certain amiable charm.
14. Midnight Memories by One Direction (2013)
Some songs really let the side down, but when Midnight Memories is on form, it’s brilliant: see McFly co-write ‘Don’t Forget Where You Belong’, the Mumford & Sons-esque ‘Happily’ and chart-bothering single ‘Story Of My Life’ for particular highlights.
13. Sorry I’m Late by Cher Lloyd (2014)
Despite a poor chart performance on both sides of the Atlantic, Cher Lloyd upped her game considerably for her second album; delivering a cross between Demi Lovato and Avril Lavigne glossed with her own spunky ‘tude. ‘Alone With Me’ is among the best pop songs we’ve heard all year, with ‘Sirens’, ‘Human’ and ‘Just Be Mine’ also commendable.
12. Join The Club by Lucy Spraggan (2013)
A premature exit from the 2012 season of The X Factor didn’t stop Lucy Spraggan signing a major record deal and putting out a beautifully executed debut twelve months later. Her acoustic guitar-led “storytelling” style isn’t for everyone, but the likes of ‘Wait For Me’, ‘In A State’, ‘Mountains’ and ‘Paper Dreams’ are really, really great.
11. Music To Make Boys Cry by Diana Vickers (2013)
After what felt like a trillion year wait, Diana Vickers’ second album was finally delivered in 2013 – and was everything we’d hoped for. ‘Blame Game’, ‘Mad At Me’ and the title track are three highlights on a concise electropop album with real depth.
10. Right Place Right Time by Olly Murs (2012)
We’ll be honest: we weren’t on board with Olly Murs at all during his first two album campaigns. But there’s no denying that RPRT is a rare male-fronted pop ace, helped along by a cluster of great singles including ‘Dear Darlin’, ‘Right Place Right Time’ and ‘Hand On Your Heart’.
9. Freedom by Rebecca Ferguson (2013)
Lightning struck twice for Rebecca Ferguson when her spine-tingling second album Freedom provided another dose of near-perfect pop that’s subtley produced, beautifully sung and thoughtfully written. ‘We’ll Be Fine’ should have been a single and ‘I Hope’ could have made her a new Sande if radio playlisters had given her a look-in, but hey ho. On to album three…
8. Chapter One by Ella Henderson (2014)
Hot on the heels of one of the year’s best-selling singles, Ella proves that great things come to those who wait with this mature-beyond-her-years debut album. There’s lots of single potential on here: the Ariana Grande-like ‘Rockets’, big-chorused ‘Pieces’ and slow-building ‘Empire’ being three fine examples.
7. Glassheart by Leona Lewis (2012)
Leona stepped away from the Tedder-like power ballads on her third album and upped both the tempo and the dark angst. The title track is a complete and utter banger, with the gorgeous ‘Fireflies’ providing a rare example of the magic that happens when a label with a fondness for the kitchen sink lets less be more.
6. Misty Eye by Aiden Grimshaw (2012)
Aiden didn’t quite Do A Vickers when he tried to turn a midseason elimination into a semi-“credible” (loathsome as that word may be) career, but the lack of chart success certainly had little to do with the quality of the output. Misty Eye is thoroughly miserable, yes, but it’s still a magnificent collection. And, at just 10 tracks long, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
5. Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree by Diana Vickers (2010)
This record’s ability to charge straight to No1 was a pleasant surprise, and thoroughly deserved. It may not sound quite as “current” in 2014 as it did in 2010 (duh), but the magic is still there: it’s in the Ellie Goulding co-write ‘Remake Me + You’, the touching electro-ballad ‘Chasing You’ and the almighty lead single ‘Once’.
4. Up All Night by One Direction (2011)
Cowell & Co took fine care to make sure 1D’s breakout album was a filler-free, tween-baiting success, and it paid off. Up All Night is bursting with universally endearing pop songs, from the Kelly Clarkson-penned ‘Tell Me A Lie’ to the Katy Perry name-dropping title track… not forgetting, of course, that big debut single that sent a message of doom to both JLS and The Wanted.
3. Salute by Little Mix (2013)
The Destiny’s Child comparisons were thoroughly justified when Little Mix unleashed their superb second album in 2013; focusing their energy a lot more than on debut DNA and pulling off a sophomore set completely lacking in filler. ‘Boy’! ‘Nothing Feels Like You’! ‘Competition’! ‘MOVE’! What an album… and what a tough act to follow.
2. Spirit by Leona Lewis (2008)
One year after winning The X Factor, Leona gave its profile a much needed kick up the backside with a debut album that resonated the world over. Slick, concise and – of course- brilliantly sung, it set a new precendent for the standards we now expect from our talent show winners, and rightly ensured Leona had a long and successful career ahead of her.
1. Heaven by Rebecca Ferguson (2011)
Somehow a double-platinum certification still doesn’t seem like enough for this album. Heaven, awarded five-star reviews across the board, would have made its singer a bigger star than Emeli Sande if things had gone slightly differently, but not to worry: Heaven really is a heavenly collection of soulful pop songs that never lets up and never feels over-wrought. ‘Teach Me How To Be Loved’ is up there with Adele’s finest, ‘Nothing’s Real But Love’ was a gorgeous lead single and… we could honestly single out every single track. Amazing.