By Alasdair Glennie
Meltdown: Pink impersonator Zoe Alexander left the biggest impression on Saturday's show, for all the wrong reasons
It seems that X Factor may have, well, lost its X Factor.
The launch of the ninth series of the talent show recorded its worst audience figures for six years.
An average of just 8.1million tuned in to ITV1 for the first episode on Saturday night – down more than 2million on last year’s debut, which attracted 10.5million.
It was the worst start to an X Factor series since 2006 and a dramatic contrast to 2010, when a record 11.1million viewers switched on for the first episode.
Scroll down for video of Zoe Alexander's shocking audition
Stunned: Angry Zoe's foul-mouthed rant left the judges, particularly Nicole Scherzinger, aghast
Getting violent: As she exited the stage, Zoe grabbed the cameraman and knocked his camera to the floor
It was also down on rival BBC talent show The Voice, which launched with an average of 8.4million viewers earlier this year.
Even at its peak, Saturday’s X Factor drew just 9.2million viewers, well below the high of 12million for last year’s series launch. The drop marked a double nightmare for TV boss Simon Cowell as his game show Red or Black? also suffered a ratings slump.
The programme, screened before and after the 8pm X Factor slot, saw its audience halve to an average of only 3.4million viewers. Last year, the first episode of the first series was watched by 6.9million viewers.
Giving Adele a run for her money: Ella Henderson was one of the stand-out performances on last night's X Factor
Impressed: Tulisa Contostavlos gave Ella a standing ovation, while her fellow judges Louis Walsh, Gary Barlow and guest judge Mel B looked highly impressed after the audition
However, Cowell may be able to take some consolation from the fact that many X Factor fans appeared to miss the programme only because they did not realise the series had started.
Writing on Twitter, some vented their frustration at not being made aware that the show was back.
One said: ‘I didn’t even realise X Factor was on until about half an hour ago. The worst promo ever this series.’
Setting the bar high: Jahmene Douglas also impressed the judges with his rendition of Etta James' At Last
Vocal range: The judges certainly hadn't expected timid Jahmene to be able to produce the sounds he did
Time to give up the day job? Jahmene currently works in the Swindon branch of Asda
Meanwhile, show insiders blamed the poor audience figures on Saturday’s hot weather, with temperatures reaching highs of 90F (32C). A source said: ‘Most people were outdoors enjoying the heat. And lots of others were out of the country altogether, having delayed their holidays until after the Olympics.’
An ITV spokesman said: ‘The X Factor launched on the hottest day of the year, and its audience was still over double that of the next nearest programme.
‘We have a great series ahead, with some fantastic talent this year that viewers can look forward to.’
Surprising: Self-confessed nerd Curtis Golden performed an acoustic version of Christina Aguilera's Candyman
Not everybody's a fan: While Curtis impressed most of the judges, guest judge Mel B deemed him 'irritating'
Potential: Curtis is now through to the next round of the show, but will he make it to the live finals?
In January, Cowell called show judge Gary Barlow in for a meeting to discuss ways to halt the decline in the X Factor ratings.
Cowell, 52, felt last year’s viewing figures were disappointing, saying: ‘I got a bit too cocky. We got a big wake-up call.
‘We went into 2011 thinking “It’s all going to be easy”, and of course it wasn’t. It was the year my ego was put in check.’
While X Factor has always thrived on tears and tantrums, those who did tune in on Saturday witnessed an unprecedented foul-mouthed meltdown from one contestant.
Series return: Simon Cowell's other show Red Or Black, fronted by Ant and Dec, also suffered a ratings slump on Saturday night
Zoe Alexander, who impersonates pop singer Pink for a living, launched into a hysterical rant at Barlow and his fellow judges Louis Walsh, Tulisa Contostavlos and Nicole Scherzinger when they cut short her performance.
After hurling down her microphone and storming off the stage, the 22-year-old then lashed out at a producer. X Factor bosses called police, who arrested the singer and gave her a caution for assault.
Following the shocking scenes, which were filmed in Cardiff in June, Miss Alexander accused the show of setting her up for failure, insisting: ‘I was stitched up.’
After she performed Pink track So What, the contestant from Caerphilly was told by the judges that she needed to ‘find herself as an artist’ rather than echo Pink’s style. They allowed her to perform another song – Emeli Sande’s Next To Me – but still failed to vote her through to the next round.
One of the judges returned this year to the X Factor looking considerably younger than last year
Miss Alexander claimed she was advised to sing a Pink song by a member of the show’s production team. She said: ‘When the judges rejected me I realised I had been manipulated by the X Factor for the previous six weeks.
‘They lured me in, coaxed me and even chose my song, all with the intention of setting me up for a fall. I am really shocked at the lengths they will go to set people up for humiliation.’
However, an X Factor spokesman denied Miss Alexander’s account, saying: ‘The claims are completely without foundation.
‘Contestants are not told what to sing – they make their own decisions. Zoe chose to sing a Pink song and was then given the opportunity to perform something else.’