Barlow, who is mentoring the Groups category, made this announcement on Oct. 12, 2013, during the show's first live episode of the year: “I’ve had an amazing time on 'X Factor' these past three years. A show like this needs to stay fresh and exciting, so it’s a great opportunity for someone to come in and take the show past its incredible 10-year anniversary. Next year is looking to be a very busy year for me and 'The X Factor' is a full-time job, so it felt like the right time to hand over the baton. I’ve loved being a part of the show and have met and worked with some fantastic people but most importantly, more than ever, I want to go out with the winning act this year. Come on, the groups!”
A spokesperson for "The X Factor" U.K. issued this statement: “As Gary said on the show, we can confirm that this will be his last series as a judge on 'The X Factor.' We’d like to thank him for an amazing contribution over the last three years. Next year he will be focusing on his own music but until then he will be mentoring the groups and hoping to take one of them all the way to the final and leave on a high.”
As I first exclusively reported, Simon Cowell is planning to return to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel after "The X Factor" U.S. is cancelled by Fox. Cowell is likely to replace Barlow, who replaced Cowell in 2011. (Cowell was a judge on the show from 2004 to 2010. He left "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2011, but he has always been an executive producer/creator of the show.) Barlow dropped a major hint that he was going to quit "The X Factor" U.K. when he announced that he will be busy in 2014 with a new Take That album, which will be followed by a Take That tour.
If "The X Factor" U.S. is cancelled at the end of its third season, the official announcement won't come until May 2014, when the networks typically announce what shows are on their schedules for the upcoming season. Until then, the official comments from Fox are that no decision has been made yet. Sources say that Fox's "American Idol" will definitely not be cancelled anytime soon and will continue to be prioritized as Fox's top-tier talent show.
Sources also say there's virtually no chance that Cowell is going back to "American Idol," where he was a judge from 2002 to 2010, because Cowell does not own any part of "American Idol" (which is going through its own ratings problems), and he doesn't want to go back to being on a show where he would be just an employee, not a co-owner. Cowell has also had a long-standing feud with "American Idol" creator/executive producer Simon Fuller.
Barlow's "X Factor" departure was also reported by BBC Radio 2 personality Chris Evans, who said on his show on Oct. 9, 2013: "Apparently, Gary Barlow is feeling the pressure ahead of the live shows. By the way, this will be Gary’s last year on 'The X Factor' ... because he told me last week.”
Barlow has yet to be a winning mentor on "The X Factor" U.K.
In 2011, he mentored the Boys category (male solo singers ages 16 to 24), and his highest-placing contestant was Marcus Collins, who came in second place. Collins' self-titled debut album that was released on RCA Records in 2012 featured production work from Barlow.
In 2012, Barlow mentored the Overs category (solo singers ages 28 and older), and his highest-placing contestant was Christopher Maloney, who came in third place. Maloney is still an unsigned artist.
Ratings for "The X Factor" U.K. have fallen since Cowell's departure from the judges' panel. Although the show remains one of ITV's highest-rated entertainment programs, "The X Factor" has consistently been beaten since 2012 in the ratings by BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing," which also airs on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Meanwhile, "The X Factor" U.S. is on the verge of cancellation since ratings for "The X Factor" U.S.'s third season (which premiered on Sept. 11, 2013) have reached an all-time low and are currently averaging about 6.5 million U.S. viewers per episode, according to the Nielsen Company. That's a decrease of about 50 percent from the U.S. audience that "The X Factor" U.S. had in the show's first season in 2011. While 6.5 million U.S. viewers per week is not automatic grounds for cancellation for an average reality show on U.S. network TV, the problem for "The X Factor" is that it is the most expensive reality show ever, and the costs (including Cowell's salary) can no longer justify the rapidly declining ratings.
Cowell has been telling the media that he's been "happier than I've ever been" now that he is going to become a father. (Cowell and New York socialite Lauren Silverman are reportedly expecting a baby boy in February 2014.) But Cowell can't be happy about "The X Factor" U.S.'s disappointing ratings and the show's failure to find an international superstar on the level of "American Idol" first winner Kelly Clarkson or "X Factor" U.K. boy band One Direction.
"The X Factor" U.S. has been a humiliating blow for Cowell, who in 2011 bragged to the media that the show would premiere to at least 20 million U.S. viewers. In reality, the show's first season premiere only got 12.5 million U.S. viewers, which are the highest ratings that the show ever got for a single episode. And even though Fox's "American Idol" has also had a big decline in ratings in the past few years, "The X Factor" has never been able to surpass "American Idol's" ratings in the United States.
But don't feel sorry for Cowell. He's still making millions (an estimated $95 million a year, according to Forbes magazine) from his entertainment empire, which includes "The X Factor" and "Got Talent" franchises around the world, as well as Syco Music (the company he co-owns with Sony Music), whose best-selling artists include One Direction and Susan Boyle. And he has a backup plan to return to "The X Factor" U.K. as a judge. He is currently a judge on ITV's "Britain's Got Talent."
"The X Factor" U.S. has been plagued with constant changes to its on-air talent, and these changes make the show look unstable. Cowell is the only star of the show who has been with "The X Factor" U.S. since the beginning. He is also an executive producer of the show.
As for who will be on "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel when Cowell returns, it's too early to say, but expect Louis Walsh to remain a judge on the show. Despite announcing that 2013 would be his last year with "The X Factor" U.K., Walsh more recently admitted to the media that his announcement was a pre-emptive strike in case he got fired. Walsh has threatened to quit the show many times before, so he's like the "X Factor" judge who cries wolf.
There is speculation that Robbie Williams or Olly Murs might replace Barlow, but Williams and Murs have busy international touring schedules that make it unlikely that they will become "X Factor" judges.
Sharon Osbourne has also announced that 2013 will be her last year as an "X Factor" U.K. judge, and she has changed her mind before too. If she does leave the show, it will probably because of she wants to spend more time in Los Angeles, where she co-hosts the CBS weekday chat show "The Talk." As for Scherzinger, it's anyone's guess if she will remain on "The X Factor" U.K., because a lot will depend on how well she does as a contestant mentor in 2013.
In September 2013, Cowell was seen having a business meeting with British singer Rita Ora, so it seems the search for a new "X Factor" U.K. judge has already begun. Ora said that earlier this year, she turned down an offer to be a judge on the show (to replace Tulisa Contostavlos, who was fired), so it's possible that Ora (who a guest judge on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2012) could be a contender in 2014. Any serious negotiations for a new "X Factor" U.K. judge in 2014 won't happen until March or April of that year.
In the meantime, ITV is keen to have Cowell back as a judge on "The X Factor" U.K., with very high hopes that he can boost the show's sagging ratings.