X Factor judge SImon Cowell caused controversy tonight after criticising competition favourite Matt Terry, calling him "bland" and "vanilla".
The ITV singing contest head judge is hoping to see his own act Emily Middlemas make it through to next week’s series final at Wembley Arena, but had some scathing words for her competition – who is mentored by Nicole Scherzinger and before tonight’s episode was tipped by the bookies to win.
After opening the show with a rendition of Silent Night for the week’s Christmas theme, Matt was told by Simon: “Until the end when you hit the high note it was like having a sandwich without the butter.”
Each act tonight gave two performances, abandoning the festive song choices for their second turns, and waiter Matt, 22, went with Jessie Ware’s Say You Love Me which drew praise from Scherzinger and judges Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne.
Simon said: “I really like you and I think you’ve done well, but I don’t think it’s been your best night.
“I appreciate how much you were trying on that song but I felt like it had overtaken you. Something has got lost along the way from when you first started and had that really cool falsetto.
“That for me was bland, I’m sorry.”
However, Nicole hit back: “Ain’t nobody going to rain on my parade, he don’t want to talk to me about bland.”
Louis’s group act 5 After Midnight performed East 17′s Stay Another Day and Simon said: “The difference between that and the first act (Matt) is the difference between vanilla ice cream and a vanilla ice cream sundae with cherries, bananas, satsumas, tomatoes, everything on top.”
Nicole got her own back on Simon when Emily sang War Is Over.
She said: “That was nice and, baby, the finals are next week, we need more than nice.”
Simon shot back: “At least it was sincere, Nicole.”
Meanwhile, Sharon’s mentee Saara Aalto has taken over as the bookies’ favourite to win after her performances tonight of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You and Sia’s hit Chandelier.
She said: “I’ve been brought back as a wildcard so many times and I’m not going to give up.”
Following her version of Chandelier which she performed in a light-up gown, Simon said: “Oh bleep. I’ve got to hand it to you Saara, I mean apart from the silly dress, it was sensational.”
The X Factor returns tomorrow at 8pm on ITV when the three finalists will be announced.