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Maloney 'doesn't have the X Factor'
People's favourite Christopher Maloney has not got the X Factor to be an international star, according to Louis Walsh.
The talent search judge also indicated that the Liverpudlian crooner was not the favoured winner of the ITV1 show's creator, Simon Cowell.
Speaking ahead of this weekend's final in Manchester, Walsh said: "He (Cowell) loves the talent. He wants talent to win.
"He loves James, Jahmene, Ella, Union J."
Asked if Cowell had expressed a view on Maloney, Walsh replied tersely: "He did not mention him."
Fellow judge Nicole Scherzinger said she had been in regular contact with Cowell from the United States during the series and revealed he was "very supportive" of her two acts in the three-way decider, James Arthur and Jahmene Douglas.
"I think he is a fan of James," she said. "I think he is just really proud of my boys and the work we have done."
Their fellow judges, Gary Barlow and Tulisa Contostavlos, joined all the contestants to speak to the media in Manchester.
All the judges were unanimous in their delight that Manchester was hosting the final for the first time.
Walsh was forthright in his views on Maloney, who has been ridiculed on and off the show for his "cheesy routines" but has proved popular with the voting public.
Asked who he would like to win, the Irishman said: "I want James or Jahmene. You want the talent to win... It is the best launchpad in the UK if you have got the goods and we believe James and Jahmene have definitely got the goods."
Of Maloney, he said: "I just don't think he is an international star. Nice guy, good singer. Has he got the X Factor? I don't think so.
"Best of luck to him, he has done incredibly well to get into the final."
He added: "We are hired to be honest, we are not hired to be nice. It's survival of the fittest."
The bookmakers' outsider to win the competition brushed aside the controversy though, as he admitted he found it hard to believe he had made into the final three.
Maloney said: "I am just getting on with it and keeping myself grounded. I have a broad range of people who have supported me aged six, seven, eight to 82."
He said the return to his home city this week was "one of the best days of my life".
"It was unbelievable, the support from Liverpool was just fantastic."
Barlow jokily complained: "Every road I drove down had posters of him, not one of me."
The Take That star said their duet on this weekend's show would be "special".
He said: "We have got a full orchestra, a gospel choir, the lot. We are not going for this acoustic vibe at all. We are going big."
Maloney said Barlow was the "best mentor anyone could have" and said he considered him "a really good friend".
Quizzed on the reported fall in audience figures for The X Factor, Barlow said: "I don't know how they work audience figures, I'm not an expert.
"I think they play the show about six times over the weekend and altogether it gets about 19 million viewers. Now that sounds a lot of people to me.
"So I don't know the ups, (the) downs. It's not why I'm on the show. I'm on to judge the acts and help them."
He said he had enjoyed this year's series compared with his debut as a judge last season.
"I think we will probably see four or even five albums being made from the talent this year. So I feel proud.
"I think we have had a really good crop of talent this year. They are still out there. You wonder where it is, don't you, thinking it's the 10th year? Is there anyone left to go on the show? But they just keep on coming."
Scherzinger, who did not appear to be relishing the chilly northern weather, spoke highly of her remaining acts.
She said: "I think that I'm just really blessed to have been able to work with such brilliant talent.
"For me, it is my job to just protect them and to build them up to give them whatever tools that they needed to do their thing because they were born for it."
Arthur and Douglas showed no signs of fierce rivalry as they said they would buy each other's albums.
Arthur had an eye on the future as he said: "My life has changed massively already. I just hope to be achieving longevity out of it and I am making music for many years.
"We will help our families with whatever we achieve financially.
"We (him and Douglas) have both come from poor lifestyles."
Douglas said: "We want to make incredible albums."
Asked what he was most looking forward to after the final, he quipped: "Eating and sleeping."
Contostavlos said she was making the most of not having an act in the final but conceded that she would be rooting for Arthur to succeed.
"I feel like I still have a contestant," she said. "I'm going to be cheering for James like he is my own.
"I'm going to be there banging the desk, jumping up - 'Vote for James!'."
She was less forthcoming when questioned about the reported midweek sales of her debut album, The Female Boss, which is said to be struggling to make the top 20 despite her high profile on The X Factor and performing to millions of viewers last weekend.
She said: "I think that is irrelevant to what is going on (here)."
Walsh gallantly stepped in as he interjected: "I think she did fantastically well on the show last week. I loved her hoodie.
"It's about having a long career, not a short career."
He said he had never seen her so nervous when she sang on the programme.
Asked if she was nervous, Contostavlos replied: "Yes - terrified."
Walsh mused whether any of the current judges would be on the show next season as they reach the end of their contracts.
"We might all be gone," he said.
Asked what his highlight has been of working on The X Factor, he said: "I loved working with Simon. When Simon is around it's always a better show for me, I've got to be honest.
"He gets the most out of everybody on the show. He is a producer as well as a judge."