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FIX-FACTOR; Simon Cowell coaches wannabes to fight back Louis Walsh has to axe singers he managed.

Byline: FIONA CUMMINS Showbiz Reporter

POP guru Louis Walsh had to axe a band from new talent show X-Factor - when TV chiefs learnt he used to be their manager.

And it emerged fellow judges Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne have been coaching their wannabe popstars to be confrontational on the show.

Four-piece group Co-Ed won a place on the ITV1 contest, which starts tonight, but three of them were members of Six - a band who won Irish Popstars three years ago and were signed up by Walsh.

When Cowell and X-Factor producers found out about Walsh's links they demanded that the group be kicked out.

The show is the first venture from Cowell's independent production company, Syco, and he is determined to make it a hit.

Yesterday a show insider revealed: "Louis picked the name Co-Ed and told them what songs to learn for their audition. They had to be seen auditioning like everyone else.

"The plan was for them to breeze through the audition, bootcamp and final selection stages so they would be part of the live TV vote in October."

The secret emerged during a two-day trial to pick the final five acts.

The source added: "The producers were furious. Simon also agreed it would be stupid to continue. So, under pressure, Louis axed them."

Meanwhile video footage leaked from London auditions at Wembley Arena showed Cowell tell contestants how to act in front of the cameras.

He said: "If it doesn't go well and you get a bad reaction stand up for yourselves. Grovel like mad. It actually does work and you'd be surprised how you can change people's minds.

"In other words, if Louis says that is the worst thing I have ever heard in my life, don't say, 'Thank you'."

Osbourne then pipes up: "Or sorry."

Simon adds: "...or sorry, yeah. Because in three months time you're going to be watching the TV set going, 'Why didn't I say something back?'."

The footage was being offered for sale on eBay before X-Factor lawyers had it removed. Co-Ed was formed by former Six members Sinead Sheppard, Liam McKenna and Emma O'Driscoll, all 22, and newcomer Jamie Noonan.

ITV said: "Louis has made no secret of the fact he knew them from Six. But he categorically denies he offered them a place in the final.

"We cannot comment on whether the band make it through to the final as this would spoil it for viewers." It's not the first time Walsh has shown favouritism to Irish stars. He urged Nadine Coyle to audition for Popstars: The Rivals after she was booted out of Irish Popstars for being too young.

She eventually won a place in chart-topping band Girls Aloud.

X-Factor shows how the judges whittled 50,000 contestants down to just 120.

They will then split into three categories: 16-25 solo; 25 and over solo; and group. They will be tutored at a "bootcamp" before a winner is chosen.

A spokesman said: "There is absolutely no manipulation. We have such a broad range of contestants we don't need to make good television - the pictures tell the story."

CAPTION(S):

JUDGES DREAD: Cowell, Osbourne and Walsh; SIX 'O THE BEST: Walsh's band Six
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 4, 2004
Words:535
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