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The seventh season aired on ITV from August 21, 2010 to December 12, 2010.
The X Factor was created by Simon Cowell in September 2004 and features singers chosen from public auditions competing against one another by performing a popular song weekly. The winner receives a £1 million recording contract with Cowell's Syco Music record label. The X Factor was hosted by Dermot O'Leary in 2010, with spin-off The Xtra Factor hosted by Caroline Flack and Olly Murs on ITV2.
Occasionally, X Factor runners-up also receive recording contracts with Syco, usually based on public reaction. Some examples of this are One Direction signing a recording contract with Cowell despite placing third, Fleur East competing twice on the series before being signed in 2015 despite never winning, and Cher Lloyd also signing with Syco in 2010, after finishing fourth behind One Direction.
Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik all auditioned for The X Factor as solo artists. In their pre-audition interviews, Harry and Niall spoke about clear plans to build musical careers. Zayn revealed in This Is Us that he nearly missed his audition, as he did not want to wake up early. Liam and Louis had both previously auditioned in earlier years, with Liam succeeding in 2008 until the Judges Houses round, where Cowell eliminated him because he felt Liam was too young. In 2010, all five succeeded through to the bootcamp round, a particularly gruelling phase where contestants are required to work long hours and are tested in other performance areas, such as dance choreography. Zayn famously tried to bow out of the dance test, hiding backstage until Simon encouraged him. All five were ultimately eliminated as solo artists at the conclusion of the bootcamp phase. Cowell felt there were not enough groups being put through to the next round and decided to form two (a female and male group) from the contestants just eliminated. Conflicting stories as to whether Cowell himself, fellow judge Nicole Sherzinger or both judges together formed One Direction have gone unconfirmed, with both parties claiming they individually formed the group. As Harry, Liam, Louis, Niall, and Zayn were packing to leave Wembley Arena, all eliminated contestants were called back, with the five of them (and four female contestants) being singled out to return to the judgement room. The contestants were told they would be allowed to continue competing in this season of the series as long as they competed as groups. Footage of the re-qualification shows One Direction reacting twice, as they were told in two parts that they would form a group and that they would compete as that group in the current season. Simon represented Groups for the seventh season.
Hype for One Direction's live performances reached fever pitch and they were the clear favorites to win for the duration of their time on the series. Behind the scenes features of the band living together, playing games and keeping weekly video diaries also helped establish them with a steadily growing fanbase. In a shock finale, One Direction placed third but strongly hinted they would stay together as a band. They were signed to Syco Music on December 10, 2010.
One Direction appeared on The X Factor on November 13 2011, for the sixth week of the live shows. They performed "Gotta Be You". On November 27, 2011, they returned to perform charity single "Wishing on a Star" with the current seasons finalists and JLS. During the season eight live finale on December 10 2011, One Direction again performed alongside JLS in a "mash-up" performance.
On October 6 2012, One Direction made a surprise guest appearance during the first live show. On November 6, 2012 during the sixth week of live shows, a pre-recorded performance of "Little Things" was aired.