Cheryl Cole was told to dump X Factor star Gamu Nhengu over fears she may be kicked out of the country if her visa is not renewed.
Insiders claim the decision to axe the 18-year-old African and put Katie Waissel and Cher Lloyd into the final despite their poor performances was forced upon her.
A source said: “It was made clear Gamu shouldn’t go through because of the visa. Cheryl didn’t have a say.”
Hundreds of viewers complained to ITV at the axing.
As viewers watched Katie Waissel’s shambolic X Factor performance and Cher Lloyd quit in tears, most were certain the pair would get the boot.
And when Gamu Nhengu stepped up to put in a faultless delivery of her song, there were plenty of reasons to believe she would sail through to the final.
So fans across the land were stunned when Cheryl Cole axed the 18-year-old in favour of the two blundering stars.
But last night it was claimed the Girls Aloud singer was ordered not to put through Gamu because of concerns over her right to stay in Britain.
The Zimbabwe-born singer is awaiting a renewal of her visa and TV bosses feared if she was refused it could plunge the show into chaos.
And in another blow, we can reveal Gamu is not Cheryl’s choice of a wild card contestant for the weekend.
The news came as ITV was deluged with more than 500 complaints over the 27-year-old judge’s gaffe and 70,000 fans signed up to a Facebook campaign to have Gamu reinstated.
A production source said: “Cheryl didn’t have much of a say in the matter. It was made clear that Gamu shouldn’t be put through because they had issues with her, including the visa.
“A lot of people on the show think it’s really unfair that Cheryl is taking all the flak as it was a group decision and she was just following orders.
“It’s ridiculous the situation has got this far. It should have been knocked on the head much earlier on. Gamu should never have been put through to the judges’ houses with question marks surrounding her visa.
“Everyone on the show has themselves to blame for not being straight from the beginning. Gamu not getting through has now become a bigger talking point than the 12 finalists.
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“And fans will be disappointed again if she is not the wild card.”
On Sunday, more than 16.2 million viewers – a record for this stage of The X Factor – saw Cheryl put through 24-year-old Katie Waissel, Cher Lloyd, 17 – despite their dodgy performances – and Rebecca Ferguson, 24.
Viewers blew their tops and the internet was awash with angry complaints from astonished fans.
Sinitta, who works on The X Factor with Simon Cowell, was shocked Gamu wasn’t chosen. She wrote on Twitter: “Sorry, have to get it off my chest – boring everyone to death, anyone who cares. I need to SLAP TWEEDY’S butt for not putting Gamu through!”
Britain’s Got Talent star Amanda Holden posted: “Thought X Factor was spot on last night but very shocked to see Gamu not thru. Waste!” And ITV’s Holly Willoughby said: “If Gamu does come back as a wild card she could go and win it. She is going to have the whole nation behind her. That is an advantage.”
But others leapt to Cheryl and Katie’s defence, insisting the singer can go on to great things and that the decision to keep her on the show was correct. Insiders said Katie sang a second song for Cheryl which she “nailed” and showed potential as a winner. This was edited out.
The judge’s mentor Will.i.am also told her Katie and Cher were “risks worth taking”.
A second production source said: “Will.i.am was a big factor in putting Cher and Katie through over other girls like Treyc Cohen and Keri Arrindell. He felt they were both potential stars.”
The third act through, Rebecca, was the one “dead cert” that both Cheryl and bosses were in full agreement should go through.
Last night, an X Factor spokesman insisted: “Gamu’s visa being processed was not the reason that she didn’t make the final 12.”
But he confirmed the papers were currently being renewed and had therefore not yet been processed.
Early in September, reports suggested she could be deported as her visa was coming to an end. Gamu, who lives in Clackmannanshire, told us last month: “I am foreign and I have a two year visa which needs to be renewed.”
Asked if it had been processed, she looked flustered and would only reply: “Er, I haven’t been back home for a while and I don’t speak to my mum about things like that.”
Gamu’s mother Noktutula refused to comment when asked about the visa at her home last night.