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Details on the X Factor final from the press conference
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Cheryl Cole and Cher Lloyd

X Factor judge Simon Cowell has declared war on Cheryl Cole as the countdown to this weekend’s final began. The X Factor guru, 51, blasted the Geordie singer, 27, for IGNORING her acts Rebecca Ferguson and Cher Lloyd.

And she blasted back that he only wanted his band One Direction to win to massage his own ego.

Speaking at the X Factor finalists’ press conference tonight Simon gave Cheryl a public dressing down, forcing her to turn crimson with rage.

He told her: “You won’t win. With respect to her acts it’s not going to happen. It’s double pressure on her this year.

“Looking after two people instead of one means your attention is divided. You lose focus as you can’t give them the attention they need. I’m just happy looking after one act. My attention is entirely on them. I’m so confident of my act and I think they can win.”

But feisty Cheryl hissed back: “It’s not about me winning it’s about them winning and I’ve got every confidence in them. I think I’ve got two very special girls in the final.

“They are both completely different acts and people – everything about them is different. It’s actually really exciting for me to spread myself in two different directions. It’s been fun. Either way it doesn’t matter.”

The two judges – who have had a love/hate relationship this series – also fell out over who started doing a salute at the start of the show.

But Cheryl claims SHE started it and slammed Simon for “stealing” her trademark.

She carped: “I do it for the people that support us. We call them Cheryl’s soldiers. But Simon tried to steal it saying he did it on American Idol before.”

Simon hit back saying: “I started it. I will play the tape on Saturday and you can all see.

“I don’t look on it as an egotistical thing but to respect the general audience. Cheryl had stolen it and I’ve just taken it back.”

He admitted this year the judges and contestants had been bitchier than ever but said he was PLEASED with the controversy.

And he said that people who claimed the X Factor was a fix still loved the show.

He said: “People love to hate it. I don’t want to be a goody goody show pretending that we’re all nice people. We’re not.

“We’re in the music business. Our number one aim is make the show entertaining and the feedback I’ve had from the fans is they don’t think it’s fixed.

“I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s been controversial, interesting, unexpected. I’ve met with fans and they like the changes and the twists. I would never want to make the same show as we did before.

“I think we’re going to see record number this weekend. These contestants are fantastic and they are going into the final to win and it’s going to be one heck of a competition.”

He added he was relaxed about any investigation into voting, after more than 600 people complained that last weekend’s surprise sing-off was a fix to get rid of Mary Byrne.

Simon said “We welcome any investigation by Ofcom. There was never any fix. These guys knew they were in the sing-off.”

Fans were livid after host Dermot O’Leary suggested the decision would be made solely by the public vote.

But Simon said: “If we mislead people it wasn’t intentional. I can apologise to anybody and say it wasn’t intentional and what Dermot and the show were trying to point people to was that if you want people to stay in you have to pick up the phone to vote and the same applies this weekend.”

The judges also confirmed the four acts who will duet with the finalists this weekend, as first revealed by The Sun.

Matt Cardle will sing with Rihanna, Rebecca with Christina Aguilera, One Direction with Robbie Williams and Cher with

Saturday’s show will see the finalist with the lowest public vote booted out and on Sunday another two acts will get the chop before the winner is revealed.

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