9 Feb: Will vs Gareth

Before ‘The X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’, there was ‘Pop Idol’, the ITV behemoth that spawned Simon Fuller’s global mega-hit ‘American Idol’. 

Season One climaxed on 9th February, 2002, when Gareth Gates – a 17-year-old former head chorister – and Will Young – a politely-spoken 23-year-old alumnus of Wellington College – slugged it out for the title of Pop Idol champion.

Britain was captivated as the public strove to choose their favourite cover version of an unreleased Westlife album track – with over 15 million people tuning in, and 8.7 million casting their votes via telephone. Will emerged as the winner, but perhaps the real winner was the format – which centred the Judges, particularly ‘Nasty’ Simon Cowell, in a way that would inspire dozens of talent show successors.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly recall how producer Nigel Lythgoe ramped up the ‘battle’ element of the competition with rosettes and battle buses; consider the homophobic coverage of Young’s sexuality in the mainstream media; and reveal Rebecca’s place in Pop Idol history… 

Further Reading:

• ‘And your new Pop Idol is… Will’ (The Observer, 2002): https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/feb/10/bensummerskill.theobserver

• ‘Life after Will Young: how talent shows shaped Britain’ (The Guardian, 2022): https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2022/jan/29/life-after-will-young-how-talent-shows-shaped-britain

• ’Pop Idol: The Winner is Revealed’ (ITV, 2002):