As anyone who witnessed the last few series of The X Factor can attest, the only judge that mattered was Simon Cowell.
Yes the others were entertaining. Cheryl looked pretty, then ill, then pretty again, Louis Walsh acted like a wind-up toy, alternating between saying depthless, post-performance platitudes like ‘BRILLIANT!’ and being vaguely racist and Dannii was... well pretty good actually. But that didn’t matter, because the only opinion that the contestants and the audience cared about was Cowell’s.
Now with the news that he’s quitting, we've been playing ‘Guess Who’ over who will replace him. Sharon? Lily? Robbie? Mel B? The only name on the rumoured list that is gaining any credence is Gary Barlow’s. And while it’s doubtful Barlow will unleash his inner Edward Hyde to appropriate Cowell’s ‘Mr Nasty’ persona, I think he’d be the best choice.
Like Cowell he’s an industry veteran but, unlike him, he’s experienced the highs and lows first hand. From humble beginnings he went onto to play ‘the talented one’ role in Take That before becoming the world’s most boring solo act (and the punch-line to Robbie Williams ascendancy). A quick detour as a songwriter for hire later and he returned as the triumphant leader in Take That’s return (although at times he was pretty much Robbie William’s carer).
All these are all useful skills to have as an X Factor judge. He’s shown high levels of diplomacy (in the light of Robbie’s endless jibes against him throughout the years, from "Gary Barlow is a wanker" to "I was always the talented one in Take That") and the ability to pen (and therefore judge) what makes a great pop tune. Also the re-assembling of Take That (with Robbie) shows an impresario's flair, he totally gets every aspect of his audience's on-going love affair with his band.
Perhaps, most brilliantly of all, he had a hand in writing X Factor parody ‘The Winner’s Song’ by Geraldine, which showed a canny awareness of the X Factor recipe: the unchallenging structure, the struggle-against-adversity lyrics and unbelievable key change.
All of this gives him a gravitas you just don't get by being the guy that gets Westlife to move up out of their stools.