Whichever way you spin it, Cheryl Cole was the big-haired queen of last year's X Factor panel. Not even malaria, racism slurs, Waisselgate or that annoying hand salute could derail the Cole juggernaut. Between the weekly fashion parade and the loaded glances cast at Simon, it seemed that Cole was going nowhere but up.
And then she learned the hard way that nothing in showbiz is cast in stone . . . and certainly not in any camp associated with Simon Cowell.
To call Cheryl Cole's life a soap opera would be underselling the drama. After a 2010 that included a divorce from footballer Ashley Cole, accusations of on-stage miming and being told she had only 24 hours to live, Cheryl was hopeful that 2011 would be her year.
"I'm going to scream those last 10 seconds on New Year's Eve, then I'm going to call everybody I love and welcome the New Year and the new start," she said in December.
Alas, the one thing keeping Brand Cheryl together -- her TV career -- has started to fall apart. After being handed a €1.5m US X Factor role, (Simon Cowell had reportedly begged US bigwigs to give her a chance), the role was snatched from under her four days after filming began. The reasons? That the Girls Aloud star was a nobody in the US and that producers were concerned about Cheryl's Geordie accent. Network bosses also noted her lack of chemistry with the other judges -- of whom one is Simon Cowell.
Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger -- who incidentally shone on the UK X Factor panel while Cheryl was off sick with malaria -- was drafted into the vacant spot.
For now, speculation is rife that Cheryl was said to be "royally p***ed off" about how the situation has been handled and wanted to sever all ties with the show. Yet there was more ignominy to come; before Cheryl could get a jump on things, the new line-up for the UK X Factor was revealed and, rather tellingly, Cheryl had been whitewashed from all publicity material for the new show.
Rumours abound that Cole's advisers had asked for a E2.8m fee to take part in the UK show. Adding insult to injury, Cowell noted that the new line-up -- including N-Dubz star Tulisa Contostavios -- will bring some much-needed edge to the show. Ouch.
Now, to lose one high-profile TV gig could be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two is catastrophic. For now, Cheryl is keeping her counsel and has gone off-radar . . . presumably with Kleenex, Haagen-Dazs and a DVD of The Notebook. Yet one question looms large: is it curtains for Cole, or can she bounce back? For a girl roundly hailed as the UK's sweetheart a year ago, Cheryl now seems to polarise opinion in a way she never has before.
Sure, millions still hail her as a role model for youngsters, yet there are those who have tired of the exposure; the big-haired pap shots, the L'Oreal adverts, the is-she-or-isn't-she tango dancing with Derek Hough. To some, she has become visual muzak.
The saga of her relationship with footballer Ashley is never far from the headlines. In recent days Ashley has been reportedly telling friends that he is confident he can win Cheryl back as his wife -- which is probably not something that would endear Cheryl to the public. After all, she was praised for her decision to ditch the love rat in teh first place.
But there are also those who were left with a bitter taste in the mouth after the surreptitious on-screen flirting with Cowell (the coy glances, his arm draped languidly over her chair, the unabashed flirting). Elsewhere, she was raked over the coals for being a non-committal judge with nothing noteworthy to say. She was, put simply, no mouth and all trousers (specifically, purple flares).
Yet for every person who balks at someone who becomes a little too pally with the boss, there are countless others who love a survivor story. Irish PR guru Terry Prone reckons that Cheryl can parlay the unsavoury events of the past week into freshly minted success.
"I have no doubt Cheryl will rise again," she says. "The thing that she has to do now is take her time. The danger in this situation is that you feel compelled to grab the first thing that is offered to you.
"The public feel sympathy for her and now the Americans have rejected her because of her accent. This is no bad thing because she was found wanting because of something that she couldn't control -- or didn't want to.
"People like to see you punished, especially if you're a good-looking woman. You're no threat to anyone and everyone feels sorry for you -- it's not a bad career move."
When asked which way Cheryl should turn from here, Terry suggests: "My advice would be, look for a programme that's not a step backwards from the X Factor. She also shouldn't engage in any complaining with the media. Show people you're getting on with it.
"She needs a smart agent who isn't so motivated by greed that they will look for their cut of profits in a short amount of time. She needs someone who will stick with her."
Says Jenny Grainger, director of coaching at the Irish School Of Life: "If I was Cheryl I'd be doing whatever I could do retain my dignity -- don't get caught up in slanging matches, or lose face. That way, at least she'll feel good about herself.
"You could see it as a failure, but it's always better to see that there is now room for another opportunity to present itself."
Of course, there are many other celebrities who could provide Cheryl with advice. Kelly Brook -- herself axed by Cowell in 2009 from the Britain's Got Talent panel -- has put a rather neat spin on a career that can be described, at best, as chequered.
"My mum tells me, 'You fall in sh*t but come out smelling of roses!'" she said in a recent interview. "I've made quite a successful career out of being a failure."
Needless to say, civilians aren't impervious to career setbacks either. And, while they may not be played out as publicly as Cheryl's, they still smart.
Says Jenny: "If ever you're in a similar situation you need to hang on to the realisation that it's all temporary. Keep a close circle of friends nearby, people who will support you, and don't worry about the naysayers.
"If you've lost your job, remember that you have a roof over your head and a loving partner and some food in the fridge.
"Gratitude is a very strong thing. And, even if she might not see it this way right now, Cheryl still has a lot to be grateful for."