TO SAY that the new X Factor judging panel had sizeable shoes to fill is understating the case somewhat. At the outset it seemed impossible that Cheryl and her Saturday night one-girl fashion parade could ever be eclipsed.
Tulisa Contostavlos may have gotten the Cheryl-a-like makeover, but make no mistake -- it's Kelly Rowland who is now everyone's favourite judge.
An incomer from America's pop super-leagues to reality TV is nothing novel -- one critic harshly dubbed her the 'random factor' -- yet the former Destiny's Child singer is rewriting all the rules with her flirty on-screen style.
According to one recent report, Simon Cowell is so taken with his new X Factor presenters that he will double their pay for the next series, believing that the show is the best it's ever been.
Just this week, Kelly gave British men a resounding thumbs up: "Could I see myself with a British boyfriend? Absolutely. The way they wear their pants is so cute. I just feel like Brits are honest -- period. And that's what I like."
It's a classic Kelly statement -- cheeky, candid and cute. It's perhaps telling that she is sitting in the panel chair vacated by Cheryl Cole, next to the line-up's new 'Mr Nasty', Gary Barlow. The friendly chemistry between the two has been the show's trump card.
Even Louis has been sufficiently moved by Rowland to enthuse: "She's the biggest diva on the show, 100pc. She always looks incredible, but has six people in her entourage that the viewers don't see. Every time she moves there are two assistants down at her feet fixing her shoes. She has a hairstylist running after her everywhere she goes, putting every strand of hair back in place as soon as she moves from one part of the set to the other. There are even people on hand to give her a massage as soon as she feels a bit tense.
"She's a full-on diva, the real deal. I totally love her ... we need someone like Kelly. People don't see how hard working she is. She jumps out of bed at 6am and from the second she's up she's in diva mode."
Rowland is instantly recognisable to 12 million plus TV viewers thanks to her X Factor successes, yet relatively little is known about the star.
For years, she was the wind beneath the wings of her Destiny's Child bandmate Beyonce Knowles. For years, the R&B girl group -- who underwent several line-up changes in the Noughties -- were unfairly compared to The Supremes, the group in which diva Diana Ross reigned supreme and eclipsed her bandmates.
However, the real story shows that relations between Kelly and Beyonce are iron-clad, and always have been. At the age of eight, Kelly -- then Kelendria Trene Kamasia Rowland -- relocated to Houston from Georgia, and formed a group with her pals Beyonce Knowles and LaTavia Roberson. So far so predictable; except that great things were expected from the fledgling group (then called Girls' Tyme). After participating in Star Search in 1992 -- a 1990s version of the X Factor, as it happens -- the band lost.
Beyonce's father, Mathew Knowles, took over the management of the band -- by then called Destiny's Child -- in 1995 when Kelly was 14. By now, tales are legion about Mathew's 'boot camp' approach, often putting the girls through gruelling, lengthy rehearsal sessions in the Knowles' family backyard.
Kelly was so dedicated to the regime that she moved in with the Knowles family at the time, referring to Mathew as a surrogate father in interviews. The band name change and four tough years on the road proved to be just the ticket for the girl group: in 1999 they released the album The Writing's On The Wall and sold more than 14 million copies. The rest, as they say, is pop history.
Yet not for Kelly the idea of resting on her multi-platinum laurels. In 2002, she branched out by teaming up with rapper Nelly to record the Grammy-winning hit single Dilemma.
One critic noted: "Thanks to the ubiquitous Dilemma, a song that practically peeled off its clothes on the spot, Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland is no longer a mere backing vocalist for Beyonce Knowles." Three studio albums and a handful of film roles later (the highlight of which appears to be a cameo in Freddy vs Jason), and Kelly was very much a celebrity entity in her own right.
Despite a glittering pop career, Kelly's personal life has long been shrouded in secrecy. In 2004, Rowland announced her engagement to American football star Roy Williams after dating for six months.
A year later, however, the engagement was no more, with Rowland reportedly resolving to keep schtum on affairs of the heart. At the time she said, "The wedding's off. I'm not telling [if I gave the ring back]. And before you ask, there's no one new. It has its up and downs being single. But I never will again [talk about my boyfriends.]
"I get it now -- the next time I fall in love, I'm just going to shut up." In 2008, rumours abounded that Kelly was pregnant by then-boyfriend Reggie Yates. Two years previously, she was besieged by the same rumour, prompting her label Sony/BMG to announce: "Statements attributed to Kelly regarding her alleged pregnancy were never made by the artist."
Sure enough, Kelly has kept to her word about keeping quiet about ensuing romances. And so confusion reigns over her current relationship status. In August, she was quoted as saying: "There is someone special. And I keep it at that." According to recent reports, the lucky guy in question is said to be her manager, Tim Weatherspoon.
Kelly has since maintained: "I'm actually single, but you know you have your little things on the side. There's nobody I'm dating, but I have a special friend. I am not broody. I'll get to hold Beyonce's kid, I get to hold my other friends' kids. I don't want kids, I'm actually nurturing a maternal feeling here (at the X Factor) with the girls."
Not that Kelly has much time for friends . . . special or otherwise. Currently juggling a world tour with Chris Brown with her X Factor responsibilities, she also has Kanye West in her crosshairs.
"I would love to work with Kanye," she said. "I just love him. I think he's so witty."
Whether one of Kelly's female charges makes it to pole position on the show remains to be seen. Either way, a megawatt future for the X Factor's newest sweetheart is all but assured.