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Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008
Is the race for Xmas Number One dead?

By Greg Cochrane
Newsbeat music reporter

Alexandra Burke
Alexandra Burke looks almost certain to be this year's Christmas number one

Festive institution Top Of The Pops returns to our television screens on Christmas Day.

For the moment the line up is under wraps. But it seems hard to envisage anyone but X Factor victor Alexandra Burke closing the programme in a shower of fake snow by wailing through her cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

The way the reality TV show has captured the nation's imagination in recent years means it seems unlikely that any other artist can top the tree come 25 December.

However, look back into history and many of the races for Christmas number one have been entertaining scuffles.

Slade versus Wizzard [1973], Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman versus Gordon Haskell [2001] and The Darkness versus Gary Jules [2003] to name a handful.

Traditionally the race has more often than not been competitive.

The winners list is long and distinguished - Elvis Presley's Return To Sender, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and Mr Blobby's Mr Blobby.

Yet for most people the seasonal sprint is strangled by the overwhelming dominance of X Factor.

Simon Cowell's franchise has supplied the Christmas number one for the past three years and looks certain to do so again this year.

The last act to enjoy such a run of success were The Spice Girls topping the festive pile consecutively in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

Independent artists

John Sergeant
John Sergeant: Mounting his own campaign for Xmas No.1

Indeed, the last 'independent' artist to truly surprise with a Christmas number one were Californian twosome Gary Jules and Michael Andrews in 2003 with their cover of Tear For Fears' anthem for gloomy times Mad World.

The Californian thinks because of X Factor the race is now too contrived.

"I'd been a musician my whole life - I'd travelled round solo with a guitar for years before I had that success," says Gary.

"The whole year right after Donnie Darko to Mad World exploding over there was really exciting.

"That year [2003] The Darkness were our adversary - for the first time in forever it was two groups of people who could actually play and could sing and loved music."

Indeed Gary infiltrated the race and supplemented his own cause by flyering across the internet.

Odds for the Christmas number one
Alexandra Burke - 1/12
Leona Lewis - 1/2
Peter Kay & Gary Barlow - 5/2
Sir Terry Wogan & Aled Jones - 8/1
Rick Astley - 16/1
John Sergeant - 20/1
Take That - 20/1
The Wombats - 25/1

"Everyone had a website; everyone had a forum so I'd stay up all night and post stuff about myself on different people's websites.

"There weren't that many people at that time doing that - that helped a lot."

Race alive

This year, those artists seeking to upset the odds and loosen X Factor's grip include The Wombats [with their Les Dennis featuring This Is Christmas?], Only Men Aloud! [a welsh male voice choir singing All By Myself], Sir Terry Wogan and Aled Jones's take on Little Drummer Boy.

Geraldine McQueen aka Peter Kay's Once Upon On A Christmas is also a contender.

All of which suggests that other artists haven't totally given up yet.

Oliver Schauss is Director of iTunes Europe and he firmly believes it will go down to the wire despite the dominance of X Factor.

"It's not a one week chart review anymore it's a daily or an hourly one," he says.

But one major music retailer is resigned to it being at battle for number two this year, saying: "Chances are that Alexandra will have the Christmas number one single in the bag even before her CD single officially hits the stores."

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