Simon Cowell has labelled claims that X Factor is fixed as ‘nonsense’.

Viewers of last Sunday’s show were surprised to find out about the last-minute sing-off between the bottom two contestants, since host Dermot O’Leary previously had announced that it was the votes of the public that would decide who were going through to the final.

Mary Byrne was booted off the show after a sing-off with Cher Lloyd, and Mary fans soon took their disapproval of the surprise element online.

But speaking to The Sun, Cowell defended the last-minute sing-off: “I’m always looking for ways to keep the show fresh.”

“We knew we wanted four people in the final this year and I don’t want to be accused of doing the same thing.”

“It’s more exciting and gives more people a chance to win it. That decision was made long ago – five or six weeks ago. It adds to the mystery and audience love the surprise element,” he continued.

“We are doing our best to change the format. It’s more exciting to have a sing off.”

Meanwhile, Dublin singer Mary Byrne told The Daily Mirror: “The show’s a fix, of course it is. It’s not the show the public think it is. I knew the public had voted for me to stay on, and I actually thought the result would be based on just their vote.”

“It’s obvious Simon didn’t want me in the final and I get that. I’m not as marketable to him as Cher so he was never going to put me through.”

The grand final of X Factor is to air on ITV this weekend, December 11 and 12.