Simon Cowell has reportedly issued a stark warning to the X Factor judges after viewing figures for the live shows plummeted, telling them they face the axe unless things improve.

According to the Mirror the mogul blasted the panel for the show’s descent into what was described as “chaos”, following a week in which audiences dropped by two million to an average of 11.4m.

The show was even beaten in the ratings by Strictly Come Dancing last Saturday night, with 9.6m watching the BBC One show when it finished at 8.15pm, but 8.8m tuned in to The X Factor – which had already been on for half an hour – at the same time.

Gary Barlow told the paper, “Simon said we needed to work at the show and make it 10 per cent better each week, so by the end of the series the show will be 50 per cent better. That is what we are trying to do this week.

“We are all upping our game,” he added. “There is always room for improvement. There can be better song choices, better styling, better performances.

A source added that the show and the judges had to be “a lot better” this Saturday.

“Simon will not tolerate another poor show this series,” the insider said. “He has axed big names before and he will do it again if he has to.”

Gary, meanwhile, hit out at the contestants for caring too much about their public images and being carried away with their new-found fame.

“The trouble with the artists this year is they are all obsessed with Twitter and headlines,” he said. “We are constantly reminding them that they are in a competition here. You have to go on there and do it. It feels like they are all getting a bit above themselves.”

He also admitted he had found taking part in the show “draining”, and blasted fellow judge Louis Walsh for his choice of acts – particularly flamboyant singer Johnny Robinson.

“The joke is over for me,” he told The Sun. “I’m not like Louis, he’s just here to have a good time on a Saturday night. I’m here to find a star and it’s not Johnny.”