Austin Drage has made a shock exit from The X Factor, after losing out to Rachel Hylton in the final sing-off.

The 22-year-old Essex boy had been one of the favourites to win the show – but got his marching orders after finding himself in the bottom two for the first time along with Rachel.

Earlier in the evening, he had performed Wishing On A Star in the disco-themed show, and had received a mixed response from the judges, as had Rachel with her rendition of Lost In Music.

In the sing-off both acts impressed, Rachel with her rendition of Mary J Blige‘s No Drama, and Austin with the classic track Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – and the judges all admitted it was an impossible decision.

Simon, Austin’s mentor, chose to send Rachel home but even he was prepared to admit it was a “worst case scenario” for him, while Cheryl appeared to find the task even harder.

“Why do we have to do this part of the show,” she said, “I can’t bear it.” In the end, however, she chose to save Rachel, saying she had not yet had her “chance to shine”.

Dannii, Rachel’s mentor, also voted to send Austin home. “I think you’re going to do very well next week,” she told Rachel – leaving Louis with the casting vote once again.

“It’s a very tough one,” he said, “and both have a lot more to give, but I’m going to save the person who I think is a raw talent – so I’m going to send home Austin.”

However the usually emotional Austin managed a smile despite his X Factor journey being at an end.

“I’m fine,” he told Dermot O’Leary afterwards, “because I know everybody hasn’t seen the best of me yet. And I got the chance to sing to my mum tonight, so thanks.”

Austin’s departure means that Simon Cowell has only one act – Eoghan – now remaining in the competition. Louis also has one act, JLS remaining, while Dannii and Cheryl have yet to lose an act.

Daniel Evans, who had been favourite to get the boot, was voted through by the public yet again despite being slated by both Simon and Louis earlier in the evening.

Next week will see the eight remaining contestants singing the music of Mariah Carey.