LONDON: Livid Cheryl Cole was "shocked and stunned" last night after being axed from X Factor USA according to British daily The Sun. And a close pal said: "She never saw it coming."
The 27-year-old pop babe claimed she had been ruthlessly dumped out of the blue by show boss Simon Cowell.
But his camp insisted he told her three days ago her role as a judge "wasn't working" in the US.
Cheryl claimed Cowell had cruelly ditched her from X Factor USA without telling her why or facing her in person.
But sources close to Cowell maintained she knew she was on the way out because American TV executives were "concerned about her performance".
The axing has torpedoed Cheryl's hopes of launching a successful singing career in the States on the back of her X Factor appearances.
The Girls Aloud babe is expected to jet back to Britain today. And she is set to swallow her pride by re-signing as a judge on the UK's X Factor.
And Simon's close pal Sinitta appeared to confirm that talks were underway when she appeared on ITV's Daybreak this morning.
She said: "There is something going on. All I can say is Simon and Cheryl are very close and I believe that they are in talks trying to sort something out and as soon as they agree on something then we'll hear about it."
While judge Louis Walsh said he would welcome Cheryl Cole back on the UK X Factor with open arms.
Louis, 58, said: "I think she should return and I think most viewers feel the same. She's a great asset. I'm 100 per cent behind her returning."
But Cheryl faced another setback as a Sun online poll revealed 62 per cent of the show's fans DON'T want her to return.
A close friend of the singer told how she was seething after her humiliating US ejection.
The pal said: "She is completely shocked and stunned. She never saw this coming at all.
"The fact that Simon didn't tell her in person hurt. She never thought he would do that to her."
Cheryl was further embarrassed when US broadcasters Fox screened an ad for X Factor USA during the American Idol final on Wednesday night - showing only Cowell, 51.
But friends blasted suggestions made by Cowell's camp that she had quit because she was homesick. They said she has spent "loads of time" in Los Angeles and loves it there.
They added that reports of Cheryl's poor profile in America and a rift with fellow US judge Paula Abdul, 48, were equally false. And they dismissed rumours that US fans could not understand her because of her thick Geordie accent.
One pal said: "Her language, accent and diction were heavily screen-tested. The network knew exactly what she could do before things kicked off."
But in direct contrast, the Cowell camp insisted the telly mogul HAD spoken to Cheryl about the axe.
They claimed the pair sat down three days ago to discuss fears expressed by Fox bosses that she was not connecting with American viewers.
A source said: "Cheryl can hardly say this was a total shock. She actually knew about it three days ago.
"Simon told her in person at his house that it wasn't working and that he was under so much pressure to release her.
"She knows she has been nervous in her performances and TV execs were privately concerned."
Cheryl had started filming the US show's auditions on May 8 when she turned up in purple flares and orange top in LA. She finished another five days of filming in Chicago on Monday.
Her new manager, Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am, had been hoping to use her starring role on the show as a springboard to wider fame in the US.
He was even lining up duets with Rihanna and Usher.
But a source said: "This business has blown a big hole in her plans for a music career in the US. It really couldn't have played out any worse.
"No one in America knows who she is and X Factor was supposed to have sorted that out."
Cheryl's replacement is almost certain to be Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, 32. Some sources insisted race ace Lewis Hamilton's girlfriend, who was to have been show host, has always been a "Plan B" option if Cheryl did not work out.
She will join judges LA Reid, 54, Cowell and Paula, and Welsh presenter Steve Jones, 34.
In BRITAIN, X Factor insiders said Cheryl only has to sign a contract to be welcomed back into the fold.
She will have to decide quickly as ITV's filming of auditions starts next Wednesday.
But her return is believed to be virtually a done deal. That could be bad news for N-Dubz star Tulisa Contostavlos, 22, who was lined up to be a judge but is now likely to make way for Cheryl.
Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland, 30, could also be at risk but is thought to be safer than Tulisa. So the final judging panel will probably consist of Cheryl, Louis Walsh, 58, Take That's Gary Barlow, 40, and Kelly.
One pal of Cheryl said: "She is hurt but has agreed to come back. She doesn't want her British fans to think she would desert them.
"She is determined to make it clear she hasn't failed. She thinks the blame lies at someone else's doorstep."
Cheryl's loyal mum Joan Callaghan was even more bullish.
She told pals: "Cheryl has been paid off to come back to the UK to sort out the show. Simon told her Tulisa just wasn't strong enough. The deal is she will be seen as the head judge, even above Gary Barlow."
Marvin Humes of boyband JLS, who were X Factor runners-up in 2008, said: "Cheryl is an incredibly strong woman. She has been through a lot and I think she will bounce back."
Fans in Newcastle were gutted for the local beauty. Ben McDonald, 21, said: "Cheryl is great and should be allowed to be on both X Factors - here and in America." But thousands of Sun readers polled online were not so sympathetic.
phil1970 wrote: "i hope she doesnt return to the uk x factor, her going to the usa and leaving the uk and then backtracking just shows how 2 faced she would be."
Celebrities were quick to support Cheryl on Twitter.
Comic Alan Carr tweeted: "We love you Cheryl come home pet. I'll pop the kettle on hinny xx."
And JLS - the runners-up in the 2008 series of The X Factor - said they were behind Cheryl.
Singer Marvin Humes said: "It's quite disappointing, obviously. Cheryl is an incredibly strong woman - she has been through a lot - and I think she will bounce back from this - no problem."