In early 2005, Ward auditioned for the second series of The X Factor. He impressed all three judges (Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh) and passed through to the next round. His category (16 to 24 year olds) was then mentored by Walsh, and Ward was chosen to be among Walsh's top four contestants and perform on the live shows.
Ward quickly became the bookmakers' favourite to win the show, and after making it to the grand final, he defeated Simon Cowell's duo Journey South and Sharon Osbourne's over-25 singer Andy Abraham and was crowned as the winner of The X Factor 2005.
He had not fallen into the bottom two throughout the entire competition, and won by a margin of 1.2% of the vote, out of a reported 10.8 million phone votes cast by viewers. Immediately after the competition, his X Factor mentor Louis Walsh became his manager under a joint venture with Global Publishing and Walsh Global Management.