Last night was the press launch for Britain’s Got Talent, the latest co-production between TalkbackThames and Simon Cowell’s SyCo for ITV1. Eschewing the singer-only shenanigans of The X Factor, BGT goes back to the heart of British live entertainment: the variety act.
Stripped over nine successive days starting this Saturday, the show will whittle down thousands of light entertainment artists to find a winner who, as well as winning a £100,000 cash prize, will get a guaranteed spot in this autumn’s Royal Variety Performance.
As with X Factor, there are a series of audition shows (which will be aired on June 9-13) until a series of three live ‘semi-finals’ (June 14-16), with eight acts battling for enough phone votes to get through to the grand final. Two acts from each semi-final will return for the Grand Final on June 17.
I have to admit, prior to seeing the first recorded audition show, I was wary. After all, the X Factor audition programmes (as with their Grease is the Word offspring) tend to fill an inordinate amount of screen time with plainly deluded wannabes being abused and humiliated by the judges. But there’s little of that here. That’s partly, I suspect, because of the quality and diversity of the acts. A bigger factor, though, is the fact that all the auditions take place on stage, with a theatre packed to the rafters with members of the public. The result is an electric atmosphere that has no chance of ever descending into mean-spiritedness.
As a result, all three judges — Piers Morgan, fresh from the US version, America’s Got Talent, actress Amanda Holden and the ubiquitous Simon Cowell — come across as likeable, enthusiastic and supportive. When allied with the infectious good humour of presenters Ant and Dec, ITV are clearly onto a winner here.
In the first show, look out for a male baton twirler, who was discouraged from the hobby by parents who feared he may be bullied. With his grandmother’s support, he puts in a superb performance. The TV hack beside me at the press launch (whose identity I’ll not divulge to spare her blushes) was blubbing at the emotional reception he was awarded by the audience.
If the standard of the show can be maintained across all nine days, then not only will the show be a success, but there’s a strong chance that the humble live variety act, a staple part of The Stage’s professional audience throughout our 127-year history, could well enjoy a much-needed revival.
- Britain’s Got Talent starts on Saturday June 9, 9.25pm on ITV1.