It’s Saturday! Time for the weekly battle between The Voice (BBC One, 7pm) and Britain’s Got Talent (ITV1, 8pm). There had been rumours for several weeks before last week’s opening instalment of both shows that there would be a scheduling clash, and that viewers would have to choose which one to watch, but this time the schedulers managed to work out a way for audiences to see both, minus a twenty minute window when both were on. Yay for (almost) good schedules! Despite the lack of a major clash, the two will still be compared in the ratings. So which fared better?
Using the overnight rating system, BGT was the most watched show of the day at 9.3 million (9.87 million if you include ITV1+1) viewers. The Voice UK wasn’t that far behind at 8.4 million. But that isn’t the whole story. During the window the BBC show came out on top quite substantially, leading the figures 8.9 million to BGT’s 6.6. (Source: The Media Guardian)
So hang on, Britain’s Got Talent was the most watched show of the day, except for when The Voice was on? Have I got that right? So which one is actually better?
Well, that’s obviously a matter of opinion. I personally enjoyed The Voice more – particularly a friend of a friend’s performance of Elton John’s Rocket Man that wowed all four ‘coaches’. I know many others will have preferred BGT, which saw the return of the Emperor of Saturday Night TV, Simon Cowell who was a noticeable absentee from last year’s X-Factor, as well as new judges David “I’m a lady” Walliams, and Alesha Dixon, who are much better suited to the format than the Hoff ever was. If it’s anything to go by – which it probably isn’t – the first ever episode of Britain’s Got Talent gained a mere 5.2 million viewers back in 2007, so in that particular battle The Voice wins hands down.
The Voice’s unique selling point is that the auditions section of the show is done ‘blind’. Each of the coaches (Will.I.Am, Jesse J, Tom Jones, and that guy from The Script) has their back to the singer and must press their button if they like the voice of the artist. It’s no doubt a fairer system and may lead to unexpected talents being found, but how did it come to this?
For well over a decade Saturdays have become synonymous with people standing on a shiny stage and singing their little hearts out. Stars in Their Eyes is the first of these types of programmes I remember. Hosted by Matthew Kelly, and later Cat Deeley, the show was perhaps the purest talent show of the lot. It wasn’t about gaining a record contract. It was about being regarded by the public (no panel of judges here!) not as the best singer, nor as the best ‘interpretation’, but as the best sound-a-like… they even used to dress the singers up to look like the artists they were covering. I still remember being gobsmacked by a brilliant Meatloaf cover who was Meatloaf the moment he walked through those smoky doors.
Next came Pop Stars and the eventual formation of short lived band Hear’say (what a genuinely awful name for a band). Pop Stars was a fun ride that threw together several artists into pop bands that would then battle through to get to the final. It was the beginnings of the record contract prize for the winners and the auditions section of the shows that would follow. Back in those days all artists would go into a private room with only the four judges for company and sing their chosen song. The judges would tell them there and then if they were through to the next round.
Pop Idol was next up and was probably my favourite of the lot. In the first series of the show there were several stars (Darius and Rik Waller included) leading right up to a brilliant finale between soulful Will Young (my mum loves him) and boyish Gareth Gates. Will Young deservedly won it, and was then forced to sing a Westlife cover as his winning song.
Around the same time Fame Academy was failing dismally on the BBC. This was a mash up of Big Brother (you could view the contestants in their accommodation through spy cameras on Freeview) and Pop Idol. It wasn’t great, and after only two series (the latter of which pretty much got rid of the Big Brother stuff) the show was axed. Still, it managed to launch the career of Lemar, which is something I guess… and David Sneddon…
Pop Stars came back soon after with a new name, Pop Stars: The Rivals. The new name also came with a twist on the old format. They would still be seeking to find a new pop band, but this time it was boys versus girls. The final was between One True Voice, a kind of Westlife-lite, and Girls Aloud. You’ve heard of them? Girls Aloud obviously wiped the floor with One True Voice and their debut single ‘Sound of the Underground’ was Christmas number one in 2002. Despite creating the most popular girl group since the Spice Girls, the show didn’t return.
In 2004 Simon Cowell’s The X Factor was launched. Cowell had had a hand in a number of the aforementioned shows, but it was this one that catapulted him to multi-millionaire status. This was the first of the shows to really capture the imagination of the tabloid press. Not a day would go by without an X-Factor rumour, controversy, interview, or some sort of publicity. It was very cleverly marketed, and is today one of the highest rated programmes around. Last year’s series averaged a massive 12 million viewers – and even beat the Royal Wedding in terms of figures.
Another Cowell show, Britain’s Got Talent, began in 2007. While chiefly famous for discovering Susan Boyle, it is more than just a singing competition, it is a talent show (which also ‘discovered’ dance troupe Diversity). The criticisms surrounding BGT are that it is an unkind ‘freak show’ that breathes on public humiliation. It is for this reason, apparently, that The Voice UK was created.
The Voice UK appears to be trying to appeal to those that are fed up with pointing and laughing at people, and trying to create a more inclusive vibe. It’s certainly seemed to manage this, but perhaps at the expense of any real jeopardy. Without this jeopardy the show could begin to feel a bit light weight in a few weeks’ time. Will it be a long-term contender to Syco’s empire? Only time will tell.