Inevitably, Britain’s Got Talent came out fighting against its new rival The Voice. Almost inevitably, it won easily.
Everything was slicker, crisper and shinier. The extended backstage footage built up the big acts more subtly, seeding them well before they appeared. Vox pops from audience members were thrown in. The pace was fast and light. And there was David Walliams.
Walliams is intrinsically funny. That he's yet to display this in any of his own programmes is neither here nor there – he’s hilarious and is a genius signing by Simon Cowell, despite all the advance publicity going to the other new judge. Strictly deserter Alesha Dixon seemed more at home on BGT, where mangled grammar and not particularly knowing what you’re on about are positively expected, but she was as flavourless as ever.
David Walliams is the secret Voice-killing weapon. When a rollerskating couple trundle on, you need someone to immediately ask whether they’ve ever had sex on wheels. And the instant bromance with Simon Cowell – two camp straight men, embracing and exploring each other’s camp straightness instinctively, intensely, like two magnificent stags with bells on their antlers – confirmed Walliams as a dangerous yet reassuring presence. Was he taking the mickey when he said “a million percent yes” to one auditioner? It was hard to know and that was good.
Early on, there were solidly impressive acts. Teenaged Welsh choir Only Boys Aloud cunningly began with only two of their 133 members on stage, the rest of them trotting on halfway through to create an overwhelming moment. Reliable, John Lewis pop came from Sam Kelly, a nice 19-year-old Norfolk boy who played To Make You Feel My Love like a less grating Janet Devlin.
Up against the 100% guaranteed weirdo-free BBC show, BGT casually dealt a full hand of oddball fun, right up to a heavily telegraphed sub-SuBo finale.
Barbara and Bradley, known collectively as “Barbara and Bradley”, had an act borne of too much time spent behind a closed door where society can’t see: Barbara did an impenetrable poem, while the portly Bradley wore a ten-gallon hat and danced uninterpretively behind her. “It started when I had a Siamese cat and it died,” Barbara said of her muse. “Also, I was on the Kilroy show.”
Bradley wasn’t bad value either: “My special talent will hopefully bring Barbara’s poetry back to life,” he deadpanned. So they were well suited, but Barbara squished any thoughts of a physical connection: “We’re not in any relationship because he looks like an owl, doesn’t he.”
The Sugar Dandies were a husband-and-husband duo who danced ballroom and wowed the crowd with their lifts, the kicker being that they lifted each other. Ickily, much of the reaction stemmed from seeing gay couples as charming and plucky, like friendly aliens: while The Sugar Dandies danced, Ant and Dec light-heartedly pretended to be homosexual in the wings.
But, in the end, the show was celebrating them – just as it should have, given the effort and uninhibited romantic sweep they’d put into their routine.
As time ticked down you knew a belting act was on the way and if you didn’t, Simon Cowell helpfully flagged it up by turning his nose up at Jonathan Antoine, a 17-year-old with the hair, build and dress sense of Hurley from Lost. We’d just seen a montage of awful no-hopers, and now Cowell turned to Carmen Electra – a temporary Amanda Holden replacement who could herself have been replaced quite effectively by some hair glued to a stick – and murmured, “Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse…”
The set-up was afoot. Sure enough, Jonathan hesitantly unfurled a cracking opera tenor, flanked by his lovely friend Charlotte Jaconelli. She couldn’t sing so well but was instrumental in Jonathan’s back story – she’d boosted his confidence after a lifetime of taunts about his weight.
The judges cried and applauded, theatrically ashamed at having dismissed Jonathan on the basis of his looks. Their conversion is, of course, the thing that represents what we’re feeling at home and is therefore crucial, but is just the thing that The Voice thinks it’s a good idea to take out. Ending the episode by rubbing this in was yet another canny move.