When it comes to judging panels, Simon Cowell reckons The X Factor can learn a thing or two from Britain’s Got Talent.
“The four of us on the Britain’s Got Talent panel is about as good as we’re ever going to get,” Cowell told Radio Times magazine as the same mix of judges – Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and (of course) himself – return for the fifth year in a row.
In the annual search for an act fit for the Queen (or whichever royal she sends when she’s, I dunno, washing her hair) there’s none of this ‘expect the unexpected’ or weeks of rumours around the judging line-up like we get with X Factor. A simple announcement comes along that, if we’re honest, we barely notice and we all continue as normal. So impressed is Cowell he even considered swapping the entire BGT panel onto The X Factor. Two birds, one stone and all that.
Offering up his own critique of last year’s X Factor (which drafted in a youthful team including Olly Murs, Caroline Flack and Nick Grimshaw) Cowell says it’s about having the right formula – and not giving up on it.
“There have been times with X Factor – now I’ve had the chance to rethink what happened last year and the years before – where we had that chemistry and lost it by trying to change too much.”
Basically, if Britain’s Got Talent were your local takeaway, then the buzzer-wielding foursome are those dishes you’ve had circled for longer than you’d care to remember. Sure you get the leaflet out each time a takeaway is on the cards, but you know you’re not actually going to stray from the usual. Let’s face it: you have the restaurant on speed dial, they call you by your first name and flinging in a random Vindaloo is only going to shock them and your bowels. We know what we like and we like what we know.
But why does it work so well? Comic meets children’s author David Walliams sitting alongside cackling former Mis-Teeq singer Alesha Dixon doesn’t exactly scream sure-fire success. Amanda Holden openly admits she wasn’t popular until Cowell put her on the panel. And Cowell himself? Well, he was still the pantomime villain when the show first came along, quite happy to buzz a sweet little Granny because she couldn’t quite wobble out the lines of Nessun Dorma.
“We just genuinely all have good chemistry and we all get on and I don’t think you can fake that,” Holden told us. “It’s just to do with personality. If you don’t get on with someone it’s just like at work – there’s some people you like, some people you don’t. Ours happens to gel and it’s because we’re all pretty easy going people, but we’re all quite strong-willed and strong-minded.”
Indeed, her ability to both banter with the boss and put him in his place is evident in her response to why she’s never left: “I say to him every year, ‘If you want to sack me, you have to make the phone call yourself.’ But he hasn’t got the balls to do it, that’s probably why I’m still here after ten years!”
Much like Cowell, Holden thinks X Factor could learn a thing or two from their success – after all, the Britain’s Got Talent 2015 final pulled in a whopping 12.4 million viewers compared to X Factor’s 6.76m.
“I think that Simon has a plan and I hope that plan includes Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne,” she said of the much-rumoured return of the two former judges. “I think familiarity is a good thing so that’s why I think it might be good if Simon had people that he knows very well and who have that easy way you can just slot into.
“I can imagine Louis, Sharon and Simon watching Gogglebox on a sofa together,” she laughed.
Spin-off host Stephen Mulhern too – who’s among the lucky few kept around by Cowell, presenting Britain’s Got More Talent every year for the last decade – is all for copying BGT’s formula. And for him, the exit of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, has helped pave the way for a more familiar panel.
“I think maybe the time’s right to either freshen it up or maybe go to something we’ve had before that works.
“I think they need to look at the panel they’ve got on BGT and try and replicate that sort of chemistry: David who can banter with Simon, Alesha who’s the cool judge who’s done all the sort of singing, rapping and dancing and Amanda who’s got the knowledge of musical theatre, she’s done the acting. Overall it just works because they’re all in control of their element. More importantly, they get on,” he said.
Even Dixon, who herself is no stranger to panel show hopping – she was on Strictly’s panel for three years and was for a time in the running for X Factor – admits consistency is a key ingredient of the show.
“The panel’s been solid and that’s quite refreshing in an industry which is forever changing.
“The public quite like the fact that it has been settled for quite so long,” she added.
With the return of Dermot O’Leary, the in-room auditions and the all but confirmed comeback of Walsh and Osbourne it certainly seems like X Factor will have more of that Got Talent feel come autumn. Another judge at this stage would be a whopper of a curveball. Perhaps they should just go the whole hog and just invite One Direction back to audition? They’re not busy, are they?
Britain’s Got Talent continues Saturdays on ITV