On Sunday, Sky1 will try to prove that talent show format can be grown up and inclusive, and still do well. Must Be the Music (7pm, Sky1 HD) and its musicians want to nurture musical talent in any form, whether it’s a troupe of Essex lads hoping to make it as the next Blue, a pale kid pretending to be Pete Doherty or a sweaty emo picking at a harp with her tongue piercing.
It’s a nice thought, but will it reel us in? The promotional clip suggests not. So far our problem isn’t with the acts, which the sample few minutes hints will be eclectic and entertaining, but with the panel. On paper, Dizzee Rascal, Jamie Cullum and Sharleen Spiteri are a fizzy personality mix. Rascal is known for doing what his name suggests, Spiteri is a sombre Scot and Cullum is an irritating jazz dwarf. They’ll hate each other, surely. But in practice, they take themselves, each other and the acts very seriously indeed. Watch them watching the performances without a hint of a smirk. And their feedback is painstakingly worthy. This just won’t do on any level.
If the big name, winning talent shows from the last decade – Pop Idol, The X Factor, BGT, Strictly - have taught us anything, it’s that having at least one, but preferably two or three, snarling, hateful, mad panellists is vital. What happens on stage is very much a secondary consideration. The MBTM clip reveals only a handful of acts, but they’re all talented. Possibly the unabridged version will contain panellist-on-panellist punch-ups and extreme no-hopers but the fact that they haven’t included a single doozy in the promo doesn’t imbue us with confidence. Have they cut the chaff, or do the judges simply fail to react unpleasantly? Either way, it won’t work. However sophisticated an audience pretends to be, it still wants fights, delusional fatties and gore. And while the producers can make sure to shovel dung the judges’ way, it’s the panel who are responsible for knocking down the hopeless and making the audience hiss with delight. It’s not nice, it’s not fair, but it’s undoubtedly why we watch.
Possibly you’ve heard that The X Factor is returning next Saturday. Simon and Louis are still alpha judges but various guest panellists - including Geri Halliwell, Katy Perry and Pixie Lott – will fill in while Dannii’s on maternity leaves and Cheryl finishes her malaria recovery. Quite possibly these temporary replacements will be sappy, forgettable and earnest, but it won’t matter because the mean man contingent will make sure that we’re not bored. Like any other talent show worthy of obscene viewing figures, The X Factor’s lead judges know they need to react with inappropriate fury and derision when an unbalanced auditionee arrives dressed as a mermaid and sings something they wrote for their mum.
So, if they want us to take them seriously as talent show judges, Dizzee and co’ need to up the friction and work on their acerbic comments. Because at home, we’re judging the judges.