We love to hate them because they have the power to make or break dreams.
When Cheryl Tweedy made her debut judging BBC1’s The Greatest Dancer last week, she was judged herself by viewers asking if she was qualified for the role.
So what makes a great – or hopeless – talent show panellist?
We asked TV’s original Mrs Nasty, Nina Myskow
The first time I met Simon Cowell he bowed down, almost to his knees, and waving his arms in front of him, did an elaborate “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” number.
I looked down at him and laughed.
“No, you’re not!” I said. “Get up, for heaven’s sake.”
This was way before The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.
Nina Myskow, Tim Rice and Lindsey De Paul in ‘New Faces’
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And although he was the stand-out judge on the first series of Pop Idol in 2001, he was not yet one of the most powerful people in British culture.
The reason for his routine, I guess, was that in the 80s I had been a judge on the big Saturday night variety talent show New Faces.
I remember standing in the wings at the Birmingham Hippodrome as the theme tune played for the first show.
I turned to producer Richard Holloway and asked: “Any last-minute instructions?” “Just be yourself,” he said. And, God help me, I was.
I got booed that first show. It’s not an easy sound. I whispered to fellow judge Chris Tarrant between acts: “What do you think?” “Go for it!” he said.
I did. The next day, Tarrant said: “I’ve created a monster!” But I have never seen any point in not telling the truth.
As a critic, it is your job. You owe it to a performer or an act to go with your instincts and, backed by experience, express your opinions as accurately as possible. You have got to be objective and have the courage of your convictions.
I had to get used to being booed by the audience, and once broke every showbiz rule by railing back at them.
It was after they booed me for lambasting an unreconstructed comic who had told a joke in a Pakistani accent, purely to get a laugh.
I turned to them and said: “I don’t care what you think! You laughed at that joke, and that makes you racist too.”
That made things worse, obviously. I wept in my dressing room afterwards, but was vindicated by thousands of letters of support.
Over 30 years on, talent shows are a TV staple. Last weekend alone brought the start of three series.
The newest, The Greatest Dancer, was banal, lacklustre and badly presented.
Apart from a heart-warming finale with Down’s syndrome contestant Andrew, the best thing about it was that Cheryl made no attempt to sing.
By contrast, it was a joy to hear Sir Tom Jones duetting with the son of Lonnie Donegan on The Voice, back in fine fettle with an excellent balance of judges (Olly Murs is adorable).
No matter that the show has never produced a star. The TV producers are really not making a talent show, but an entertainment show.
And the judges have become more important than the contestants. With that in mind, here is my guide to the magnificent seven best and worst TV talent show judges…
The Worst Judges 1. BGT’s Michael McIntyre
(Image: Ken McKay)
For all the best reasons, Michael was not a good fit on BGT – he is much too nice to pass critical judgment on other people.
He doesn’t need to. He has too much talent of his own.
2. BGT’s Amanda Holden
(Image: Liverpool Echo)
It’s just all about her, isn’t it? “Me, me, me” and see how I cried.
Frocks too low for a family show. Watch me suck up to/pretend to be angry with Simon.
A better actress than you’d imagine.
3. X Factor’s Nick Grimshaw
(Image: We Love TV)
He arrived on X Factor with the smugness of someone who hangs out with Kate Moss and, along with Rita Ora (rather good), only made Simon look like a grumpy old uncle.
4. Dancing On Ice’s Jason Gardiner
You can never get over the feeling that what he says is contrived.
It’s not hard to imagine that he watches recordings of his own performances.
5. Dancing On Ice’s Karen Barber
Back as head coach. Despite standing up to Jason in 2011 as he said, “If your opinion still mattered you’d be on the panel,” as a judge she was wet.
6. The Greatest Dancer’s Cheryl
(Image: BBC/Syco/Thames/David Ellis)
She was once a kind of national sweetheart and a bit of a heroine, but she’s shed that gradually along with her many surnames.
7. The Voice’s Gavin Rossdale, Ricky Wilson, Danny O’Donoghue
(Image: BBC/Wall To Wall/David Venni)
(Image: Getty Images)
(Image: BBC / Wall to Wall)
Could you pick any of these so-called stars-turned-judges in a line-up today?
The Best Judges 1. X Factor’s Simon Cowell
Still the best. His instincts are spot on and he has no fear expressing unpopular views.
The voice of authority, when he praises someone, it means something.
2. The Voice’s Will.i.am
Delightfully random, he’s from another planet and entirely unpredictable, which makes him a joy to watch.
I find it impossible to look at anyone else when he’s on the screen.
3. X Factor’s Sharon Osbourne
(Image: Syco / Thames / ITV Plc)
Nicole Scherzinger was stunning and sincere, and Louis Walsh was wise and wily.
But the fact you never knew what Sharon would do or say made her compelling.
4. Strictly’s Len Goodman
Len was such a gent.
Not only did he know his stuff – when he explained what a “fleckerl” was, it made you care about it – he had a wonderful turn of phrase.
Always dapper and still missed.
5. Bake Off’s Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry
Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry
(Image: BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon)
You trust Paul’s judgment and are thrilled when he offers his handshake.
The pairing with Mary seemed a genuine friendship.
6. BGT’s David Walliams
Brilliantly anarchic, he has the knack of pushing things further than anybody else would.
It keeps Simon on his toes. His taunting is hilarious – you sometimes hold your breath.
7. MasterChef’s John Torode and Gregg Wallace
John Torode, Gregg Wallace
The Ant and Dec of cooking – everybody loves John (Dec) but suspects that they don’t like Gregg (Ant).
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