It's 'The Voice' vs 'Britain's Got Talent': Round One

Forget the fighting talk, flick between the channels and it's hard to tell which show you're watching

Okay, so it's not quite Ali versus Foreman, but the employment of a boxing analogy is nevertheless pertinent here: BBC1 have been talking up a good fight for The Voice for a long time now. No mere X Factor clone, this, they say, The Voice is radical, turning the TV talent show on its head by procuring contestants not on the strength of their cheekbones or level of personal suffering, but rather on vocal chords alone. And the judges will have their backs to the performers, only turning around when they like what they hear and wish to adopt, in a mentoring sense, the singer in question.

But then in rang Simon Cowell with his own Tyson talk, returning for the sixth series of ITV's Britain's Got Talent, and insisting he was going to comprehensively "beat them". So, which would we watch? It was a question that didn't, strictly speaking, require answering. With The Voice starting at seven, and BGT at eight, there is only a 20-minute overlap. We could feasibly watch both, and, consequently, relax.

What last night's curtain-raisers confirmed, of course, was that The Voice was to all intents and purposes BGT, only with sexier chairs. The sole difference, it seemed, was that the former wanted future popstars, the latter end-of-pier oddities, with its gay ballroom-dancing duos and the bloke who could play the harmonica with his nose. And new BGT judge David Walliams has found a natural home for his camp schtick.

The Voice's USP, of which it is all too clearly proud, is that when a singer has intrigued all four judges, all four essentially beg them to join their team. "I've worked with Michael Jackson," crows Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am. "Well, I've sang with Elvis," counters Tom Jones. Jessie J feigns a strop if she fears being overlooked, while The Script's Danny O'Donoghue, aware perhaps that he is very much the "fourth" judge, stands up a lot.

Flick between the channels, and it is difficult to tell which you are watching. Though The Voice purports to rely solely on the voice, the claim is disingenuous. Like its competitor, it only really works when ratcheting up the backstory, which is why tearful Toni Warne, 31, makes such good television: not because she has a particularly distinctive voice, but because she suffers from alopecia.

But BGT trumped that with its final act of the night. Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Antoine, already billed the "male SuBo", was big and wide, but lovely, and sang like Pavarotti. The audience was on its feet. "Wow, wow, wow," said Simon Cowell, which is CowellSpeak for "Ker-ching!"

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