Judgement day for the great pretenders

A new crop of TV musical talent shows is set to give The X Factor a run for its money. Emma Love sizes up the competition
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The Independent Culture

Every year I get sucked into The X Factor. I can't help it.

Despite resisting the audition stages, I usually get caught up in the hype somewhere around the make-or-break visits to the judges' "homes". It's Cheryl and Simon, the international superstar guests (who didn't see Whitney's incoherent mumblings?) and the tears and tantrums that keep me and millions of others hooked week after week in the run-up to Christmas. There's no doubt that The X Factor is the king of musical talent shows. But is the king now facing a contest of its own?

Recently, there's been a crop of new, entertaining talent shows on television, not on the scale of The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, of course, but each attracting audiences and talented competitors. There was Move Like Michael Jackson where 16 finalists went head-to-head in a dance-off that had street dance fans tuning in to vote for their favourite crew and So You Think You Can Dance, where trained dancers had to master routines in different dance styles: ballet dancers tried Broadway, tango dancers performed swing. Andrew Lloyd Webber found his Nancy for West End stage show Oliver, in I'd Do Anything, and more recently, in Over the Rainbow, a Dorothy for The Wizard of Oz.

Now, two new shows, both with original concepts and stellar judging panels, are hitting our screens, hoping to steal The X Factor crown. First up is Don't Stop Believing, which started on Five last night. It's a first for the channel and on paper at least, it's bang on the money. Not only do they have a noteworthy musical panel – Duncan James (currently appearing on stage in Legally Blonde), pop singer Anastacia, Tamzin Outhwaite (outstanding in Sweet Charity) and Chucky Klapow (choreographer of the High School Musical movies) – but they've also cleverly tapped into Glee fever with their format. Presented by Emma Bunton, the show features all-singing, all-dancing groups, who will each perform in front of a live studio audience.

Elsewhere, starting on Sky1 next month, is the new musical talent show, Must Be the Music. The difference with this wannabe parade is in the prize. Rather than the traditional lucrative recording contract, the winning artist will receive financial and promotional support to kick start their musical career however they wish.

Additionally, at the end of every live show, viewers will be able to download the music they've just heard, with the profits going to the artists themselves. In a world that's increasingly led by downloads and internet trends and shopping, this idea is nothing short of genius. It's actually rather surprising that no UK talent show has done this before.

Radio 1's Fearne Cotton is on presenting duty while Dizzee Rascal, Jamie Cullum and Sharleen Spiteri form a high-profile, well-qualified trio of judges. Their eclectic musical styles are symbolic of the wide array of talent that has turned up to auditions: expect to see everyone from brass bands and grime MCs to beat boxers and classical artists trying to impress.

Don't Stop Believing has picked up on a particular moment in culture with its all-singing, all-dancing groups while Must Be the Music will try to capitalise on the internet revolution and brings together a bundle of different musical talents, rather than just one type of wannabe popstar. Here, you can be the next Dolly Parton or Vanessa-Mae, Lily Allen or Miles Davis without having to fit into a specific box. And with the downloading option, they're taking musical talent shows to the next level, which is exactly what's needed.

For shows like these not to get tired, formats need to be updated. That doesn't necessarily mean getting glitzier or bigger, but it does mean keeping things inventive and exciting. Can The X Factor fight off the competition and keep its crown?