20m watch TV's talent showdowns

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The Independent Online

Last night's battle between of ITV's The X Factor and BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing, billed with the sense of perspective for which television coverage is famed as 'the biggest showdown in TV history', drew at least 20 million viewers.

On the BBC, there was a surprise victory for ex-England cricketer Darren Gough who beat Olympic silver medallist Colin Jackson, whom bookmakers had given odds of 5/2 to win. Over on ITV, Shane Ward secured a more expected victory on The X Factor, no doubt ingratiating himself further with his ever-increasing fan base by telling the watching viewers the win "was for his mum".

Bookmakers predicted they would be making six-figure payouts, after the announcements, which saw Mr Ward, who had been given odds of 1/2, beat dustman Andy Abraham to win a £1m recording contract. That will roll into action almost immediately, with his record company bosses no doubt determined to ensure a rush-release single will become the Christmas No 1.

For his part, Mr Abraham was magnanimous in defeat, despite having pleaded with viewers to vote for him in last week's episode, admitting that he did not want to return to his career as a dustman. After losing, he congratulated Mr Ward, telling the audience: "He is a star. He deserves to be Number One."

In Strictly Come Dancing, Mr Jackson, who had been given odds of 5/2 to win by bookmakers, smiled tensely as Gough and his dancing partner, Lilia Kopylova, gabbered excitedly to host Bruce Forsyth following their victory, who in turn was almost twitching with excitement as he admitted the winning team had "always been his favourite".

After hearing that five million people had placed telephone votes, making an estimated £1.5m for Children in Need, Gough praised Ms Kopylova's teaching and dancing skills, and mocking his lack of ability at the outset of the third series 10 weeks ago. He explained that was most probably what had attracted him to viewers. "That's what the public like," he said. "I started being nothing, and worked up to this".

Strictly Come Dancing has opened new doors for the winners of each of the previous two contests. Natasha Kaplinsky, who triumphed in the first series, has gone on to become a primetime presenter, as well as retaining her role on BBC Breakfast, while the series two champion, the former EastEnders actress Jill Halfpenny, landed a West End role in Chicago.

Winning The X Factor is not necessarily a clear-cut path to long-term success, however. Steve Brookstein, who won the previous series, found himself with an instant No 1 hit when he released "Against All Odds" at the start of this year, but within eight months of his win he had been dropped by his record label.

Mr Brookstein's efforts have been overshadowed by the success of last year's runners-up, the pop-opera quartet G4, who have been among this year's biggest selling acts.