Rival pop stars line up to destroy Simon Cowell's American dream

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The Independent Online

It doesn't matter whether you have the X factor. The real question is "do you possess the Voice?"

The American singer Christina Aguilera has signed up for a new television talent search, created by Simon Cowell's reality television rivals, which is designed to sabotage the US launch of The X Factor before it begins. Since he announced his plan to bring his hit format to the channel Fox this Autumn, rivals have sought to undermine it.

A whispering campaign suggested that Cowell's "nasty" persona is out of touch with a new desire among audiences to support genuinely talented performers. Now the NBC network is rushing to air a new talent show with a twist, hatched by those who created two groundbreaking reality series, Big Brother and The Apprentice.

The Voice, which launches in the US next month, has a high-profile judging panel of Aguilera, the hip-hop and neo-soul star Cee-Lo Green, Adam Levine, the Maroon 5 frontman and the country star Blake Shelton. The gimmick is that when hopefuls first perform, the audience can see them but the judges cannot. Judging only what they hear, the "blind" experts press a button and their chair swivels round to confront them with the performers they have chosen. The show, which then follows the X Factor path of mentored contestants "saved" each week by the judges, emerged from the Netherlands.

Broadcast as The Voice of Holland, the format was created by John de Mol, a producer who built a £1.5bn fortune after creating Big Brother in 1999. The US version is co-produced by Mark Burnett, 50, an ex-paratrooper from Dagenham who developed the hit formats Survivor and The Apprentice.

The Voice has a dual "spoiler" purpose – to lure viewers from American Idol, the Simon Fuller-created Fox series which Cowell quit last year, and to steal the thunder from The X Factor when it launches. The new series is being sold as a reaction against the mockery of "no-hopers", often found in the audition stages of Cowell's shows.

"It's less about being judgmental and more about helping the singers out," said Adam Levine. The Voice contestants have not been plucked from "cattle-call" auditions but "casted" by a team of music industry experts.

The once all-conquering American Idol has lost viewers since Cowell left but is still the most popular show on US television with 25 million viewers.

Cowell is set to confirm his judging panel for the US version of The X Factor and his involvement in the next ITV1 series, which may be delayed to accommodate his Fox commitments.

He said he was "relieved" to confirm the signing of Antonio "LA" Reid, the ex-chairman of Island Def Jam Records who would bring musical credibility to the US show, as a judge.

The Voice winner will receive a modest $100,000 (£62,213) and a recording contract with Universal Music, which owns all global rights to the recording and management of contestants.

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