The BBC is simply too polite to do a talent show. The X Factor, which remains the best, is cheerfully chavvy and rude. Girls in tight dresses singing Under My Umbrella like a cat trapped in a tumble drier. “You’ve got no talent, darlin’ – sling yer ’ook!” Fun.
Let It Shine (Saturdays, 7pm) brings almost the same premise to BBC One and it sinks like a stone. Gary Barlow is looking for five boys to recreate Take That in a stage musical. Because that’s what the world needs right now. The audition phase, which is traditionally a chance to be mercilessly cruel, has all the savagery of an Oxbridge interview. It’s too polished, obviously scripted. One audition hopeful sings from a grand piano – are we supposed to think that he brought it with him? Perhaps he dragged it across London on the Piccadilly Line. He gets through the easy first round, along with almost everyone else.
The judges are far too kind, probably because they lack the vain madness that comes with genuine star power. Martin Kemp, we are reminded breathlessly, was big in the Eighties and EastEnders. Ooo. Amber Riley is currently appearing in the West End. Dannii Minogue (get this) “starred on the small screen” – in what, we are never told. And although Gary Barlow is as charming and talented as ever, I’m just not buying that he’s the Elvis of his generation. “We’re in Manchester,” announces co-host Mel Giedroyc, “the spiritual home of Take That.” It’s like Graceland with canals.
The whole thing is overproduced. The secret of a talent show is that it’s a bit rubbish, that it looks unvarnished and real. As someone opens their mouth, the audience should be thinking: “Is this going to be terrible or terrific?” And then there’s either an audible cringe or a gasp of pleasant surprise. The BBC got it right with the shamelessly tacky Strictly Come Dancing, where there was – if we’re honest – as much anticipation towards watching a celebrity plummet to Earth as there was seeing them sailing through the air. But this new twist on talent scouting fails to understand that it’s a fundamentally populist genre, or that its spiritual home is probably ITV.
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