Simon's got new talent! Outrageous. Feisty. And totally unpredictable. Cowell and his most daring judging panel ever reveal all
In their only interview together, the BGT judges reveal what happened when Amanda and Alesha turned up in the same dress, why David can't stop misbehaving, how The Voice has got Simon rattled and that they all agree on one thing.
22:48 GMT, 23 March 2012
Simon Cowell’s newest conquests are spilling the beans on his seduction techniques. It’s all quite illuminating, to be honest. You might think that wooing celebs to come on one of your primetime TV shows is just a matter of waving wads of cash in their face and reminding them what happened to Piers Morgan, but apparently it isn’t that simple.
Well, actually sometimes it is that simple. It doesn’t sound as if Alesha Dixon – who’s never made any bones about the fact she wants to be the next Oprah Winfrey – put up too much resistance when Simon Cowell’s people called to ask if she would consider defecting from the Strictly Come Dancing panel to Britain’s Got Talent.
New look: David Walliams, Alesha Dixon and returning judge Amanda Holden join Simon Cowell
‘Did I have to think about it Of
course, but there was no big agonising. Simon didn’t have to woo me. In
fact, I didn’t even have to speak to him. I knew that the platform would
be good for me. I knew the time had come to leave Strictly. And it
wasn’t just about the money – which wasn’t as dramatic as it was
reported, I might add. It was about finding a format that allowed me to
show more of myself.’
So far so easy. When it came to convincing comedian David Walliams to join the new panel of BGT, however, Simon had to work much harder. ‘David took me years,’ admits our favourite pop Svengali himself. ‘Of all the celebs I’ve ever signed, Cheryl Cole and David took me the longest to convince. David kept turning me down. I was surprised when he said yes this time, actually.’
So, how was David finally convinced ‘The clincher was when Simon told me that Britain’s Got Talent was a bit like a reality version of Little Britain. I’d been saying the show was too far out of my comfort zone, that I just wouldn’t be any good at it. Simon convinced me it wasn’t that far removed from other work I’d done. He’s a very clever man, and it’s true. BGT is about real characters, eccentric characters. In a way you couldn’t have made it any funnier if you’d tried to write it as a comedy show.’
It had become a bit predictable. For
this year, I was conscious of the need to shake things up a bit, with a
very different type of panel.
Whatever, the show is back – with a very different line-up to last year. In fact, actress Amanda Holden is the only surviving member of that team, with Alesha and David replacing comedian Michael McIntyre and David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff. Also returning to the panel this year is Simon himself, which is odd. Didn’t he make a big fuss last year about how the show no longer needed him He popped up for the grand final, of course, but was deliberately absent for the initial stages. So why the big return Could it be because viewing figures fell – the series started with an audience of 10.8 million, down a million on 2010 Or was it something else Simon denies it was down to his control freakery, but it certainly sounds that way.
‘It drove me crazy watching it without being able to have any say over which contestants went through or went home. I was shouting at the screen for most of the time.’ So would we have seen a different line-up in the final had Simon been there ‘The whole show would have been very different.’
If that sounds like an admission that last year’s show wasn’t up to scratch, it is. He doesn’t exactly say signing Michael McIntyre and The Hoff was a mistake, but he does admit the programme veered further into ‘bland’ territory than he would have liked. ‘It had become a bit predictable. For this year, I was conscious of the need to shake things up a bit, with a very different type of panel. We are certainly doing that, and David is the key to it. It’s not so much a case of chucking a pebble in the pond to make a few ripples, but throwing in a whopping great rock.’
'I was conscious of the need to shake things up a bit, with a very different type of panel,' says Simon
And it is. The signing of Alesha makes perfect showbiz sense. Loud, funny, easy-on-the-eye (as her new co-star David puts it) and young enough to be able to ‘get’ youth culture, she will slot effortlessly into the BGT team. David is a different kettle of fish, though. While he may be the star du jour – our newest national treasure, thanks to that charity swim along the Thames – his wit is known for its edginess, even unpleasantness, sometimes. He is the master of the double entendre. He goes out of his way to unsettle. He is, in short, a loose cannon when it comes to live TV.
‘Which is precisely the point,’ says Simon. ‘I went after him because I wanted that sense of unpredictability. I like the fact he is controversial. He will be a nightmare to edit. But I think it’s a good thing we’ll be wondering what’s coming next. And the bottom line is, the public like him, even if he does have a certain weirdness. It’s a good combination. Hopefully.’ It will certainly be entertaining.
As Amanda Holden puts it, ‘David is fearless. When he first came on board, he asked me for some advice on how to deal with Simon. So I said, “He has a great sense of humour, has Simon, but there’s a line you shouldn’t cross.” I told him all the things he shouldn’t joke about. So what did David do He immediately used those things to try to wind Simon up.’
Simon actually has a great sense of
humour. I think it’s why we do genuinely get along. I was a bit
disturbed when he told me I was the only comedian he actually found
She won’t be drawn on exactly which
things, but since David has spent much of his time on set making quips
about Simon’s vanity, his hair and his penchant for Botox, we can
probably guess what they are. Today, he’s in particularly mischievous
form, joking that Simon has insisted they sit at the opposite ends of
the panel from each other. What’s he afraid of, he asks
‘My ambition is
to be beside him by the time we get to the end of the series. I’m going
to creep up every day – like grandma’s footsteps – just another inch at
a time, to unsettle him.’ He throws himself into more banter about
Simon, laughing about which of them is camper. ‘I don’t know. I think
I’m a bit camper than Simon, but my campness is more theatrical whereas
his is more… everyday camp.’ To his credit, Simon laughs along. Since
David is a more astute man than he is often given credit for, he is
presumably confident of how far he can go
‘Simon actually has a great sense of humour. I think it’s why we do genuinely get along. I was a bit disturbed when he told me I was the only comedian he actually found funny, though. I’m not sure that’s something to boast about.’
What of the two women on the panel, then Any hopes that they will provide some decorum are soon shattered when David confides he likens Amanda and Alesha to ‘a pair of truckers’. Oddly, they take it as a compliment. ‘Alesha’s laugh is filthy and I’m actually not as sweet as they keep making me out to be, either,’ says Amanda.
Alesha confirms she can’t wait for the
public to see a very different side of her than they did on the rather
staid Strictly. Is there going to be more of the Alesha we saw on the
Alan Carr show, then – the one who confessed to having sex in her car
and who seemed, well, drunk. ‘I wasn’t drunk!” she insists. ‘People
thought I was drunk, but that was just me. I’m always like that. I’m
loud; I’m opinionated; I’ve got things to say. It’s just the format of
Strictly means there isn’t a lot of space to show that side of you.’
Star search: Among the new artists are acrobats Fanti (left) and singer Jesus
Rapper Genny and canine act Cleverpawz also compete for the 500,000 prize
Now you couldn’t blame Amanda – who admits she loved being ‘boss’ last year – for being a bit miffed over Simon’s return. And one assumes she might have been upset, too, to hear that Alesha – ten years her junior, and with legs up to her armpits – was suddenly in the line-up, not least because the auditions were filmed within days of Amanda’s traumatic experience giving birth to her second daughter, Hollie.
But she laughs off any suggestion of competition in the femme fatale department. ‘Believe me, with the year I’ve had, I don’t have the time or energy to worry about that sort of thing. If there was a worry it was that they would bring someone in who was just there for their looks alone, but that isn’t the case with Alesha. There is substance with her. She knows her stuff.
‘And on the looks front – well, I surrender straight away. We got in a situation early on where we had both bought the same dress. I told Alesha. “You’re taller and younger – it looks better on you. I’ll wear mine on holiday.”’ She’s canny enough to know that being pitted against Alesha in the tabloids is part of the game. ‘It’s not something I want to get involved with, though. I took Alesha out for a coffee as soon as I heard she was on board and said I didn’t want to play those sorts of games, which everyone wants to play.’
Really, it seems preposterous to be even discussing the idiocies of the showbiz world with Amanda. It’s still only weeks since she almost died while giving birth to Hollie. The dramatic story is well known by now. Her heart stopped for 40 seconds and she needed an emergency blood transfusion.
Simon Cowell's newest conquests spill the beans on his seduction techniques
What is confusing, though, is why she was back on the set of BGT, filming the auditions, within days of her release from hospital.The answer seems to be that it never occurred to her to do anything else. The reason she was so keen to get back into the saddle is probably the same reason she’s still in the job – and in prime position, by Simon’s side – six years on: she is the ultimate showbiz trouper.
‘I got a bit of stick for going back to work so quickly after what happened but, to be honest, I never really saw it as going back to work. I was only doing a few days’ filming, and Hollie came with me for two of them. But what people don’t appreciate is my way of dealing with things is to keep going as normal. After we lost our baby son, I started rehearsals for Shrek six weeks later. After all the trauma of having Hollie, I wanted to show my daughter Lexi that Mummy wasn’t going to be floored by anything. Yes, I could have moped around at home in my dressing gown, but that isn’t me. It never was. And besides, I love what I do. It isn’t a job in the same way that schlepping to a factory or an office is a job. It’s a way of life.’
It must be unsettling, though, to see new faces come and go on these sorts of panel shows. Does she never feel the urge to defect Or, worse, feel afraid Simon will get bored with her and that she will end up on the reject pile, la Cheryl Cole
‘Oh, with my recent life experience I’m hard to sack,’ she says, with a huge laugh. ‘But seriously, I don’t know why I still get on so well with Simon. We just click, I guess. We always have. But I’m never complacent. I still think I’m incredibly lucky to be doing this job and I’m going to hold on to it for as long as I can. I don’t care if that isn’t the way things are done these days. It’s how I work.’ Whatever, her new workmates have rallied round. She reveals David Walliams ‘did one of Hollie’s 11pm feeds for her’, which rather shatters his image.
As for Alesha, she seems grateful that Amanda has taken her under her wing. ‘She’s like the mother-figure, which has been lovely to be honest. I didn’t know exactly what I would be coming into and Amanda has made it very easy. She’s the strongest woman I know and the most upbeat. You would never ever know, working with her, how much she’s been through.’
The stakes could hardly be higher with BGT this year. The show is being pitched up against the BBC’s much-hyped new talent show The Voice, which has Sir Tom Jones and Jessie J in the mix. How scared is Simon ‘Not at all,’ he says, with his usual confident bluster. ‘I welcome it, to be honest. The competition will be good, and I will say, grudgingly, that their format is interesting.’
So which of those judges will be on his list for future seduction He denies he would be interested in getting Tom Jones. But Jessie J ‘Now Jessie I would snap up,’ he says, in a manner suggesting she’s already on his next to-woo list.
Britain’s Got Talent starts Saturday, 8pm, ITV1.
FROM FLASHING KNICKERS TO THE OLDEST GROUP IN THE WORLD
Britain’s Got Talent will showcase some
of the wackiest auditions in the programme’s history when the sixth
series of the ITV talent contest begins Saturday. Among the more
eccentric performers on show are The Zimmers, a group of over-70s who
are the world’s oldest band.
Despite having a combined age of 3,000
years, the group stunned Simon Cowell and his fellow judges with their
performance and are already hotly tipped to make the finals.
the other artists auditioning are acrobats, a 200-strong schoolboy
choir, a female dance group who wear flashing knickers, a dancing dog
and an oddball performance from a man with a saucepan on his head
imitating a Dalek.
Dance troupe Thursford Dollies wear flashing knickers and feathers
It will also feature contortionists, gymnasts, a folk
group, a gospel singer and street dancers, as well as a performance
from nine-year-old Zena Donelly, who once sang on stage with Whitney
Houston. She is shown singing a version of the tragic singer’s hit,
Greatest Love Of All.
This year, the cash prize for the eventual
winner has been increased from 100,000 to 500,000. Simon Cowell has
also revealed that, unlike previous years, he will personally be
investing 250,000 of his own money, adding that he’s determined to find
a ‘global star’ this time.
In a bid to widen the search for talent,
producers this year set up an ‘open audition’ for the first time ever,
with hopefuls invited to turn up and perform in London. Traditionally
acts have been asked to submit videos of themselves to the show’s
bosses before being chosen to appear on the programme.
Let battle begin: It’s an all-out ratings war with BBC1’s The Voice
Competition: The Voice panel includes Jessie J, Danny O'Donoghue, Will.i.am and Tom Jones
Thanks to some manipulation of the schedules by ITV, Britain’s Got Talent will go head-to-head with the BBC’s new 20m talent show, The Voice. A cool 750,000 has been spent signing up Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am and veteran singer Sir Tom Jones to The Voice’s judging panel, and they’ll be joined by 23-year-old British singer Jessie J and The Script frontman Danny O’Donoghue, 31. The show will be hosted by This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby and Radio 1 DJ Reggie Yates.
Unlike BGT and The X Factor, the quartet of judges, or ‘coaches’, on The Voice will be seated facing away from the stage. They’ll be able to hear the contestants perform but not see them. If they like what they hear, they push a button and swivel round to see the act. If more than one coach buzzes, the artist can choose who they want to coach them. If nobody buzzes, the singer is rejected from the competition.
The next stage follows the X Factor pattern of each coach mentoring their ten artists. The coaches then select two of their acts to perform against each other in front of a studio audience, with the coach deciding which one goes through to the live shows. This continues until each coach has five acts. Those left then perform each week to a live TV audience before phone lines open and the public vote to eliminate artists. The winner will be given a recording contract with music giant Universal.
The series, the brainchild of Big Brother producer John de Mol, hopes to replicate the success of the US version, which kicked off last April with panellists Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, country star Blake Shelton and soul singer Cee Lo Green. The Voice USA has been consistently beating American Idol in the ratings, and while last year’s opening episode of BGT drew more than ten million viewers BBC1 bosses will be hoping they can give it a run for its money.
Sir Tom, 71, has revealed that one of the contestant’s performances moved him to tears in the audition stages, claiming he’s ‘never heard anything like her before’. US star Will.i.am admitted all the coaches had very different approaches to selecting their artists. He claims the Sex Bomb singer was ‘trigger happy’ when it came to choosing contestants, while he was ‘more strategic’.