Simon Cowell made a much-needed return to Britain’s Got Talent last night for the first live semi-final. And fittingly for the svengali’s comeback, the acts with most pop crossover potential prevailed.
The process took two hours - padded out by way too many ad breaks and a pause for Coronation Street – but in the end, 12-year-old singer Ronan Parke and 19-year-old pianist Paul Gbegbaje progressed to Saturday’s final.
It was an indictment of the questionable quality of the acts that the main talking point was Cowell. In particular, his physical appearance. He was introduced in silhouette – a strangely familiar one, thanks to that square head and broom-bristle hair – to the strains of the Superman theme, hopefully with tongue in cheek.
When the lights came up, Cowell was sporting a 70s-style suit with flared trousers, shirt unbuttoned to the waist and as much fake tan as simpering sidekick Amanda Holden. He was also puffy around the eyes – jetlag, perhaps, but leading to speculation about possible “procedures” or even an angry punch from spurned X Factor US judge Cheryl Cole, axed last week on the basis of her Geordie tones.
Talking of whom, hosts Ant and Dec greeted their returning boss with the cheeky enquiry: “Before we go any further, Simon, can you understand our accents?” This drew gasps and giggles from the studio audience, a tight smile from Cowell.
He didn’t know any of the eight acts’ names, amusingly, but Cowell did add some gravitas and star quality to the panel of Holden, the seemingly befuddled David Hasslehoff and puppyish Michael McIntyre.
Cowell could barely conceal the pound signs in his eyes when pint-sized crooner Parke performed. The precocious Norfolk schoolboy duly won the most viewer votes. The judges were split on the second-placed act, so it went to the phonelines and Gbegbaje edged out stunt cyclist Joe Oakley
Elsewhere among the seven acts, there was lots of novelty and little talent. There were a couple of eccentrics in Donelda Guy with her dancing sheepdogs and Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator Stuart Arnold. Both were briefly amusing but would soon annoy if you lived next door to them. Martial arts duo The Bruce Sistaz, like cyclist Oakley, were impressive rather than entertaining, using pyrotechnics and pumping music to cover awkward staging.
The remaining two turns left a slightly sour taste. Girls Roc were little more than lingerie-clad lapdancers striking poses with snakes and fire. The leering reactions of Cowell and co-judge David Hasslehoff were all too predictable. Ted & Grace – a 92-year-old duetting with his granddaughter – led to an outpouring of judgely wisecracks about his age, deafness and faculties that rapidly wore thin. Disrespectful and patronising to the army veteran.
It was all overlong and overblown, but interest in Cowell’s comeback just about carried it. With these live semi-finals stripped across the week’s schedules, though, the talent needs to play a bigger part – or Cheryl Cole won’t be the only one throwing things at the screen.
TV & Radio
It’s all out war. Just weeks ago Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole enjoyed a ‘special’ celebrity relationship and a genuine personal friendship. But now the high profile pair are at loggerheads professionally and their friendship may never recover from her public humiliation on the US X Factor.