By Cindy Martin
LONDON (Reuters) - A television ratings battle in Britain is about to begin between music mogul Simon Cowell's "Britain's Got Talent" and newcomer "The Voice", and neither side is backing down.
Both shows are set to premiere on Saturday in a head-to-head battle with both sides recruiting celebrity judges. Cowell, the music executive-turned-television producer, is returning to Talent as a judge after working in the United States on his other programs, the newly launched "X Factor" and audience favorite "American Idol".
Britain's Got Talent has helped launch the career of Susan Boyle, who has sold 30 million albums worldwide, according to Cowell. It's not the first time Cowell, whose shows air on ITV in Britain, is engrossed in a ratings war with state broadcaster, the BBC.
Last season, the British version of X Factor lagged in ratings numbers behind BBC ballroom dance competition "Strictly Come Dancing". But it seems Cowell is currently having the last laugh as he has wangled judge Alesha Dixon away from Strictly to Talent. "Someone's always going to have a pop at you, but you've got to be quite honest about it," Cowell told Reuters this week. "You want to beat us and we want to beat you."
The Voice judge and Welsh singer Tom Jones raised the stakes in the ratings war last week, when he questioned the credibility of judges on other shows in an interview on British television channel ITN.
"Some judges on other shows that have never been on stage in their lives, or they've never actually sang, or they don't sing that well and you think 'How can this person, who's an average singer anyway, give their advice to somebody that sounds better than they do'," Jones told ITN. Cowell cited the success of British boyband One Direction, who was put together by Cowell on X Factor and signed to his record label Syco as an example of how Jones was wrong.
The group made history on Wednesday by becoming the first British group to have their debut album take number one in the United States, not even the Beatles or the Spice Girls managed that. "One of the panelists said this, said that only singers can judge these shows which is ridiculous, it's what I do for a living," Cowell said. "I spot talent."
He pointed out that One Direction were number one in the album charts this week and Susan Boyle was number one in the United States and sold 30 million albums.
"You can't knock the statistics but now these people have got to walk the walk themselves and we'll see what they come up with," said Cowell. True to its moniker, The Voice focuses exclusively on a singer's voice. The judges have their backs turned to the contestant and if judges like them, they turn their chairs around to see the singer. A battle between the judges to coach the contestant ensues. The Voice includes judges Danny O'Donoghue, from Irish band The Script; "Price Tag" singer Jessie J, Welsh legend Jones and Black Eyed Peas' rapper and producer will.i.am.
Talent's judges include comedian/actor David Walliams, singer/rapper Alesha Dixon, actress Amanda Holden and Cowell. Cowell said that whatever the advance talk, the proof will be in the pudding when the two shows air.
"I think it's better to talk about it once you've seen both shows and you ask the public which one they prefer." (Editing by Paul Casciato)