The judges judged.. by Mrs Nasty
WE love to hate them because they have the power to make or break dreams.
When Cheryl Tweedy made her debut judging BBC1’s The Greatest Dancer last week, she was judged herself by viewers asking if she was qualified for the role.
So what makes a great – or hopeless – talent show panellist? We asked TV’s original Mrs Nasty, NINA MYSKOW.
The first time I met Simon Cowell he bowed down, almost to his knees, and waving his arms in front of him, did an elaborate “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” number.
I looked down at him and laughed. “No, you’re not!” I said. “Get up, for heaven’s sake.” This was way before The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. And although he was the stand-out judge on the first series of Pop Idol in 2001, he was not yet one of the most powerful people in British culture.
The reason for his routine, I guess, was that in the 80s I had been a judge on the big Saturday night variety talent show New Faces.
I remember standing in the wings at the Birmingham Hippodrome as the theme tune played for the first show. I turned to producer Richard Holloway and asked: “Any last-minute instructions?” “Just be yourself,” he said. And, God help me, I was.
I got booed that first show. It’s not an easy sound. I whispered to fellow judge Chris Tarrant between acts: “What do you think?” “Go for it!” he said.
I did. The next day, Tarrant said: “I’ve created a monster!” But I have never seen any point in not telling the truth.
As a critic, it is your job. You owe it to a performer or an act to go with your instincts and, backed by experience, express your opinions as accurately as possible. You have got to be objective and have the courage of your convictions. I had to get used to being booed by the audience, and once broke every showbiz rule by railing back at them. It was after they booed me for lambasting an unreconstructed comic who had told a joke in a Pakistani accent. I turned to them and said: “I don’t care what you think! You laughed at that joke, and that makes you racist too.” That made things worse, obviously. I wept in my dressing room afterwards, but was vindicated by thousands of letters of support. Over 30 years on, talent shows are a TV staple. Last weekend alone brought the start of three series. The newest, The Greatest Dancer, was banal, lacklustre and badly presented. Apart from a heart-warming finale with Down’s syndrome contestant Andrew, the best thing about it was that Cheryl made no attempt to sing. By contrast, it was a joy to hear Sir Tom Jones duetting with the son of Lonnie Donegan on The Voice. No matter that the show has never produced a star. The TV producers are not making a talent show, but an entertainment show. And the judges have become more important than the contestants. With that in mind, here is my guide to the magnificent seven best and seven worst TV talent show judges..
ORIGINAL & BEST Nina now and on New Faces with Tim Rice, above