Julie Dawson questions whether children should be judged in the same competition as adults.

My name is Julie and I am an addict. I always thought it was no big deal. I was in control. You see my drug of choice isn’t readily available so overdoing it just wasn’t an option. I’d binge for a few weeks each year and then, hung-over and shamed, vow never to do it again. I’ve been forced into some pretty seedy places to feed my habit but on Saturday night I finally hit rock bottom. Old-fashioned variety is my poison and I lost a week of my life to the Britain’s Got Talent semi-finals.

For the past seven years, Britain’s Got Talent has been the only variety show on television. It has provided a steady, if often cringe-worthy, source of both mainstream and obscure performers to our living rooms. But what started as a guilty pleasure for those of us that would never normally watch television competitions has become a victim of its own success, an overblown behemoth attempting to be all things to all people and collapsing into the oily mire of its own smugness. Or maybe that’s just Simon Cowell’s hair gel.

Saturday night’s final was a fitting end to the most farcical series yet. From the opening sequence where cheeky showbiz midgets Ant and Dec cruised round the country picking up small children in their Union Jack Mini to the powerfully emetic flag-waving performance of the Hungarian winners; Attraction, via the arguable high point of “Egg-gate”. This felt like a parody of a parody, a cheese-fest that lactose-intolerant viewers must still be recovering from.

Britain’s Got Talent has come under considerable fire this year. Cowell has so frequently given voice to the enormous chip on his shoulder that one can’t help but wonder if they will be entering as a double act next year. Top of the controversies of course is BruceMr GrumpyForsyth’s concerns about the pressure placed on child contestants and whether they should be allowed to compete alongside adults. He was half right: children should not be allowed to compete alongside adults.

Nevermind the stress to the tots, I would argue that allowing children to compete on Britain’s Got Talent is not fair to the adult contestants. One of the most uncomfortable moments I have ever witnessed was the end of the second semi-final where elegant professional dancer Joseph Hall was pitted against adorable toddlers Pre Skool. The former was a teacher who had, one assumes, spent a large portion of his 35 years honing his craft. The latter were as young as age five and had been learning to dance for a single year, deciding to enter the contest after their older siblings had taken part. As David Walliams lost his final shreds of credibility by siding with the cute kids and Cowell made his deliberations, the cameras focused on Hall’s dignified attempts to control his desperation and the children’s tears and praying gestures. And when it went to the great British public (or at least the less great portion who actually vote on shows like this), we proved that once again photogenic youth triumphs over discipline and hard work.

It can be difficult to argue that children can’t handle the pressure of competing. Teen contestants like Jack Carroll and Gabz Gardiner are obviously well adjusted and confident, and in rare cases like this, also have genuine talent on a par with many adult contenders. Furthermore, there seems to be an unofficial yet strictly enforced rule that child contenders cannot be criticised. Pre Skool are very good dancers, taking their age and training into account. But an adult troupe performing at the same level would never have made it past the auditions. As it was, there was not a single word of criticism levelled at the young dancers. If children are to compete alongside adults, they must be judged by the same standards.

The child pageant culture in America has increasingly become a source of entertainment and amusement, yet another chance for us Brits to feel superior to our cousins across the pond. But when we begin to value cute children over age and experience, how different are we really? We may not have descended to perma-tans and tiaras yet, but check out Britain’s Got Talent’s two eleven-year-old singers Asanda Jesile and Arisxandra Libantino next time you catch yourself feeling smug. It only takes a few moments of Jesile grinding to Beyoncé or Libantino belting out a song about a one-night stand to realise that we apparently don’t find the sexualisation of children nearly as abhorrent as we’d like to pretend.

Once upon a time, paying your dues was a part of any job. Dreams and fantasies revolved around reaching the pinnacle of your chosen career. People understood that we need workers more than aspiring superstars craving their fifteen minutes of fame at any cost. It seems we have reached a time where honing a skill and learning a trade are less admirable than submitting one’s self to the greasy judgement of all-powerful Simon Cowell and his grotesque band of cackling cronies. It’s a sad commentary on our short attention spans and empty lives when this cynical and manipulative pageant has become a dream for so many people.

The juggernaut of the Britain’s Got Talent franchise will no doubt continue to gorge itself on the hopes and dreams of the country. People will continue to buy into the sob stories and the cute kiddies even as an aging Cowell replenishes his rapidly receding hairline with solid gold implants and his already freakish teeth with custom-made diamond dentures. The world will continue to turn. But I believe I have finally kicked my habit.