The population of the United Kingdom rolls in at something around sixty million people. That's about one fifth the population of its stepchild nation, the United States of America -- but to watch American some-kind-of-talent-competition reality television shows, you'd think that Brits and their fellow UK islanders numbered twice what they do, and that their presence in the United States was markedly ubiquitous. Most such shows are arranged to have the contestants do what they are there to do -- be it singing, dancing (with or without stars), cooking, juggling flaming wombats, or otherwise performing -- before a panel of usually three judges (sometimes temporarily bloated to four by a gimmick addition or a 'guest judge'), with some combination of judges scores and popular votes deciding which contestants proceed to later and later rounds until a winner is crowned. And often, when a British judge sits on the panel of three, it is that judge who is the most critical (or, at least, the least complimentary), and apt to be the most cutting with evaluation of the Americans performing before him (definitely "him," by the way, as we shall see).

The king of this trend is indubitably Simon Cowell, who spent many seasons informing scads of American Idol contestants that their voices grated, their song selection stank, and their overall presentation was a second-class karaoke nightmare. After ten seasons so doing on American Idol, Cowell's departure led to a season in which pundits complained of the all-American panel of judges being 'too nice' to the contestants.

If Cowell is king, then the crown prince must surely be the Scottish Gordon Ramsay, a franchise all his own with his three shows, Master Chef, Hell's Kitchen, and Kitchen Nightmares. In Master Chef, Ramsay (a producer of the show as well) cunningly recruited as another judge the acerbic Joe Bastianich, who at times makes Ramsay look positively mild in comparison. But Ramsay does not shirk at all from levelling harsh criticism toward Master Chef contestant’s cooking efforts. And even putting that show aside, on his other two shows he is apt to be a whirling dervish of frustration and profanity as he puts a collection of American chefs, or a single restaurant (though, to be sure, not always an American restaurant, through his own personal pressure cooker of criticism. Ramsay's main competitor among that sort of week-to-week winnowing cooking competition, Top Chef has only briefly had a British judge (Toby Young, in seasons five and six) though it gets special notice for lead host Padma Lakshmi coming from India, formerly part of the British Empire.

America's Got Talent is another show historically having a somewhat of a rotatary judging panel, and its current incarnation doubly reflects this UK trend, with two Brits on the judging panel -- Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan. Sharon Osbourne, deemed a judge of talent by dint of her own marriage to a professional musician is the only woman of the bunch, and on her panel she tends to be in the middle on issuing criticism, less forgiving perhaps than Howie Mandel, but it is Piers Morgan who acts as the cruelly critical one.

To be fair, there are many other shows where the British judge on the panel is not inclined to deliver harsh words or cruel cuts, but even where criticism is reserved, so is the tendency to praise equally reserved, at least in comparison to American judges (or those of certain other nationalities). On Dancing With the Stars for example, judge Len Goodman is less likely than his co-judges to emote delight with the quality of a dance -- on one show, where the other judges were throwing about nines and tens on their one-to-ten scale of rating the dances, Goodman displayed equally high praise for the performers by giving eights across the board. Goodman's fellow judge Bruno Tonioli is somewhat of an anomaly in this entire equation. Though he has formerly been a backup dancer for British singer George Michael, Tonioli is from Italy, and is the opposite of the staid and more critical Len, tending towards effluviant and over-the-top praise for contestants. Nigel Lythgoe of So You Think You Can Dance is as well a generally genial judge, but though his praise of performers is likely the most outgoing of all the British-born (except possibly Sharon Osbourne), he is positively dwarfed in this category by his caterwauling co-judge Mary Murphy. And just to round up the collection, there is another Nigel, this one being photographer Nigel Barker, regularly seen on America's next Top Model (not having watched the show, I am told that he is no more or less acerbic than the other judges).

But if this trend is to be carried to its most imaginative conclusion, the end result will be a single show on which Simon Cowell, Gordon Ramsay, and Piers Morgan gather on a panel to scathingly critique only those obliviously underwhelming performances in all manner of fields by average Americans. Perhaps the name of the show could be, "Well That Was Bloody Awful," and the winner could be the performer whose efforts draw the panel's most entertainingly impassioned ire.

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