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Session 4

We all love watching TV talent shows, don't we? The judges are an important part of these programmes, but are they actually worth their expensive salaries? Could computer judges be the answer? Practise your reading in this session and find out!

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Session 4 score

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

Is it the end for the TV talent show as we know it?

The popularity of TV talent shows has been declining

Do you like watching TV talent shows like The X Factor or The Voice? Or do you think they are a bit past it?

If you think they are not as good as they used to be, you may not be alone. Some people think the format needs a big shake-up and are looking for alternatives to the traditional panel of judges. Scientists at the University of Sussex think they have come up with a solution - and you can read more about it in this article.

While you're reading, try to decide which of these is the best summary of the story:

  • A computer program might replace TV talent show judges.
  • Computers can match the performance of human judges.
  • A team from America is making computerised talent show judges.

Read the text and complete the activity

Talent shows: from human judges to computers

Most of us will be familiar with the traditional talent show set up: thousands of hopefuls lining up outside the audition room, ready for their shot at stardom. After they have been waiting for hours and hours, they go in and perform for a panel of judges. Then these wannabe popstars could be lucky and get through to the next round, or they might hear the line, "Sorry, it's a 'no' from me". But what do the judges actually bring to a talent show?

Music talent show judges attract millions of viewers each week to their programmes. Their high public profile can make them an important part of advertising campaigns for these programmes. But they often receive high salaries and can be temperamental. Are they really worth the expense and difficulties that they can cause? One solution might be to replace them with computers.

Can computers really match human judges, with their general musical knowledge and ear for a tune? Scientist Dr Nick Collins and his team at the University of Sussex think they can. Dr Collings has been working on a project that involves programming three computerised judges that he says would be far more consistent in their judgement of musical performances. Using a highly versatile programming language, Dr Collins's digital judges can be trained up by 'listening' to particular musical genres. After they have been listening for a while, the programming language allows these judges to spot the specific features of the music. It takes eight hours to train the electronic judges in this way. During this time they analyse lots of information about each track they listen to, including the pitch, the timbre of the music, the rhythm and the way the tracks change over time.

Collins even says that the "judges also have pet hates and guilty pleasures" and that he "can't anticipate how they will turn out". He adds, "The judges' listening capacity is not yet on a par with a human ear" but that they won't be as annoying as some human reality TV show judges.

And maybe that is the problem with this electronic musical innovation. Real human judges on talent shows interest us with their personality, decisions and catchphrases. Will a computer program be able to do the same?

For more information about these computer talent show judges, you can read this original BBC News story.

So, did you work out which was the best summary of the article?

It was 'A computer program might replace TV talent show judges.' You can find out why the other possible summaries were wrong in our quiz.

To do

How well did you understand the article? Have a go at these questions and see if you can put in a perfect performance!

Talent show teasers

8 Questions

Will you be a superstar quiz taker? See if you can answer all the questions correctly

Congratulations you completed the Quiz
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End of Session 4

Well done for practising your reading skills with this article! If you want to work on it a bit more, go through the article again and look for all the present perfect continuous forms.

That's it for this session. Join us in Session 5 for the next episode of our drama, Jamaica Inn. This time Mary arrives at Jamaica Inn and discovers how mean her uncle is - and why she has to keep her mouth shut. See you there!

Session Grammar

  • The present perfect continuous is made with:

    Subject + have/has/haven’t/hasn’t + been + present participle of main verb


    Jack’s working very hard for his exams. He’s been revising all day.
    I’ve been working at the café for two weeks.
    You’ve been watching far too much telly for too long. Why don’t you take up a new sport?


    I haven’t been drinking coffee these last few days and my head is much clearer.
    Doctor, I’ve not been feeling good all the morning.


    Present perfect continuous questions are made with:

    Have/has not + subject + present participle

    Have you been eating all the biscuits? There are none left!
    What have you been doing? You look exhausted!

Session Vocabulary

  • past it
    (informal) too old or out-of-date to be interesting or useful

    the way something (for example, a TV show) is arranged

    a complete reorganisation

    people who are hoping to succeed

    a small group of people who make a decision

    short for 'want to be' (like someone or something else)

    having a mood that can change quickly and unreasonably

    ear for (something)
    able to recognise, appreciate and produce sounds, especially music

    behaving in the same way over a period of time

    able to change easily

    programming language
    the language that gives instructions to computers


    the quality of a musical sound

    pet hates
    minor or small things or habits that a person finds particularly annoying, usually more than for other people

    guilty pleasures
    things that a person likes, even though that they are not considered to be very good or fashionable

    on a par with (something)
    at the same level as (something)

    well-known sentences or phrases, usually associated with a particular famous person