Britain’s Got Talent is about to go live as the competition reaches the semi-finals on Monday, May 26.

But after criticism that the competition allows too many acts from abroad to enter (last year’s winner, shadow theatre group Attraction, is from Hungary), could another overseas act beat this year’s home-grown talent?

“If I’m honest with you, I love the fact that people from other countries enter this show as it’s actually a compliment that they don’t want to do it in their own countries because they feel that Britain’s Got Talent is the best world showcase,” Simon Cowell told the Daily Express. “But obviously, because I’m British, I would prefer a Brit to win.”

The criticism hasn’t affected the show’s popularity, though…

“I think Britain’s Got Talent is loved because it’s old school, it’s unpredictable, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and you always get those magic moments where you just don’t expect what’s happening and you’ve kind of written somebody off and then they turn it on on the day,” Simon says of the show’s continued popularity. “I love those moments.”

The semi-finals will air across five nights and will include a nightly results show. Each show will see nine acts perform again, but only two will progress to the next stage of the competition. The act with the highest number of public votes will head straight to the final, while it’s up to the judges, Simon, Amanda Holden, David Walliams and Alesha Dixon, to choose the second successful act to go through.

After the last semi-finals show on Saturday, May 31, there will be just 10 acts left to battle it out for the Britain’s Got Talent 2014 title at the grand final on ITV on Saturday, June 7.

The semi-finals will give viewers another chance to watch the judges’ “golden buzzer” acts – the acts which, during auditions, were sent straight through to the live shows by one judge, whether the others agreed or not.

And Simon, 54, has certainly made his feelings clear when it comes to his fellow judges’ choices.

“Alesha’s golden buzzer choice [girl group REAformed], I like. Amanda’s [Paddy, the pensioner salsa dancer], I got. My one [teenage boys Bar and Meldoy] was great and David’s one [Christian Spiridon] was a complete joke. I mean, seriously, a total joke,” he says.

As the only judge to have been on the BGT panel every year since the show began in 2007, 43-year-old Amanda says she has been particularly impressed by the standard at this year’s auditions.

“I think it’s got much better,” she says.

“I think because of social media, we’ve opened our doors a little bit wider. It’s far more diverse and unique.”

Alesha, 35, agrees, saying it’s the variety of the acts that keeps viewers hooked.

“The standard of the auditions is up and down each year and that is the beauty of the show. Some acts are amazing, some are eccentric and some are just downright bad.”

David admits it’s the bad acts he loves the most, which is why he controversially pushed his golden buzzer for the less-than-tuneful singer Cristian Spiridon.

“Before I joined the show, the reason that I enjoyed it as a viewer was that I loved all the eccentric characters, so I like to champion those acts,” David, 42, says. “I love the idea that you can come on this show and do anything, and for me, the weirder the better.

“There’s a responsibility, too, because you do want to deliver a really great semi-finalist, and ultimately a winner, to the public, who will do really well here and maybe even all around the world.”

The winning act will receive £250,000 and the life-changing opportunity to perform at the Royal Variety Performance.

Britain’s Got Talent’s semi-finalists will be announced in the Sunday-night show on ITV on May 25.