By Hillary Busis
September 06, 2012 at 05:29 PM EDT
Ray Mickshaw/FOX; Mark Seliger/NBC

Oh, it’s on.

The Voice is officially challenging The X Factor for the title of Biggest Non-Idol Singing Show. NBC just announced that next week, it will air The Voice on three consecutive nights rather than two — meaning that on Wednesday, the series’ third audition episode will go head to head with The X Factor‘s season premiere on Fox.

Simon Cowell isn’t too pleased about this development: “This is a cynical, cold-hearted, unprofessional way of doing business,” he told TMZ today, explaining he thought NBC and Fox had a “gentleman’s agreement” to air The Voice on Mondays and Tuesdays, while X Factor would appear Wednesdays and Thursdays. “Britney’s not going to appreciate the fact that Christina — who has been a bit of a rival — isn’t allowing Britney to have a night of her own,” Cowell added. And whether or not Cowell’s assessment is correct, these shows are clearly engaged in a battle for melismatic dominance.

So, what will it be: Britney or Christina? Flash or substance? Chairs or another kind of chair? Let’s examine what we know about both The Voice Season 3 and The X Factor Season 2, category by category:

The Judges

By now, The Voice‘s judging — er, coaching — panel is a well-oiled machine. Christina Aguilera brings the sass, while Blake Shelton provides some down-home charm. Adam Levine adds a note of rakish humor. And then there’s Cee Lo Green, who might just be the oddest creature on network TV — just ask his kitty. Their unique chemistry has been a winning combination, launching each to greater (or renewed) fame since The Voice‘s 2011 premiere.

The X Factor‘s panel, by contrast, could go either way. Its biggest draw is new addition Britney Spears, who may not be that innocent — early buzz and promos have tried to sell her as a sweeter version of acerbic veteran judge Simon Cowell. They’re joined by record exec L.A. Reid, who probably knows more about the music biz than anyone else on both X and The Voice, and Disney Channel alum Demi Lovato, who seems most likely to be the next Nicole Scherzinger.

Both have their pros and cons — but which group are you more excited to watch in action?

The Format

It’s going to be a long, long time before we see live episodes of either show. X Factor is going hostless for a few weeks — we miss you, Stevecrest! — with audition episodes shot in five different cities. Next come the pre-taped “bootcamp” and “judges’ houses” episodes, which further thin the herd. Eventually, the Factor goes live, showcasing its top 16 performers in four categories that differ slightly from those in Season 1: Individuals 12-16, Individuals 17-24, Individuals Over 25, and Groups. From then on, things are fairly straightforward. Acts perform for viewer votes one night, then hear the results the next night. The two acts with the lowest number of votes perform once more for the judges, who then vote on who will be sent home.

The Voice is just as complicated. Blind auditions are followed by pre-taped “battle rounds,” in which singers on each coach’s team perform competitive duets. This stage brings in even more celebrities; additional mentors Mary J. Blige, Michael Bublé, Rob Thomas and Billie Joe Armstrong have all signed on for Season 3. Both viewer votes and the coaches hold sway in the subsequent live rounds, which are split into performance and results shows. Votes determine who stays and goes, while coaches have the power to save one losing contestant after watching that week’s last chance performance.

They’re each a long way from the basic “performance followed by elimination” model. But which embellishment is more appealing?

NEXT: Comparing each show’s talent, and the last poll — which show gets your final vote?

The Talent

After years of ravaging singing competitions, America’s greatest resource — undiscovered singers who want this so bad — somehow still isn’t tapped out. Even so, both The X Factor and The Voice lag behind Idol and the original British X Factor when it comes to discovering stars with staying power. X Factor winner Melanie Amaro appeared in a high-profile Pepsi commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, but her debut single, “Don’t Fail Me Now,” hasn’t made much of an impression.

Voice winners have arguably fared worse. Season 1 victor Javier Colon won a deal with Universal Republic Recording but left the label a year later, citing a lack of support for his post-Voice album. Season 2’s Jermaine Paul hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm since gaining his title; then again, it’s only been a few months since the competition’s last finale.

So neither show has produced a Kelly Clarkson or a One Direction, at least yet — but generally speaking, which has more talented contestants?

The Prizes

Here, there are some truly stark differences. Voice winners get $100,000 and a Universal Republic record deal; those with The X Factor snag a $5 million recording contract with Epic Records. Seems pretty cut and dried — but since this is America, we’ll still put it to a vote.

The Big Picture

Both series showcase giant, spectacular performances filled with pyrotechnics and weirdly garbed backup dancers — which can sometimes detract from the people who are actually, you know, singing. Both have also been accused of focusing too much on the judges and not enough on the contestants. Still, their biggest differences — the judging panels, the presence or absence of those revolving chairs — show that The Voice and The X Factor are not created equal. And only one can truly win your loyalty; what, are you planning to watch eight hours of singing competition a week?

So, what will it be?

Read more:

The 2012 MTV VMAs: Seven questions going into the show

‘Glee’: Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Imagine Dragons covers among season 4 music

Cee Lo Green, Mariah Carey, No Doubt contributing their voices to NFL

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