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So, you want to win a TV talent show?!

posted by Paul on 2/07/03

Reach for the stars!

The reality television genre is one of the most addictive and pervasive fads of the last ten years. Cheap to produce and virtually guaranteed to score stellar ratings, its shows continue to crowd the television schedules in various guises. Every form of reality television has been tried and tested: from 24/7 Orwellian exposes to "what happens when you put a bunch of vain couples on an island, populated by beautiful people sent to tempt them?". Well, duh. Like anything that's overexposed, the genre is becoming a little tiresome. There are simply too many reality tv shows and, as producers scramble to devise high concepts, the notion of "reality" is becoming questionable. After all, what is the "reality" in pretending to be a millionaire? What is the "reality" in playing a game? Was there even a hint of reality in being picked to live in a luxurious beachside apartment?

I'm getting ahead of myself....

I think I should note, lest I be deemed cynical, that I enjoy reality television. I really do. It's incredibly pervasive. I can't help watch these shows and wonder how much fun I'd have trapped in a vacuum with fame-hungry strangers. It's easy tv. Easy on the mind, easy on the eye and oddly therapeutic. My favorite reality television shows are the ones where the participants are clearly desperate to be stars and will go to great lengths to be noticed. It's been well noted that television grants everyone at least fifteen minutes of fame, but some shows promise more than that. Take, for instance, American Idol. Here's a show which grants "talented" singers a wordwide platform, a potential recording contract and instant exposure. It proves the old adage that while getting noticed isn't exactly difficult, getting noticed for positive reasons certainly is. Some of these kids are masochists and so attention-starved that they will freely humiliate themselves for a few seconds in the cheap glare of television infamy. Now I don't mean those go-getting contenders, the kids who are there to win, are humiliating themselves. It's the kids who show up in the vain hopes that their ineptitude will provide light-hearted relief and get them noticed for their, well, own ineptitude. It's akin to Rocky Dennis auditioning for a modelling assignment - and no more pathetic to watch. But, you know, the music world has become so hideously manufactured that even those who are glaringly talentless and ill-fitted are embraced.

They can't sing! They can't dance! They have no talent! Let's buy their records!


The Cheeky Girls. Semi-retarded, talentless and anorexic. Number two in the UK charts!

Naive self-humiliation aside, these shows serve up great entertainment and interesting conversation fodder. That we've become a nation so engrossed in television and other forms of visual entertainment underlines how far we've lost the art of conversation. Television, the internet and movies each offer us the prize of escapism, but perhaps we're escaping from the important aspects of living too (experience? relationships? the sun?). To that end, reality television is a dual escape. Those who participate are literally given a golden ticket to Z-List celeb. Those who watch are given the golden ticket of forgetting how mediocre their lives are. Watching complete strangers emote in unscripted television gives all of us that superiority complex for thirty minutes at a time. Most of us know we don't have the balls to sing on Live TV, but at least we aren't being torn to shreds by the gay Englishman with the tight T-Shirt.

For those who have that burning hunger to be pop puppets, I am here to dispense my invaluable advice. Read carefully: I can make you.... famous! And this time I can say that whilst keeping my pants on (or am I?) ! I may not have had a successful music career and, frankly, my singing voice is the stuff of horror legend...but. Well, there are no "buts" really. Think about it. How many people in the pop business have made it on the merits of their talent? Do you really think it takes talent to sit and judge someone's singing voice? Does it take talent to mime someone's singing voice or get by on someone's writing talent? Exactly. It's all about the art of bullshit. My unquestionable knowledge on all matters of Popular Music have made me a self-styled expert. I know what sells.

There is a very clear formula for winning a TV talent show. Once you get past the harsh judges and initial trepidation, the stage is set for you to impress the general public. This is the easy part. The general public are very easily manipulated. Act nice, pretend to be selfless and you've won half the battle. Follow these steps to stardom:

1) Have some talent!

This sounds obvious, but the logic disappears whenever the meal ticket of primetime television comes calling. It seems that the majority of people have the mentality that just showing up could be enough - the age-old "if you're not in you can't win" philosophy. That's very noble and positive, and you can apply such philosophies to long-shots like the lottery. But talent should NOT be a lottery. You either have it or you don't. Otherwise, back to flipping burgers. Watching hideously off-key or poorly advised "singers" is quite amusing, I concede, but morons deluding themselves that they have a shot at stardom is like playing the lottery with crayons. You might think you're playing along, but you've pretty much screwed yourself with stupidity.

There is a certain part of our psyche which revels in other people's misfortunes. However, if we were all raised to have a modicum of self-knowledge, feelings would be spared a lot more easily. Critics are quick to blast the judges of American Idol for destroying the contestants' self-confidence. That would never be the case if some of the contestants were told at an earlier time by more delicate voices that they just don't have what it takes to be famous. Having your ability falsely stoked is only setting you up for future disappointment. You see, cynicism is the direct offshoot of being spoonfed mediocrity. Occasionally, I have heard better singing on street corners than on lucrative CDs. There are mega-famous singers, actors and tv presenters who honestly don't have it. They were in the right place at the right time and satisfied the right demographic. Or they bent over and whored themselves for fame. I would wager that about sixty percent of the current crop of pop alumni wouldn't make it past the microscope of judges like Simon Cowell. But sometimes talent is subjective:



Die. Bart. Die.

2) Have resilience.

A hunger to succeed is vitally important to a budding pop star. Most stars who have made it have had to endure confidence-shattering putdowns and personal rejection. It's no wonder that most of them wind up being whiny assholes who treat the rest of the world with disdain. You might have all the talent in the world, but if some exec throws an insult your way, it could be enough to destroy a dream. You need that never-say-die attitude. But you must seek to strike a balance between hunger and overt desperation. I personally find the "anything for fame" attitude most unappealing. When I see it on a TV show, it's an instant put-off. You can't help but get the impression that these people would sell their mothers without a second thought. Desperation for fame seeps from every pore. The important approach is to show that you take the goal seriously, but that it's not life and death. Deep down, it might be the most important achievement in your life, but that must be suppressed on national TV.

3) Be humble.

If you watch enough TV talent/reality shows, you know that the participants who act most humble are the ones who are likely to score well with viewers. This is also true of established celebrities. It's why the majority of us prefer a Tom Hanks to a spoilt tit like Russell Crowe. The cynical eye can usually spot when someone's acting for the cameras. However, not all eyes are cynical. In fact, not all eyes are smart. You'll impress a lot of people, particularly teenagers, if you go on TV and confess to nerves and self-doubt. Cry on live TV and you've won the housewives over. The voters are picking the popstars but favor tends to go with those who act most human. Humans make mistakes, show fear and evidently break down under the strain of national television exposure. So, while you may be second-best in terms of talent, you can still go far if you manage to exude an air of humility. After all, why would we vote the person who's self-confident, unabashed and the best at what they do? That would just be stupid.


Ruben Studdard.

4) Invent a tragedy.

You know why Rocky was such a hit movie? Well, aside from the touching love story and the mental retardation of an overweight Italian, I'd say that people genuinely dug the underdog story. Rocky Balboa should never have been the champion, but his heart and untarnished desire made him a fan favorite. This formula has been used ad nauseam to create a compelling backstory and Mighty Ducks. It's the same deal with talent shows. And, I fear, it's often no less contrived on the part of the participants. Viewers are more likely to use their phone vote on someone who they believe needs it, rather than on who deserves it. Often, they'll have an idea of who they're going to vote even before that person has sung. Sure, such preconceived bias is unfair on those who produce the best performance but...who said showbusiness was fair? If it was fair, I could name ten actors off the top of my head who should be on the A-List.


A tragedy.

Most people are unlucky to have experienced a tragedy in their life. Say, for example, your Mom died two years before your big TV "opportunity", make sure you tell the world that you want to win for your Mom. The tears will be flowing so much that people will overlook that your Mom's present state sort of negates that she wants you to win a recording contract. If anything, your Mom will be on the other side praying you lose, so that you don't become another piece of Pop Plastic who'll be melted down and tossed away once you've been sufficiently used.

Variations on the death card include:

a) Your bullying anecdotes: You were bullied as a child. People used to dunk your head in a toilet and steal your lunch money. You were teased endlessly. People called you a freak because you were so into music. Music was the only thing that helped you through those long, lonely nights.

b) Your poverty anecdotes: You used to sleep in a dumpster. You'd wake up in a sea of hobo vomit and cat piss. You looked death in the face. The only thing that brought you happiness was singing to passers-by and listening to other buskers. You want to win because, with the money you earn, you plan to open six orphanages and show people the wonders of music.

c) Your poor self-confidence: Ties into the whole "be humble" advice, but goes a bit further. If you can somehow convince everyone that you're only auditioning because you were forced by a friend/family member, you'll earn some cookies. This is the "tragedy of self-doubt". You have talent but clearly lack confidence. Viewers will sympathize and vote accordingly. As a contingency plan (since this one often backfires), come prepared with a yarn about your dying dog.

5) Have/Invent a defect


T-t-t-talent is a wo-wo-wo. Awesome!

I've seen enough of these shows to know that a person with a defect is likely to advance in the competition. In the UK, Gareth Gates was the Pop Idol runner-up. The cynic in me says that much of his success was down to his stutter. He could sing well and without interruption, but his "normal" speech was puncuated by quite excruciating stoppages. It was all the viewers could do to vote him in. He was the underdog, he was the victim of bullying and he probably had a dying dog at home if we had time to listen to his thirty minute rendering of that sentence. Similarly, on the last series of Popstars, there was a blind participant. Not to be harsh, but he really had no right to be there. You see, while Gareth Gates looked like a Popstar, this kid was overweight and had two roving eyeballs. His singing voice wasn't even too solid. He made it past the first two rounds on sympathy. He's proof positive that having a defect can actually help you in these competitions. I'd say that if conjoined twins entered such a competition, they'd win the whole thing. What a gimmick! They could be a duet and you'd only have to pay one performer fee. Plus, there'd be no danger of one developing a big head. They share a head!

Pop will continue to sell. I may come across as the biggest cynic around, but I actually really enjoy pop music. As evidence of that, I'm going to an upcoming pop concert in my neck of the woods. The concert is based around the Popstars TV show, which hooked me week after week. My musical taste isn't restrictive and I'm comfortable enough to own up to liking "gay" music. Although how an image of effeminate young men sweating in leather jumpsuits could ever be conceived as "gay", I'll never know. It's just an indictment on our society when instead of persiting with school, we're encouraging a race of fame-greedy youths. I can't begin to explain how disturbing it is to witness losing participants on these shows bawling and screaming about how much they hate to "go back to school".

Maybe if some of the participants chose to stay in school, some education might help realize just how perilous the pop industry has become. Sure, it's better than brewing coffee or stacking shelves, but it's usually more soul-destroying. No sooner has the ink dried on their contracts than the critics are sinking their teeth into the "winners". Because, although we feed the beasts, the music industry looks down on talent show winners. They haven't earn their reward! They got it too easy! They're just mime artists! Regardless of how talented the singers actually are, they're starting the game in a very poor position. Yet there's money to be made, fame to be had and songs to be sung. So, if you rule out the cons and accept the glittering positives, follow my advice and:

Reach for the Stars!


Paul
paul@whatever-dude.com

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