Who are you kidding? Let’s get real about talent

Britain’s Got Talent has finally riled me. I can no longer take it with a pinch of salt and I’m getting crotchety about it.

For me it represents the age of the mediocre, where anyone can be ascribed the label of “amazing talent” simply because they have a well-practised skill or because they have “got talent”- but a modicum of it.

In the sporting world prematurely foisting pressure on young talent is nothing new, every developing midfielder is called the next Beckham, Giggs, Fabregas.  However, professional sportspeople expect to enter this funnel of hype, in the same way young actors expects rejection in 90 percent of their auditions.

But, the amateurs and children on shows like Britain’s Got Talent are being told massive untruths for the sake of livening up a TV show.  Give Susan Boyle another year and it will be acknowledged she is not in the same league as many thousands of singers who are just making up Les Miserables ensembles throughout the world.  The shy lad George Samson who won BGT two years ago has had a break in acting now in Waterloo Road, but was his street-dancing ever really as “ground-breaking” as it was made out to be? – or was it a level of dancing any pro could have pulled off?

Take Paul Potts, who I think is the most talented BGT winner – and has a remarkable voice for a mobile phone salesman- he has gone on to sell bucket loads of albums, but when people pull out CDs of fine opera singers in years to come they will never pull out one of his.  It will be of truly exceptional opera talents like Alfie Boe, Simon Keenlyside, Bryn Terfel who are remembered as great.  Yet superlatives placed upon him on the show were “world-class”, “extraordinary talent”, “one of the best singers in the country”

I find some of the stories of the BGT winners really touching: the shy Paul Potts and George Samson, the rather loopy and unpolished Susan Boyle, but they are not “geniuses”, “international stars” or the “greatest talents this country has ever seen” – they are simply good in the minds of those who are not necessarily familiar with the standards of the professionals already in those fields.   Why aren’t they?  Because they haven’t put in the years of blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, dedication that most professional acrobats, singers, dancers, actors etc have put in to become world-class masters in their field.  A point Malcolm Gladwell makes in one of his books in regard to the minimum numbers of hours the exceptional talents of today will have put into their craft.

We are becoming a society that values the momentary thrill of seeing something above average, above the truly great.  So the “above average” is soaked with lazy hyperbole, rather than acknowledging the brutal fact that true greatness comes at enormous cost and dedication.  And that true greats are likely to have been discovered well before they are tempted to step into a Britain’s Got Talent audition room. For every Pavarotti, there are a million Paul Potts; for every Barbara Streisand, a million Susan Boyles; and for every Fred Astaire, a million George Samson.  We used to let talent find its audience by growing and growing until it burned blindingly, now we hunt it out and all we come back with are weakly glowing embers.

When I think of amazing unknown British talent I think of a young man called Killian Donnelly who while just in the chorus for Les Miserables, on a night when the actor taking the main part and his two understudies all went down ill , stepped in and gave a true leading man performances of the role of Jean Valjean.  Since then he has gone on to play every major male character in the show – now that is phenomenal talent.

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One thought on “Who are you kidding? Let’s get real about talent

  1. BGT, X-Factor et al are not really concerned with discovering or nurturing talent at all.

    They are concerned with selling ‘entertainment’.

    A mediocre singer is not quite entertaining enough, but they are easier to find and then shackle with exploitative contracts (after all they haven’t even ‘made it’ yet so they’ve nothing to bargain with). To make up for their lack of entertainment (due to lack of talent) we all get to judge their performance as well as their real life personas by having the element of competition introduced and all the backstage bits and contextual stuff (their life stories etc).

    This is win-win for the likes of Cowell etc who get to sell us the laborious talent scout part of their business as entertainment, use the whole voting thing as a giant national focus group (to help them choose the right product to sell back to us!) and then crank out a couple of Xmas number ones and an album or two based on the hype they have generated through us – and having already signed the act with a rubbish contract.

    Ka – Ching! It’s all quite evil when you break it all down!

    But this talent show culture does even more than that. It changes the population’s attitudes towards art, entertainment and culture generally. True talent becomes less the focus of our attention and is replaced by competitiveness in terms of pleasing the judges and the audience. Pleasing judges is not quite the same thing as striving to be a great artist.

    And as we see more and more mediocre artists achieving massive (if fleeting) fame and success we are programmed to see the **recognized artist – fame and success** relationship the wrong way around.

    In this post talent show age we see that one becomes a recognized artist by becoming famous and successful first. And one becomes famous by successful by ‘pleasing the judges’ whether literally on a talent show or simply by following and copying whatever trends are set by the entertainment industry itself.

    In other words many aspiring artists don’t know what they want to ‘be’ other than ‘famous’. And they possibly have no conception of their actual talent (or lack of it). All they know is that they want to sign on the dotted line… and will do *anything* to have a chance to ‘make it’.

    This all suits the INDUSTRY down to the ground because it reduces everyone to wannabe sell outs (AKA fame monsters) and elevates the industry itself to the status of gatekeepers. They can now truly start to define what culture is. They can cheapen it yet still maintain their effective monopoly over it and by choosing from the vast array of fame hungry wannabe’s desperate to ‘make it’ and signing them into contracts where the industry has total control. Many contracts these days will have the ‘artist’ sign away all control to the corporate labels for appearance, interviews, songwriting, clothes, videos (storyboard), stage sets, songwriting, lyrics, choreography – everything!

    Many artists these days are little more than corporate brand logos. Everything else is taken care of by corporate controlled experts (designers, stylists, songwriters, producers etc).

    By cheapening art (and reducing the population’s expectations of it) they can reduce devalue the worth of the artist and so reduce their power to call the shots, dictate their contracts, do and say what they want and so on.

    This is why we have a popular culture full of rebellious, outrageous and shocking music artists……. who are actually (when you think about it) totally conformist to corporate ideology of their employers. Most are are conformist contractually! And most never had anything to say anyway (they just wanted to be ‘famous’).

    Pop music and Hollywood movies is now totally controlled in this way, and the control is moving up the arts into more elitist, high brow art forms. Opera, dance, theatre, classical are all being chipped away at….

    Everyone is familiar with the concept of modifying a product or brand to appeal to the consumer…. few have realized that entertainment corporations have been busy for the last 50 years modifying the consumer (ie redefining our culture!!!) to best fit their increasingly crappy entertainment products.

    There is no such thing as ‘just’ entertainment. There is always a deeper message, and a sophisticated agenda present – even in the most shallow forms of so called entertainment.

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