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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Talent Shows... And People Who Cry at Them

So, my sources tell me that tonight Britain's Got Talent is on the television. I can only assume from the stuff they are saying on the Facebook and the Twitter (follow me at about how astonishingly moving it is, that this programme is a graphic and harrowing documentary about the genocide in Rwanda, Chinese orphanages, or those babies in Africa that get raped because it cures the AIDS (disclaimer - it doesn't).

Oh no, wait, it's not that at all is it? It's that show where people put ferrets down their trousers while David Hasslehoff watches.

The talent show genre is not a new thing. When I was a kid, it was all about Stars In Their Eyes (or, as morons would call it, "Stars In Your Eyes"... God I hate people who do that. See also "Sex In The City"... To be fair, I keep getting the name of that new sitcom Shit My Dad Says wrong and just calling it "Shit Nobody Laughs At", but that may not be quite so accidental. Honestly, a sitcom based on a Twitter feed? Seriously?) where that really tall beardy guy who might have been a paedophile (I think he was cleared of having done anything, but they still got Cat Deeley to do the kids' version instead of him...) welcomed people with mundane jobs (I remember one where a man worked in a factory that made tights, checking that the tights didn't have holes in them. Sounds like either the worst or the best job in the world, depending how "fetishy" you are) who would then be transformed to look "uncannily" like singers they fancied they could do a bit of an impression of. This very occasionally involved the use of blackface. Eventually, someone would win, and they would get some kind of trophy, and then they would kindly fuck off to wherever they came from (usually the Midlands), only to be heard of again if you were the kind of person who enjoys going on holiday to Butlins, where you could see them basking in the glory of their changed lives every night at 7 before the bingo. And that was good enough for them.

It all changed at the turn of the century (I like saying that when I mean 2001, it still kind of confuses people for a second...) with Popstars. Popstars featured a man called Nasty Nigel, who as the name suggests was a bit of a dick to everyone, and a bunch of people who wanted to be, well, pop stars. And they weren't 43 year old shop fitters from Wolverhampton who could do a mean turn as Chris de Burgh, they were young and fresh. And the winners didn't just get a trophy and a job as a redcoat in Bridgend, they got to actually be pop stars. Well, sort of - they got to be more like pop stars than other people are, but less than say, Blue or Atomic Kitten. Popstars was the first, so if you wanted to go back in time and stop Cheryl Cole from taking over the world, you would basically need to terminate this Nigel bloke.

Popstars was followed by Popstars: The Rivals, where a girl band and a boy band were formed. One of them was Girls Aloud who did very well despite having the shittest band name ever, and the other one was... Actually, I'm not even going to type their name, I'm going to let it bug you. Besides, what's the point, nobody is Googling them, not even their mums, so it won't help me any on the traffic front to speak of them here.

Then you had Pop Idol, which launched Gareth Gates and Michelle McManus (I resist the urge to make any "fat people" jokes involving the concept of launching Michelle McManus, but if you want to make any in your head, this would be the right point to do so). And it was here that the phenomenon of the sob story made its first significant appearance.

Gareth Gates had a bit of an affliction, which made the nation sympathise with him and root for him. Gareth Gates had a stutter. It only affected him when he spoke, and not when he sang, so really in a singing contest it was pretty irrelevant, but it was milked and milked and milked with endless footage of him trying to get a sentence out (it stopped just short of forcing the boy to say "I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's mate, and I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker's late" on live TV, but only by a small margin) until he won. He then got speech therapy, which cured him of said affliction, and shagged Jordan, which probably caused him to gain a few much more nasty ones.

I think it was at this point that it became absolutely compulsory for every contestant on the raft of shows that followed (X Factor, Britain's Got Talent) to have something a bit tragic about themselves if they were to stand a chance. OK, so not all of them were orphans, or had overcome leukaemia, because where are you going to find enough people like that with passable voices and who are prepared to shamelessly bang on about it on TV to make two seasons of the awful crap a year for the rest of time, but at the very least they would be a struggling single parent or someone who had been bullied at school or who had a horribly depressing job. I can only recall one contestant, a guy called Rhydian who was on the X Factor, who basically went on there and said " I am a happy, confident person with a good job, a nice family who are all alive, lots of friends, and quite a pleasant life" - I mean, he didn't literally say that, but you know what I mean... Everybody hated him and he went out, despite being one of the best, from a technical perspective, on the show. He didn't have the "ahhhh, bless" factor.

The rule seems to be that you either have to say you want to win to get your family out of crushing poverty, or dedicate each song you sing, even if it's Bat Out of Hell, to a deceased loved one.

I guess I'd pick Mewsley, my cat who died 12 years ago: "She was struck down in her prime, but she loved Toni Braxton and I'm sure she will be looking down on me in heaven where she lives with the angels... It's going to be hard to get through the song, but I'm going to try and be really brave and make her proud"... OK, so it doesn't sound that moving here, but you need to imagine the slight cracking of the voice and the brave, fighting back the tears smile.

Seriously, it would take a lot less than me and my dead cat to make the majority of viewers cry like one of those children you see looking up as their balloon drifts out of sight. Things that have made people, real people I actually know, well up on Britain's Got Talent this week have included "a kid dancing". A kid dancing is not fucking sad, is it? It could be sort of funny I suppose. Could even be impressive, if they are really good. But it's never sad. I asked for an explanation of exactly why people are bawling away in their droves and here is one response, as an exact quote:

"it's the emotional music that gets me. Lol and when you see someone like the kid tonight who has actually improved his physical condition through something he enjoys it's hard not to be a little overwhelmed with compassion and empathy"

What? So, the kid is fit and healthy and loves dancing? A fit, healthy, happy child? Yeah, still not really seeing the sad in there. As for being overwhelmed with compassion and empathy, I don't think a dancing kid on the telly would overwhelm me with anything. This person is obviously someone who flips between emotions quite easily though, given that there was a little "lol" in there for no discernible reason. Cries at children being happy, laughs at nothing. Probably mental.

I just don't get it. If I cried that easily I would be scared to leave the house in case I saw a particularly moving shop window display in Debenhams (perhaps where one of the mannequins had only one arm and three child mannequins to support with no male mannequin in sight) or a really sad queue at a bus stop... I certainly wouldn't be able to go to work because on the way to the station I sometimes see this cat that has a leg missing.

There were apparently a bunch of dog based acts as well, but those won't win, even if they do something really cool like make the dogs bite Amanda Holden's face off, because Simon Cowell hasn't yet figured out a way to make money out of dancing lurchers.


  1. (Anon my ass, this is Seattle Bob)

    Talking about people who cry easily, over here in the Colonies we have a Speaker of the House (John Boehner - he pronounces it BAY-ner, but who the fuck are you kidding; 'when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking', so it's BONE-er) who can't get through a speech or an interview without getting all weepy. I guess I'm trying to say you don't have a monopoly on mental people in Old Blighty. You put yours on Reality Shows, we put ours in positions of power. Sucks to be us, eh?

  2. Actually, our reality show stars are super-mental too, so I guess it REALLY sucks to be us!

  3. Yeah, they show American Idol and America's Got Talent here as well (because we invented Simon Cowell... Or was it the other way round?)... Yours are even worse because they drag it out so it goes on for about five hours, so watching them not only kills your brain cells but gives you deep vein thrombosis...

    What bothers me more than the stars crying though, is normal people at home who buy into the overly emotive stuff they put on these things so every Saturday night all I see on Facebook or wherever is how much people I used to think were, you know, stable and stuff, have bawled their eyes out because something a bit soppy was on there. It drives me mad. Britain's Got Pussies, I'd say.

  4. Speaking of politicians being weepy though, our Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is always sad because nobody likes him and his six year old keeps asking him "why does everyone hate you, daddy?"... Leading to a lot of this: