Sunday, 19 April 2009

Britain's Got Talent:: Is Susan Boyle mania all carefully scripted?

It is the audition rounds of Simon Cowell's latest celebrity search vehicle, Britain's Got Talent (known to aficionados as BGT). A dishevelled middle aged character comes comes on stage, looking out of place and somewhat overawed by the surrounding and the crowds.

The Judges - Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan - look on somewhat dismissively at the contestant who in a media age where physical beauty is paramount is severely lacking in that department. We the audience have become so used to equating physical beauty with musical ability that we expect this to be another one of those shambolic auditions added to give the show a humorous element.

The studio audience start booing and heckling even before the singer starts. In the background the backing track starts, it is a familiar track not to pop-y and well known enough to appeal to all ages, and from this unlikeliest of contestants comes a beautiful vocal rendition. Suddenly Simon with a pen in the corner of his mouth perks up and raises his eyebrows. Amanda looks on totally enchanted, occasionally turning back to to audience to be sure they are sharing in this moment of joy as waves of pure orgasmic pleasure envelope her. Piers stares ahead totally gobsmacked.

That was the reaction to Paul Potts in 2007, and again in 2009 when Susan Boyle hit our screens, but how real is it?

Shows like BGT do not get where they are without great attention to detail. There are armies of researchers and production assistants assessing and screening every contestant before they even make it before the Judges. By the time they get to the Judges the production team know exactly, who they are, what they do, how long their performance is going to last, etc...Are we to believe that the Judges are the only part of the team that don't ?

I don't buy that for a second. The counter-argument is that the Judges' reactions seem so genuine in these cases. That may well be the case, an act like that can be fascinating even after seeing it several times. So their reactions can be perfectly natural even with them in the know, particularly as they can feed off the genuine surprise of the studio audience.

What the Judges, researchers, production company unearthed when they stumbled upon Susan Boyle was this was a chance to repeat the success of Paul Potts. They know the BGT 'ugling ducking' to singing sensation is a winning formula and shows like this are all about squeezing a formula till it squeals.

When Paul Potts did his magnificent rendition of Nessun Dorma, the video was posted on You Tube by viewers and has gone on to be one the most watched You Tube clips in the world. With Susan Boyle ITV which broadcasts BGT haven't left anything to chance, a dedicated You Tube Channel - BritiansSoTaleneted was created allowing it to control and reap the benefits of any success on the Internet for the show which would include Susan Boyle's rendition of 'I dreamed a dream' from the musical 'Les Miserables'.

Also Given the global nature of today's world it came as no surprise that people in the US got caught up in what was going on, thanks to largely the Internet. As Paul Potts Internet fame grew he got invitations to appear on US Chat shows and Morning TV. With Susan Boyle the response from America has been more overwhelming and most importantly more immediate, suggesting either many of these US channels have just run short of things to broadcast or a lot this had been agreed and put in place before her audition was shown last week. Never underestimate how much influence Cowell has in the US media.

Even if it is all stage managed, is it such a bad thing? Well not for either Paul Potts or Susan Boyle, they get the sort of exposure even established artistes will give a lot for. Not for the TV companies it gives them a packaged product without the flaws and uncertainties a real unscripted show can bring. For the audience maybe, but only if you believe wholeheartedly that TV by pure chance stumbled on an "ugly duckling" and gave it the opportunity to turn into a glorious singing swan.

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