Television’s reality competitions and their contestants have long understood that the best way to gain notoriety and audience appeal is a good backstory. Check that: a good sob-story.
This allows them to connect with audiences long before they do whatever they’ve come to do, be it sing, dance, balance plates on a stick or fall in love with the girl. Unfortunately, the stories have become so predictable there must be a producer’s checklist. Dead parent? Check. Poor family? Check. Life-changing catastrophe? Check.
America’s Got Talent recently kicked off another new season with the mother-load of tragic backstories. According to the producers (and editors) these are the people who deserve a chance at a million dollar prize and a show in Los Vegas.
There was the nine-year-old singer who received a kidney from her mother. One young performer went deaf at 18, yet still sings through muscle memory. Another survived a plane crash that killed 105 passengers and left her burned from head to toe. Each one put on a heart-wrenching performance.
Yes, there are dog trainers, contortionists and roller skating siblings too. But the singers are certainly leading the way this season – which is unfortunate. AGT has a poor track record for record sales after the competition. That is, unless you’re a 10-year-old opera prodigy.
But I have to wonder: Are they voting for the sob story or the act?
I love a good story of hope and perseverance as much as the next person. And the plane crash survivor was an acceptable singer. But I have the sneaking suspicion that it was her burned face that really put her through to the next round. It certainly wasn’t the strength of her performance.
Some might say, “So what? Doesn’t she deserve to win after what she’s been through?” I say, “Deserve it? Hell yes.”
But what if she did win? Then what? I might go to Hell for asking this, but would anyone pay to see this sweet, physically damaged girl sing amid the glitter of Las Vegas? Where reality dies, artificiality reigns, and dreams are bought and sold with casino chips?
Given today’s social climate, we could all use a little hope and redemption. We need something that makes us feel good about humanity. But isn’t that a little much to ask of a TV talent show starring Simon Cowell and Scary Spice?
Fellow judge, Howie Mandel was resoundingly booed for calling a men’s a cappella group “boring.” He certainly had a right to his opinion. Yet, I can’t help but think the audience wouldn’t have condemned him had the group not been wearing military uniform.
Yes, they were soldiers. So apparently they must be cheered regardless of their performance.
We want to be supportive of those who are chasing their dreams. But AGT is about showing the best America’s got. And is honouring a contestant solely for their suffering really honouring that talent? Maybe not.
Then again, maybe America’s best talent is surviving life’s worst and still carrying on.