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Friday, July 8, 2011

America, "The Talented"

We call ourselves the “land of the free,” “home of the brave.” We have a collective belief in the American Dream, creating our own destiny, freedom of choice (argue amongst yourselves the extent to which those notions are still accurate). But are we also America, “The Talented”?

At the least we’re America, “home of the talent shows.” Which brings us to my other guilty pleasure in addition to dancing movies.

I don’t know why we’re so addicted to talent shows, but I know I am. In a world of such violence and darkness there’s something cathartic about watching people excel (or make complete fools of themselves trying.) But don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a deep, serious post. We’ve had enough of those lately. This is about talent shows.

American Idol

I’ll start here because love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s the emperor of the talent shows. My personal opinion is that it’s lost its luster. Of course, that could also be my bleeding brain weighing in as it still recovers from a season dedicated to Nashville.

Sorry, I know I’m in the minority, but country music and I don’t get along. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never heard a country song, even the crossover pop stuff, that hasn’t made me cringe. Every time a friend or family member assures me “this is different. You’ll like this.” It’s not, and I don’t.

But it’s not just the country thing. The past few seasons have been mediocre, to be kind. The last season I was even still watching by the end was the Kris Allen/Adam Lambert faceoff. And really, does anyone still care about either of them?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Kris Allen. I remember defending him ardently against the Lambert supporters in my circles. I even got annoyed when Dia from The Voice was lavished with praise for her “gutsy, unprecedented, wholly original” take on “Heartless.”

You see, Kris Allen already had the crown for a gutsy, unprecedented, and wholly original take on “Heartless.” I’ll never forget the moment where amidst all the glitz, glamour, lights, smoke, and backup gospel choirs of the American Idol finale, Kris Allen stepped on stage embracing his underdog status, just he and his guitar. No band. No special lights. Certainly no cheesy smoke or choirs. And proceeded to blow us away with a completely acoustic, game-changing rendition of “Heartless.” That’s my “Heartless” memory. Sorry Dia. I’ve even heard The Fray’s version which inspired all these remixes, and Allen’s was better by a mile.

But back to Idol. Idol is a brand now. An overproduced, overhyped advertising gem that’s completely lost its appeal as an honest search for untapped talent. It’s now its own joke, albeit a revenue-generating monster of one. I still watch, but I can’t say I even enjoy it anymore. This past season gave me a headache.

I was ready for a change, which brings us to:

America’s Got Talent

It’s silly. Sometimes lame. Critics like to bash it, but my DVR records it religiously. I love this show. I think I like the audition rounds more than the finals rounds. I love the anticipation that each act could be something incredible or something ridiculous.

It's great that the weird looking guy with a jester’s hat and purple underwear could turn out to be an unbelievable singer. Or a horrendous dancer. Or he could juggle encyclopedias while eating glass. He could stack dinner plates. Maybe he’ll introduce his tap dancing dog. Heck, he could turn out to be a woman on a trapeze.

In all the other talent shows the audition phase means you will see a good dancer or a bad dancer. An excellent singer or a poor one. In AGT you could see anything, things you would never even think to do or believe was possible. And yet, people do it and do it well.

I know they’re not all amateurs, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying watching people do amazing things. There’s a reason both finalists from last year's show are doing well. They were both incredible. There’s a reason no finalist from the last few years of Idol is doing well. I don’t even remember who won two years ago. Actually, I don’t even know who won in the season that ended a few weeks ago. That could be because I gave up on it well before the finale.

Last season AGT had a finalist group called Fighting Gravity. I still remember their audition. They actually got my husband to watch a TV show with me. (We have very divergent tastes in entertainment and rarely watch anything together). But he was hooked on Fighting Gravity, a group of engineering students who created amazing illusions with light and their own muscles. Innovation is exciting.

So am I just bored with singing shows? Is it only the variety of talent that appeals to me? No.

The Voice

It’s a singing show. And it’s awesome.

I was very impressed with this show. The talent was actually talented. The “Mentor/Judges” were engaging and added to the experience. In fact, my only criticism is that it wasn’t long enough. I would have liked to see a few more weeks of these great singers. Where Idol seems to over saturate us with episodes and lame theme weeks, The Voice seemed to rush to a conclusion.

Maybe it's because it's a new show and they weren’t sure if they could milk it for every ounce of advertising dollars crammed into a 50 episode season. Now they know people liked it. And watched. Next season will be longer most likely. I will be looking back at this post and cringing as I wade through the 4-hour weekly programming with 3 hours of commercials. Oh well, that’s what the DVR is for.

Still, any of The Voice finalists would have blown the Idol winners out of the water.

Now, to be fair, The Voice makes no attempt to disguise itself as a big break for unknown, small-town nobodies. That’s Idol’s shtick (even though none of us are naïve enough to think that’s true anymore.) The Voice is very open about the experience, and even previous record deals, of many of its contestants. That doesn’t bother me at all. These people aren’t on my radio and they should be which is what matters. Why shouldn’t someone no one’s heard of but released some song way back in the day have a second chance? I self-published a novel no one’s read. That doesn’t mean I should never have a chance at a publishing deal and becoming a big name writer. Maybe one day I’ll break even on a book.

The Voice is definitely going to be my pick for next season.

I guess that’s plenty on talent competitions. I haven’t even touched the many others out there, but the summary of them all is that I like watching people do things well. (Which is another reason I prefer The Voice over the others. None of those awkward delusional rants from untalented individuals more gifted at salty language.)

Next post: cooking competitions.

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