I find myself being unusually hooked to Britain's Got Talent. And mind you, not only because of Susan Boyle, who kind of lost me with the recent semifinals.
Then again, that's the real test of the show - whether you can live on when your novelty's worn out. Susan quite simply wouldn't have been the world class sensation she has turned out to be if she was slim and sexy. She's been called new age parable, but once the ugly duckling turns into the swan, whatever the swan does is somehow less impressive.
I think that's what I really like about it more than shows like American Idol, or Survivor, or America's Next Top Model. There's a certain reality about it, in some ways like watching a sociological experiment in motion. After a low-key audition setting, some shine even better on a massive stage in the semifinals: like last year's winner George Sampson. And it seems that the life stories that come onto the stage matter as much as the performance itself, George being rejected, dancing on the street to earn money for petrol and dance lessons and coming back to conquer the competition. Susan's story of never-been-kissed, taking care of her mother, fulfilling a life-long dream. Most times this adds charm to the show, but sometimes people take advantage of this aspect, prime example being Eugene the Librarian's act intentionally focusing on creating a duckling ugly enough for us to vote on the mirage of a swan.
So all in all it's not always about talent. Or not just about talent anyway. I've never put much stock in talent alone, partially I suppose because I see a lot of young students with plenty of talent but no real dedication to put it to use. And there are times I've worried that a certain superficial showmanship takes over actual ability, like the two string acts which I've seen thus far: the Bond-ish group Escala and Vanessa Mae-esque Sue Son - neither of whom would have, or at least should have, moved upwards in the competition if music was the prime criteria.
Part of the cost of having a multi-angled variety show of course, is that it gets a bit diluted - as my sister rightly pointed out about Shaun Smith, he's good but he wouldn't last long in American Idol. Last year's Ben and Becky were alright, but then when a judge remarks on "perfect form" it's not exactly the microscope you might see on Dancing With the Stars. And that's not expected either - we're catering to a much wider audience, and the significance of that is that the most common denominator is one's personal story. Then only verify with talent. Cue Susan Boyle.
And for that reason I'm glad you can't break your way to the very top with just-so skills on an electric violin. You can make it half-way but so far a good heart seems to outlast other apparent body parts in the very end.
I just hope that my personal favourite this season doesn't lose out because he doesn't have as amazing a life story... and that he manages to fill a large stage as much as he did during the auditions.