Friday, July 21, 2006

The Fatal Flaw

America's Got Talent has a fatal flaw (yeah, hard to believe I know) and it was revealed by resident Brit, Piers Morgan, at the end of Wednesday's second semifinal episode. The three judges - Morgan, Brandy, and David Hasselhoff - have to pick one of the ten acts that appeared to go through to the finals, while the public gets to decide on the other act. The judges couldn't agree and at one point an exasperated Piers half shouts half moans in a way reminiscent of Gordon Ramsay contemplating the latest disaster in Hell's Kitchen (but without the"colourful" language) "This is a talent competition. You can't just have singers!" Singers Brandy and Hasselhoff (he is or was big in Germany although I think it was only West Germany) look at him as if he's crazed. The trouble is that Piers is right - and they're right. Because if this show didn't attract good quality singers who were underage or otherwise ignored by American Idol and the other shows, they wouldn't have much and certainly no act that they could build a live show around.

Take that episode as an example. Of the ten acts selected from a pool of 15 that had been brought to LA. three were singing groups, there was one classical pianist and six novelty acts. The clear class of the night was At Last an a capella singing quartet, while I was less impressed with N'Versity a trio of high school girls who reportedly sang a soul number - I was waiting for it to develop more of a beat. And all I can say about Sugar and Spice is that I'm surprised that they made it past the first round. The older girls were only average singers and the younger ones seemed to serve no purpose except as stage decorations, because they certainly couldn't dance. The classical pianist was an 8 year-old girl named Natasha Le who played Bach's Tocatta & Fugue in D Minor, a piece that I'm more used to hearing on an organ. And while the judges were really enthusiastic about her playing I noted a few wrong notes, or at least what sounded like wrong notes.

The novelty acts ranged from the brilliant to the incredibly stupid, but whose fault was it for letting them through the audition process. Some were great. Realis, a pair who performed a sort of acrobatic dance routine were strong enough to be the judges' eventual choice to go to the finals. "Bobby Badfingers" whose act consists of snapping his fingers to music was better than any description of his act, and hand balancing acrobat Vladimir did work which the judges didn't fully appreciate. Even "Leonid The Magnificent" (working this time without his wings, but appearing at the start in an indescribable pink outfit that looked like it could have come from a Marlene Dietrich movie) had a tremendous act that involved spinning and balancing a cube shaped metal frame. One of the judges described him as a Christmas tree in January, but while this act may have looked simple, I have an old high school friend who has been a professional juggler for over 25 years and he would probably say that working with that cube was quite difficult. Certainly Leonid was better than a number of the novelty acts, like Dave the Horn Guy who played The Star Spangled Banner on the variety of horns attached to his orange jump suit. The judges said that his act was corny but they were the ones who brought him into the semifinals. And then there was Mark "The Knife" Faje who made it into the semifinals by kicking a burning bowling ball with two steak knives sticking out of it onto his head while having a live scorpion in his pants. They loved that but when he came back for the semifinals he did the act that got him banned in England Scotland and Ireland; balancing a running electric lawn mower on his chin (the handle was on his chin) and having two assistants throw heads of lettuce.To say the least it was bizarre, and not in a good way.

The fundamental problem that America's Got Talent has is that if you were putting together a show featuring a single act - as the initial publicity seemed to indicate that the intention of the show was to put the winning act in a Las Vegas casino show - then the only suitable acts are the singers, dancers, and maybe the instrumentalists. Certainly the fans, who voted in young yodeller Taylor Ware last week and a capella singers At Last this week seemed to recognise it. If, on the other hand you were to put together a revue type show - like an old time vaudeville show - which featured a number of different types of act then the novelty acts, including someone like Leonid, would fit right in. The problem is that the show is about rewarding just one act and in that the novelty acts, which are what the show is building much of its fanbase on (it's been renewed for a second season on the basis of the highest ratings of any summer show), will inevitably lose out. About the only thing that novelty acts like Realis or Leonid The Magnificent can realistically expect from this experience is exposure that might possibly get them work

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