Monday, 8 June 2009

I believe the children are our future

We've seen a lot of talented kids in the press recently, especially in the fallout following the Britain's Got Talent semi-finals. Indeed, the controversy was so great that a public consultation has been announced to look at proposals for new safeguards to protect young performers.

The cause of all this fuss was a little girl called Hollie Steel who forgot her lines and had to be given a second chance to do her creepy 'old person in the body of a Victorian doll' act. Having won tons of praise for her initial audition (she could give Sophie Ellis-Bextor lessons in how to sing the word 'dance' and sound posh) the pressure was on for her to prove herself a worthy contender to the mighty Boyler. Unfortunately, she flubbed her lines and burst into tears instead.

Despite the fact that no-one else was given a second chance, Hollie was invited back later in the show to try again. This time, she got her mojo working and nailed the song, prompting Simon to call her 'the bravest little girl in the world'. I guess Anne Frank is SO last century.

More upsettingly, since the semi-finals rumours have begun to emerge, from audience members present on the night, hinting at some decidely brattish behaviour and some over-bearing parental influence. Of course, in the world of child performers neither of these things should really come as any surprise. The world is full of overbearing failures living vicariously through whatever glimmer of talent their progeny are able to demonstrate. Last year, it was all about American Idol runner-up David Archuleta (himself a one-time pre-pubescent talent show contestant) whose father caused so much turmoil that he had to be banned from the studio.

There will always be talented children with a hunger to perform. But not all of them will be blessed with the support network to accomplish their dreams and grow into likeable, well adjusted young adults. Unfortunately, for every Jodie Foster there are a hundred Lindsay Lohans. I'm reminded of this seeing the young stars of Billy Elliot win a joint Tony award for Best Male Actor in a Musical.

The role of Billy Elliot demands almost daily training in dialect, drama, singing, ballet and tap, on top of a regular education. It takes tens of thousands of hours of practice to tackle a role like this, for kids who are only just entering their teens. So when people start questioning whether kids need special protection in talent shows, my response is 'absolutely not'. If they really want this, and they've got the right kind of family support behind them, they'll breeze through it on passion and talent. If not, better that they fall at the first hurdle rather than live a life of unfulfilled dreams.

If this all feels a little one-sided, I can at least say that I speak from experience, since my friend Kevin's son is currently playing Billy Elliot in the West End. So here's a shameless plug for the fantastically talented Fox Jackson-Keen, performing 'Electricity' on Comic Relief: Let's Dance. Enjoy:

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