Monday, 7 March 2011

I have a dream...

When Popstars first reared its mis-shapen head back in 1999, TV executives around the world struggled to comprehend how the cripplingly outdated talent show format had managed to come back from the dead. During the seventies, they were all the rage, giving anyone with a vaguely discernible ability a couple of minutes on stage to show off their skills, before being eviscerated by a panel of judges who would usually jeer from the Royal box like Waldorf and Statler. But the novelty died out, along with all the overweight comedians who were as famous for their hardened arteries as they were for their casual racism.

Put it down to fortuitous timing - the new generation of karaoke contests came along just as the world shifted from fleeting interest to insatiable obsession with celebrity. Not only did these shows give us the chance to flex our critical muscles from the comfort of an armchair, they also peeled back the curtain and gave us a new insight into how a star is born manufactured.

The format is now such a staple of the schedules that you can turn on the TV in any week of the year, safe in the knowledge that you're just minutes away from seeing a preternaturally confident 19 year-old giving it some serious Mariah. Molesting the notes with a veracity that should see them put on the sex offenders' register, these young over-soulers don't care about the song, so much as showing the world their epiglottis for fifteen seconds at a time.

We sat through Popstars and Popstars: The Rivals, we cheered on Pop Idol, grew to love American Idol, grudgingly accepted The X-Factor, and even found place in our hearts for (Insert Country Here)'s Got Talent. But our TV overlords must have found that last mystical hour of broadcast space that isn't currently filled with a line-up of wannabes, and a judging panel of used-to-bes. And they're determined to fill it with a new addition to the evergreen format.

No doubt inspired by the huge viewing figures pulled in by My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, TV bosses are now keen to showcase the many talents of the British traveller community. Speaking to the Daily Star, Jake Bowers of the Gypsy Media Company, has been busy plugging a property he created called 'Traveller's Got Talent'. Sadly, punctuation may not be one of the skills to be showcased.

Bowers says "Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are perceived to be guilty of many things, but capable of nothing. But the final and the regional finals that led up to it quash that myth. They have all demonstrated that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller young people, in particular, have talents, skills and abilities that are largely unrecognised by the world beyond their communities."

Hopefully, their abilities stretch beyond the world's most thorough caravan cleaning, and ordering a wedding gown so huge it needs planning permission. And at least when the successful applicants get invited to attend the national finals, the production company won't have to spring for hotel rooms during the finals. 

Given the criticisms levelled at MBFGW about how travellers were portrayed, throwing performers on a stage to be yelled at by an unforgiving audience is unlikely to help inter-community relations. Besides which, it's not as though the current raft of talent shows excludes travellers from taking part. Like any other minority community, acceptance has to come from integration rather than segregation. Travellers may well have talent, but it remains to be seen whether 'playing nicely with others' is one of them. 

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