After another hour and a quarter of The Voice’s empathetic worthiness, I’m all set to catch up with Simon Cowell and his merry band of jeering gawkers. An hour of cruelty and eye-rolling is just what I need to get my mean on. Problem is, Britain’s Got Talent has become so contrived and predictable that it’s impossible to get a proper hit off its effortless spite. Sitting through tonight’s episode, I realised just how transparent the show’s rigidly deployed format actually is. The whole thing can be broken down into a series of grimly familiar clichés, so let’s make a list of what we can expect, based on tonight’s selection.
A redefinition of the word ‘talent’
The show might claim to be incontrovertible proof of Britain’s immense talent reserves, but the woeful selection of acts manages to contradict its title every three minutes. Even its hosts seem to be in on the joke, with AntorDec asking outright, “So, has Britain Got Talent?" In response, we get a sound-bite from a Pearly King who says, "Pickpockets and burglars. They've all got talent ain’t they?" Since this is all about as much fun as having your watch stolen, he may well have a point.
Patronising the old dears
There’s an extended scene at the start of tonight’s show, featuring a catheter (collective noun) of old dears, sitting in their anoraks. At first, I thought they were like my grandparents - “No, we won’t take it off, we’re not staying” - but it turns out they’re the first of tonight’s acts, and the coats are part of the joke. As The Zimmers shuffle onto the stage and fuss about who stands where, Simon rolls his eyes and mutters "Oh God, it's going to be one of those days," because he has as much contempt for the acts as he does for the audience. They start by murdering What The World Needs Now, and then whip off their coats to stick the knitting needle into Fight For Your Right. Both songs sound equally awful, like Harry Brown auditioning for Glee. The judges love it, but given that the whole point of the act is the mid-way surprise reveal, it’s hard to know what else they can do with it.
Ever since Diversity beat Susan Boyle in the series three finale, every dance troupe in the country has attempted to make the Britain’s Got Talent stage their own. Unfortunately, they’re getting bigger and bigger, to the point that most of them look like a suburb that turned up in the same outfit. Tonight’s first act is Twisted Disco, who dance like they’re auditioning for Showgirls (the volcano routine) but look like Toto Coello – ask your Mum. Four Corners aren’t much better, with one girl and about 15 guys. She tells the judges "They're all pretty much male except for me." Some of them take exception to her denouncement of their masculinity, apart from the one who does a celebratory high-kick as they exit the stage after four yeses. Worst of the bunch is a group whose entire routine consists of simply walking from side-to-side, as if they’re just trying to stay upright on a choppy P&O crossing.
And her timing is so off it's like the musical equivalent of that Two Ronnies Mastermind sketch
The serious musician
One guy comes on to do a working men’s club version of Ed Sheeran, and takes himself very seriously. Simon tells him, "You look like Mark Owen from Take That" to which he responds with "I don’t know who that is." But his ‘I don’t do pop’ comment is entirely redundant. It’s Mark Owen. From Take That. It requires no further elaboration.
The ‘you’re what this show is all about’ moment
We get a very brief clip of Analiza Chingan, an attractive Chinese girl playing the violin in a provocative outfit. It’s all very Vanessa Mae, and Simon tells her “You’re super talented. And exactly what we should be looking for on this show.” Note the judicious use of the word ‘should’.
The ill-placed self-belief
Richard Bolongi wrote a song for his girlfriend, but his performance doesn’t really sell it. He complains that the microphone is making him sound weird, but it takes a special talent to sing one’s own composition out of tune. Richard tells us that, one day, the judges are all going to buy his record. Scoff all you like, but remember how we all once laughed at Darius Danesh?
Zipparah is another big believer in the power of self-confidence. We first meet him boring the arse off a girl in the holding room. She smiles politely, but she’s looking around to see if anyone else desperately needs a seat. He does a rap about losing his keys and his mobile phone, as #wheremekeys and #wheremephone helpfully pop up on the screen. It's not enough that we're given the opportunity to participate in these fucking shows, now we're being told what we should be talking about. Oddly, the judges loved him, so now the pressure’s on to write another song about an immutable human truth - maybe something about picking the wrong queue in the supermarket.
The pretty girl with a big voice
18 year-old Chelsea is here with her Nan, who looks exactly like an alternate reality version of Cher, where the Oscar-winning popstar developed an early phobia of surgery. Chelsea's version of Purple Rain gets off to a slow start, prompting Simon to do that thing where he smirks with half his face; his way of saying "I'm not going to smile properly until she starts bellowing." Which she does, right on cue. It's loud, but not particularly tuneful. And her timing is so off it's like the musical equivalent of that Two Ronnies Mastermind sketch, where Ronnie Barker gives the answers to the previous question. By the time the judges weigh in, it's all getting very emotional. DecOrAnt gives Nan a tissue, but she's not actually weeping, so she nods in gratitude and rams it up her nose.
On comes Mena Swift, a strange woman with bad hair and worse teeth who compares herself to "Nicole Sheerwinger." Simon cuts her off before she sings, and so we never get to hear whether she's any good. But given how the whole thing was set up for us to laugh at her, I think it's safe to assume that Maria Callas wasn't facing any stiff competition in the diva stakes.
The awful styling
Simon’s desperate to recapture that monumental Susan Boyle epiphany, so all the singers have been encouraged to take to the stage, dressed as if they spent the night before rifling through the bin bags outside Oxfam. That way, they can shuffle into the spotlight looking like hell, then blow everyone away with their immense vocal chops. Simon gets to do his surprised face, and everyone goes home happy.
The triumphant crescendo
The show ends with a sixteen year-old girl in a Wilma Flintstone dress and her dog Pudsey. The crowd goes wild, and Simon loves it. But his face is so frozen with Botox, it’s impossible to tell whether he’s being sarcastic.
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