“Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.”
Just when you thought that Simon Cowell couldn’t be any more hypocritical, any more more false and apparently any more botoxed he’s back. Last night heralded his return to Britain’s Got Talent. But more importantly we got to see Susan Boyle’s spiritual successor – Jonathan Antoine. That, and a whole load of hypocrisy.
That’s right, it’s talent show mana from the heavens. It’s someone entirely uncommercial overcoming the odds and presumably heading headlong into a commercial career. It’s that golden formula that allows shows like Britain’s Got Talent and the ‘experts’ that comprise the judging panel to turn to a gawping public with their eyebrow raised to tell them that this is why they are here, this is what the show is about. It’s about finding unlikely talent they say, it’s always the ones you don’t expect they say (the physically unattractive) ,the ones marginalised by mainstream culture (Britain’s Got Talent), the ones mocked by the public (the viewers). You know the ones, the ones that by merely walking onto the stage prompt Simon Cowell to say “just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse” to gal-pal Carmen Electra.
Is it just me or do you think that Cowell knows in advance who’s good and who’s bad, who’s got what it takes and who’s about to have 15 minutes of hideous infamy? Essentially, when it finally comes down to the talent do you think he already knows what’s conventionally clean cut and what’s freak-chic? Is that why he ups the odds by abusing the weird and talented (say it in hushed tones) before rather than after their performance?
Last night we were introduced to an immensely talented and almost cripplingly shy young man called Jonathan Antoine and his similarly talented stage-crutch of sorts Charlotte Jaconelli. Now Jonathan is a 17 year old that to all intents and purposes has obviously had a very unhappy struggle with his weight throughout the years. Yet this unfortunate story is nothing to Simon Cowell who sees fat and sees a lack of self-awareness and thus another ‘failed’ performance (read – funny filler). Yes, by the mere act of an all too self-aware Jonathan bravely walking onto the stage in front of a crowd that boos whenever Germany is mentioned and millions at home who will mock him and appreciate him in equal measure, Simon sees fit to say to untalented fellow judge Carmen Electra, “just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.” It’s only a small thing but it’s a small thing that typifies a hell of a lot.
Even so, don’t fret, it’s ok because he was good and everyone stood up and they showed a VT about bullying due to Jonathan’s appearance, just after Cowell said that thing, what was it? Oh yes, “just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.” That one. But it’s all fine because he was talented. It’s fine to abuse the untalented, you know, because of course they’ve got so much going for them. The talented ones on the other hand need all of the encouragement they can get, because they have prospects and a convenient means to a happy and fulfilling life ahead of them. But forget all of that, the important thing is that Cowell can’t make any money if one of them gets all depressed or finally crosses that oh so narrow of lines between fashionably unlikely and just plain unlikeable.
Just think of a playground situation and try to imagine Simon Cowell stepping in to defend someone like Jonathan. You can’t can you. Unless of course Jonathan is accompanied by a rare natural talent (which he most certainly displayed) and the potential for a plethora of heartfelt interview opportunities and a marketing campaign based around overcoming the odds that Cowell himself seemingly constitutes. That and a substantial cut of all future earnings.
Just spare a moment’s thought for the ones who aren’t talented though. The cripplingly shy, the amiably outgoing, the just plain bonkers and the socially awkward who think to give it a go for whatever reason. We may celebrate people like Jonathan and Susan Boyle overcoming ‘bourgeois stereotypes’ and Britain’s Got Talent for successfully unearthing a monumental and unlikely performer, but rest assured the next minute we’ll be laughing at an untalented version of Jonathan. A person who has been through the same as him but is instead unceremoniously abused before millions. The difference between the abused and the partially abused then lauded? One of them has a natural talent and probably much more self awareness. Of course Jonathan deserves everything he gets out of this (something I genuinely believe) and the other non-talented version of Jonathan obviously deserves to be laughed at because…well because bad performances are funny. They should be more self-aware we say. The people who screen them for talent (or lack thereof) before sticking them on the stage probably also say that when they’re ticking off their idiot quota for the day, right before they go home and can’t sleep. Not because of their consciousness of course but because the puppy they just stabbed is whining in the corner.
But as is everyone over at Britain’s Got Talent, the screeners are just doing their day job. Everyone involved is doing their day job. I’d do their day job. Give me pretty much any job right now and I’d take it because you see not all of us have an immense natural talent like Jonathan, or…erm…David Walliams (who I think made a decent sketch show once and swims quite a bit), or Alesha Dixon (who was a minor member of Mystique lest you forgot – you did didn’t you), or Amanda Holden (who sung in the West End once or something and married that guy who presented Family Fortunes) or Simon Cowell (with his ruthless business instincts and gravity defying haricut and not so gravity defying chest). You know, talented people. Like Jonathan. Oh, and Susan Boyle.
If Britain’s Got Talent is a modern day freak show then Susan Boyle is the queen of the freaks. The prize oddity. Her entire career (which I don’t begrudge her in the slightest) is predicated upon her social-awkwardness and ‘homely’ (as every paper would now have you believe) appearance. Simon Cowell champions her around the globe as representative of why the show is on TV. And he’s kind of right. It’s there to showcase the weird (the eccentric, the conceited, the delusionally hopeful and occasionally the borderline mentally ill) and the wonderful (the commercial-types and dog acts). If they meet in the middle then all’s the better. Miss Boyle gets a makeover and the press swoon about how womanly and lovely she looks now. Well that and comedians make jokes constantly about how unattractive she is. But she needed to be. Let’s face it, if a so-so 20-something had come on stage and sang like that would Ant and Dec wouldn’t have gone “youse didn’t expect that did you? Did you? No”, looking down on you from their thrones made of the tears of the unfortunate and the sheer cash pile that comes from being a chirpy pair of Saturday night mainstream apologists.
They are probably really nice guys in real life but don’t tell me they thought she’d be good when they saw her, that they didn’t judge her like we all did. Like I did. Susan Boyle’s story was somehow made all the more miraculous by this fact. By the fact that the crowd poured scorn at the mere sight of her entrance and then made even further miraculous because she overcame the matchstick fence hurdle that is knee-jerk stupidity within the singing of a song.
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant once wisely wrote that TV talent shows “wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multi-millionaires”. Well Jonathan certainly wasn’t bewildered and Simon Cowell didn’t directly mock him, but isn’t that the point? If Britain’s Got Talent has taught us anything over the past 6 years it’s that you don’t have to be clean cut and commercial to succeed, but if you aren’t don’t expect Simon Cowell to give you any courtesy. Even then if you are as immensely talented as Jonathan is Cowell will still talk behind your back, to Carmen Electra, and to millions, to make millions.
But it’s all fine isn’t it? He’s just being ‘honest’ about what he thinks. It’s what you need on shows like this, ‘honesty’. Cowell made it big because of his ‘honesty’, his refreshing, life-affirming ‘honesty’, the type of ‘honesty’ you don’t get from people with ‘tact’, a ‘conscience’ and ‘basic human decency’.
If people who merrily sing to themselves in the shower get fed up of their humdrum existence and get a little way-laid by the lights then of course they need to be told how wrong they were to ever dream of having anything more than they have. It’s not like they’re being exploited so it’s fine! It was their choice to go on TV. No one made them go up there and make fools of themselves. The poorly educated, untalented, unfortunate, unhappy, bewildered bastards.
- Ross Jones-Morris