If, by chance, I start watching one of those reality shows from abroad, where amateur performers are catapulted to stardom (or into the worst of depressions) overnight, I also get cold sweats, as if I were the one walking the tightrope, above a precipice, in front of everyone.
When someone loses, I feel as devastated as they do, and ask myself what they will do after leaving the show. Does anyone care about how they deal with losing? Does anyone keep tabs on how many people commit suicide after these spectacular public failures?
Of the few competitions with a happy ending I’ve followed, the most gripping involved a Scottish woman who performed on Britain’s Got Talent in April of 2009.
Though her voice leaves the jury speechless, though the audience gives her a loud, standing ovation and even sings along with her, repeating the refrain of “I Dream a Dream” (from the opera Les Miserables), I am overcome with emotion and cry every time I see the video.
This is because the jury’s first reaction is skeptical and rather dismissive, because the whole drama of the competition is unfolding before one’s eyes: a middle-aged woman who looks like a common housewife, whose appearance makes the judges and audience, expecting to see her fall flat on her face, shift uncomfortably.
In a few seconds, the situation is turned on its head: the magic of her incredible voice stuns the judges and audience. In a few seconds, the world is forced to admit it had been quick to judge her, while the song speaks of a woman who once had a dream, when she was young and fearless, when her demons had not yet reared their heads, with shrieks as terrifying as thunder, to turn her dream into shame.
The judges and spectators alike, thinking themselves far from scrutiny on their comfortable seats, had no idea their skepticism would make them the actors of a live drama.
As the audience applauded and Susan Boyle got a unanimous “yes” from the jury, I asked myself why she had to wait 48 years to receive this recognition.
Despite the limited access to the Internet that I must live with as a Cuban, I was able to piece together her life story, and learned that she started singing at the age of twelve. At the age of 23, she participated in a contest held in a Midlands nightclub, where she apparently had no luck.
At 35, she auditioned for the TV show “My Kind of People”, where, far from walking away victorious, she had to endure the mockery of the host, British comedian Michael Barrymore, while the audience laughed in her face.
These are the kinds of situations that make competitions so terrifying for me, and I often wonder if there couldn’t be ways of validating a person’s talent that are less traumatic. Susan Boyle herself was defeated by a group of young dancers at the last round of Britain’s Got Talent. The depression brought on by this defeat landed her in a psychiatric institution.
Luckily, she overcame her depression and her debut album, “I Dreamed a Dream”, broke sale records in both Britain and the United States.
When I was a teenager, I would watch competitive shows on Cuban television which no longer exist, such as “Everyone Sings” (“Todo el mundo canta”) and “Dance Time” (“Para bailar”), a program that became very popular thanks to the charisma of its hosts, nearly all of them living abroad today.
Of course, these were very different kinds of shows, they lacked the budgets, the flair and the sensationalism which characterizes capitalist TV programs (which is why young people today would likely find them rather boring).
Who knows what private dramas we never found out about, precisely because these shows were less sensationalist?
I am curious to know whether more humane ways to channel peoples’ talent have been thought up, ways in which a contestant can more easily resume his or her life, which is probably difficult enough without the pangs of a devastating public failure.
A way to keep at bay those demons that come to us at night and whisper in our ears, to try and convince us our dreams are ludicrous.