TV talent shows are a huge part of contemporary culture, but when they have a reputation for damaging the integrity of the artists who apply to them, why do so many people still seek fame through them? Performance artist Scottee explains why he’s never...
Every Saturday night my family sit in front of the box and consume Simon Cowell's latest audition show. Dad laughs and predicts whether the act is going to be rubbish, Mum cries at anyone whose back-story is underpinned by the prescribed emotional music.
Last weekend whilst pigging out on cheap flapjacks on my Mum's sofa we watched Britain's Got Talent as a family. Two of my mates appeared on the episode, their auditions were shortly followed by Mum saying "You should go on that! You could sing that song from Les Mis," - this happens when most TV talent shows are on. "I don't really think it's for me," I respond, "don't want to be Shayne Ward." "Who's Shayne Ward?" - the irony is lost on Mum.
What Mum doesn't know is every year I receive an email from Sico Media asking me to consider showing off for Simon Cowell. I've been offered golden carrots by various researchers; no-queue passes, straight to judges houses, one year I was even offered a paid lunch, but I've never budged, I've always politely decline, but why? Why don't I join the queue of disenfranchised show offs looking for bigger pay cheques? Arts snobbery, that's why.
I don't want to be a part of something that is a bit naff. I want to be remembered for contributing valuable ideas to the arts not for being the weird, Peter Kay lookalike that I'd be manipulated to portray.
A few months ago in a backroom of an East End boozer I asked this years semi-finalist Lorraine Bowen why she decided to audition, she told me, "I'm 53, I've done everything I can. I want to know what it would be like to reach a bigger mainstream audience," and she definitely has with over 1 million views on her song about apple crumble. Even my 7-year-old nephew is reciting her audition over and over again.
What frightens me most about stepping in front of Simon, David, Alisha, and the other one, is what happens after the cameras have gone. I don't want to end my career before it's started, singing Sinatra's That's Life at weddings in Swindon whilst people whisper, "do you remember him off the telly?"
Another finalist from this year's series, Russella, said, "I think you're too cynical Scottee, half our national treasures came out of TV competitions." She goes on to quote Simon Cowell's assessment of her audition in a bad southern accent; "...there's a reason there has never been a drag queen cookery book - no one would buy one." Like, how good would that quote be on the back of my best selling drag queen cookery book, Scottee?"
Perhaps I'm afraid of failing in public, petrified at what would happen if I got four buzzers in quick succession and then having to ask myself if a career in the arts is the right choice? Perhaps I'm frightened of fame or even mainstream success?
From speaking to Russella and Lorraine, the motivation for going onto Britian's Got Talent echoes my family's reasoning - money, fame and recognition and I guess these are the real reason TV talent shows are not for me, I'm not interested in celebrity or wealth but of course the attention is attractive, after all we're in this game because we're glorified attention seekers.
TV shows like Britian's Got Talent offer the golden ticket - an occupation where your social status and education is irrelevant to your earning capability or potential success - alluring, right? But at what expense? I worry my friends' fame will be short lived and damage their integrity as artists, but perhaps integrity isn't important, after all it's a subjective value that perhaps no longer has currency in a world of fast fame. In 1968 Andy Warhol said that in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. In 2015 I believe we'd do anything for a fame that lasts the length of a pop song.
I asked The Amazing Marawa, (a Got Talent serial offender who has been a runner up in five series of thefranchiseacross the globe) if she equates fame with success. This is what she replied; "People that seek out fame are seeking out validation not success and ultimately love - they need the audience to love them so they can feel alive and good about themselves." I couldn't agree more, reality TV plays on this insecurity we all have - will I be remembered? What is the point of my existence if it's not broadcast to the nation? It's sad to think we live in a world where fame offers the only opportunity to fill ourselves with enough confidence to make us feel that we matter.
I don't blame my mates for caving in and seeking a fast track to telly - perhaps it's part of how we survive now as artists in a country with dwindling public funding and theatre closures. I also can't penalise my folks for wanting what they believe to be the best for me. For them, the box represents fortune and legacy - these are the neo-working class ideals.
My deliberate absence from the box means my Mum won't ever truly appreciate my achievements, but I understand why she wants me to be on Britain's Got Talent; she wants the best for me and in a strange sort of way that's rather touching.