TV shows a talent for old formulas
REVIEW: New Zealand's Got Talent, TV One, Sundays, 7.30pm.
If there's one thing the medium of television excels at, it's squeezing every last drop out of a winning formula. The simple format of running a steady stream of hopefuls past a panel of judges and crushing their dreams one by one until a star is born has proved to be a sure-fire ratings hit around the world.
In order to get maximum mileage from the tried and trusted Idol/X Factor set-up, the musical restrictions were removed and the auditions opened up to anyone and everyone, sparking yet another lucrative global franchise as Got Talent spread from America to Azerbaijan.
Despite Prime’s instantly forgettable foray (can you remember a single act, let alone winner Chaz Cummings?) from 2008, TVNZ clearly believes there’s life in the old dog yet and has bet the farm on an ambitious 13 week run of jugglers and buskers proving popular with viewers.
Frontman for the series, and a man who knows a thing or two about talent shows, is Dancing with the Stars winner Tamati Coffey. Mainly restricted to providing intros, links and mugging for the camera from the wings, it’s a shame his talents weren’t better harnessed elsewhere, as his easy-going charm would have livened up a panel of judges that, despite some familiar names, seems to be almost entirely devoid of personality.
There’s no denying the credibility and experience of UB40’s Ali Campbell and OpShop’s Jason Kerrigan, but the pair are about as charismatic as a traffic accident. Likewise, Rachel Hunter is hardly renowned for her caustic wit and her main area of expertise is once being married to Rod Stewart .
Funnily enough, that ends up coming in handy after a Sonny Bill lookalike serenades her with one of Stewart’s hits but if there's one thing we've learned from Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan it's that these shows need standout judges as much as they do standout performers. Come back Paul Henry, all is forgiven.
On to the acts themselves and kicking things off in suitably eccentric style was a one man band who swore blind it was his first gig, followed by an Elvis impersonator who was more lost vagueness than Las Vegas - both unsurprisingly failing to make the grade.
These shows always bin a couple of early entrants to create the illusion of a tough challenge, and with the rejects disposed of, the first real hopeful was a 9-year-old yodeller who managed to melt the judges' hearts. Personally, I think it's tough for anyone to make yodelling sound like anything other than Tarzan riding a braying donkey, but cuteness goes a long way in this game.
The thing about these talent shows is that talent only gets you so far. To really make your mark you need either a distinctive look, a quirky gimmick or a tear-jerking backstory - preferably all three. If Susan Boyle had been an average looking 20-something who just happened to belt out show tunes like a pro she might never have got past the heats, but as a penniless pensioner who'd "never been kissed" she became an overnight sensation.
The show's producers seem well aware of this, with Dane Moeke's weight issues, sick father and suspiciously spontaneous decision to kick off his jandals and take to the stage in bare feet overshadowing a fervent but flat rendition of The Greatest Love of All that was karaoke level at best, but enough to prompt rapturous reactions from the judges.
Then there's the show's strange mix of complete amateurs and jobbing professionals.
My suspicions that pint-sized magician Andre Vegas looked familiar were confirmed when I remembered the Mail had covered his run of shows at the Theatre Royal last year. You’d think a touring professional would have a more novel trick up his sleeve than the old ``saw a lady in half’’ routine but out came the treesaw, prompting an incredulous reaction from Ali, who obviously had better things to do in the 80s and 90s than watch magic shows.
There were glimpses of some real talent among the cack-handed sword jugglers and dad-at-a-wedding level dancers.
J-Geeks wowed the judges with their original fusion of traditional Maori dance and modern music and it was great to see Nelson's own Origin Dance Crew get the nod, although it was a shame their performance was heavily edited as quantity took precedence over quality in the debut show.
As you've probably already gathered, I can be a bit of an old cynic at times but just as I was wondering how TV One hoped to spin 12 more weeks out of this tosh, along came adorable 11-year-old Jessie Hillel radiating more charm and charisma than all three judges combined. Her rendition of Pie Jesu was genuinely spine-tingling and for once the panel's gushing was entirely justified. The best had definitely been saved for last and her performance raised flagging hopes that maybe New Zealand does have talent after all.
- © Fairfax NZ News