Monday, December 31, 2007

Entertainment story of the year

Although I don't watch television often or keep up with popular entertainment, even I, through the Internet community, have heard of Paul Potts and Terry Fator. Potts, winner of Britain's Got Talent for his operatic singing, and Fator, winner of America's Got Talent for his unusual ventriloquism-singer impersonation act, are, to me, the entertainment story of 2007.

Beyond their previously unrecognized talents, Potts and Fator appeal to us because otherwise they are so ordinary, so like the rest of us. Neither would stand out for good looks or charisma. Yet when given the opportunity to perform before judges, a studio audience, and TV viewers, both came through like pros—and won over their respective crowds instantly.

How many Potts and Fators are out there—talented but doomed to obscurity for lack of opportunity? While the entertainment industry courts beautiful people with a modicum of talent (for example, Spears), people like Potts and Fator are rarely seen by a broader audience. The same may be true for non-performing artists, too—how many gifted artists and writers never get past the industry barriers that filter out talent and creativity in favor of the known and proven formulas?

I thought of this as J. and I watched part of a biography of Judy Garland on American Masters. Garland's singing, dancing, and acting talents were recognized early in her life, and she is, of course, a Hollywood legend. Even so, many of those at the executive level in the industry never seemed to forgive Garland for her lack of conventional beauty (with comparisons to Lana Turner) and her alleged weight problem ("105 pounds!" she exclaimed in a voiceover). As we watched Garland, with her lustrous eyes and trembling lips, sing her heart and soul, it was hard to imagine that she spent most of her life lacking confidence in herself, her evident and unique beauty, and her incredible musical and dramatic abilities. I wondered what Garland's life would have been like if there had not been studios and moguls to influence her and to come between her and the audiences who didn't care that she wasn't an emaciated blonde with a perfect nose, who loved her for who she was and for that voice.

Potts and Fator are fortunate to have been discovered directly by the millions rather than by the businessmen who control most of what we see and hear. Judy Garland was made to have her teeth capped and her every pound monitored. For Paul Potts, it is up to him whether he wants to have his teeth fixed or to lose weight. Whether he does or not, like Judy he will still have a talent that amazes and moves us, and we will still want to watch and listen and marvel and applaud. Perhaps Potts will build the self-confidence that Judy Garland was stripped of at every turn and for lack of which she died young and tragically.

Let us hope.

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