Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reality Check

Do you watch reality television shows?

My parents watch the original reality TV show Jeopardy every night and sometimes Wheel of Fortune.

My husband records and watches several - Amazing Race, Survivor, The Apprentice, Deal or No Deal and others as they come and go. Our family even made a video and applied for a spot on the Amazing Race. We were way too normal to get selected. Ricky and I are waiting until we're old enough to qualify as the "old married couple" in the race. Maybe we'll get lucky a couple of years from now - you'll know it when my blog goes dormant for a few weeks!

My highly educated daughter is addicted to shows like Bridezilla and America's Next Top Model. She could name by sight the eight children of Jon and Kate. My boys watch crazy obstacle course contests. I'm not sure how many original episodes there are, though, since whenever I ask about a particular contestant, they already know whether he wins or not.

I generally stay condescendingly above it all, maybe pausing for a peek as I walk through the room with laundry.

However, if it's "America's Got Talent" night, you had better not get between me and the remote control. I started paying attention to that show a couple of seasons ago when a local area ventriloquist, Terry Fator, won the show. He's gone on to sign a $100 million Las Vegas contract. Last season's winner was an incredible opera singer. My favorite, who didn't win, was a Broadway style singer who had lost his voice in an auto accident and gradually recovered. He has since produced a CD. (Maybe Santa will wrap it up for me this year?)

I watched nearly every episode this summer. The judges picked over one hundred and fifty contestants from auditions around the country. They ranged in age from seven to over seventy. The acts included magicians, dancers, singers, harpists, triplets playing violins, drummers, animal tricks, comediennes, chain saw juggling and anything else you could think of.

During the preliminaries you saw more of the train wrecks - the people whose friends and families did not have the guts to tell them they really weren't very good. The judges had no such scruples and their comments could be brutal. I still recall the young woman who thought it was a talent to open her suitcase on stage and have a friend crawl out. What do you say to that?

After the preliminaries, the judges culled the group down to forty, at one point giving three groups twenty-four hours to rehearse and have a dance-off for the remaining spot. The producer added eight (including one of the losing dance-off groups) and the voting season started with quarter-finals of twelve acts each. For each quarter-final, the fan votes picked the top four advancing and the judges picked the fifth. After taking two weeks to do the quarter-finals, two semi-finals were used to reduce the twenty contestants to ten with fans choosing eight of the ten. Those ten competed on Monday night.

I am proud to say that I voted every time. There were some very good acts that did not advance far enough, but all in all, the American people did well in their choices. And many of those that did not make the finals, like the guys combining trampolines and basketball dunking, carved out solid stepping stones to future opportunities.

As one of the judges mentions regularly, this show is what America is all about. The contestants come from all parts of the country and all social strata, but start on an equal footing. They are judged on their abilities alone. If they advance, it is because of their performance, not their past. If they fail, it is because they are not as talented or appealing as the other guy.

One compelling aspect of the show is the remarkable goodwill shared and expressed between contestants. Nearly every competitor, upon his or her exit from the stage, graciously recognizes the achievements of those moving on, understanding his own performance was lacking. He wasn't robbed, someone else was better. The "losers" learn from the experience and vow to try again. The "winners" appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those that came up short.

There are some common characteristics of those that move ahead.

First, they have worked very hard and were prepared for the opportunity in the preliminary rounds. Second, they were able to use the judges' criticisms and suggestions to improve subsequent performances. Third, they were able to creatively work under pressure to improve their act or routine for the next round of competition.

Would that we applied these concepts to our own failures and successes of living and working!

It is amazing to see, over the course of a few short weeks, the finalists transform from ugly ducklings into swans using the production resources of AGT. The pretty opera singer, originally wearing a simple sundress, now has the evening gown, hair-do and bling to match her powerful voice. The former chicken catcher has emerged from the poncho and baseball cap in stylish clothes and a visible face that only enhance his ability to hold a crowd breathless with his music.

I watched ten great acts compete for the top prize. I voted forty times for my two favorites. But no matter who wins this season, I won't say "oooh." This time they were all that good.


Laney Landry said...

And the winner is... Kevin Skinner, x-chicken catcher, x-unemployed Kentucky boy. He is a true American boy that just needed a break. Hope he makes it work for his and his family's future.

Life in the Fifties said...

I voted for Kevin every week and voted for him and the Texas Tenors in the finals.

I wrote about Kevin's preliminary performance in the "How Old Am I?" on July 2.

Thanks for commenting!