The Age

Efforts that are out of the ordinary

Author: craig mathieson
Date: 19/05/2011
Words: 683
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Green Guide
Page: 7
AUSTRALIA'S Got Talent, Channel Seven's good-natured reality contest, makes a habit of spotlighting surprise acts but last week the show's two nights provided a truly unexpected proposition: it out-rated MasterChef.

In television terms, that's a David and Goliath proposition  and a kid in a robe who was handy with a sling and rock would fit right in on the talent quest  but the numbers are clear. Talent had 1,752,000 viewers nationally to MasterChef's 1,440,000 on Tuesday night, with 1,509,000 topping 1,464,000 the following evening.

MasterChef will gradually reassert itself as a ratings behemoth but it's telling that Australia's Got Talent has bested it early on. Right now, Channel Ten's culinary extravaganza looks like an overly long journey, a forced march of a show that's become a massive brand that vigorously spruiks multiple brands and is hosted by various brands who judge contestants who are very keen to launch their own brands. Apparently, there is some is food involved, too.

No one is a brand on Australia's Got Talent. One of the pleasing things about the series, now in its fifth season, is that most of the entrants take their dismissal with equitable cheer, mainly because they've heard it all too often before. One of the notable elements of the now banished Australian Idol was that many young singing hopefuls, long genuflected to by friends and family, were plainly stung by the judging panel's straightforward criticism. They couldn't handle the painful truth.

But Australia's Got Talent  especially during these early, breezy episodes when the show tours the capital-city casting calls and no one uses the "J" word (that's journey)  is home to the long-term dabblers and artistic fringe dwellers. It's a world of vaudeville descendants and obsessive hobbyists. "I love karaoke," one entrant admits, and that embrace of naff amateurism sums up the show.

The narrative of most reality shows involves winning elevation to exclusive professional status but you suspect most of those who are previewed by host Grant Denyer are happy if they do enough to get an RSL booking or recognition in the school newsletter, depending on their age.

It could easily be called Australia's Got a Gimmick or Australia's Got a Party Trick. Given the bizarre variety of acts  prep-aged Highland dancers called "Wee Scots"! Aerialists! Light entertainers!  it's not easy for judges Dannii Minogue, Brian McFadden and Kyle Sandilands to assess quality.

Show-stopping moments, such as an amateur opera singer from Perth delivering a merely competent take on a reality show staple, the aria Nessun Dorma, tend to excite the excitable audience and compel the judges to join the applause; an overly tanned antenna installer who vaguely resembles Freddie Mercury but has a voice an octave or two shy of the Queen singer nonetheless advances easily once he belts a few notes and punches the air. "I've never seen anything like that before," Dannii Minogue tells some supple gymnasts, which means there's a large gap in her life where variety nights and high-school Rock Eisteddfods should reside. Still, the judges are game and they're in on the show's disregard for mainstream excellence, with McFadden and Sandilands often taking a comical shot at whatever a failed contestant has spent a good decade or so mastering by way of genial mockery.

A note about Sandilands: this is where he belongs. His presence on Australia's Got Talent makes sense because it is a show dedicated to perseverance despite the absence of talent and the dreams of secret strivers, which he himself is. Those with limited talents are Sandilands's people and he fits right in as one made good. He doesn't need cruelty as a defence mechanism.

Australia's Got Talent will grow more serious in the coming months. It has, after all, been won previously by the fairly conventional output of two singers, a guitarist and a dance crew. But right now, daft and joyous, it's an easy sell. You've got a race caller who hosts piglet sprints, a GP channelling 500,000 volts called Dr Electric and a sword swallower doing cartwheels. It's like reading a scribbled list of Chris Lilley concepts that he dismissed because they lacked plausibility.

 
 
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