Raw Talentby Brandon Edmonds / 26.10.2009
Those of us left to public television (what is DSTV, 400 bucks, who can afford that?) are like limbless 19-year old Iraqi war veterans – we make do, grimly, getting by on lowered expectations, and squinting hard for any hint of a silver lining. There’s My Name is Earl (Season 2) on Etv. There’s The Amazing Race on Mondays. And… um, the cloyingly righteous eco sermons of Shoreline (whenever that is). Pickings so slim you might as well read a book or take the dog for a walk. The gutted finances of the SABC are all over our screens. We might have the worst public broadcasting system in the southern hemisphere. Dire programming its a wonder anyone pays to hang advertising around. Remember Open Time? The Simpsons? Flagship shows? The Sopranos? Shows you actually hated to miss? Gone. All gone. Local TV is a wasteland. Be better if SABC executives just came round to your house each night and improvised on the lawn with shadow puppets and an oompah band!
But the medium has a strange way of massaging its dead heart back into life – like a zombie medic in a George Romero film. You can never quite turn your back on television (unless you have better things to do, like oh, live, procreate and prosper). SA’s Got Talent (Thursdays, 7.30pm, SABC 2) could just possibly evolve into the best thing that’s happened to local programing since the Hansi trial. Based on America’s Got Talent which was justifiably the summer hit of the 2006 schedule stateside (the 2nd season is well worth downloading if your bandwidth can take it), the show is a wonderfully subtle-free zone, a circus-like grab-bag of unfettered dreams. It’s Idols with juggling and fire-eating, acrobatic midgets and body-locking street crews. It’s like dipping a divining rod into the roiling unconsciousness of the public. Devised by, among others, Simon Cowell, that overpaid demolisher of teen dreams on American Idol, the show gets by on the occasional discovery of genuine ability.
A fat white guy with the voice of Marvin Gaye. A ventriloquist who can do the whole cast of ‘Gone With the Wind’. Pensioners who rap with the brio of Slim Shady. Dogs that write haikus and parrots that play pianos. David ‘The Hof’ Hasselhof makes a great judge on the yankee version. He has the winningly showy body language of the long-time celebrity and loves or hates acts without a flicker of anxiety. Jerry Springer once presented a season and Sharon Osbourne is a regular.
The local version has yet to hit those heights. It lacks the US one’s sweeping camera-work and giant stage. The lighting is awful locally. But the real flaw is in the editing. You need an instinctive editor to work through these kinds of overblown spectacles, jumping from big shouty Diva finales to little intimate moments, so the whole thing isn’t rote and predictable. The local version has no flow. You always feel like you’re missing something. Good acts need more time and shitty ones enough time to show us their shitty-ness. But the local version just measures out equally unsatisfying glimpses of each act in some misguided sense of democracy. But this is entertainment! Most annoyingly, the show keeps dutifully flipping back to the judges who get way more screen time than the talent. Pity since the local judges are fairly sucky while the talent on display is stupendous.
We have to put up with sour Randall from Idols. Who thinks he’s Simon Cowell and its alarming that anyone would take that smug pampered jerk for a role model. Randall needs to back up his hauteur with clever biting dialogue. But he can’t manage it and just ends up coming across like someone’s creepy younger brother with his face pressed to the window as the cool kids drive away. One middle-aged female singer confessed to him, “I’ve been wanting to perform in front of you for many years!”
He just simpered and couldn’t even fire back an “I bet!” or, “Do you mean orally?” Alongside him is Shado Twala, one of the finest radio voices in the history of local broadcasting, a jazz fan, and all-around cool lady, and a real treat to see on television regularly. She’s warm, even-handed and given over to tears in the face of gospel songs. She can be our very own Paula Abdul without the spacey idiocy. Ian Von Memerty, from that endless reality dancing treadmill, where they actually do shoot horses, don’t they, is a lowbrow showbiz veteran as slick and icky as a burst tube of lube on kitchen tiles. He cried out “I love musicals!” on a recent episode, so you know he’s really okay with his masculinity, and bumped heads with Randall over whether a dire fruit seller should go through to the next round. “Yeah yeah, Mr Cynic, put it in a box for 2 minutes!” There was more life and drama in that one aside than seven seasons of Isi-fucking-dingo! Presenter 5fm’s Anele Mdoda radiates a fun buppie charm and has no need for a co-presenter, especially the dumb blonde one from ‘The Most Amazing Show’.
But really you’ll be coming back for the acts.
We got a kid drummer called Daniel as fluent and amazing as the one armed guy from Metallica. Eugene Jacobs drove all the way from his day job flower-selling in Vereeneging to sing ‘The Impossible Dream’. We got a rapturous 58-year old soprano called Esme who conjured the ghost of Maria Callas. Talk about talent. A note-perfect dance troupe called Showstopper did swift breathtaking things to Boney M – with matching golden mohawks! Yeah. Troop Pantsula were like the spirit of Drum magazine and the lost streets of 60s Soweto come to life. There was an all-woman a cappella quartet called Kopano who had the harmonies and authority of a more socially conscious Supremes. There was a boy called Larnelle and a little girl called Hannah, both eleven, with the soaring vocal chops of seasoned Vegas headliners. Jody Kleinhans turned up the bizarro meter doing a deranged herky-jerky take on Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?” It was like watching an escaped mental patient at a Fashion TV party. Which is a good thing. An 18-year old beat-boxer had enough self-love to power Eskom. Plus infintely fussed over emo hair, and a name like George. “I beat box,” he said, “what the people want.” And he did. There was a glum steroidal gym rat, called Hercules, who sung Unchained Melody and spilled on issues with his dad. “Nobody believes in what I can do.” Awww. Another melancholy doofus sang opera to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend. Bringing us finally to a sad eyed clown, called Cliffy, who broke my heart when he looked into the camera, and said, without a trace of irony, “I’ve been a clown my whole life!” You said it, Cliffy. Haven’t we all?