Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Pilipinas got not talent

This post is antedated. This was my column on the date indicated above.

I have always found the first few episodes of each American Idol season so much more entertaining to watch than when the competition has already gotten underway and the contenders start showing off the range and depth of their singing talents.

This is because it is during the first few episodes when they feature their auditions process, which are always a rollicking fun to watch. I used to marvel at the audacity of the seemingly endless stream of clueless Americans who dared to audition for a singing competition even if it was painfully obvious that they were asleep when the good Lord was assigning musical talent.

An observation that I have formed is that the absence of talent is most often inversely proportionate to the presence of unwarranted grit and gumption. Thus, the people who couldn’t carry a tune even if their very lives depended on their ability to sing were usually the ones who were more blasé prior to the audition (as if the auditions were a mere formality, a fait accompli) and also the most indignant and resentful when they were (naturally) rejected.

“These Americans are crazy!” I used to mutter to myself while doubling over in laughter. Of course Filipino Renaldo Lapuz, he who caterwauled “I am your brother, your best friend forever” to acerbic judge Simon Cowell while dressed in Knights of Columbus finery, destroyed the whole experience for us. Lapuz singularly dispelled the notion that Filipinos are naturally musically gifted; worse, that we are a sensible people.

Well, it seems the Americans (or the Japanese for that matter if one is familiar with Japanese prank shows) are not alone in this predilection for embarrassing themselves publicly by passing themselves off as talented. We know we are a people prone to flagellating ourselves publicly and for natural tendency to self-destruct. But we’ve always taken pride in our inherent artistic talents. My goodness, we are a people who can outsing and outdance any other race on earth! But apparently, not all of us—as we are now painfully finding out, thanks to Pilipinas Got Talent.

In the last few weeks, people have been eagerly watching out for the weekend telecast of the auditions for Pilipinas Got Talent and not necessarily for the pleasure of witnessing the discovery of exemplary talent. At the rate the three judges have been hitting the show’s dreaded buzzer, the show should be re-titled Pilipinas Got No Talent.

The post-telecast discussions tend to focus on performers and performances that took breaths away for sheer idiocy or for abysmal lack of talent. It is now very obvious that we also got, in this country, lots of truly untalented people who also happen to be in serious need of psychiatric help. And not all of them are in politics.

Just last weekend, we saw people on the show performing acts of sadism, such as that performer who went through the motions of dancing while dripping hot candle wax on his body. Yeah, ewww. We witnessed people trying to pass off as talent the ability to make horrendous sounds such as the sound of infants in extreme pain. And of course a long parade of people who could not sing, or dance, or play musical instruments but insisted on inflicting themselves on the general public just the same. The only thing I haven’t seen on the show—or at least not yet- is someone giving himself a haircut while gyrating and singing, or someone juggling oxygen tanks with the tanks still attached to their bodies. Gruesome, I know. But that’s the kind of performances the show is being known for.

Watching Americans make fools of themselves was funny because they did it for self-expression or at least for the fun of it. Watching the long line of untalented people who audition for Pilipinas Got Talent is not funny at all because each one of those contestant had a sob story to tell. Most saw the show as their lifeline out of whatever tragic predicament they were immersed in. Each of those hapless contestants truly needed to be in the show for the money.

And this is when we begin to ask ourselves if, by watching the show, we also contribute to the exploitation of their pain and misery. We flagellate Willie Revillame for similar offenses but close our eyes to what Pilipinas Got Talent is currently doing. It’s the same thing. Actually, at least Revillame does his stuff sans intellectual pretensions.

***

And while we are on the subject, I must express my utter dismay over the way amateur performing groups in this country seem to think that getting on ABS-CBN’s Showtime is the barometer of their worth or talent. Oh please, many of those vacuous celebrities who sit as judges on the show and try to pass judgment on the various groups that perform before them hardly pass as artists.

I will concede though that at least the show offers opportunities for performing groups to showcase their talents.

I do have many problems with the show. For one, it has been masquerading as soap opera, what with the inordinate attention given to the drama that attends each group. And there’s always one— either one member of the group is sick, or has met an accident, or they are doing the performance for someone related to someone in the group who has met some tragic misfortune. The focus on the lugubrious has become tedious, even the judges and the audience have learned to ignore the way contestants have learned to milk their tragedy to get provide some social or psychological context to their presence in the show.

It’s summer and kids are on vacation so it’s probably not a major cause of concern at this point. But I do know for a fact that many contestants in that show who come from the provinces quit their studies just to be able to come to Manila to compete. And if they are lucky to win as weekly winners, they move on to the other levels of the competition and have to stay in Manila for the whole duration. This means being absent from their studies and eventually quitting school because obviously no school will allow a student to be absent for two to three months.

Why do I know these things? Because I had nephews from Davao who went through that rigmarole – they actually stayed in Manila for two months to be able to qualify for the grand finals. They quit school for the sake of joining the show. And worse, they had to endure extreme difficulties while in Manila because their funds ran out and they practically had to beg for their sustenance. Expenses for a group of 20 young people while they stay in Manila for months do not come cheap and the show only gives prizes to winners.

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