Sunday, April 19, 2015

In search of talent

My column today, April 19. 2015.


Between trying to catch up on our reading and trying to observe some traditions, what got us preoccupied during the recent Holy Week was watching reruns of episodes of Asia’s Got Talent on cable television. The show has since then moved into the semifinals and we’ve tried to catch subsequent editions of the show whenever we could. AGT is being held in Singapore.
The auditions were the usual merry mix of genuinely talented artists, not-so-talented but superbly packaged performers, people with average talent but huge egos, and the usual bunch of dimwits who tried to elevate some perverse or weird ability into an art form. Shows like AGT are difficult to watch because it is almost impossible to compare objectively one performing art discipline to another. It eventually boils down to individual preferences. But it’s often unfair because classically trained artists such as great ballet dancers or superb cellists cannot hope to win over a group of breakdancers who make our jaws drop not really because they are better dancers but because they perform routines that could kill them. 
I always cringe when I see Filipinos who perform bizarre performance numbers, who flagellate or set themselves on fire. In AGT, there was this Filipino impersonator who put on some kind of performance art that involved taking off layers of Halloween costumes from his body. He was buzzed off midway. To be fair, we do not seem to have a monopoly of performance freaks. We noted that there were similar acts from other Asian countries as well. 
There’s no Filipino among the judges, but the show is ably hosted by Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, two Filipinos who made a mark in the Asian version of The Amazing Race. Nelson and Fernandez are great on the show, bringing with them the perfect blend of eloquence, playfulness and professionalism. I hope other Filipino celebrities who are tapped to host similar talent shows, particularly the ones held in the country, are watching. Hosts are supposed to enhance the whole viewing experience, not detract from it. They are supposed to move the show along - seamlessly and effortlessly, sometimes with humor, but always providing helpful information that makes the audience appreciate the experience better. Hosts are not supposed to call attention to themselves with tawdry shtick copied from some standup comic in a cheap comedy bar.                  
As can be expected in a talent search, particularly one held in Asia, Filipino talents have been making quite an impression. In last Thursday’s semifinal round, 10-year old Gwyneth Dorado and the Velasco Brothers shared the limelight with a dance group from Japan, a harmonica player from Taiwan, a tambourine player comedian from Japan, a sand artist from India, a trio from Indonesia, and a dance act that combined ballroom dancing with acrobatics from China. The last act automatically got a spot in the finals when they earned the judges’ golden buzzer last Thursday. Filipinos can still vote for Dorado and the Velasco Brothers by texting AGT5 to 2929 or through Facebook until tomorrow.
As far as I know, at least three other Filipino talents, namely, the shadow play group El Gamma Penumbra, human beat box wonder Neil Rey Llanes, and singer Gerphil Flores are scheduled to compete in the next semifinals episodes. El Gamma Penumbra and Flores sailed straight to the semifinals when judges Anggun and David Foster pressed the golden buzzer after their performances during the auditions.
It’s obviously too early to make bets on who will finally win the talent contest, although rooting for the Filipino acts is perfectly understandable. But then again, it’s a contest where winners are decided by popular vote, so there’s really no guarantee that the acts that display the best talent showcase will win. Pretty much like the contests that are held here, it’s the performer people can relate to or empathize with who end up going home with the top prize. Of course, those backed up by organized groups with resources also tend to dominate.  This is why we just have to support our own artists if we want them to win. There’s reason to be proud: the Filipino talents in AGT are comparable, if not better than the others.

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