Newton Minow, the oft-critical former FCC chairman, delivered a courageous speech in 1961 to the National Association of Broadcasters, referring to TV as a “vast wasteland.” Almost 50 years later, I’m wondering what Minow thinks of reality TV, or more succinctly, can a wasteland get vaster?
In ‘61 TV was transitioning from programming like “Playhouse 90” to the slightly less cerebral “The Beverly Hillbillies.” As a result, many welcomed Minow’s criticism, but others considered it elitist. One thing about reality TV: it’s definitely not elitist. In 2008, more people voted for “American Idol” than for the presidency. (I read that statistic one morning and immediately went back to bed.)
I’ve never watched a single reality show but I have seen some clips on YouTube. On “Britain’s Got Talent,” 48-year-old Scottish singer Susan Boyle’s powerful performance from “Les Miserable” brought the audience, the judges (and even me) to tears. She’s had 100,000,000 hits on the Internet and will likely wind up with a lucrative recording contract.
In 2007, cell phone salesman Paul Potts from South Wales dreamed of becoming an opera singer. Subdued and self-effacing in conversation, Paul’s magnificent singing voice proved that he didn’t need to dream, he already was an opera singer. He won $100,000 pounds, which is a lot of cell phones he won’t have to sell.
In the U.S. we have “America’s Got Talent” with unctuous David Hasselhoff as a judge. (After watching him I always feel like I need a shower.) Contestant Lawrence Beamen, a part-time wedding singer, had the audience on their feet with his emotional rendition of “Old Man River.” It’s safe to say that Lawrence’s wedding singing days may be behind him.
It sounds comical but practically every country has a “Got Talent” show, including Ukraine’s Got Talent. Artist Kseniya Simonova’s sand drawing, honoring the 20,000,000 Russians who died in WWII, was breathtaking and poignant. (At YouTube, type Boyle, Potts, Beamen or Simonova and see for yourself.)
Even where I live, we could have the show “The Shores Has Got Talent,” thanks to one of my neighbors, Shauna Brittenham. Shauna’s petite, a tad shy, uncommonly pretty and could pass for a college freshman. One day as we were sharing an elevator, she hesitatingly confessed that she’d just finished recording her first CD. (I hesitatingly confessed that I’d just finished shopping at Albertsons.)
Having composed the music and lyrics, Shauna’s CD, “The Lonely,” is spellbinding. She says it was inspired by the love, passion and pain of her life. As I listened to it repeatedly, I was startled that my neighbor was so gifted, and, at the risk of a cliché, that such a big talent came in such a small package.
Shauna’s been a kindergarten teacher and is getting her masters in psychology, but music is her passion. Her influences include Fiona Apple, Norah Jones and Alanis Morissette, not exactly a bad group from which to draw inspiration.
Shauna’s voice is sultry, confident beyond her years, and addicting. It’s as though an old soul inhabits her. On a notepad she constantly jots down ideas for songs. I have a feeling that she’s just scratched the surface. Perhaps part of the appeal of reality shows is that we never know about the hidden talents of people whom we pass in everyday life.
I have a feeling that if Hasselhoff heard Shauna’s new CD he’d be gushing with praise. (And I’d have to take two showers.) In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Newton Minow was impressed. I certainly am.
To preview “The Lonely,” go to www.shaunabrittenham.com.
Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com