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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On children, competitions and TV,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Hi Alice,

I understand from what you said the other day that your eleven-year-old obliged you to watch the Britain's Got Talent final.

May I ask whether you voted? -- and if so, how?

Sorrell G

Ask Alice

Alice Hi Sorrell,

Yes, OK, I admit it; I did see Britain's Got Talent.

For those in other countries, and for what it is worth, the top three (decided by the great British public) were:

  1. A street-dancing troupe of boys, very slick and athletic and completely meaningless.
  2. A vulnerable 48-year-old church volunteer with learning difficulties and a voice of real potential singing from Les Mis.
  3. A saxophonist of truly professional style and skill (and a glorious sound) playing from West Side Story.

In our house, we decided to vote once for (1) -- against my better judgement, I might add -- and twice for (2) who was supposed to win by a mile anyway, and as many times as possible for (3) the saxophonist, the only one of all the performances to genuinely move us (my kid probably got through ten times on his behalf?).

(Interestingly, we didn't vote at all for any of the other acts, thus proving that the great British public is not quite as daft as it is painted!!?)

I couldn't get my head around the street dancers at all, but my husband correctly predicted they'd appeal to young people, and it was no surprise to any of us that a special voice outscored a much more musical, non-vocal instrument. It is a fact universally acknowledged that singers have routes to people's emotions even cellists can't approach, as witnessed by the astounding fees of top singers compared to instrumentalists ... and Susan Boyle seemed gracious to the jumping-jack automaton winners afterwards.

But she was not really OK. It was frightening to watch her face as the results were announced, and it's an open question whether she wouldn't be miles happier going back to her cat in West Lothian. Having said that, the one which made me really cross was Hollie Steel, a sweet-faced kid of ten with a promising voice who apparently (I only clocked the final) collapsed in tears in the semi-final having forgotten her words to Edelweiss. (Not that that argues distress of no common order: even I can remember the words to Edelweiss!!!) It made me want to throw something at the TV to hear her voice, quavery with nerves, messing about with a grown-up song from Phantom in the final, a piece for which she had nowhere near either the emotional experience or vocal skill to pull off. It was perfectly absurd and her parents ought to be shot at dawn -- and any agent in the background with them. You can't fool me that it was this kid's dream (as it was so clearly Boyle's dream) to win the competition and launch herself on a singing career. No, she had stumbled into it (originally, get this, to keep her brother company, so they're actually victimizing at least two of their own kids) because she is cute and vulnerable and nobody on Britain's Got Talent gave one single solitary damn what they were doing to her (or to Boyle either).

Delicate young kids (under sixteen or seventeen) should be banned from exploitation in this way -- as should anyone with learning or psychological difficulties, including Susan Boyle. Then the saxophonist, one Julian Smith, would have won as well -- which would only have been fair, as he was miles the best.

(I suppose it's too much to hope that the furore about Boyle's nervous breakdown will bring an end to the entire malicious enterprise?)

Thought not.


Copyright © 5 June 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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