Thursday 15 November 2018

Instant celebrity and its pitfalls

Pictured above: Steve Brookstein, first winner of X Factor in 2004 – he was dropped by his record label just eight months later and now performs aboard P&O cruise ships and in pubs.

This article first appeared on Malta Today

The news that the X Factor franchise is coming to Malta has been met with mixed reactions, primarily because the format is going to be used to choose the singer who will represent Malta at the Eurovision song contest. The point which has already been raised is that Maltese songwriters will not be able to present original songs (as usually happens with the Song for Europe), since singers participating in the X Factor usually choose to do cover versions.

On the other hand (I am going to say this at the risk of getting lynched) just how many really good Maltese tunes have emerged from the Song for Europe of late? I can only think of a handful. The song festival stopped being about producing good music a long time ago, and has ended up being a song-churning factory of possible ‘formulas’ which we think might make us hit that elusive jackpot, but never does (although we did come close a few times, primarily thanks to the personality and talent of the singer).

Meanwhile, I can already envisage the arguments which are bound to break out as accusations of vote-rigging and tampering start flying around when it comes to the public vote. People are already getting into heated debates about the possible choice of judges. Ah, pleasures yet to come.

Of course, the idea of plucking an unknown, undiscovered talent and plunging them into instant fame and celebrity is what dreams are made of. Gone are the days of working away at your music for years, gradually moving from small gigs to larger venues as you slowly become known to a larger audience.

The explosion of these type of TV talent shows purporting to find the ‘next big star’ in every country has changed all that. Pop Idol in the UK (which was renamed American Idol for the US), (insert name of country)’s Got Talent, The Voice and of course the X Factor have been replicated and duplicated everywhere. The contestants don’t really have time to get used to dealing with going from anonymity to instant recognition overnight because there is no time. Their faces are thrust into our living rooms (or PCs, or iPhones) at every turn. It becomes a crazy whirlwind of unstoppable chaos.

However, the sudden fame is fleeting, and after the winner is crowned, the adulation lasts for a few months while they appear on magazine covers and do the chat show circuit, but apart from a few notable exceptions, most of them are not really heard from again. Ironically, some of the runners up have had more success than the actual winners: One Direction (X Factor UK) and Jennifer Hudson (American Idol) are just two classic examples.

So while these type of shows may serve as a platform of sorts, one always has to bear in mind that ‘making it’ is also down to luck, otherwise how can one explain why one person makes it and another (probably equally talented) person doesn’t? It’s the same with movie stars, some of whom go on to have successful, award-winning careers, while others cannot handle their success and go off the rails despite all the glitter and glitz. Usually, it is those who have slogged long and hard and have paid their dues who can go for the long haul while remaining grounded, while those who have sky-rocketed to overnight success and been swept away by the hype, tend to crash and burn.

A word about Ben

Speaking about the pitfalls of celebrity, our homegrown version Ben Camille has been the target of a lot of hate recently, which unfortunately comes with the territory. The announcement that he will be presenting Malta’s X-Factor unleashed a tsunami of negative feelings which I can only attribute to the fact that we have been seeing rather too much of him lately. I think this often happens when one achieves a measure of local ‘fame’ (in Maltese terms). Suddenly, you are the flavour of the month and are in great demand, so we have had the Ben Camille reality show Benjamin and constant feature articles about every aspect of his life, from his wedding to the impending birth of the couple’s first child. He is a model for various brands, has presented the Song for Europe festival and the Junior Eurovision, has tried his hand as an actor, and in a recent interview he (unwisely) replied when asked that he “does not rule out going into politics”. Is it any wonder that the knee-jerk reaction was a collective groan?

Now, I do not mean this unkindly – I am sure he is a very nice person. But sometimes in life you have to be more selective with what you choose to accept or decline publicity-wise, and especially when you are riding the roller coaster ride of being the latest hot young thing. This is not the first time this has happened, of course, with the same results: a world-weary sigh as the public mutters, oh now, not her/him again. I’m not trying to brush off the nasty comments, some of which are really uncalled for, and Ben was right in saying that his biggest challenge has been to deal with what is said about him on social media.

Fame is a two-edged sword and with the fans, one will always have haters. For what it’s worth my advice would be to reel back on the constant publicity and keep your private life more private.

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