Wednesday 01 December 2021

Does Malta have (enough) talent?

This column first appeared in Malta Today

Malta’s Got Talent wrapped up its finale two weeks ago, and I could not let this year end without referring to this show which at least got people talking about something other than Covid-19.

Before everyone gets hot under the collar and starts firing off insulting comments, the question in this headline is not to imply that there is no talent, but whether there is ENOUGH talent on this island to sustain a run of 10 or so shows.  The ‘Got Talent’ franchise is not an easy one to pull off on an island with a population of barely half a million;  it is obvious that the pool of available talent in any sector will alway be hampered by the sheer lack of numbers, when compared to countries with millions of people. 

I have to confess that I did not have the patience required to watch the entire season, but I watched enough clips on YouTube to get the gist of what everyone was talking about every Monday morning. When I needed to really catch up on what happened my go to person was the inimitable Chucky Bartolo who, with his irreverent humour and frank appraisal of each act on his online “ChatterBox” after-show, kept me up to date on the misses and hits. I enjoyed Chucky’s take on the whole talent show because he was unabashedly honest and because I am on the same wavelength: if we are really trying to promote the best of what is on the island and raise standards when it comes to the performing arts, why did the producers let some frankly mediocre acts participate in the first place?  The answer my friend, is not written in the wind, but circles back to my paragraph above. The island’s size is what it is, and trying to squeeze out enough legitimate TV-worthy talent was never going to be easy.  

The challenge for the producers next year will be to lure as many high calibre acts as possible so that the show does not suffer as a result.  More versatility would also be nice, rather than just the usual singing and dancing, while they should also re-think whether it makes sense to have children competing against adults.  After all, the former are always going to have an edge because of the ‘cuteness’ factor.

There is also another aspect to this lack of enough really high level participation: some genuinely talented people would not be caught dead taking part in such a talent show because it represents everything they hate. The fact that their talent will be judged Eurovision style goes against everything they believe in, and I can understand this sentiment.  When your talent is put on display and is at the mercy of the hoi polloi to vote for from the comfort of their living rooms, it doesn’t always mean the most talented will win.  However, when you do leave the vote up to the public you also have to be willing to accept the result which sometimes reflects the mood of a nation for reasons which go beyond an entertainment show. 

I think as talent goes, most people will agree that the second placed act, the dance troupe Concept of Movement was in a class of their own for sheer precision and style. However the act which actually won the contest, JoMike and Lydon, the father and son duo who sang traditional Maltese folklore, clearly touched a sentimental chord in an audience which felt the need to be uplifted. The people at home who were watching responded to the loving bond between them at a time when many have suffered loss of family members and constant anxiety because of Covid-19.  This virus has made us extra emotional and sensitive so I can perfectly understand why this sweet little boy and his Dad won over so many hearts. 

It may have not been the best talent on the show, but it was the best balm for the times we are living in.  The fact that the little boy briefly forgot his lines during the semi-final not only did not ruin their chances, but it probably melted people’s hearts even more.

There was also a lot of inevitable controversy over the fervent patriotism because they sang in Maltese and were showcasing għana, part of our traditional culture, which seems to indicate that some took the “Malta” in the show’s title a little too literally.   Was this show supposed to be about nationalism and “being proud to be Maltese” or just a talent show, forming part of an international franchise, which just happens to be set in Malta?  The insistence on making it about the Maltese identity was also reflected in probably the most talked about act of the season, the guy known as Kapxi, who made fireworks noises with his mouth, dressed in a too short T-shirt with his beer belly hanging out . Some loved him for his chutzpah and some were appalled that he made it to the finals.  The producers probably knew what they were doing because there is nothing more guaranteed to keep audiences watching than someone who stirs up such wildly opposite reactions.  (In fact, I wasn’t really watching the show until I saw all the furore over Kapxi and my curiosity was piqued). I think he was also shrewd enough to know what he was doing, and banked on having the entire fireworks community behind him, while playing the audience like a violin as he spoke with passion about his hobby. 

Of course, for those who train constantly and diligently to hone their skills, having to compete against Kapxi must have felt very demoralising (especially if he got through to the finals when they didn’t). But take heart, in 2012 during Britain’s Got Talent, a woman performing with her dog stole the show, clinching first prize.  How disheartening must it have been for the other contestants to have been beaten by a dog? But just like most of Malta fell in love with the father and son duo, so too did Britain, a nation which is famous for its love of animals, find the dog act irresistibly endearing.   

And, just last weekend during the Strictly Come Dancing finale, it was not the best, most technically perfect new dancer who won but 55-year-old stand up comedian Bill Bailey who blossomed throughout the show, showing determination and absolute joy for the love of dance, as he learned the complicated steps.  Britain voted for him because he reflected the spirit of the times with his perseverance and positive attitude, especially during the grim months of lockdown.  There was something also very charming about the way he approached the challenge which touched audiences, particularly after he beat other contestants half his age. “I think a lot of blokes of my vintage do feel self-conscious on the dance floor,” he said in an interview. “We are always aware of that term ‘dad dancers’ and that makes people feel a bit nervous and, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be that guy shuffling around at the end of the night’. My hope is that me having this success will mean more men of my age might consider taking up a dance class, or maybe just getting fitter, or whatever.”

Despite the word ‘talent’ in the title, these big entertainment shows are after all, just that, and if they can bring some happiness to people stuck at home at a time when they need to come together in the shared experience of watching a talent show in real time (rather than everyone binge watching their favourite shows, separately), then they will have done a world of good.

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