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Who’s got talent?

It’s hard to say, given the abysmal performances of the participants in our talent shows, writes Seema Goswami.

tv Updated: Oct 06, 2008 13:51 IST

Is there a more depressing programme on Indian television than the ongoing series of auditions for Indian
Idol 4
? Well, perhaps there is, but I have yet to hit upon it in the course of my inveterate channel surfing. So, in my book at least, this is the one that makes the cut.

Far from being the uplifting celebration of talent it is touted as, this show is an utterly dispiriting display of staggering self-indulgence on the part of its participants. Candidate after candidate walks into the audition chamber to show off – no, not their singing talent – but their capacity for self-delusion.

Rare is the person who can as much as hold a note let alone carry an entire tune. Most of them are so tone-deaf that even bathroom fittings must be squeaking in protest when they strut their stuff in the shower. You would think that they – as sentient human beings – would know this.

Surely they can hear themselves sing, right? Well, apparently not. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they appear to believe that they are singing stars in the making – even the next Indian Idol, with a bit of luck. Never mind that the only way they could make money in the music business is if people paid them not to sing.

But no, not only do they have absolutely no idea that this is the case, they are not willing to listen to voices of reason either. So, no matter how forthright – even harsh – the judges are about their complete lack of singing ability, they are unwilling or simply unable to take that idea on board.

Instead they stride out indignantly, convinced that they have been grievously wronged. They foam at the mouth, condemn the world for being blind – and deaf – to their talent, and tell the cameras that it’s only a matter of time before they attain singing stardom against all the odds.

Honestly, there are times when I fear for their sanity. But then, these days most contestants on talent shows seem to have only a tenuous connection with reality. Short, fat and, well, frankly ugly girls turn up on programmes to select glamour models; people with leaden feet fetch up on dancing shows; and of course, those who can’t hold a tune haunt the singing competitions.

Watching some of these programmes you could be forgiven for thinking that when it comes to talent shows, only those with no talent bother to show up.

What intrigues me, though, is what makes these people believe in themselves to the extent that they create an alternate reality in which their dreams – no matter how unrealistic – are always well within reach? What makes them believe in their abilities, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that they are, in fact, non-existent?

For my part, I blame our current climate of extreme democratisation in which everyone is brought up to believe that they are as good as the next person. Where people are encouraged to think that making it big is just a function of thinking big and letting nothing stand in your way. And that so long as you can dream the dream, you can also make it come true.

Wherever you look these days, everyone is spouting this sentimental drivel. Everyone from Barack Obama to Michael Phelps to Shah Rukh Khan is lining up to tell us that nothing is impossible. And that if we believe in ourselves and work hard enough, nothing can stop us from becoming the high achievers that they are. Well, guess what? There is something that can stop us on that road to over-achievement. It’s called innate ability. It’s something that you are born with, that comes embedded in your genetic code.

Sure, you can work on it, you can develop it, you can perfect it. But it has to be there in the first place. In its absence, all your hard work and self-belief will come to nothing.

There is a reason why Michael Phelps is the Olympic champion of all time. He was blessed with a genetic gift that makes him the best swimmer the world has ever seen. Barack Obama is running for President because he has a spark, a charisma that appeals to the American public. Shah Rukh Khan rules Bollywood because… no, I’m sorry, that beats me.

But seriously, these people have achieved special things because well, they are special. They are better than us average human beings in all sorts of ways. And they do us a huge disservice when they suggest that we could be just like them – just so long as we keep the faith and put in the hours. In turn, we do ourselves no favours when we take them at their word.

In the real world – which doesn’t run on sound bytes alone – things don’t quite work out that way. In the real world, you are judged by how good you really are, not how good you think you can be. In the real world, you get ahead on talent not on delusional fantasies.

Self-confidence and self-belief are all very well, but they work best when combined with a healthy dollop of self-knowledge. And that begins with an honest appraisal of your abilities and an acknowledgement of your strengths and weaknesses. And sometimes, it begins with the admission that you can’t sing.