NEWSFLASH-EXPOSÉ: They’re not reality at all!
The list of Australian reality TV talent shows is endless: The X Factor, Australia’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, The Voice… the list goes on. We all know, or at least suspect, they’re slightly scripted and sometimes we even think (and whisper) they’re rigged.
It’s not nice to think that could be true, but when my friend James* auditioned for one of these TV talent shows earlier this year, it became clear that – this show at least – was most definitely rigged.
Growing up, James was always sick. At two years old he was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, causing him to undergo excessive chemotherapy and radiotherapy. A few months later he was declared cancer-free, until 1999, three years later, when the cancer returned. Again James underwent brutal chemotherapy and months later he and his family were once again told he was clear. Then came round three; in 2001 James was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. At this point doctors said the chance of survival was slim as he could not receive any more radiation and chemotherapy due to the overload he had been given in the past two cancer treatments.
He used singing and music as a way channel and forget all the pain he was experiencing. In high school James would travel to and from doctors and hospitals, and due to his distressing medical history, the slightest cold would be enough for him to be under constant bed rest.
Fast-forward to today and, through some miracle, James is still with us.
Earlier this year, James, now 20, began the process of applying for one of these talent shows. He has always wanted to pursue a singing career. What he didn’t realise however was that his audition would be less about his talent, and more about his health.
“After completing an initial application booklet I was invited to audition in front of a panel of producers, along with thousands of others. In the next three months, producers watch our auditions on videos and from the thousands, it’s cut down to 250. Those top 250 are then invited to sing in front of the celebrity judges on TV. I was lucky enough to be one of the 250,” said James.
The producers were aware of James’s childhood cancer battle and, of course, he was asked if it could be mentioned on the show. James said yes. “When you have a dream, one you’ve been working towards your whole life… you’ll do anything for it. So yeah, if discussing cancer meant I could potentially win [the show] why wouldn’t I jump at it?” he explained.
On the day of the television auditions, James arrived and was filmed doing the standard routine: arrive, register, take a number. Then he was given a body microphone, and a camera crew and producer followed him and his family around all day, similar to what you see on Keeping up with the Kardashians. He was the only contestant to receive this treatment so obviously James was full of nerves and excitement.
Things became suspicious when the producer started asking James and his family to “break down in tears” on camera and “discuss how difficult it was when James was young”. They were told, “It’s what the people at home will want to see, they will want to feel what you felt all those years ago.”
“I was already stressed about learning my lines for the song I had to sing, which I didn’t even get to choose, and on top of that I was about to perform in front of a huge audience and potentially the whole of Australia,” he explained.
I was in the audience that night and watched countless people walk onto the stage, be interviewed by the panel of judges, sing, be given the yes or no through to the next round of the competition, and then walk off.
Finally it was James’s turn and he confidently walked out. Before he started singing the judges asked him a few questions, including “How did you get into singing?”
James replied, “Just when I was younger I would listen to mum and dad’s records and then as I got older I started to sing to them, that sort of stuff.”
The judges looked at each other then everyone in the audience, and James saw one of the judges subtly whisper something into their neighbouring judge’s ear. Then James sung, crowd going wild, and amazingly was given a yes through to the next stage.
“You can imagine my excitement, I was so happy… I haven’t felt that happy in such a long time. It was the first time I thought that my singing career will actually take off!”
After that James and the others who were successfully through to the next round were told they would receive a call in the next week with details for filming of the next stage of the show.
That’s when things went awry. James – despite successfully getting through – was cut. But it was the reason that shocked him.
“A producer rang me and basically said ‘We were all hoping you would blatantly discuss your cancer story to the audience and judges while on the stage, but as you didn’t we’ve had to cut you from our list. We encourage you to try again next year.’ I was devastated, I AM devastated… it was like someone told me I had won $1 million, put it in my bank account but then taken it out just as I was making the first purchase.”
“At first I blamed myself, I put it down to a shocking audition… but then I remembered that I had been given a yes through to the next round, so that theory went out the window,” he said. “It was because I didn’t discuss my cancer. I had the talent, but I’d forgotten to give my sob story. It seems so unfair.”
It does, and it is. That’s why, when I watch these shows, I always spare a thought for the immensely talented people who just don’t have the sob story to push them through.
As for James, he’s not giving up. “It has made me more determined though, I just may have to do it on my own, without help from any show.” – Zachary Pittas
*Name has been changed
Top photo from Ben Mcleod’s Flickr photostream.