Showing posts with label Joss Stone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joss Stone. Show all posts

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Dreamed A Dream

By this morning the video of Susan Boyle singing I Dreamed A Dream will have been viewed over 40 million times.

You’ve got to hand it to the Britain’s Got Talent team: this was great television, edited like a romantic film, with quirky “comedy” music as she ate her sandwiches and confessed she’d never been kissed and then a huge instrumental climax from the real Les Miserables for her standing ovation. But even without the manipulative editing it was still genuinely touching.

Susan’s voice is nothing special: there are thousands of amateur singers out there with similar renditions of that tired old standard. What Susan Boyle was all about was little to do with talent and everything to do with the audience itself. Close your eyes and think of a beautiful 25 year old and you’ll notice wavering and strained notes. Open them again and see Susan Boyle’s innocent, overweight squashed face and terrible gold lace dress, and the contrast overwhelms your judgment.

This isn’t about her; it’s about us. It’s about the ironic wolf whistles as she comes on stage, and Cowell’s rude eye-rolling when she says she’s 47, and the embarrassed gigglin
g as she rolls her hips and says she wants to be Elaine Paige: Yeah, right, we all say, and wait for her to be shot down. Then she sings, and it’s a wonderful moment, a Paul Potts moment, when the fat man sings and wins. It’s moving because, as Amanda Holden said, “everybody was against you”. The audience had already damned Susan for being ugly and overweight and for presumptuously coming onto its stage. But wow, the circus freak can actually sing, so we’ll layer the soundtrack, cut to a standing ovation, and make the viewers cry. Pure Hollywood schmaltz, and it worked.

The problem is, what should the producers do next? Allow her to carry on wearing those ghastly dresses and no makeup for the rest of the series? Or do they engineer a “swan” moment, and reveal her, eyebrows plucked, straight from the plastic surgeon? If they do
, presumably the joke won’t work anymore, so will her voice then be any more special than the others? I guess they’ll keep her as she is until the Final. But won’t that be just as cynical and manipulative?

I encountered a similar problem with my own Susan Boyle moment. A few years ago, I produced a series called Star for a Night. On the first audition day my researchers came rushing in: I had to hear this girl. Hannah Morris was about fifteen, with buckteeth and glasses, nervously clutching the sheet music of My Heart Will Go On from 'Titanic'. She was so tiny; I looked at her in disbelief. Her voice brought the house down and she won the show. But when we came to the final “Best of...” programme at the end of the final series, Hannah had got herself contact lenses and a proper hairstyle. She had a recording contract and was no longer the geeky schoolgirl. Trouble was, she was now nothing special at all.

Sometimes preconceptions work in reverse. We were auditioning in Bristol when, amongst the I Dreamed a Dream wannabes (God, how we grew to hate that track) was a sweet little 14-year-old from Devon with cascading blonde curls.

“I’d like to sing You Make me Feel like a Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin”, she whispered. Our jaws dropped open. If ever there were a mismatch it was this pretty child and that adult song. Then the music started and out came the deep voice of a blues singer. We all cried. The girl was called Joss Stoker, a name she later changed to Joss Stone.

I wish Susan Boyle the best of luck for her future, but exactly whom the producers decide she should turn into for that future, now that’s a huge dilemma.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Jools Holland and the Real X-Factor: the day I discovered Joss Stone

I think the seats in Newcastle’s City Hall have got smaller since I was last there. I don’t remember my knees scrunching up against the row in front when I sat watching people with infinitely more talent than me taking their applause on the stage.

But then, apart from Thursday, when I went there to see Jools Holland, the last time I was in the City Hall was at my school speech day, and I was about half my current size.

I remember the feeling of envy when I saw the prizes handed out to my betters. I was given the wooden spoon called the Fifth Form Reading Prize. I can still remember all the words of the poem which clinched it for me: "Do You Remember an Inn, Miranda?”. At Christmas parties, when the festive spirits take over, I am inclined to launch into it -- until Joanna rushes over and throttles me.

Oh I know what it’s like to be second rate. Watching television on Saturday night, hearing the appalling cliché: “only one couple will be crowned champions (sic), the other will go home empty-handed”, my heart went out to Matt Di Angelo, bravely showing his rehearsed “well done, Alesha” expression. And the previous weekend I felt quite sorry for that strange Welsh singer Rhydian who now has to go back to Powys empty-handed. The painful sound of applause for someone else still ringing in his ears.

It’s extraordinary how worked up we get over television programmes like The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. In fact, they’re not about winners at all. Who else but a group of D-List losers would have the time to go on Strictly Come Dancing? Alesha Dixon was in a group called Mis-Teeq which had a few minor hits several years ago. She recorded a solo album last year that hasn’t even been released. Rhydian is a second-grade baritone with unusual hair and a gift for reducing middle-aged women to tears with songs from Phantom of the Opera.

Really talented performers don’t need The X Factor to get their break. They get themselves into bands, perform in clubs and are discovered by an A&R talent scout from a record company. So I’m a little underwhelmed by these kinds of shows, even though in the past I have produced them myself.

Finding a gold nugget in the drift mine of wannabes is well nigh impossible. In four series of Star for a Night, presented by Jane MacDonald (her own celebrity a product of television rather than talent), we found only one true gem. In an audition room in Bristol I spotted a shy 13-year-old girl with a beautiful face and long blonde hair called Joss Stoker. I remember she had a tendency to sing sharp (I used a harmonizer to correct her final performance) but the voice made your jaw drop. It was the voice of an old blues singer. She’s now called Joss Stone.

But unlike the winners of The X Factor, pre-sold to the Cowell money-making machine, Joss’s stardom isn’t derived from one television vote. She made it through hard work and dedication.

Watching real talent on stage makes your heart surge and brings grown men to tears. Or overgrown men, like me. Which leads me back to last Thursday.

I wasn’t in that cramped City Hall seat for long. The years peeled back as the entire audience got on its feet for two magical hours. Afterwards Jools told me this was his favourite gig. Not just because of his happy times here with The Tube, but because of the wonderful atmosphere in that old, faded hall.

How Jools managed to perform at all on Thursday is beyond me. His father died last week. His Christmas plans have been cancelled because of the funeral. Yet he brought two thousand people the best possible present. Thank you, Jools, and to all of you, a very Merry Christmas.