Created on Friday, 24 February 2012 00:00
Written by Cathy Xie
Many a performer dream of taking the short cut to fame through reality shows –and becoming the next Susan Boyle – but are they aware of the sacrifices to be made in return for the limelight and wealth that follows?
Dream Turned Nightmare?
46-year-old Susan Boyle's "success" may just be a cautionary tale for others. Just a couple of years ago, she was a middle-aged lady living in rural Scotland. After the Britain's Got Talent session was aired, Susan Boyle became an overnight success. The Youtube clip of her audition has been viewed over 360 million times.
But it seems rising too fast may have its side effects. The immense stress and disappointment upon losing the contest has had Boyle admitted into a private mental health clinic.
Later, though her debut album in 2009, I Dreamed a Dream, achieved the status of quadruple platinum, her life might have changed for the worse. Her friends and family revealed a fearful Boyle who has had her dream come true but is now so worried about losing it that she lives on the edge. After all, fame so easily achieved may just be lost as quickly as it came. A visit by UK publication Guardian to her home has her getting all panicky; she cautiously states that she "can't say anything without their permission".
Sure, the underdog, who is usually jeered and overlooked, has overcome all odds but she is still the same her. Only this time, she is recognised for her talents… and she has signed her life away, now tied with absurd conditions.
Real World Contract Terms
In a Sunday Mercury report, schoolboy singing sensation Sam Hollyman mentioned his relief in turning down an invitation to audition for Britain's Got Talent. His mom describes it as "selling your soul to the devil".
Why would she say so? If you actually take a look at the detailed contract a hopeful has to sign before they get on a reality show, you will see why.
On top of the basic legal permission to cast you in the show, there are numerous other clauses such as confidentiality, medical waivers, rights to use your personal information and to portray you in any way they desire, favourable or not, and privacy rights among many other terms and conditions.
Basically, all these frees the production company from any claims or responsibilities. For example, Susan Boyle would not be able to sue for emotional damage or distress, even if it is caused by the company for entertainment effect.
While a hopeful may see this as reasonable considering the company's investment in money and efforts in you, when fame is in reach, one would start to realise how lopsided this really is. Others who understand this right at the start voluntarily jump in, for there are so many others eager to take your place.
One clause to take note of in particular would be that the production has the power to project you in whatever image they deem fit – and characters are chosen for a reason, often entertaining, whether hurtful or not.
A case in point would be Paul Hunn, a Guinness book record holder for the world's loudest burp. He only agreed to go on the show on the third time he was invited and even questioned his relevance, but the judges voted him off before he even started his act. While it is reasonable production companies seek quality candidates for their shows and have scouts send invites, it doesn't make sense if they pick particularly irrelevant ones so they may create "higher entertainment value" by shaming them during the auditions.
Winners in Reality?
There has also been rumours – that have been denied by production companies – of fixed winners. Among the most popularly debated one would be of Ronan Parke, who was invited and even trained for three years before he went on to win an installment of Britain's Got Talent. The lad's Facebook fan page and Twitter account were created by the company, and the official Ronan video was uploaded on Youtube but not for other contestants.
If this is true, the real hopefuls, who have invested time and effort waiting in the rain after numerous practices, are just wasting their time. What's worse, the "odd" ones will be picked up for their entertainment value at their own expense.
Of course, they will be people who ask shouldn't vulnerable people like children, youths or those of learning difficulties like Susan Boyle be protected? The media houses's answer to this would be that they voluntarily came forward to audition for as well as to sign the contact, and that everyone has a right to realize their dreams whether they fail or not.
So, for any fresh graduates who are hopeful in making it big in the media industry, remember there's nothing such as a free lunch. Chances like this may be a shortcut but not without its risks; and perhaps working your own way up slowly but surely would be a more rewarding journey. Be informed of your choices, weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself – you will want to be a winner in reality, and not just a reality show winner.