I'm not sure why America's Got Talent has established a bizarre tradition of lying by omission. From the very first season, there has been nothing in the rules to stop a professional act from competing on the show. There are certain caveats--I believe you can't already have a TV contract, major label record deal, or certain theatrical contracts--but otherwise, professionals are allowed to audition. If you're wondering how certain acts seem to disappear off the face of the Earth between their auditions and the callbacks, it's because many of them have professional obligations that preclude them from advancing further. For example, Elew, a phenomenal power player with a gimmick about charging up his energy through electricity, will be touring with Josh Groban through Fall 2011. This meant he couldn't even attend the Las Vegas callbacks.
It seems that this program has a problem admitting that there are professionals competing with amateurs. On the one hand, I understand why. America loves an underdog (just ask Lee DeWyze (who?)), but doesn't actually support the underdog's career in the long run. However, if professionals who can actually sustain a Vegas show are presented as amateurs, America might fall for them.
On the other hand, it would be nice to see some transparency around these auditions. Why lie when you're doing nothing wrong? Are people really going to think that Prince Poppycock wasn't as talented as he was if they knew he was already touring with the character? I think not.
What really got me thinking about this topic was the announcement last week that Squonk Opera was one of the judge's top 10 acts from all of the auditions. The Top 10 got to advance to the live shows (starting tonight) without having to audition a second time in Las Vegas. To clarify even further, Squonk Opera is not the only act I recognize that got this kind of treatment this season. They're just the act I'm most familiar with. Feel free to replace "Squonk Opera" with your favorite well-known variety act as you continue down the page.
What has put Squonk Opera on my mind? For one thing, they had a bizarre but brilliant show transfer from Off-Broadway to Broadway around 2000 in New York City.
So I knew exactly who they were. I was thrilled to see they had auditioned. But then I saw both what they auditioned with and how the show framed their audition and got suspicious.
I didn't even think they made it through to Vegas. The judges seemed baffled in the talking head interview at the end of the segment. I even tweeted that clearly this wasn't the right venue for Squonk Opera and they had no chance of making it through. So out of nowhere the judges picked them as a favorite. This is a case of bad editing, but it feels like there's more to it than that.
Are you really telling me Pittsburgh-based Squonk Opera drove out on a whim to Minneapolis with all those massive steel structures? That they came all that way for just a 90 second audition? And we are supposed to believe that the judges loved them enough to put them through to the live shows when they're thrown into a segment labeled "Bizarre Auditions?" It just doesn't sit right with me. Why hide Squonk Opera if they were one of the best auditions? Wouldn't you want America to know who they are before the live voting rounds start?
It just gets weirder and weirder the more you know about what NBC wants you to know. Squonk Opera's official bio previously said they performed their first show in 2003. I wish I had a screen-grab because they've changed it to the accurate 1995 origin. Now the story lines up. What tipped them off, I wonder? I'm not narcissistic enough to believe that my humble barrage of tweets and message board media blitz was enough to correct this misconception. I'll just assume that Squonk saw the bio and made them change it. That'll help me sleep at night.
Even more strange is how Squonk Opera is the only act this year, so far, that admits to being recruited by the show.
Hey, it's the Squonkers here! We're out in sunny LA getting ready for our close-up. For those who have not yet been Squonked, we're a group of musicians and artists who create all-original work from our home in Pittsburgh. AGT invited us to audition and we were thrilled for the chance to strut our stuff in front of millions of Americans.
Am I just being cynical for the sake of cynicism? I don't think so. Why does NBC think it's ok to erase years of history from some of these acts? Squonk Opera aren't the only veterans being downplayed. Someone I know is being very secretive about someone else's 10 year history as a professional, as if I'll think less of the act for knowing differently. But I mean, Echo the talking parrot performs every day at a zoo. Professor Splash does his shallow water diving act act at state fairs and conventions all around the country (one of his videos went viral a few months ago). All of the singer/songwriters tour small venues and have albums out (even the ones who say they never ever sing in public). It's rare at this stage to find an act--outside of the youngest children and the dancing academies--that doesn't have significant professional experience. So why hide it?
I'm not going to stop watching because NBC is withholding information. That would be stupid. I really love America's Got Talent because I love variety acts. I'm lucky if I get to see one sideshow act at a haunted house each year. Maybe when I'm walking through NYC I'll catch a juggler. I might get invited to an event featuring a comedian or magician. But that's it. Dancers and singers I can see whenever I want.
What I know for certain is that I will be watching tonight's live show. I prefer to vote for just one act to give them as many votes as possible. Right now, I'm favoring Squonk so I can see what they bring to the show. I'm hoping everything goes well as NBC has their own people doing their projections/lighting and sound design rather than the Squonk Opera mainstays. They're promising a very complicated performance and those can fall apart real fast if NBC decides they need a ratings boost. Squonk Opera is one of the few acts that I could see sustaining a show in Las Vegas like Terri Fator.
Would your opinions change if you knew more about the contestant's backgrounds? At what level of success do you think they don't belong on this show? Any favorites you're looking forward to? I'm excited to see (besides Squonk Opera) what Those Funny Little People do tonight. I think they're dancing puppetry gimmick is brilliant. Sound off below.