America’s Got Talent

The pros and cons of it

America's Got Talent logo and judges

In my review about The Voice show four years ago, I declared that I no longer believe in guilty pleasures. If I legitimately like something that most people – or even I – deem to be low brow, I embrace it. The truth is that I haven’t watched The Voice much since that column. That is probably because I only have room in my life for one reality TV show, and for the past two seasons that show has been America’s Got Talent. 

Unlike talent-specific shows such as singing-based shows The Voice and American Idol, or dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent knows no genre boundaries. Theoretically, anyone in the country that thought they excelled at something – anything – could audition for the show. It’s the melting pot of traditional and more off-the-wall talents. If you’re still not convinced, here is a pro/con list to consider.

Pro: Everyone is welcome. Sure, in the previous 12 seasons, half of the winners have been solo singing acts, but there has only been one in the last six years. Two of the last three winners have been ventriloquists, including last year’s winner, 12-year-old Darci Lynne Farmer. Seemingly anyone can audition. Do you train dogs? Go ahead, audition. Cats? Sure, if you can train cats, then audition. Are you a 71-year-old ballroom dancer? Go ahead, audition. Do you and your college buddies drink water and then spit like fountains? Go ahead, audition. All of these descriptions are actual acts on this season’s edition of AGT. There are singers and dancers, but there are acrobats, daredevils, and two men from Japan named Yumbo Dump who make animal noises with their bodies.

Con: Um, it’s reality TV. One of the biggest problems with so-called reality TV is that it is heavily edited and manipulated. While the show prides itself on giving a chance to anyone, many of the show’s contestants have appeared on other TV shows in the past, including similar versions of the show in other countries.

Pro: The Golden Buzzer. The show features six weeks of auditions to whittle down the field. Host Tyra Banks and each of the four judges – comedian Howie Mandel, former Spice Girl Mel B, supermodel and TV host Heidi Klum, and record producer/professional curmudgeon Simon Cowell – have a “golden buzzer” they can push once. The chosen few contestants skip the next round and advance to the live shows. Those who advance without the golden buzzer go on to one of four weeks of “Judge Cuts,” where 18 acts per show vie for seven spots and the chance to advance to the live shows. One guest judge per episode also receives a golden buzzer and saves their choice the agony of being in the discussion of being cut. Every golden buzzer definitely comes with a side of cheese: slow-motion footage of a judge hitting the buzzer, dramatic music, and golden confetti. But I fall for it every time.

Con: America’s got talent, but does it have good taste? OK, so maybe it’s not fair to criticize subjectivity because, you know, it’s subjective. But in the judge cuts, the judges don’t seem to care as much about finding the best acts as much as they do the right mix of acts. When the judges turn the voting over to the public during the live shows, it can become a frustrating popularity contest. I’m still a bit shocked (and bitter) that one of my favorite acts, 14-year-old freestyle rapper Flau’jae didn’t advance to the semifinals.

Pro: Everyone is a star. The aforementioned 71-year-old ballroom dancer wasn’t going to be able to perform on any other dance program because of her age. Also, this season has produced great singers who were body shamed in the past by record producers saying they didn’t have the right look. The judges – even Cowell (who has been guilty of said shaming in the past) – are publicly denouncing that behavior and encouraging the would-be stars to let their strong voices lead the way.

Con: Not everyone is a star. Yes, it’s an open competition but the judges’ hyperbole goes overboard. They tell way too many contestants that they are stars in the making. Sure, some past winners have found mainstream success, but I always fear the judges are giving false hope. Reality show stars can find success. One even became president. But that’s rare.

PQ In the end it features relatable people taking chances.

Pro: Back stories. Many of the contestants have overcome struggles of poverty, death of loved ones, or being bullied at school. The producers certainly play up this aspect, but the vignettes of the contestants also remind us that they’re similar to us.

Con: It’s mindless fun. Shakespeare it isn’t. It’s not even John Grisham.

Pro: It’s mindless fun. I saw the movie Sorry to Bother You last week and it was an absurdist look at capitalism. It was original, artful, and thought provoking. It took chances. America’s Got Talent isn’t going to elevate art, but in the end it features relatable people taking chances. Some have never performed before an audience, and some are viewing this as their last shot to gain exposure and earn a living performing for people. All I see are people performing a whole bunch of amazing things I can’t even begin to do. It may not always be artful, but it’s an achievement nonetheless.

America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays 8-10 p.m. on NBC, with the results show Wednesdays 8-9.

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