Australia's got diminishing returns
Six degrees of separation? Australia's Got Talent judges Brian McFadden, Dannii Minogue and Kyle Sandilands, dominated ratings last year.
WHATEVER the wattage of a microwave, I know exactly how long to poach an egg before it explodes. Such is my ability that I don't even bother covering the egg with a paper towel. Excitement swells as the timer approaches zero and the door swings open to fevered applause from awestruck townsfolk. Vaudeville is not dead - it's just wearing pyjamas.
Australia Does Indeed Have Talented People Within It (which was the grammatically correct but rejected working title of Australia's Got Talent). Your pedicurist might be a budding Pavarotti; your dentist a latent Debussy; your grim cafe waitress who lists the muffin flavours like she's reading her own cancer diagnosis could be a formidable belly dancer. She's probably not, but that simmering desperation might explain her attitude.
The carrot of a recording contract often goes pear-shaped.
Nobody calls them talent quests any more. It's as if the word ''quest'' got too fancy for juggling and is now cordoned off for life-threatening voyages or spiritual enlightenment.
These days, talent on TV is presented through the prism of ''competition''. Just as video did a job on the radio star, variety got swallowed by reality in more ways than one.
Australia's got talent, but not quite enough to devise our own formats. AGT and The X Factor are the brainchildren of Brit Simon Cowell, who is also a judge on Pop Idol, which spawned Australian Idol. Cowell's talent shows are each different in subtle but lucrative ways.
AGT has the vibe of a bloated open-mike night and rejoices in entrants who are not cookie cutter but look as though they might enjoy cookies. Deluded acts are truncated so to satisfy our voyeurism but not make us feel like malicious gawkers - which we are, but we don't like it pointed out. A cynic like myself might worry that contestants are parachuted into later rounds. Regardless, any show that has a stripping plumber, car sound impressionist and performance of Amazing Grace using what appeared to be discontinued vacuum parts doesn't have to stress too much about crap like integrity.
Cowell recently admitted to an affair with Dannii Minogue when she was a judge on the British version of The X Factor. She left that gig to focus on her new family in Melbourne and judge Australia's Got Talent but her relationship broke down and now she's in talks to rejoin the show in Britain. Minogue judges AGT alongside Kyle Sandilands, who has also been a judge on The X Factor and Australian Idol. He recently divorced Tamara Jaber, who was a member of Scandal'us, the group that won the talent show Popstars in 2002, judged by his radio partner, Jackie O. Sandilands is friends with fellow judge Brian McFadden, who dated Delta Goodrem, who is a judge on Channel Nine's The Voice. Yes, this will be on the test, and if you get it right, you fail at life.
AGT is hosted by Grant Denyer, who is channelling the spirit of Daryl Somers. Denyer capped off one particularly tortured voice-over with, ''our nationwide search spread far and wide''. I don't mind him abusing the language but does he have to sound so happy doing it?
Since the turn of the century - and I refer to the one most of us lived through - talent shows have traded on the diminishing heft of the record industry. TV and music executives sought to discover, polish and produce acts that would take over the Western world, or at least a Westfield shopping centre at lunchtime. The final verdict is not supposed to be the end but the start of a life-changing contract. To the victor go the spoils and, in the case of talent shows, that usually means years of identity-crushing, creative compromise.
The carrot of a recording contract often goes pear-shaped. AGT slings the winner $250,000. Last year the prizemoney went to 14-year-old singer Jack Vidgen, who now pays his dog to eat his homework. Magician Cosentino had to settle for second place after his trick backfired, when he couldn't put his name on the winner's envelope.
The true prize of a talent show is the air time and experience. AGT's dominance has been challenged by smash hit The Voice, whose esteemed vocal coaches provide invaluable mentorship. This is in stark contrast with Sandilands, who must watch people with talent the way men observe a dog lick its privates - with superficial amusement but underlying envy.
Networks claim to support new faces as they make a motza from beginners eager for recognition. Local musicians are valued on TV - provided they sing a Whitney Houston cover. Channel Seven is prepared to put amateur comedians on AGT but reluctant to commission home-grown comedy. It's harder than ever to make a buck in the arts, especially when ''exposure'' is considered payment in itself.
The AGT studio audience gives standing ovations for stuff I wouldn't sit down for. Imagine how nuts they'll go when they see my microwaved egg.
Daniel Burt is a writer and comedian. Follow him on Twitter: @trubnad. Australia's Got Talent airs at 7.30pm on Wednesday on Channel Seven.