The narrative is beyond cliché: gawky middle-aged sod turns up to a talent show audition, with clearly delusional hopes of becoming a world superstar. (In our corporate celebrity age, we have been trained to believe that all stars should look the part, i.e. be young, photogenic, and fashionable.) The contestant reveals that he or she has never been kissed/fondled/shagged, which, sadly, comes as no surprise to anyone watching.
Contestant appears on stage to snickers from the audience and barely concealed disgust from the judges. But then, when music is cued, contestant sings with unexpected technical skill, and the once-dubious judges are beaming. When the panel voices its approval and sends the contestant to the next round, strings (or the strains of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”) swell in the background, just like when the underdog Little League team triumphs in some bad family movie.
And the re-telling of this narrative began over the weekend on the latest episode of the British X Factor, which saw 45-year-old erstwhile drag queen Johnny Robinson initially repel, but then beguile, the panel. His rendition of the Etta James standard “At Last” is shaky, but the sheer incongruity between his elfin-eared, track-suited appearance and the soulfulness of his vocals makes his performance seem much more impressive. Can’t you just hear the morning talk shows a-callin’ already?