Sidewalk Karaoke is NZ's remedy to America's inauthentic talent shows

by Diana Wichtel / 30 August, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Sidewalk Karaoke NZ

Sidewalk Karaoke co-host Luke Bird. Photo/Sarah Marshall

Authenticity beats flashy and tacky in the quest for moving moments. Sidewalk Karaoke proves it.

One thing it seemed possible to be certain about in our strange times: no one really needs a 13th season of America’s Got Talent. The show now appears so contrived the judges deserve Oscars for acting. How surprised could Simon Cowell actually have been when shy, 13-year-old Courtney Hadwin made her Joplin-esque assault on Otis Redding’s Hard to Handle? Not very, presumably. In 2017, she was a finalist in The Voice Kids UK. She’s got bags of talent, but she’s from County Durham.

If magician Shin Lim seems too staggeringly good to be competing on a modern-day version of The Gong Show it might be because he’s had practice with Penn and Teller. And perhaps the adorable little guy from Chicago dance crew The Future Kingz really did interrupt proceedings to request the sponsor’s doughnuts completely unprompted. One hopeful stand-up comedian even cast doubt on the authenticity of Cowell’s teeth: “Those things are so straight and white they were just offered positions in Trump’s cabinet.”

Still, what is reality these days? A man hand-farting America the Beautiful or a group called The Human Fountains spitting into each other’s mouths to My Heart Will Go On can scarcely compete with the burlesque emanating from the White House.

Light-entertainment behemoth Cowell seems to have mellowed after years of this surrealist vaudeville. Or he’s figured out that wiping away a tear plays better in America than weapons-grade British snark. So far it’s been “hell, yes” to the performing cats and half-naked Japanese duo Yumbo Dump: “We make lots of sounds using our bodies!” There is Sophie, four, dressed like Shirley Temple and singing My Way. A million dollars is up for grabs and there’s the American dream to fulfil. Sixty-year-old comedian Vicki: “This could take me from my trailer park in Oceanside to a trailer park in Malibu.” Giggling 11-year-old animal impersonator Lilly made it through. “We’re gonna go order a pizza and jump on hotel beds,” her mum said.

New Zealand’s Got Talent never really took off. I seem to recall it made small children cry, not in a good way. They’ve got it nailed in the US. It’s flashy, tacky, weird and wacky. I’d hate to admit how often it made me weep. Bring on the singing dog.

For something with fewer bells and whistles – no bells and whistles – try Māori Television’s Sidewalk Karaoke. It’s what the label says. Punters on the streets or, when I watched, at Papatoetoe Night Market sing for prizes ranging from $100 to $1000. Scores are calculated by an app. Hosts Te Hāmua Nikora and Luke Bird offer encouragement and hugs.

Everyone’s got a story. Yvette had been an actor at Spookers theme park: “I’ve made a couple of people cry and pee in their pants.” She should consider going on America’s Got Talent. She made it to round two but left empty-handed. She got lots of hugs.

Jayvee got through to the third round, where she had to find a stranger in the crowd willing to join her for a duet. She and her ring-in, Torere, aced it. Jayvee left with $1000 to share with Torere. No snarky judges, no golden buttons, just a chance to have a shot. “I’m not into fame and glory but I’d just like to sing in a big stadium,” Jayvee said.

The moving moments are all the more powerful for refusing to milk the emotion in the Got Talent franchise manner. Krystal sang I Believe I Can Fly for her twin brother, who died when they were 18. She wasn’t interested in trying for bigger prizes: “I did what I wanted to do so I’ll take the money and run.”

Good-hearted, authentic and well worth a watch.

AMERICA’S GOT TALENT, Three, Saturday, 7pm.

SIDEWALK KARAOKE, Māori TV, Thursday, 8.30pm.

This article was first published in the September 1, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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