I've always tolerated talent shows if their purpose is to provide opportunity. They're not something I watch but I appreciate what they're for. In the 1960s and 70s we had shows like Opportunity Knocks and New Faces that launched many stars including Lenny Henry, Les Dawson, Lena Zavaroni and Jim Davison. Later on came Stars in their Eyes, a rather odd show that allowed people to show off their mimicry of a singing celebrity. But it did create careers and it wasn't cynical, exploitative or designed to humiliate. You watched it to see how close the impersonation was. But then came Pop Idol and American Idol and the X Factor and we entered a whole new ballgame. And that game has just suffered its first tragic casualty.
Paula Goodspeed was found dead outside American Idol judge Paula Abdul's house on Tuesday. She was 30 years old. A couple of years ago, she was humiliated by the Idol panel, particularly by Simon Cowell who commented, 'I don't think any artist on earth could sing with that much metal in your mouth. You have so much metal in your mouth'. Her very public slating made her a laughing stock and she recorded on her MySpace page that 'It's very hard reading such awful things being written about yourself or hearing things being said ... not like a lot of people would understand what it's like having so many haters, just because I made the mistake of trying out for a singing competition before I was even ready vocally, emotionally and physically.'
Paula Goodspeed had a history of mental illness and had to be warned away from 'stalking' Paula Abdul whom she idolised, even creating life-sized drawings of the singer and dancer. Abdul has said that she is 'deeply shocked and saddened at what transpired. My heart and prayers go out to her family.' Goodspeed apparently took an overdose of prescription pills outside Abdul's home.
But what did Abdul, Cowell, Jackson and all of the other reality judges expect to happen when you put a vulnerable and (sadly) deluded young woman on national television and then proceed to destroy her? What possible entertainment value can there be in laughing and sneering at people who are talentless or even mentally ill? It's as if we've returned to the days of mocking those less fortunate than ourselves. It's just one step away from the carnivales and freak shows of old.
I for one am disgusted by it all. We are better than this.