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Saturday, May 4, 2013

[You Don't Know Me blog tour] Sophia Bennett on Talent Shows

Hello lovely readers!

Today is my stop for the You Don't Know Me blog tour and I have the author, Sophia Bennett, sharing something she experienced about talent shows. It's quite long, but I promise it's very much worth the read.

Leave a comment, will you? I'd love to know your thoughts about Sophia's post.


It is the summer of 1979 and my junior house at boarding school is holding a talent show. I have decided, in my 12 year-old wisdom, that it would be a really good idea to do a full three-minute solo to ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba. And so I practise, and I do it in front of all my friends and my housemistress, wearing – as I recall – a leotard and legwarmers, and … unbelievably …

It goes OK. I am not mercilessly teased about it for the REST OF MY LIFE, which, looking back, was a serious possibility. But instead, I actually come fourth. I’m still a big fan of Abba, naturally enough. And that scene, slightly changed, has made its way into the book – along with the phrase ‘Seminal leotards’.

Fast-forward twenty years. I have left my job and I’m trying to be a writer. I’ve made it to the finals of a travel writing competition, gone to Chicago, agonised for weeks about how to write my winning piece about the trip, and now I’m standing in a room with one of my favourite authors, Bill Bryson, while they finally announce the winner. The celebrity making the announcement (not Bill, who was lovely, by the way) starts by saying that all the finalists’ pieces were a bit rubbish, but one stood out for its humour and human interest and … a bunch of other stuff. I wasn’t really listening by then: I was convinced he was describing my piece. But he wasn’t. Mine was simply ‘rubbish’. So there.

In between I’d entered countless writing competitions, over and over, regularly, for years. And come nowhere; heard nothing. A rubbish also-ran was as good as it got. Was it time to decide I really wasn’t very good that this stuff, and perhaps carve out a role as a backing dancer with an Abba tribute band?

Maybe. But what I actually did was write a novel. And another, and another. The thing is, you don’t always win. In fact, statistically, you almost always lose – unless you’re Meryl Streep at the Oscars, or Patrick Ness – but if you love to do something, you have to try.

It’s not about who wins and who loses, it’s about doing the best you can, showing off a bit, and getting together with other people who love to do the kind of thing you do. I may have felt crushed by that travel writing judge, but I met a bunch of other would-be travel writers along the way, I learned a lot, and we had a wonderful time.

Perhaps talent shows aren’t for the faint of heart, but I still think they’re worth it if you enter them in the right spirit and keep reminding yourself that the judges aren’t always right. After all, One Direction weren’t winners. Nor was Susan Boyle.

Which brings me to TV talent shows.

There’s a lot to love. Take Harry Styles, for example. (Millions want to.)And Kelly Clarkson, and Ashleigh and Pudsey, and THAT Susan Boyle audition, and Girls Aloud. I adore those moments when someone stands onstage and you’re a bit nervous for them, and you’re not quite sure if they’re going to survive it, and then they blow you away. The first episode of Britain’s Got Talent this year had me in tears within the first fourteen minutes. My mascara was a mess by the end.

But there’s a lot I don’t love about the TV versions, too. I don’t love it when they (and by ‘they’, I usually mean X-Factor and occasionally The Voice, but mostly X-Factor) where was I? Oh yes – when they take someone with a precious, unique talent, like a young singer songwriter, and make them sing cover after cover after cover until they can’t remember who they are any more. I hate it when they style all their personality away. I hate it when, in the audition stages, the judges decide to play with people’s emotions, just for the drama of the moment.

Also, I loathe it when people start internet campaigns to abuse entrants they don’t like, such as Cher Lloyd, who was horribly bullied online for years. She was one of my inspirations for the story of You Don’t Know Me, and she’s now starting to take off in the States, because she never gave up or gave in. Loving that girl
For the book, I was inspired by the dark side of TV talent shows and it might seem, reading the story, like I hate them all, but I don’t.I love BGT (despite the occasional ‘ditch your friend’ moment, like Charlotte and Jonathan, except of course they refused to split up) and Ashley Banjo’s Got To Dance. In fact, I love anything that celebrates talent, rather than criticising it, trying to change it or making fun of it. And who am I to talk anyway? I got published by entering a talent competition, after all.

It was the Times/Chicken House competition for unpublished children’s writers (running now, by the way, if you happen to have an unpublished children’s book on your laptop; check out the Chicken House website for details). Yes – after a mere thirty years of entering the things, I finally won one and my life changed overnight. I am one of those starry-eyed “My dream came true” people. After my sticky ‘rubbish’ moment, it happened in the end.

Maybe that’s why I cry so easily now when the BGT judges all line up to watch, and a young boy in a wheelchair cracks joke after joke about living with cerebral palsy (“I bet you’re thinking, ‘Harry Potter had a really bad accident playing Quidditch’”), and brings the whole audience of the London Palladium to their feet.

And he blinks into the lights, David Walliams grins, Amanda Holden blinks back her tears, and he may not win, but you know he’s going to be OK.

About the book:

Title: You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett
Release Date: May 6th 2013
Published by: Chicken House
Summary (from Goodreads):

It was all so good. Sasha and Rose. Best friends in a band, singing together. Right up to the finals of Killer Act when the judges tell them one of them must go Suddenly their friendship is put to the ultimate test. On TV in front of millions. Two girls. One huge mistake. Can they ever forgive each other?

Buy a copy of You Don't Know Me: Amazon | Book Depository

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving us this great story, Sophia! I agree with you on so many points, particularly the abuse that a lot of reality TV competitors have to go through. It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of everyone and try to present yourself in the best light possible in such a short amount of time.

    I am definitely adding You Don't Know me to my reading list, it sounds fascinating!


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