A really great talent finds its happiness in execution. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Talent is elusive. A lot of people can develop skill, but talent comes from the soul; either one has it or one doesn’t. There is no way to cultivate something that doesn’t exist.
Those who know me best understand that I do not submit my work to appear in juried art shows, with very few exceptions. Why? Because those who judge art, in any form, can do no more than reward those whose aesthetic matches their own. Putting a blue ribbon on a piece of art is not saying that the one piece is better than all the others entered, but merely that it would match the drapes were it hanging in the judges’ livingrooms.
Having held this opinion for many years, I am always a bit torn when it comes to televised talent contests of any kind. On one hand, they do provide a platform on which talent might be recognized that would otherwise not receive attention. At the same time, however, it puts talent into a competitive arena that fails to understand what talent is in the first place. Having talent means that there is something within you, a combination of nurture and nature, a very specific mix of brain chemicals and specific methods of synaptic activity that allows you to do something very well and, in most cases, actually enjoy doing it. There is no competition for who has the best brain chemicals or whose synapsis fire the fastest. There is absolutely nothing about talent that can adequately and accurately serve as a basis for competition.
Look at those things that are competitive, such as sports. There is a definite measure of quality that defines who is the best. One runner moves across a given distance faster than anyone else. That can be measured. He or she in the winner. In a football game, one team or the other manages to move that odd-shaped ball across the goal line. Points scored are a quantitative measure. One team is the winner.
Talent, though, has no inherent scoring system nor means of accurate quantitative analysis that is wholly objective. We can measure range, we can measure decibels, we can measure color and light, but in the end, someone has to make a decision based on opinion, not an accurate measure of quality. Talent is, quite simply, not designed to be competitive in any way, shape or form.
So, we get down to the end of a popular talent contest like NBC’s The Voice. The concept has been syndicated around the world and is responsible for unearthing some incredible vocal talent. Yet, in each instance, only one person is selected as a winner and, every damn time, one can make endless arguments for multiple contestants that one was “better” than the other, and all of those arguments are going to be wrong.
No one is better. They are all different. They have different tonalities. They have different presentation methods. They have different appeals to people who prefer specific genres. One group of people may prefer the sound of one person over the other, but that is a subjective opinion that is likely to not be shared outside a limited group.
Look at all the myriad television contests that have been on television over the years. From all those, how many of those “winners” have turned their prize into an actual career? The answer is very few because being talented does not necessarily translate into broad commercial appeal. Choose the wrong song, choose the wrong timing, choose the wrong PR agent, and one’s talent career is sunk, but that does not mean that the person is not still every bit as talented.
This week, The Voice chose its four finalists: two women, two men. I’m going to post the video of their recent performance. Listen to the talent, attempt to be as objective as possible (which, in reality, is not possible) and try to make an argument that one is more talented than the other.
All four of these people hold superb and well-refined talent. You might not like their genre, you might not like the way they sing a specific song, you might not like the tone of their voice, but all of that is nothing more than your opinion. And, I hate to be the one to tell you, your opinion isn’t worth squat. You can bitch and moan and say whatever you want, but no opinion changes the fact these people are talented.
Talent is NOT a competition, whether it is singing or painting or photography or floral arranging or creative writing or acting or playing the cello. There is no contest that can truly say one talent is better than the other. Maybe we need to find a better approach.