Last week I was sent a You-Tube clip from a British television talent show in which contestant performances were evaluated by a panel of very hip-looking judges before a huge studio audience. In the recording a very un-hip looking woman of middle age had just come upon stage. Everything about her appearance was unremarkable, to say the least. She was just too old, too frowsy, too heavy, too badly dressed and coifed, and it turned out when the judges asked her preliminary questions about herself and her ambitions–far too overconfident–to be anything but an object of cruel amusement for the audience, members of which were filmed laughing, shaking their heads, and rolling their eyes before she began. What could come from a number like this but a reminiscence of Florence Foster Jenkins or Elva Miller?
The button for the accompaniment recording of a well-known pop song was pressed by the grinning engineers, and out of her mouth came . . . . a stunningly glorious voice, performing at the very highest professional level. The audience was clearly shocked, but soon began an uproar of standing applause that continued far past the end of the performance. The judges, equally taken aback, admitted that they had all learned a very big lesson, although articulating what that lesson was in all its grim reality proved difficult.
In my line of work I handle a great many album covers, and have found it striking how many pop and country and western female stars, and yes, even female classical instrumentalists, look, or can be made to look, unusually beautiful. No one in his right senses could believe there is any connection between physical beauty and musical talent, so clearly there must be other dynamics at work here, and these dynamics, after brief reflection, are obvious.
It’s a market phenomenon. When there's a surplus of talent, as there clearly is in these fields, the choices of the success-brokers are made on supplemental grounds calculated to increase profit, and beauty is the most important of these. The audience here was firmly under the impression that this unfashionable woman couldn't possibly be talented because they had been thoroughly trained in this conventional wisdom, completely ignorant of their indoctrination, by those who profit from it. They learned an important lesson, and I'm very glad this film is making the rounds.