Pitting wannabe celebrities against one another has long been a successful radio and TV formula. Here are some of the shows that not only kickstarted the careers of several big names, but also set the benchmark to which all good, and really bad, talent shows aspire:
ORIGINAL AMATEUR HOUR (1934-1970) The show, which shifted from radio to TV in 1948, helped launch Gladys Knight and Pat Boone, among others. Audiences members at home voted for the weekly winner via postcard.
ARTHUR GODFREY’S TALENT SCOUTS (1948-1958) Contestants performed live before a national radio and TV audience, and an applause meter determined the weekly winner. Many participants were struggling professionals, so the talent level was quite high. Exposure from the show helped Patsy Cline revive her career in the late ’50s. Meanwhile, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly tried out but failed to make the grade.
THE GONG SHOW (1976-1980) In this parody of amateur talent shows, celebrity guests did the judging. The acts tended toward the outrageous, from a dentist who played The Stars and Stripes Forever on his drill, to an obese man tap-dancing to the music from Swan Lake. Contestants deemed awful were “gonged,” and the winner took home the grand prize of US$516.32. Well before Late Show, David Letterman was a regular judge. STAR SEARCH (1983-1995) Host Ed McMahon took the talent show genre to a whole new level. Judges awarded “stars” to young hopefuls in singing, dancing, modelling and stand-up comedy. Perhaps winners Britney Spears, Drew Carey, Justin Timberlake, Rosie O’Donnell, Dennis Miller and Sinbad-as well as Star Search losers Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé Knowles, Alanis Morissette, Ray Romano and LeAnn Rimes-should all offer McMahon a cut of their millions for giving them their first break or, at least, their first exposure.
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