Depending on your feelings about the ramshackle reality competition that is America’s Got Talent, the fact that it’s an all-ages competition is either great or horrible. For those pushing the former, the lack of an age requirement is what helped 10-year old sensation Jackie Evancho reach the finals last year (and subsequently, release an album), and in part why you may get laughs from certain older “performers” looking to make last-ditch attempts at stardom—or at least their 15 minutes of fame.
Last night’s AGT standout number came from Cindy Chang, a 42-year-old “homemaker” who kept her plans to audition from her family after years of being discouraged by her own parents. While that alone conjures up the sympathy vote, she adequately backed things up with a stellar version of the Puccini aria “O mio babbino caro,” cute little snort and all. After a standing ovation from Piers Morgan, Chang became a popular topic on Twitter and eventually gained comparisons to another “unlikely” reality TV surprise: Susan Boyle, the infamous Britain’s Got Talent star who has gone on to sell a gagillion albums of her own. But aside from their ages and clear vocal ability, we’re searching for these alleged similarities. Everyone has that friend with a good voice, the one you drunkenly encourage to really try to “make it” as a singer and who doesn’t empty a room during a karaoke outing. It’s likely Chang and Boyle were those people to their friends and family, and isn’t bringing their talents to a larger audience what this crazy little show is all about? Why should we be surprised by Chang’s performance?
TV Guide explains the non-relationship between vocal ability and physical appearance best: “The fact that a reasonably attractive 42-year-old Asian woman could sing an aria should surprise only those who hold prejudices against 42-year-old Asian women.” On a show with literally no parameters for talent (there have been magicians, cheerleading groups and really, really bad singers) performers can’t “surprise” us with how good they are. Impress us or annoy us, sure. But to surprise implies a preexisting expectation based on looks alone (since we’re not given much about their backgrounds), and when that is done in reverse, the Internet erupts with rage. (Specifically when claiming those under 21 should stay away from Fleetwood Mac…or high-profile Twitter accounts.)
There’s already enough prejudice based on physical appearance in popular culture, and based on the way the music industry leans today, it’s likely that neither Boyle or Chang would be at the top of a record executive’s to-sign list had they not wowed audiences on a major stage. So for a show that boasts no boundaries in its search for real talent, let’s go into these next few rounds as clear-headed and open minded as we can, and make the contestants wow us with their skill instead of their “unlikeliness.” At least until magician Fantastic Fig a.k.a Paul F. Fegen performs again. Because we all know attorneys are notoriously bad at tricks.