Professionals have too much talent

Darren Cartwright, National Entertainment Writer

TV talent quests were once the domain of amateurs willing to make a fool of themselves in the hope of achieving fame and fortune.

Some succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Unknowns-to-stars stories include Britain's Got Talent season one winner Paul Potts and season three runner-up Susan Boyle.

Potts had been managing a mobile phone business before his singing career went north; Boyle went from performing in front of a church congregation to being an international star.

Then there's Kelly Clarkson, who had dabbled in music but also worked as a telemarketer and cocktail waitress before she won the first season of American Idol.

Pop sensation One Direction were formed from five failed solo artists who tried out on Britain's version of The X Factor.

On the local front, there's Guy Sebastian, who was hardly known outside of church singing before he became the first Australian Idol.

But the chances of such talent shows unearthing more rank amateurs are fading fast.

Professional entertainers are hijacking shows that purport to be in the business of raising up Australia's next big undiscovered act.

The lure of thousands of dollars in cash and vast media exposure has become a bright light to moths who are already in the entertainment industry.

The Nine Network's Australia's Got Talent (AGT) is the latest example of a reality series which has become a promotional vehicle for professional entertainers.

A number of the acts who have made it deep into the series or through to the final of AGT are seasoned and well-travelled entertainers who are already earning a living off the paying public.

South Australian illusionist Raymond Crowe is a class act. His shadow hand-puppet performance is superb.

But even before he appeared on AGT, his hand-puppet clip on YouTube had attracted more than a million views.

Crowe had also performed all over the world, from a UK Royal Variety show to the OC Fair in California.

Crowe is entitled to have a crack at the $250,000 prize-money on AGT, given the show is open to all comers. So are Melbourne magician Michael Boyd and Brisbane ballet dancer Yu Hui. But neither could have been described as unknowns.

Boyd, according to his profile, is a third-generation magician who has travelled the globe, performing his illusions in casinos and on cruise ships.

His act is worthy of a spot in Las Vegas - so it's no surprise that his website states he has performed at the Sands Casino, although he doesn't specify if it's the one in Nevada.

Gifted ballet dancer Hui is a well established performer, and a member of the Queensland Ballet company. He has worked in Singapore, and more recently returned to China to dance as a professional.

Even Brisbane dance group Swagamama could be deemed professionals.

They are available for hire, have won numerous dance competitions and even performed in the opening episode of last year's ill-fated Network Ten series Everybody Dance Now.

AGT is not the only reality TV talent quest to become the domain of professionals or semi-professionals.

This year's series of The Voice was peppered with established artists wanting to be rediscovered.

Some critics have even suggested that's one reason the ratings for the Nine show were lower than they had been in 2012.

Among those who auditioned but failed to get through were former Leonardo's Bride singer Abby Dobson and former Little River Band (LRB) frontman Steve Wade.

Wade fronted LRB after John Farnham left and he has even won Australian song writing awards.

Of those that did make the cut on The Voice, Michael Paynter and Simone Stacey had already released songs in their own right.

Stacey was one half of Shakaya, which had a top 10 hit with Stop Calling Me in 2002. Stacey had also been the support act for international and local stars.

Paynter was once signed to Sony Records: his 2010 single Love The Fall, which featured The Veronicas' Lisa and Jess Origliasso as guest artists, was a top 10 hit.

The quality of professional or semi-professional talent now presenting themselves for reality TV shows gives the networks and the viewing public a superior, more consistent product.

However, it also means amateurs hoping to make it big have next to no chance even if they are virtuosos at playing the spoons or whistling through a gum leaf.

There's nothing to stop professionals or near-professionals entering reality talent shows, but the public should be aware that for amateurs, the rules have changed.