Monday, September 10, 2012

Why 'I Will Survive' should survive

I Will Survive is getting a hammering from critics. Some reasons are valid but I also get a sense that there's a stifling of any real desire for originality within the talent show-slash-reality genre.

Daniel Burt for one is more than happy to bang on about the “confused” concept and the fall-through with the prize to perform on Broadway. Sure, men in drag doesn’t equate to a triple threat ready for the bright lights of Broadway and, sure, the boys won’t get to play Tick in Priscilla. I’ll also grant that the show’s structure focuses a little too much on un-related whimsy (like playing footy and going to firing ranges) and not enough on showing off the contestant’s talents.

But, what the show does offer is an acknowledgment of the musical theatre audience in Australia, and I think that is long overdue. Triple threat isn’t a word used much on talent shows. Sometimes “talent” doesn’t even come into play; a good sob story is worth its weight in airtime over someone who can hold a note for longer than two seconds. Shows search for the “x factor” and wind up with another Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. Musical theatre is different. It is home to triple threats who don’t want to be on the next cover of NW Magazine but want to slog their guts out singing, dancing and acting live on stage eight shows a week.
Talent shows in Australia are scattered with musical theatre performers. The likes of Jaz Flowers and Matt Heatherington from the first season of The Voice spring to mind. Yet if either had sung a song from a musical using their trained musical theatre technique, they would have been crucified. The musical-theatre-loving audience is almost completely ignored on commercial television. Why? God knows.
So I for one am happy to think that Kyle Sandilands would have his head in a bucket being sick at all the “musical theatre cheesiness”. I Will Survive celebrates diversity. It talks about and brings value to the idea of a triple threat, it showcases some talented Aussie blokes who otherwise never get their spot of commercial television, and it celebrates Australia’s best-known musical export – Priscilla.
Does the exact format of I Will Survive work? No. It is confused and does focus more on the fun of drag rather than the skills needed to be on Broadway. Is it a fun show to watch? Yes. There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments and the contestants are an interesting bunch.
I would love to see a talent show like BBC’s Any Dream Will Do! and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? that casts the next lead in a musical. That format would give a real perspective of the musical theatre industry. But, for now, I will certainly settle for I Will Survive, and applaud Channel Ten for giving this show a chance.
So to all the haters: get off the soapbox. If you want to play the ratings card, take a glimpse at what is rating higher than I Will Survive and have a quick think about how that show is contributing to greater diversity on Australian television. Do you really want to watch another reality show filled with models pretending to be “wife-material” or “geek-trainers” to get a leg up in their next audition?
I Will Survive is catering (albeit strangely) to a neglected theatre-loving audience. Let's support this strange child that is trying to do something different for once.
I Will Survive airs Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 7:30pm on Channel Ten.

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