I don’t really watch America’s Got Talent because frankly I find it horrifying. It’s not just that the definition of the word “talent” is so thinly sliced or that the judges’s faces all seem to be melting at the exact same rate, but whereas with most of these performative reality shows, the would-be contestants are whittled down by a team of “professionals” before they ever make it in front of a live studio audience, and the particularly hilarious ones are trotted out via post-production editing for a highlighted blooper reel that we can all schadenfreude at from the comfort and safety of our own homes, the cannon fodder contestants on America’s Got Talent are forced to perform in front of an auditorium of wild animals. Obviously, these people sign legal documents and are so desperate for any kind of attention and so filled with unearned confidence that they willfully subject themselves to the whims of the audience and it is their lack of self-awareness that ultimately drives their humiliation, but watching a human being standing alone on stage as an entire auditorium of straight up MONSTERS stands up and BOOS them loudly and crosses their arms into x’s as if to say “YOU DO NOT EVEN DESERVE TO EXIST” is a painful thing to watch. I hate it. I hate everyone in the auditorium. I hate Sharon Osbourne. I hate the 65-year-old guy who made his own puppets out of ping pong balls and pipe cleaners and performed a weird marionette dance to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for making us live his public failure. It’s just not a show for me, I guess. But, so, earlier this week, a young gothic man named Andrew De Leon became the new Susan Boyle when he performed supposedly for the very first time in his entire life for anyone ever. Most of the people who have posted this clip on the Internet talk about how it is a tear-jerker and “so emotional.” We’ll get to that in a second.
Andrew De Leon is basically the face of America’s Got Talent. If the ultimate conceit of the show is that it is giving regular people with incredible talents that have gone overlooked an opportunity to become rich and successful just like Meg Ryan–that somehow you too could be plucked from total obscurity and your sad, civilian life could be transformed into something “special” and “meaningful,” then certainly this performance illustrates that idea. (It always helps to have a nice visual hook. If, for example, you are a good singer, you should def dress up in an outfit that makes it look like you’re going to sing a different kind of song altogether. Or, like Susan Boyle, you should just be ugly.) If Andrew De Leon is to be believed, and why not, let’s believe him, then he is truly the basement genius whose own parents never saw him sing a word. (What? I mean, I believe this to be true, and I’m sure that Andrew De Leon had a childhood that was within the standard deviation of difficulty. Toddlers are so cruel to children with cats eye contact lenses. We could also get into this whole other argument about how at this point, Andrew is an adult, and he is making very clear choices that perpetuate his feelings of isolation, which are his right to make and we should all be more open and generous and accepting in this world, but we should also not be confused when people react in the negative ways that we could easily foresee based on a lifetime of historical precedent. But back to our dreaming!)
The thing about this clip that gets me is not the Internet-ready conflict between Andrew’s goth outfit and operatic aspirations. It’s 1912, guys. We need to finally come to terms with the fact that sometimes nice voices come out of unexpected bodies. And it’s not all of the reaction shots of people CRYING in the audience because SERIOUSLY, AUDIENCE? You should talk to someone. This audience needs to check if its meds are balanced because one second they’re shrieking for someone to be murdered because their break-dancing routine wasn’t dope enough, and now they are crying because of OPERA as if any of these fucks even heard an opera before in their goddamned lives. Work it out! And I’m definitely not particularly swayed by the throwaway idea of getting a reality TV ticket to Las Vegas as some kind of stepping stone to I don’t even know what? A CD? Who knows.
Here is the thing that does kind of get me about this clip, because I am an adult, and I can admit when a clip kind of gets me: what gets me about this clip is that basically what is happening here, the simple wish fulfillment of this moment when you strip away all of the noise and the mascara and the Nick Cannons is a dude standing on stage and having his parents tell him that they love him and that they are proud of him. That’s fucking IT. That’s the only thing of any truth that’s happening here, but it’s kind of an important truth, and it’s kind of the only truth anyone ever really wants. The whole reason most people would even subject themselves to the harsh, sodium glow of the reality TV spotlight is because they desperately need someone, anyone to tell them “we see you. You are alive and you exist and that means something to someone on this planet, at least for now.” Everyone’s dreams are so small. We should probably dream even smaller, though. Seeing Andrew De Leon get the thing everyone secretly wants without ever knowing or admitting that they want it makes you kind of hope he’ll just go home now. Don’t go to Las Vegas! You already won the grand prize! Leave the animals to scream over the scraps.