It’s time to research Canadian television viewers

It’s unfair that Canada always gets excluded from televised talent scouting. No matter what, every attempt at displaying fresh Canadian talent has fallen flat on our faces.

Let’s take a trip back to the Canadian Idol days. The first five seasons were ratings juggernauts, yet the sixth (and ultimately final) season took a nosedive in viewership. Idol routinely drew in over 2 million viewers per episode in the early years, and only 1.3 to 1.6 million people tuned into the competition during summer 2008. Producers noticed the ratings dip, and recruited R&B singer-songwriter Jully Black as a mentor, critic and vocal coach. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to rekindle the show’s magic.

Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney.

So You Think You Can Dance, Canada! suffered a similar fate. Although over 1 million people followed the show’s final season in summer 2011, CTV cancelled it, citing viewership and the economic climate as deciding factors. Numbers for the finale that year were down almost 30 per cent from the previous year.

Canada’s Got Talent is the most recent talent competition to get the axe, and the only one to not progress past its freshman year. CityTV noted that high production costs and low ratings (its finale didn’t even cress 1 million viewers) were the reasons for its cancellation, but the network expressed interest in reviving the series in the future.

(From left to right) Canada’s Got Talent host Dina Pugliese, Stephan Moccio, Measha Brueggergosman and Martin Short.

After examining each show, I find the issue isn’t talent itself, but a lack of viewer interest.

We could banter all day as to why this is the case and still be totally off. The only way we’ll know is by conducting solid market research. Of course, we can’t just target Canadian television viewers in general, as that wouldn’t yield accurate results. Each market is entertained differently, whether it’s through satirical news broadcasts, reality shows, or sitcoms.

The median viewer age for Canadian Idol was 33 in 2007, and 45 in 2008, while So You Think You Can Dance, Canada! attracted younger viewers (aged 18-34 roughly).

In this case, Canadians aged 21-50 (who watch television for more than two hours a week) could be surveyed. This would determine why they gradually lose interest in Canadian talent competitions, and what would persuade them to follow one.

Who knows? Lighting or audio issues could be detracting Canadians from tuning into Idol, Dance or Got Talent. We won’t know unless we find out for ourselves. Without solid viewership and interest, a television show is meaningless.

The Olympics of entertainment

Simon Cowell has teased a global “Got Talent” for four years. Plans to actually make this show a reality have been halted constantly, because Simon believes it would hamper with his commitments with Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor.

A&R executive and producer Simon Cowell.

The “World’s Got Talent” came to light again two weeks ago, when it was reported that the show would be held in India, under the title of Got Talent World Stage LIVE. It would take place sometime in December of this year, and be hosted by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.

Simon has made no official announcement regarding this event. As it stands, it’s only a rumour, but I really hope it sees the light of day.

Considering the Got Talent franchise set a world record earlier this year, there’s so much that could be explored. If done carefully, a global Got Talent show could be one of the most-watched events on television this decade.

I’ve created a list of what I believe could make Got Talent World Stage LIVE a success.

1. Abandon the “contest” format.

Cast your minds back to 2003’s World Idol. 11 Idol winners around the world went through another competition to vie for the title of “World Idol.” The premise seemed brilliant at first glance, but there were many issues with its execution.

For one thing, the show featured judges from Idol series around the world (one from each participating country), offering little to no constructive feedback. As Simon Cowell put it after the one-off series ended, it “turned Idol winners into losers.” It was also panned by critics worldwide, despite favourable ratings (approximately 1.9 million Canadian viewers tuned in to the special).

Formatting a global Got Talent event as a competition would be counter-intuitive, because performers have already poured enough blood, sweat and tears into competing. They’ve gone as far as they could in their respective Got Talent show, so a competition would create unnecessary pressure.

2. Hold the event in a similar fashion to the Olympics.

This shouldn’t just be a one-off event, nor should it be held annually. I know this would depend on how well the programme does in ratings (and whether it can sustain reasonable production costs), but for arguments sake, let’s suppose this event became a hit.

Got Talent World Stage LIVE should be held every two years, each time in a different country. That way, performers could gain more exposure in different parts of the world.

3. Grant performance slots to “Got Talent” winners.

When news of Got Talent World Stage LIVE came to light, it was hinted that dance duo Paddy & Nico and Canadian magician Darcy Oake (both of whom competed on Britain’s Got Talent) would represent Great Britain.

The thing is, neither contestant won this series, so I don’t think they should be taking a spot on the world stage. Instead, the show should borrow the same concept World Idol had, in which all performers were winners of their respective shows. This could also give Got Talent competitors more of a “push” to win the top prize, which would then be a chance at global domination (not really, but it’d still be a chance at the rest of the world seeing a person’s abilities).

I have high hopes for this potential event, it could become the Olympics of entertainment if the right steps are taken. A part of me will be disappointed if the supposed plans for Got Talent World Stage LIVE fall through, because it’s an opportunity to showcase various cultures on a global platform.

America’s Got Talent: Cool it on the “joke” acts

I’ve watched America’s Got Talent for five seasons, and it seems like “joke acts” are put through every year on purpose.

From 2010 to 2013, we’ve seen Mary Ellen, Those Funny Little People, Big Barry and Tone the Chiefrocca take a spot in the quarterfinals, while truly talented performers get shafted. This season, Juan Carlos, a man on rollerblades, will be performing at Radio City Music Hall.

(From left to right) America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon, and judges Heidi Klum, Howard Stern, Mel B, and Howie Mandel.

By advancing bad acts that should have been sent home in the auditions (or at least during Judgement Week), it makes the judges seem like they’re not serious about finding true talent. Their jobs are to weed through performers that aren’t worth the top prize, and advance those that could not only win the contest, but find a place in American culture.

If this were a Saturday night variety show, a few joke acts would be acceptable. However, this is America’s Got Talent, a competition with a $1,000,000 prize and a headlining show in Las Vegas.

Some people might tell you to have a laugh by watching a joke act, but I just don’t see the humour in it. Watching a performer who’s purposely bad at Radio City Music Hall is unacceptable, especially when I know someone with a genuine gift is on the outside looking in.

America’s Got Talent is the only show of its kind, auditioning comedians, magicians, and variety acts along with singers and dancers. If truly talented folks get the boot, where else can they go?

It also seems hypocritical when an act gets ostracized for making a single mistake, yet a purposely bad performer is sent through for “entertainment.” The judges are unknowingly making themselves look implausible, like they’re not seeking out raw talent.

If this unfairness continues in future seasons, viewers might get fed up and stop watching the show. After all, no other reality talent competition (ex. American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, The Voice) has joke acts in their semifinals stage, so why should America’s Got Talent get away with it?

Taking a stand against schoolyard bullying

Published on FAME Canada: June 16, 2014

Country singer-songwriter Ryan Laird wants to use his music to end bullying once and for all. But he knows that won’t be an easy feat. To get the word out there that bullying is not cool, Ryan has toured several elementary schools since October 2013.  He has visited over 70 schools across Eastern Canadian provinces and Alberta. As part of this campaign, Ryan teamed up with hit songwriter Steve Bogard to pen an anti-bullying song called “Hey Ashley.”

Canadian country singer/songwriter Ryan Laird.

“This song is based on an experience I had back in grade seven,” said Ryan. “It has become the theme song of the anti-bullying education concerts. The kids are really connecting to the positive message in the song.”

Ryan believes music is a great way to influence people, especially youth, because it brings out emotions and memories. He also wants his campaign to intermingle with the anti-bullying movement going on in Canadian schools today.

“No child should ever have to complain about not wanting to go to school because of a bully,” he said. “I’m hoping to motivate as many kids as I can to never stop chasing their dreams and never let a bully stand in the way of happiness.”

Ryan Laird first garnered media attention across North America in December 2008 after putting up a billboard on Nashville’s famed music row asking Taylor Swift to produce his album. The billboard displayed Ryan standing in a classroom holding a note reading, “Hey Taylor – I LOVE your music. Will you produce my album?”

Once Taylor Swift got word of this, she said she “listened to one of his songs and absolutely fell in love with it” and would like to meet him.

Ryan was blown away by this and broke down when he got wind of this.

“I was just ecstatic, tears came to my eyes,” he said.

At age 10, Ryan toured England and Wales as part of the Cambridge Kiwanis Boys Choir. He sang in the group for three years, starting out as a soprano and leaving as a tenor.

He then began performing around his home town of Fergus, singing at karaoke contests, festivals, fairs, and also started writing songs.

Ryan’s great grandmother influences his early singing. When he was a year old, she would hold him in a rocking chair and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to him, while he hummed the melody back. Although she was a professional opera singer, his tastes always ran more toward country and pop music.

He credits the Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift for demonstrating how much impact can be made by “stretching boundaries.”

At 18-years-old, Ryan made his first trip to Nashville and fell in love with it. That year, he wrote 200 songs which led to meetings with publishers on music row. From there, he went on to sign his first publishing deal with Cherry Lane Music Publishing.

Over the past few years, Ryan has co-written many songs with artists such as Nick Carter, Aaron Carter, Alli Sims, Intern Adam, Eric Silver, and Jason McCoy.

Most recently, he released a new single entitled “Love’s Long Gone,” which will appear on his sophomore album Light Me Up, due for release in the third quarter of 2014.

The opportunity to grow in a new country

Published on FAME Canada: June 16, 2014

Celia Palli has accomplished quite a lot from the time she moved to Canada in 2003.  She’s been Nelly Furtado’s back-up vocalist at many of her shows, has performed at many large venues around Canada (most recently in Montreal, Quebec), and even organized a successful crowdfunding campaign to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Singer-songwriter Celia Palli.

“I moved to Canada because I wanted to study music and become known in the industry,” said Celia. “I told myself right from the beginning that if I wanted to make it, I had to become involved in every possible project in the province.” And so she did.

For the first few years she joined numerous independent bands and performed as much as she could, and in 2009, was offered the opportunity of possibly performing with Nelly Furtado.

“A good friend of mine from university saw how quickly I went from an amateur to a professional singer and performer,” said Celia. “A friend of his from Miami was looking for a bilingual singer and when the time came, I got asked to go audition for Nelly Furtado.”

“As you can imagine, I dropped everything to be there and over prepared myself. These kinds of opportunities come once in a lifetime and just “being prepared” doesn’t cut it.”

Celia believes that being the best at what you do is what gets you noticed, especially in a competitive industry such as music.

Her most powerful learning experience was watching her mother battle cancer.

“She showed me what courage and determination is all about,” she said. “Her strength and positivism always astounded people, even before the disease. Even though she wasn’t a musician, her advice has been some of the best I’ve ever gotten, ‘Focus on writing songs. That’s what will make you stand out.’”

Celia’s mother passed away in 2008, and in 2013, she started a crowdfunding campaign in her honour. She wanted to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society and support her then-upcoming album. “Mamma,” a single from the album, was written in memory of her mother.

“Crowdfunding campaigns have the advantage of getting your project funded quickly and debt free,” said Celia. “This means the dream album you’ve been saving for becomes a reality. A disadvantage would be that even if there are a lot of followers, it takes a lot for people to go online and contribute.”

One of Celia’s greatest challenges has been getting noticed by important people in the Canadian music industry. However, she thanks Nelly Furtado for her break in music.

“She was the first influential person to believe in me and give me a huge opportunity without thinking about it twice,” she said. “She gave me the chance to open for her during 2013 European tour and doors have been opening ever since.”

Celia’s advice to aspiring musicians is to remember that even though what you may offer is good, it’s difficult to get the attention of high-profile industry professionals. Music is a very difficult industry to break into, and some people wait years just to have their voices heard.

She’s been planning out what type of artist she wants to be, and how she wants people to remember. In 10 years’ time, she wants to have released a few albums and played at many concerts around Canada.

“I love making music and transferring my emotion to a crowd,” said Celia. “Having an audience sing back your song is an incredible feeling.”

PR as taught by “Imaginaerum”

Of all the films I’ve ever seen, there’s something about Finnish-Canadian film “Imaginaerum” (written by the band Nightwish) I’m enamored by. Sure, there have been some movies that have been spectacular and have stuck with me, but “Imaginaerum” was a masterpiece. It had deep themes, emotion, a small dose of comedy, and an extravagantly composed musical score. Everything I seek in a film and more. It was released in Finland on Nov. 23, 2012, and the rest of Europe on Dec. 2 that same year.

It follows the story of an elderly composer, Tom Whitman, who suffers from severe dementia. As he has had the disease for years and has regressed into childhood, he remembers practically nothing from his adult life. His music, friends, all his past including the memory of his daughter are a blur in his fragile mind. All he has left is the imagination of a 10-year-old boy.

The film is a journey between two different dimensions. Tom travels through his imaginary world seeking answers and finding memories, while his daughter, Gem, tries to recover the bond she had once shared with her father in the real world. She’s consoled by Ann, her father’s former band partner, who tries to convince her that Tom cared about her.

As there are greater obstacles separating them now, Gem’s project feels doomed to failure. However, through Toms darkest secrets, Gem discovers the path she must follow in order to find her father again.

I won’t reveal any more of the story as not to spoil anything, but the film’s climax was heart wrenching and bittersweet.

As a person studying public relations, I re-watched “Imaginaerum” not only because it’s now No. 1 on my “greatest films” list, but because it epitomizes three key elements of public relations, teaching us their importance.

1. Consider your personal reputation. Public relations is the “reputation management business.” Whether it’s an individual or a company, taking your reputation or “personal brand” into consideration is vital for success.

In “Imaginaerum,” Tom Whitman wasn’t “famous for caring about people,” as stated by his daughter Gem. Through his regression back into childhood, he had unknowingly pushed away all his family friends, including his own daughter. Tom wasn’t aware of his reputation or what he had caused, so he continued on being “selfish and rude,” as Ann put it.

If Tom had thought about how his actions (or lack thereof) were making people feel, he could have done something to rectify it. Not necessarily alter his personality, but change some traits that weren’t garnering much respect.

2. Communication is everything. Tom pushed away his daughter because he feared he was going down the same path as his father. However, this was never communicated to Gem, who thought he completely disregarded her because of sheer selfishness. Tom was “good at a lot of things, but dealing with real world wasn’t one of them,” according to Ann. He kept everything to himself, and wrote his feelings out as monologues that could be found in a safe. If Tom had revealed to his daughter about his father’s dark moods and nastiness, Gem would be given the opportunity to understand Tom’s viewpoint. This would likely have made their relationship different.

Communication is public relations. Having a conversation with people, rather than talking at them or hiding things. If you look at Gem, she had no other way to feel because of the lack of two-way communication between her and Tom.

3. In a crisis, allow your stakeholders to have a voice. At first, Gem tried to convince Ann that she had no unresolved issues with her father. Upon admitting that she did, she expressed how her father made her feel, and explained why their relationship was non-existent. Ann did an extravagant job at handling this crisis. She expressed sadness and sorrow where necessary, allowed Gem to express her inner feelings (anger, resentment and sadness), and always kept her cool. She remained patient and elegant even when Gem would become difficult and not want to hear any part of what she had to say. At no time did she interrupt, get defensive or argumentative.

Eventually, Ann convinced Gem that her father did in fact care about her, and he expressed it the only way he knew how.

This should be taken into account by any public relations practitioners in the time of a crisis. Have a plan in mind, but also maintain a sense of calmness and listen to what your publics have to say. After all, an issue or crisis involves a gap between what you’re offering and the needs of stakeholders. In this case, Gem went most of her life believing her father never cared for her, but through Ann’s effective communication skills during this crisis, she was able to extinguish Gem’s deep-seeded issues.

I’m thankful I discovered this film. It’s one that will stick with me for a long time to come, and has unknowingly taught me so much about my field.

Great Britain witnesses the magic of Canada

Published on FAME Canada: May 16, 2014

Series eight of “Britain’s Got Talent” was off to a rough beginning. In the second audition show on April 19, over five magicians accepted the challenge of winning 500,000 pounds and performing at the 2014 Royal Variety Performance in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.

Backstage, Canadian magician and illusionist Darcy Oake was mortified.

Canadian illusionist Darcy Oake took Great Britain by storm.

Canadian illusionist Darcy Oake took Great Britain by storm.

The sound of the red rejection buzzers (which the judges use to discontinue an act from progressing forward in the competition) and the discouraging comments from the judging panel created a sense of worry and uncertainty.

Even so, Darcy didn’t let any of that get the better of him. When hosts Ant and Dec announced it was his turn, he marched out onto the stage and took a deep breath.

Within moments, Darcy wowed the entire judging panel and audience. His illusion involved making doves appear out of thin air, and transforming the dove’s birdcage into a young woman.

Head judge and show creator Simon Cowell, whose notorious for his snarky and frank comments, commended Darcy for taking the chance to audition for “Britain’s Got Talent.”

“You are definitely a star,” said Cowell. “Without question, you’re the best magician we’ve ever had on the show.”

Darcy was given four “yes” votes by the judging panel, qualifying him for the live semifinals, which are expected to take place the week of May 26.

What happened next gave Darcy the biggest boost of confidence he needed.

Two days after his corresponding episode aired, his audition garnered over 23 million YouTube hits. To date, his audition has been seen by approximately 20 million people from around the world.

His appearance on “Britain’s Got Talent” was also subject to controversy around the U.K., mainly because Darcy is Canadian, and is considered a “professional” entertainer.

“That doesn’t get to me in the slightest,” says Darcy of the controversy. “Canada is part of the Commonwealth after all, so I don’t know what these people are talking about.”

Interestingly enough, Attraction, a shadow-dancing act from Hungary, won the contest last year.

Oake described the overall response to the viral video as “absolutely crazy.”

“At this point it seems like I’ve got some options, it’s really nice,” said Darcy. “I don’t have to knock on doors to get gigs anymore.”

At age 18 Darcy has headlining the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood California.
Not even old enough to legally enter the building, Darcy was asked to headline the
famous showroom located in the Hollywood hills.

Throughout his magic, Darcy has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the People’s Choice medal by the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians, the stage magic gold medal, and the incentive award in stage magic by the Society of American Magicians.