Well, it’s all over the news and, although the original article has been removed from the site where it all started, it has been passed around to all and sundry on-line. So I’ll follow suit on the basis this blog is all about all aspects of television. Someone, purporting to be an executive with Sony Music (and there’s no proof of that) wrote the following ‘expose’ of the ‘fixing’ that allegedly goes on behind the scenes of Britain’s Got Talent. It’s copied verbatim below.
My question is can you really rely solely on the viewing public to make a good television show? No. You have to produce a good show. Simon Cowell is alleged to have said in a meeting that the ‘public need to told how to vote’. Well that may sound a bit extreme. It may sound like ‘fixing’ but maybe there’s some truth in it. I doubt, if he actually said it, that he meant it literally but I suspect he was telling his team that they need to produce the show to achieve the best results. And yes maybe that does require a bit of suggestion, manipulation if you like. All TV shows are manipulated – it’s called production.
Each episode of Britain’s Got Talent needs to present a variety of acts. That will lead producers to choose which performers they place together in which episode. This decision alone will affect who has the best chance of going through to the final. Producers need to spread the genuinely good acts (and let’s be honest there are precious few of those this series!) over the semi-finals. Put them all in the same show and you’ve lost most of your best acts. Each episode also needs an element of ‘fun’ – so the ridiculous/ludicrous/silly/barmy acts need to be sprinkled across the week as well. And someone has to make those decisions as to which acts go into which show – the producers make that decision. So of course they influence the outcome. They have to in order to make well constructed, entertaining programmes that get viewers.
As to inviting existing acts to enter – yes, it’s been suggested this has been happening before. Personally I agree it is a dubious practise if the production company is lying about it. But it won’t be the first time good TV case studies have been carefully selected. Any good reality show involving members of the public going on air needs strong casting. Boring, monosyllabic people do not make good television. No point producing a dull show and claiming there was nothing you could do because the people who auditioned were dull! Your show will be scrapped before you even get to the commercial break!
My own view is that this series of BGT is very poor*. The loss of Simon left ineffectual judges with nothing useful to say. Can’t help thinking Simon took some of his best producers to America with him as well – the whole series has been lacking in good production. The excessive lights, visual effects, irrelevant dancers and sweeping camera moves have been designed to take your attention away from the paucity of the talent. Daft is fine – daft can be very entertaining but there is a fine line between flaky (dogs that don’t do anything, exotic dancers who don’t dance & etc) and funny (Stavros Flatley).
Serious misrepresentation or strong production? Fraud or creative fabrication? You decide….
Here’s the article that caused the storm:
For reasons which will become obvious, I can’t reveal my full identity. But let me just say that, I am an executive with Sony Music UK with many years experience in music mangement. My work involves close liasion with Simon Cowell’s SYCO company (specifically SYCO Music and SYCO TV) and, as a result, I have seen what goes on from the inside and this has left me increasingly uncomfortable about the integrity of Britain’s Got Talent and particularly the workings of SYCO.
It’s long been known that there is a quite a degree of “fixing” in BGT. ( Daily Mail http://bit.ly/fxkWne ) But press reports on “fixing” are only the tip pf the iceberg when it comes to SYCO’s manipulation of, not only the show and the contestants, but also the viewing public and hopefully, in this email, I can shine some light on the smoke and mirrors trickery of SYCO.
Take BGT 2011 for example. Scouts working for SYCO first saw Ronan Parke (the 12 year old singer) some two years ago when he was just 10 and was singing at a birthday party for former Norwich City goal-keeper, Bryan Gunn. Following that, Ronan was privately auditioned by SYCO scouts on two more occasions and, as is usual practice on BGT, he was “invited” to audition for the show as a “preferred” contestant. At the same time, Ronan and his parents were “required” to enter into a contract with SYCO. Like all SYCO contracts, it is heavily weighted in favour of the label and are notoriously bad, even in the cut-throat world of the music industry. Simon effectively signed Ronan for life and he’s got little or no chance of ever getting out of it… unless Simon decides to terminate. Recording contracts are legally extremely complex and usually require input and advice from very expensive, specialist contract lawyers. SYCO knows that such legal advice goes well beyond the means of most contestants. As one senior SYCO executive said to me recently. “These people are mugs. They’ll sign away their own mother just to get on tv. It’s a f*cking turkey-shoot and then we own their arses!”
As is common for “invited” contestants that SYCO likes and have already signed, Ronan and his parents were provided with a car to drive them to the audition in London. These “invited” contestants don’t have to queue up with everyone else, they don’t go through the preliminary auditions with producers, but perform straight to Simon and the judging panel at a pre- arranged time-slot. And so it was for Ronan back in 2009 when he was just 10.
It was at this initial audition that I first met Ronan and he looked very different back then. He was a skinny, 10 year old lad who, even at that time, was a bit effeminate. His voice needed a bit of working on, but that wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, nerves got the better of Ronan and he was unable to perform. Simon however, had already seen the audition tapes from the scouts and took Ronan into an unused dressing room and got him to sing in there with his mum for support. Clearly Ronan was not going to be part of BGT in 2009 and nothing from this was ever televised.
Ordinarily, you would think that would be the end of things, but with Ronan already signed to SYCO, far from it. This was just the start of a two year grooming and manipulation process to prepare Ronan for stardom.
It’s no big secret that Simon has been looking for an artist who could crack the very lucrative pre-teen market for some time, particularly in the US. If you like, he wanted his own rival to Bieber and, taking a leaf out of how professional football academies develop youngersters to feed their main team, Simon wanted his own singing academy and Ronan was just one of a number of identified youngsters, with whom SYCO intensively works with.
A development package, which included professional singing, dancing and stage-craft tuition was arranged for Ronan and the SYCO machine kicked into gear with the view of Ronan entering BGT 2010. Lots of work had been done with Ronan and his voice was much improved, unfortunately nerves were still a major issue for him and it was decided by SYCO not to enter him into the 2010 series.
At a following senior exec meeting at SYCO it was suggested that Ronan be dropped, but with Simon confident that he could be the kid he had been looking for, it was agreed that Ronan would receive “intensive support and input” to ready him for the 2011 series. Although Ronan’s voice was now stunning, there were other major problems to be dealt with in order to sell him to the public. With respect to Ronan, he was nothing more than a cooky-looking, skinny runt of a kid and this was identified as a major handicap to sales.
It was agreed at a high-level, secret SYCO meeting, that if they were to do anything with Ronan, he needed totally restyling from the toes up. And so with time running out to develop Ronan into the star Simon wanted, SYCO went into overdrive. Ronan was even given speech and elocution training to rid him of his rural Norfolk accent, again in preparation for the potential US market. As for his effeminate and girlishness, this posed a bigger problem and resulted in many highly confidential meetings. At one of these meetings, the unthinkable was raised as a way forward….
Until now Ronan had been encouraged to “boy-up” and it was planned to present Ronan as an everyday skater-boy. But with his girliness still showing through, the image just wasn’t believable. So a decision was taken to encourage and allow Ronan to “release” and enhance his campness… They were well aware of course, that if they sexualised a young girl to look sexually older than she is, all hell would let loose. But with Ronan, as one executive put it, “no one has ever seen a ‘gay’ kid before, it’ll be a novelty.” As for the pre-teen market, it was accepted they wouldn’t care if Ronan appeared gay or not… most probably don’t know what gay is anyway. And so, with a total gay-sexualisation of Ronan secretly planned, SYCO got to work. I should stress, Ronan’s parents were not aware of any of this and were never consulted about Ronan’s development or management. When I first met Ronan he was a bit effeminate in his ways, but nothing like the camp, girlie-giggling kid you see now on BGT and this is a direct result of SYCO’s styling. Even his clothing worn at the audition and live semi-final were chosen for him by SYCO to match his new image.
SYCO took over everything to do with Ronan. His hairstyle, his clothes, his poise, giving tv interviews, you name it, Ronan was styled within an inch of his life and all on the promise of stardom, just as long as he worked hard and listened to his mentors. As for Ronan’s parents they were constantly reassured that Simon was personally looking after Ronan and “it’s all good”.
And so to BGT 2011. With Ronan ready to be unveiled, SYCO bosses, under instructions from Simon did something not done in previous series of BGT; the winner of BGT 2011 was decided long before the first auditions took place and that winner HAD to be Ronan Parke. With Ronan now 12, he looked and sounded just as SYCO had planned, but time was running out. Soon Ronan would be going into puberty and his voice would eventually break, so BGT 2011 had to be the vehicle to launch Ronan’s career; another year and as a singer he would probably be beyond any meaningful career and the opportunity will have been missed. With all this investment in Ronan, the production managers at SYCO TV are ready to deliver Ronan as ordered. Again, I need to stress, Ronan and his parents know nothing of this and have no idea Ronan will win BGT this weekend. (although they might do now)
So far in the history of BGT and X-Factor, for that matter, no one has ever won who has not been an “invited or preferred” contestant, and it does sadden me that, all those thousands of people, lining up outside, often in the rain and cold, are basically wasting their time. The producers of BGT are not looking for the talented people, they aready have those. The reality is that the producers are hunting out oddities, freaks and, I’m ashamed to say, mentally ill people, to act as amusing fillers in the audition shows. They are nothing more than unpaid extras and they don’t even qualify for traveling expenses! It’s quite disgusting and shameful really, how the production team on BGT operate. People come from all over the country, often at great personal expense, because they think BGT is a talent competition and they stand a chance of realising their dreams. I can tell you from the inside that BGT is no more a “competition”, than I am an astronaut. Nothing is left to chance on BGT, everything is micro-managed, choreographed, manipulated and planned down to the last detail including, the telephone voting.
The ability to manipulate viewers opinion is vital if you are to control telephone voting and indeed get the required result. SYCO see this as essential to the success of the show and are very open about fact; planning and delivering live shows of quality is impossible if it was purely left to the public vote. As Simon said in a meeting once. “The public NEED to be told who to vote for.” Everything on BGT is geared towards telling you who you should for, particularly on the production side. It’s an art really, which Simon has honed to perfection and SYCO are now world leaders at.
The micro-management of Ronan’s audition performance was incredible. I was really quite shocked at his new image. From a starting point of wanting Ronan to look cute for the pre-teen market, SYCO had totally gayed him up in the process. Ronan’s not a 16 year old expressing his sexualty for the first time, he’s a 12 year old boy. It was horrible and I was very uncomfortable as to where this was going to end. Ronan, still suffering from nerves, performed his song and received a standing ovation from all three judges… why? Because it was in the script to give Ronan a standing ovation. As for Louis comment. “Ronan Parke. Remember that name. This kid’s gonna be a star!!” – that was actually fed to him from the production gallery and I know the guy who wrote the line. And when it comes to Ronan’s tears… well, check it out on YouTube or something. You see Ronan crying and wiping away tears. Only you don’t see any actual tears, not even on close-up and on an HD tv. Yep you guessed it, even that was choreographed, right down to the lip-biting!
It was also interesting to see that even before the final credits rolled on Ronan’s audition show, SYCO TV had uploaded the offical video of Ronan onto YouTube. Today, that particular video has been viewed over 2.5 million times and growing. SYCO don’t do that for other contestants, so why Ronan? The gaying-up Ronan plan slightly backfired on SYCO when lots of negative comments were being posted on YouTube and Twitter about Ronan’s image and the supposed sexuality that represents. Things got so bad on YouTube that the posting of comments had to be suspended. But SYCO learned from this and dressed Ronan more appropriately for his semi-final show; preferring a much more Bieber inspired look to the ‘gay- kid’ image presented in the audition.
In another unusal move for BGT contestants, SYCO created Ronan’s Official Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account. Both these services are managed from within SYCO and they post messages and pictures, not Ronan. This is because they don’t want Ronan posting anything controversial and is standard practice for currrent artists signed to SYCO.
And so this weekend will see Ronan crowned as winner of BGT 2011. Oh and let’s not forget the £100k prize money. It’s unlikely Ronan will see much or any of that. He’s been signed to SYCO for two years now and under the terms of his contract, while SYCO stump-up for costs in advance, this is paid back from future earnings. So he will need to pay for all those lessons, coaches, cars, clothes, styling and management… I wouldn’t be surprised even after winning BGT, if he is not still in debt to SYCO.
As a recording artist Ronan has a relatively short shelf-life. Simon knows he is going to have to hit the ground running to maximise Ronan’s earning potential, particularly if they go ahead with a planned break into the States and the pace is going to be frantic for Ronan. If you think the music industry is bad in the UK, you haven’t seen anything until you experience it Stateside. With an “anything goes” attitude all morals have long since gone out of the window. There will be no allowance for Ronan’s age and he will be expected to perform on late- night shows and dinners etc…
I know for a fact, that the songs have already been chosen for Ronan’s debut single and album, and that the backing and drum tracks have already been laid down.
Of course, once Ronan’s voice breaks, it’s game-over and he will be commercially redundant for a few years. By the time he gets through that, the world will have moved on and his fan-base will have grown-up a bit. Will he make a comeback? In my experience I’d say probably not.
I’ve met Ronan a few times over the past couple of years. He’s a really nice kid with a generous, warm personality… There’s nothing to not like about Ronan. He’s a really sensitive soul and this comes across as him being a bit effeminate. But in a world of thuggish chavs, Ronan’s a real breath of fresh air really and a real delight to chat to. Do I think Ronan’s gay? No, is the short answer to that. SYCO have got a lot to answer for in their initial styling and image for Ronan. Like many 12 year old boys, Ronan may have issues in coming to terms with his sexuality in a couple of years. But right now, he’s just a great kid… a bit different, I admit… but a great kid just the same.
I hope Ronan is not damaged by this experience, unforunately, history warns otherwise… but whatever, the genie is already out of the bottle and come this weekend, Ronan’s life will change forever. Whether it’s a good or bad experience being a 12 year old star in today’s music industry, only time will tell. But as an industry insider I have serious reservations about what is about to happen to Ronan Parke and I doubt he or his family are ready for what’s coming.
So there you have it. Possibly the whole thing was made up but it raises interesting questions. How far should the production go to ensure the sort of show they think will work? Add your comment below!
*(Oh – and I’ve got to admit that I have watched nearly the entire series with my family and was glued to the final so even poor production can get viewers if the concept is strong enough!)
Update 4th June 2011
Oh – and PS: Simon Cowell, Sony and Syco have since denied all these claims and are, at the time of this press update, hunting down the perpetrator of the original blog piece. Apparently he’s in Germany – could be a new TV show in that: ‘The Hunt for the Bluffing Blogger’….