This season, the most important contestant for “America’s Got Talent|shows|site” isn’t competing on the show. She doesn’t even live in America.
Susan Boyle is the frumpy, 48-year-old Scottish singer who rocketed from obscurity to international celebrity after surprising judges with her assured performance this spring on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Now the question is whether Boylemania will boost the popularity of “America’s Got Talent,” NBC’s sister program, which starts its fourth season on Tuesday. Both the American and U.K. versions are made by the same company, FremantleMedia.
Executives are already counting on Boyle, who was the eventual runner-up on “Britain’s Got Talent.” One NBC promo starts with a shot of her singing on the British show — a video seen by tens of millions of viewers online — while a voice-over says, “This June, the international sensation comes home to America.” Viewers might need a second or two to register that the “sensation” being referred to is the “Got Talent” format, not Boyle.
Calling her “the television equivalent of Viagra,” Piers Morgan, a judge on both the British and American versions of “Got Talent,” says the producers are giving “serious consideration” to having Boyle appear in some fashion on the U.S. show.
“In terms of the potential effect she could have on ratings, the British show jumped nearly 50% because of Susan,” Morgan said in an interview. “And I believe the American show could do the same.” NBC’s Season 3 premiere last June drew 12.9 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Simon Cowell, the “American Idol” judge who created the “Got Talent” format, told reporters in April that the show was a “sleeping giant” and that Boyle could help the program double or triple its ratings this season.
But some analysts are skeptical about whether “America’s Got Talent” will see any long-term benefit from Boyle, a plain-looking, very shy woman who stunned judges with her powerful voice. Whether the show can find American contestants with similarly compelling back stories is an open question. In its first three seasons, none of the “America’s Got Talent” contestants sparked anything even close to Boyle’s wildfire popularity.
“It’s unlikely the show will be able to create talent again the way they did with ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and Susan Boyle,” said John Rash, of the Minneapolis ad firm Campbell-Mithun.
But that won’t stop NBC and Fremantle from trying. The network is heavily promoting a family act who told the judges during taped auditions earlier this spring that they began rehearsing as singers after their mother was paralyzed from a head-on auto collision with a drunk driver. Their contest song? “God Bless America.”
“I think a lot of viewers would turn up for ‘America’s Got Talent’ with or without the Susan Boyle phenomenon,” said Paul Telegdy, NBC’s new reality programming chief. “We have had our own phenomenon come out of the show. I remind people that Terry Fater is the most-paid reality show contestant of all time.” Fater is the ventriloquist/comedian/impersonator who won the $1 million top prize in 2007 and has a multimillion-dollar deal performing at the Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip.