The world watches a lot of Internet videos. In America, it was estimated that 178 million Americans watched 33 billion videos in just one month in 2013. As the audience for online videos has grown, so too has the power of sites like YouTube and Vimeo to seed and foster breakout viral videos. The people making and starring in these videos have gone on to build stadium-sized careers in music, film and television.
Combine the global reach of the Internet with the slickly produced talent shows like "American Idol" and "Britain’s Got Talent," and you have an environment primed for generating super stars. The ingredients are typically a dose of good looks, a dash of youth, and a sprinkle of talent baked in Simon Cowell’s oven at 375 degrees for a few months. No one is surprised to see people like Kelly Clarkson make it.
It’s the unexpected stories that I like best. I love when someone walks on stage to guffaws and laughs based on their appearance and then blasts the audience to tears with their submerged mega-talent. The more awkward, the more frumpy they look before they start to sing or dance, the better. Those are the stories and videos that cause this blogger’s tear ducts to crank open. There’s something about witnessing the moment that someone realizes their life is never going to be the same again. No matter what comes later — the good and the bad — in that first moment, the person is only hearing the cheers and thinking about how they finally did it, the hopes for the better life they had dreamed about for so long still washing over their face.
I’m getting teary just thinking about it. I mean. Onions. I’m cooking onions.
I collected all the best videos of unlikely talent show successes here for your viewing pleasure. Give it a watch!
Paul Potts was the first unlikely success on our list. Paul’s life was forever changed when he tried out for "Britain’s Got Talent" in March of 2007. At the time he was working as a manager at a cellphone store and had struggled to find success as an amateur opera singer. When the judges asked him what he was there to do, he simply said “I’m here to sing opera.”
And sing opera he did. He ignored the judges' doubting looks and tones and belted out a version of "Nessun dorma" (which means "None shall sleep" in English) that brought the crowd of 2,000 to its feet and tears to more than one set of eyes. For the man who admitted to having trouble with confidence, the moment was extraordinary. He got passed through with high praise from the judges and went on to win that season. Videos of his performances have been viewed hundreds of millions of times and his debut album, "One Chance," went platinum (more than 2 million copies sold) within the first few months it went on sale.
When Susan Boyle showed up on the stage of "Britain’s Got Talent," she was a 47-year-old singer wannabe. She had previously paid to produce a demo album and had long sung in her church, but professional success had eluded her. Her initial reception from Cowell and the other judges was not particularly friendly with lots of smirks all around. But then when the music started and Susan started singing, it was magic. She instantly had the audience. Simon’s eyebrows lift, the audience cheered, and the happy tears start flowing.
The size of Cowell’s smile is a good approximate of how much success a contestant can expect to find after the show. You can almost see him imagining the millions of dollars set to flow through his hands after he signs them.
After her tryout, Susan got nothing but praise from the judges and was pushed through to the next stage with three strong votes. Though she failed to win that season, coming in second place, she did launch a successful career as a singer and has sold millions of albums worldwide.
Charlotte & Jonathan
When Jonathan Antoine and Charlotte Jaconelli stepped out on stage on a 2012 episode of "Britain’s Got Talent," the judges and audience met them with a chuckling wall of skepticism. Cowell, never one to hold back snide comments, whispers “Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse” to a fellow judge as the two took their spot on stage. Charlotte and Jonathan chatted with the panel of judges before setting into their song. After a quick whispered false start, their voices soared to fill the room, capturing everyone in it.
Jonathan possesses a mature and vibrant voice and carries the duo with his deep tones. Charlotte’s voice is more poppy and plays off Jonathan well. When this video was shot, Simon was brutally honest in voicing fears that Charlotte would hold back Jonathan, the real talent of the group, but gave his vote for the pair to move on to the next stage of the competition.
Charlotte and Jonathan, now both 18, finished second in that season and were signed to a lucrative record deal by Cowell. Their first album, "Together," was released in September 2012 with their follow-up album, "Perhaps Love," coming out a year later in October 2013.
23-year-old Jennifer Grout didn’t understand when one of the judges on "Arabs Got Talent" asked her what her name is. Jennifer doesn’t speak Arabic (she grew up in Boston). Yet, she managed to deliver a beautiful performance singing "Baeed Anak" ("Away From You") by Umm Kulthum, a famous Egyptian singer and songwriter. Jennifer played the oud, a traditional lute-like instrument, as she sang.
She took the “half a minute” that she was given by the skeptical judges and held the stage for as long as she needed, turning it into a global media phenomenon along the way. She finished third in the most recent series. After her audition, judge Najwa Karam, a popular Lebanese pop star, said “We have for so long imitated the West, but this the first time that a person who has no link whatsoever to the Arab world — an American girl who doesn’t speak Arabic — sings Arabic songs.”
Jennifer first stumbled upon Lebanese music while as a student at McGill University. She immersed herself in studying the music and talked her parents into buying her a one-way ticket to Morocco. Her performance on "Arabs Got Talent" garnered her a huge social media following that voted her to her third-place finish on the show.
We give an honorable mention to singer Alice Fredenham. In her debut audition on "Britain’s Got Talent" earlier this year, she initially appeared very nervous, talking about stage fright and the pressures of having to succeed in her interview. Her song started slow and breathy and slowly grew into a deeply mature and smokey power love song. The crowd’s reaction was instantaneous and they showered her with a standing ovation. Like the others on this list, she was passed on through to the next level of competition. Alice was hit with a bit of controversy as her confident appearances on subsequent shows moved some to question whether her nervous demeanor was just an act. For that reason, we’re only giving her the honorable mention.
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