Brilliant Australian singer-guitarist Owen Campbell showed up the fragile egos of three B-grade celebrities on Australia’s Got Talent last night by not meekly grovelling to them, says Benjamin Thomas Jones.
Brian McFadden, Dannii Minogue and Kyle Sandilands appeared deeply threatened by Owen Campbell's talent.
Major international celebrities are known for their precious, often petty, egos. Even more fragile is that of the minor, B-grade, celebrity. More often a target of ridicule than veneration, the B-listers are notoriously touchy about perceived insults and desperate to assert their legitimacy. Rather than sell out stadiums or attend Hollywood premiers, the B-listers’ natural habitat is shopping malls, ‘celebrity’ reality television and the judges’ chairs for shows like Australia’s Got Talent. Confronted with a contestant who was clearly not overawed by their flimsy notoriety, Dannii Minogue, Kyle Sandilands and Brian McFadden were quick to voice their displeasure at ‘cocky’ Canberran busker, Owen Campbell.
Owen is an incredibly gifted singer and songwriter and is probably one of the best slide guitarists in the country. Like many talented people, however, Owen has never had a big break. His regular shows are at small Australian pubs and his world tours involve busking for room and board.
From this humble background, he walked onto the stage of his first televised performance in front of a huge audience and three imperious B-listers. Obviously nervous and overwhelmed, Owen sat down and greeted Kyle by calling him Carl. Brian instantly pushed his buzzer to illuminate the large red X. Owen nervously rambled and attempted to make a joke, which fell flat. Brian sarcastically taunted, "that’s a good start mate, you’re on fire at the moment".
After this awkward opening, Owen commented that he would pretend the judges weren’t there and just play his song for the audience. As he was playing, Dannii loudly interrupted the intro, asking Kyle what he had said about the judges. Owen played wonderfully. He won the crowd effortlessly, who clapped along and gave him a standing ovation.
Before the applause had died down, Kyle demanded to know why Owen had tried to make an enemy of the judges. Brian again took the lead attack dog role, insisting Owen’s actions were stupid and he was an arse.
The crowd do not matter, he firmly cautioned, only their three votes. Owen’s reply was quickly cut off by Brian who demanded, “do you want to keep talking or do you want us to speak to you?” Campbell’s simple larrikin reply, “ok, boss” drew an audible gush from the audience and Brian’s face was furious — even more so when he added, "my aim isn’t to be in a boy band, chief". That was enough and Brian gave him a ‘No’. Kyle gave some hope with a spiteful ‘Yes’ before Dannii sent him home with a second ‘No’.
Now, possibly this was all a Channel 7 stunt. Despite being dumped from the show, it has already been confirmed that Owen will appear again in next week’s show. Irrespective, the whole episode gave a humorous (perhaps horrendous) insight into the fragility of celebrity egos. Owen’s real crime in his AGT performance was simply that he did not show the deference and awe this panel of B-listers felt they were entitled to.
Despite the crowd howling in protest, Dannii gave Owen the second and fatal ‘No’ insisting that it was because of his personality (apparently the name of the show was meant to be Australia’s Got Personality).
Brian and Dannii are certainly birds of a feather. Brian became an overnight celebrity at 18 when he successfully auditioned for Irish boy band Westlife. Similarly, Dannii achieved fame as a child singer on Young Talent Time and a soap opera actress. They are both products of instant fame culture and they both have worked hard to keep their celebrity status tenuously in place. Dannii, in particular, kept herself in the headlines by appearing in Playboy Magazine. Brian and Dannii think of the music industry as a production line of subservient artists who must grovel to the record labels so that they can land a television hosting gig after they pass their use-by date. Owen Campbell simply comes from another world. He is a traditionalist musician who believes that good music and connecting with the audience is all that matters. There was bound to be a clash.
The funniest, but also pettiest, moment in the whole ordeal was provided by Kyle who went on a bizarre tangent and complained about the treatment of himself and his fellow B-listers by the media. Despite giving a ‘Yes’ to Campbell in recognition of his talent, Kyle vindictively remarked that he hoped Owen advanced only so that he would have ‘complete and utter lies’ written about him by the media.
The claim and the occasion could not have been more inappropriate. Kyle has made a lucrative career for himself by manipulating the media. His deliberately brash and often offensive behaviour as a radio shock jock and a television talent judge has earned him millions of dollars. To complain to a street busker about the cruelty of the Australian media was narcissistic in the extreme.
Perhaps Owen Campbell is better off without AGT. Arthur Schopenhaurer wisely commented that ‘the longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the longer it will be in coming’. That is the problem with B-listers — almost without exception they took the fast track to fame. They won a talent show, fronted a commercial pop band, appeared in a big television series and have found themselves forever living in the shadow of their 15 minutes. If you become a star overnight by winning AGT, then the faceless men who run Sony can rightly say that they made you and demand that grovelling respect the judges found lacking. The musicians who grind it out in the pubs and small venues, who build a fan base over years, and who make themselves something before the record label comes knocking, are generally the ones who are still around years later. No matter what happens on his second appearance, this episode clearly demonstrates two things: B-listers will always be petty and nasty and Owen Campbell has talent.
Find out more about Owen Campbell on his website.
And you can read more of Benjamin Thomas Jones' writing at his Thematic Musings blog.
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