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Saturday 17 November 2018

Jedward may be out of The X Factor but there's hope yet for Sunday night talent-show TV

SWITCH ON: This touching band of home-grown acts is just what we need

What are the chances of next month's Budget stumping up for a Jedward helpline? Not high, I imagine, what with the biblical floods and overstretched welfare system rattling their collection boxes.

Fans of the terrible twins will have to deal with withdrawal symptoms on their own, bolstered perhaps by their appearance at a supermarket opening near you.

Sarcastic

To paraphrase Jedward's special rendering of the Ghostbusters ditty: So now who you gonna call?

Luckily, RTE have stepped in to fill the pineapple-shaped hole left by Jedward's X-it from X Factor. Behold, they give us: The All-Ireland Talent Show!

That sounds sarcastic but it is absolutely not meant to be.

While Jedward prepared to make their last contribution to the gaiety of the nation on Sunday night, RTE One were airing the first episode of this season's All-Ireland Talent Show. RTE have cleverly scheduled their show to be over by 7.30pm so it's not in direct competition with the 8pm X Factor kick-off. That would be plain dumb.

And -- whisper it -- it wasn't half bad. I would go so far as to say that the All-Ireland Talent Show is what we need from reality TV right now. It's like the anti-X Factor. (In the same way that Daithi O Se is the anti-Simon Cowell. Who is in turn the anti-Christ. Maybe.)

The X Factor can be tiresome and nasty. Who needs to hear another sub-Mariah poppet with acrylic hair extensions warbling her way through a power ballad? Jedward went from jeers to cheers because they challenged the jaded cynicism of the show. They smiled through the vitriol and abuse.

Maybe two years ago we would have been mortified by them. Look at those eejits making a show of Ireland, we'd have thought. But I guess in the end we admired their mindless good cheer.

On the basis of its first episode, the All-Ireland Talent Show is going to take that perky perspective and run even further with it.

The star of Sunday's show was a middle-aged man whose dream was to win €50,000 grand prize so he might help his children, several of whom have been consigned to the dole by the current economic crisis.

He told his story quietly before unleashing a sweet, soulful voice only slightly vibrating with nerves. Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and her fellow judges asked why he had waited this long to let his voice be heard.

"I didn't have the confidence," he said, clearly embarrassed by his own modest ambitions.

Dignity

It was a touching moment but never got to the point of sentimentality. It felt very good indeed to watch people being treated with respect, dignity and sensitivity. Similarly, an incident where Blathnaid welled up was not over-milked. A young woman sang an old tune that reminded Blathnaid of her recently-deceased father. Blathnaid, normally the epitome of the stern mammy, had a little cry, dabbed her eyes and the show went on.

I hope the Talent Show doesn't prove me wrong in future episodes, but it doesn't seem to be going for the usual array of mentally unstable unfortunates that the X Factor likes to showcase in its early auditions.

The scope of its 'variety entertainment' brief helps. Not everyone who comes on it wants to be the next Leona Lewis or Shayne Ward. Which is a blessed relief because if I hear one more take on Eva Cassidy's version of Over the Rainbow I might have to go out and punch some bluebirds.

There are hip-hop dance groups, family acts and trad performers, six-year-old cuties belting out Bon Jovi hits and gentle old men taking a tentative chance. Some might think it's parochial; I think it's quintessentially Irish.

This is our community and now, more than at any other time in the past 20 years, we need to be rooting for each other. Go, team Ireland!

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