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Talent show's producers confident a star will be born ...or made

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There's no doubt that Canada, like any other nation on this pop-culture-obsessed planet, has got talent.

But is a TV show in this country capable of turning some of those talented types into legitimate, big-time stars?

That's a question that will begin to be answered this weekend when nationwide auditions for the upcoming Citytv series Canada's Got Talent begin with a two-day stop in Winnipeg.

More than 1,000 individuals and groups have already signed up for the local tryouts, which take place Friday and Saturday at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, and the show's producers are confident that walk-up traffic will swell that number by at least a few hundred more.

"The response has been beyond our expectations," says Canada's Got Talent's executive producer, Ed Robinson, who explained that more than 17,000 hopefuls have pre-registered for the cross-Canada audition tour. "We've reached out to a lot of organizations and schools and whatever and said, 'Bring us your jugglers, your unicyclists, your trapeze artists and your people who do strange things with yo-yos, and we've got lots of people pre-registered who are certainly non-traditional acts."

Would-be contestants can line up at the Convention Centre's main (York Avenue) entrance beginning at 6 a.m.; doors will open for tryouts at 8 a.m.

The series, patterned after the highly successful Britain's Got Talent -- which produced unlikely global singing sensation Susan Boyle -- and its U.S. spinoff, America's Got Talent (which produced young opera-singing star Jackie Evancho and current Las Vegas headliner Terry Fator), is scheduled to première next March on Citytv.

Unlike American Idol and its short-lived northern cousin, Canadian Idol, which limit their contestant fields to young solo singers, the Got Talent franchise showcases performers of all ages, individuals or groups, and embraces music, dancing, comedy, juggling, ventriloquism, sword swallowing and pretty much anything else that could marginally be described as "talent."

"We're going into it with open arms and open minds," says Robinson. "I think the fact it's open to all age groups and open to duos, trios or however many are in your act, and that the range of what's welcome on the show is extremely broad will make it a unique opportunity for people. And like Idol, this provides a platform for people to actually showcase their stuff, which is not always readily available in some areas of the country."

The winner of Canada's Got Talent will receive a $100,000 cash prize and a booking to perform in an as-yet-unnamed Las Vegas venue. But it's highly unlikely, given Canada's relatively small population, limited show-business infrastructure and lack of a U.S.-style star system, that winning this competition will result in real stardom.

Consider the Idol outcomes on both sides of the border: American Idol has launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson and other legitimate music-industry successes, while Canadian Idol's winners have enjoyed modest post-show careers at best.

"It's a different launching pad here than in the U.S.," Robinson agrees. "We always talk about it as the 10 per cent rule: Everything the States has, we're 10 per cent of that -- 10 per cent of the population, 10 per cent of the viewing audience, 10 per cent of the budget available to do these shows. A lot of it has to do with how the country embraces these acts, and we won't know that until we start this process."

Still, Robinson argues that talent shows in Canada are capable of delivering what they promise.

"It's tough here; Canadian Idol may not have produced a Carrie Underwood, in terms of selling millions and millions of albums, but a lot of those (Canadian Idol) people are doing what they set out to do and living their dreams. Melissa O'Neil is in Stratford, doing the musical theatre she's always wanted to do; Jacob Hoggard used Canadian Idol as a launching pad for Hedley, which has certainly worked out for him...

"To me, these are success stories."

And speaking of stars, the success or failure of shows like Idol or the various Got Talent versions depends largely on the personalities of the host and judges -- whose identities on Canada's Got Talent have yet to be announced.

"We have been working very hard for the past four months to put together a judging panel and to find our host, and we will be making announcements within the next few weeks,"says Robinson. "We recognize it's a big part of what people will be talking about; it's the No. 1 question on our website and on Facebook and Twitter."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2011 E5

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