What’s talent got to do with it?

Last night I watched the X-Factor. Someone I knew was on it. That’s semi-relevant and semi-by-the-by. Anyway, this person had demonstrated overwhelming nerves on their first audition but had gone on to perform flawlessly. Gorgeous voice.

The judges agreed. Dannii – X Factor Australia judges are Dannii Minogue, Chris Isaak (old singer, two cracking songs, possibly best known for having Helena Christensen in one of his videos), Guy Sebastian (er, I think he won The X Factor a few years ago or something. He’s everywhere here, anyway) and James Blunt (British singer, best known for You’re Beautiful) – gave her a hug. The nerves were extremely touching (probably because I know her in real life – a stranger may not have had that effect on me) and the response she received well-deserved.

So, that was a week ago.

Last night, the TV somehow got switched onto X Factor again and lovely Natalie popped up again, as the first singer in her category to try for one of the final five places.

Same visible shaking, same beautiful voice, same tears afterwards. I practically melted.

This time, however, the judges responded differently.

Judge #1, Guy, said something along the lines of “I don’t get you, Natalie. How can a person have nerves when they know they’ve got that kind of talent in the bag?”

What an unhelpful comment. As though nerves have anything to do with talent or ability. You can have driving lessons for a year and still panic before the test. You can study a subject for years and still fear the exams. It doesn’t matter if you have worked hard, if you know everything, if you know you know everything. Nerves are nerves! They’re an emotion, not a reflection of your ability!

There is nothing wrong with being nervous before an event that is important to you (or even one that isn’t). Often, the nerves are out of your hands, anyway. Which brings me to Dannii’s remark.

Judge #2, Dannii, followed Guy’s wisdom with something positive about Natalie’s voice, then she added that the nerves have to stop now. Like, NOW.

Erm, okay, then. Because they can just be flicked on and off, of course. Presumably contestants enjoy crying on national television and appearing scared. Maybe it’s all part of a plan to get people on side, by having a red face, trembling hands and not being able to look up. Obviously that’s infinitely preferable to grinning, looking around and feeling amazing about yourself and what you’ve just achieved. Who wouldn’t rather expose themselves as human and intensely vulnerable? Mmm, yes please, just what you want the world to see.

Natalie came across as remarkably dignified in response to their observations; I’d probably have broken down in further tears or screamed that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Obviously, what I actually did was write this post. Because it’s unfair to assume everyone should behave in a certain way. What one person may view as causing a scene, or overreacting, can simply be a person’s natural reaction, you know, as a consequence of them being a real person. Reactions aren’t necessarily stage-managed, or controllable; just because you’re grace under pressure, doesn’t mean everyone who responds differently is a drama queen. (Equally, of course, the person who feels and expresses themselves outwardly isn’t necessarily feeling anything more acutely than the person whose face betrays nothing.)

The point – and I realise they are called judges for a reason, but still – is that a person can be confident and nervous. They can have ability and fear. They can want to be cool, but end up in tears because that is part of them.

Incidentally, Natalie’s new mentor put her straight into the top five and she said thank you and went to sit on the first chair. She is absolutely gorgeous and I hope she wins.

The main reason for writing this post is that, having met her several times, I know/thought I knew her to be a) incredible at her job and b) completely confident. When I found out she was going to be on television, it seemed obvious. She’s awesome. Then I watched her first audition – and realised how much was behind that motivating, friendly, funny person. What is not visible from the real-life smile and enthusiasm.

So there we go. It’s not accurate or fair to assume we are all in control of our emotions (although it may make for a calmer world, it would also probably be a far duller one), and actual ability doesn’t always correlate neatly with our body’s behaviour.

Greater understanding, fewer judges, please!