The Precarious Outcome of Talent Show Fame
One previous winner of a U.K. talent show ended up living in a dustbin for a year.
LONDON - Newly crowned X Factor winners Little Mix may have a Christmas number one single ahead of them. But the road to long-term fame and fortune is often a lot more difficult, as shown by the finalists of talent show New Faces back in 1986, according to the BBC.
New Faces was Strictly Come Dancing, the X Factor and Britain's Got Talent all rolled into one.
Launching the careers of everyone from Lenny Henry and Michael Barrymore to The Chuckle Brothers and Victoria Wood, millions of people tuned in each week to see emerging talent judged by a panel filled with well-known faces, often being less than complimentary about the acts.
Almost exactly 25 years ago, on Dec. 13 1986, the finalists of the newly revived programme were ready to have their life changed forever.
"Winning the lottery couldn't top it, sitting at the side of the Queen would not top winning a show like that, meeting any idol... shaking hands with God could not top winning New Faces, no way," says finalist Vinny Cadman.
As part of comedy double act Walker and Cadman, he was the light relief and the troublemaker, disrupting his partner's act as much as possible - the Ball to his partner's Cannon.
"You come from nothing and then the next minute you are literally thrown into the lights of stardom," says Cadman.
Talent show graduates like Cadman suddenly found themselves with "respect", greeted in the street and asked for their autographs.
"It makes you believe that you are important, it really does," recalls Cadman
And this fame experienced by the finalists certainly has its perks.
There were numerous television appearances, says comedian and actor Billy Pearce, a fellow 1986 finalist.
"Suddenly I'm earning £3,000 or £4,000 a night turning over half a million pounds a year plus."
Pearce had a driver for two years and somebody to press all his shirts, but success in showbusiness can be transient.
After working almost non-stop for a couple of years, there was no interest in Cadman's act or any bookings for the summer of 1989.
After the work dried up, he became an alcoholic, spent some time in jail and finally ended up sleeping rough in an industrial rubbish bin.
"Welcome to show business," he says.
This conversation about the temporary nature of fame - especially those launched by talent shows - is a regular one.
For every Will Young or Girls Aloud, there is a Journey South or One True Voice. Each year, judges shout out that "we'll be hearing a lot more from you" as each act leaves the show.
So often, they are never heard from again.
Singer Steve Brookstein won the first X Factor in 2004. And he is not a whole-hearted believer in the modern talent show format.
"It's not about finding talent," he says.
"It's a machine just to find marketable people. Because they've realised that pop acts work, they don't look for people who are particularly talented."
After his win, and his £1 million contract, problems with Simon Cowell left him out in the cold.
Seven years on, Brookstein has come to accept that the instant fame he found may never return again.
"I'm realistic," he says.
"I'm 43, I'm unlikely to have commercial success ever again but I'll keep doing the music that I want to do.
"There's a lot of great music that goes undiscovered, it doesn't make it bad. There's a difference between what is good and what is popular. People need to remember that it's not always about the level of success on a commercial level."
For the public there is a mix of attitudes towards talent shows past and present. Many accept them for what they claim to be - a harmless bit of entertainment that genuinely fosters talent.
There are also plenty of people who worry about the "sausage factory" effect harming the participants and, at the other extreme, those who relish the eventual failure of the winners.