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AMC’s Showville subverts the typical talent show formula of series like American Idol by sending Hollywood to small town America. Instead of looking for America’s next top anything, the show’s performance coaches, actor Alec Mapa and choreographer Lisette Bustamante, groom local talent to perform in front of their own town. Refreshingly, the show isn’t just looking for singers, but all talents, which in the first episodes includes magic acts, sideshow performers and even some mean harmonica playing. Auditions are held locally and produce four acts as finalists, who Mapa and Bustamante both mentor. The town then votes after an old-school talent show on which act is deserving of a $10,000 prize.
Showville takes a sincere approach to small town life, gently ribbing it while also promoting it. The series’ first stop is Holland, Michigan, which proves to be full of performance hobbyists, from puppeteers to jugglers to people who have mousetraps snap on their tongues. The town’s excitement over Hollywood dropping in is sweet but not overplayed, and its quirky inhabitants with their odd habits — like having a Shakespearean squirrel puppet or cockroaches as pets — are presented in a true documentary style, without quips or comment.
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Mapa does make plenty of quips throughout the show, though, and is punchy fun — he refers to one sideshow duo as “the kind of people who, in the 1920s and ’30s, would have been run out of town.” The sweet Bustamante teaches the performers to meditate and also helps a few unlikely contestants find their “sexy” side. The two don’t compete against each other as mentors, though; both give tips to the performers about how to improve their show. The two also have patience and genuine enthusiasm when dealing with the performers during the few days they are there, and the result is a show that is authentic and engaging. Viewers even see film crew members snacking on cheese and cracker platters that a performing couple have sweetly provided for them. Later, there’s a fleeting shot of the crew bobbing their heads to the pan flute performance while checking sound levels.
Showville isn’t AMC’s first look at small town life — earlier this month saw the second season premiere of the odd and occasionally vulgar Small Town Security, which focuses on a family-owned private security firm in Georgia. But Showville is far more upbeat and encouraging than that series, and its shift in location from week to week keeps things fresh.
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Since those voting in the hometown audiences know the competitors but might not know about their hobbies, there’s an air of cooperation and general encouragement in Holland on talent show night, even though one contestant says half-jokingly, “We want to go Hunger Games on all of the other performers!” Whether the winners go on to pursue a Hollywood dream or remain content as being the big fish in their small town pond, magician Maciej, originally from Poland, explains the charm of the series: “We are all born with special gifts. Sometimes [though], we wait for years.” Maciej, your time has come.
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