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SANTIAGO, Chile—On a cold Saturday afternoon I discovered Talento Chileno.
Entering mid-episode, I quickly realized we were in the first round—auditions. Senor Germán Perez looked a little anxious when he walked out on stage, but relaxed quickly after one of the judges gave him a kiss and a quick shoulder massage. A former performer on the Santiago bus circuit, he sang a medley of “Over the Rainbow” and songs in his native tongue, crooning all the while in a thick Chilean accent. The judges suggested he stick to Spanish lyrics, but the decision was a resounding, unanimous “sí.”
As I continued watching with my Chilean host family, I was relieved to discover that Chilean contestants were just as self-assured, and often fatally so, as their American counterparts. I learned, too, that Chileans were just as eager to celebrate a train wreck of an audition—that of the breakdancing mime, for instance—as they were to celebrate a glorious success. As the show came to a close, we agreed that our favorite act was a gawky yet dynamic teen, described by one judge as an “artista integral,” or a man of the arts, who performed a rendition of Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet.”
Watching Talento Chileno is akin to shopping at Líder, the Chilean equivalent of Wal-Mart. It’s eerily similar to the American version—complete with a dizzying array of red, white and blue fluorescent lights surrounding the stage—and yet strikingly different. In Talento Chileno, for instance, family members are allowed to encourage their loved ones from the wings, singing and dancing along during the performance.
Since this is one of the most-watched television shows in Chile, and since the Chilean public votes for the winner, I tell myself that, by following the show, I am gaining a comprehensive picture of Chilean culture and values. More likely, I will never again get the chance to hear a judge, when evaluating a 33-year-old Italian music aficionado, quip, “The age of Christ—let’s hope you don’t end up crucified today.”
Beth E. Braiterman, an associate magazine editor, is a History and Literature concentrator in Mather House.
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