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30/05/2020 The Communication Science magazine

How fake are the stories on America’s Got Talent?

Glennis Grace her story was altered on America’s Got Talent just to make her more attractive as a contester. But fact is that Glennis is not the only one whose story was altered.


Glennis Grace – a household name in the Netherlands. She has been singing since the age of 11, has been on numerous television shows, was sent to the Eurovision Song Contest and has multiple albums attached to her name. It sounds like the success story of an established singer, but apparently America’s Got Talent does not agree. According to them, Glennis has been desperately fighting for her spot in the entertainment industry without any results and appreciation, while on top of that struggling with being a single mom.

Now, many of us will understand that making it in the U.S. is different from making it in the Netherlands. Many Americans probably don’t even know where this little country is located. Nonetheless, it is very interesting how much of Glennis’ story was altered on America’s Got Talent (AGT) just to make her more attractive as a contester. But fact is that Glennis is not the only one whose story was altered. Many stories on AGT are being exaggerated to make certain contesters stand out and eventually maybe even help them win.

Many stories on AGT are being exaggerated to make certain contesters stand out and eventually maybe even help them win.

While we might accept some ‘innocent exaggeration’ like in the case of Glennis, sometimes things can get out of hand. It is one thing to spice up a story a bit by leaving some minor details out or making others more salient, but there are certain boundaries. A contester named Timothy Poe found this out the hard way. In season 7 of AGT, Timothy claimed to be an American soldier who had been hit by a grenade in Afghanistan. As you might have guessed, this was not the case. But it gets worse: the photo that was used to show him as a soldier did not actually depict him, but a completely different guy! Naturally he got an enormous amount of backlash for this, and had to tearfully apologize on a local news station.

This is a great example of a case where just ‘spicing someone’s story up a bit’ totally spun out of control and just got straight up deceiving. But even after all this, most of us have to admit that we all love a good sob story. The bottom line is: it works on the television. Of course we will be more intrigued by an inspiring and mind-blowing personal story because we then want these people to succeed. The problem with having these fake stories is that some people succeed because of a made-up story and this is not fair to people who actually have been through something.

Because you might ask yourself the following: is every story shown on AGT fake? Fortunately not. Some of the stories we see are in fact true. Look at Kechi Okwuchi for example. In season 12, she stood in front of the judges when she explained what terrible thing had happened to her. She was on a plane going home for Christmas in 2005 when the plane horrifically crashed. She turned out to be one of the only two survivors of the 109 people on board. After telling her unimaginable story she did a mind-blowing audition and made it to the finals.

All in all, these three examples all have different ‘levels of fakeness’. Some have none, others a little and a few are just blatant lies. You might even suggest that there is some kind of ‘spectrum of fakeness’ on which you can place every contester of AGT from true to fake. Now it is up to us to notice which stories belong in the ‘blatant lies’-category to furthermore identify who is riding the ‘I-have-an-amazing-story’-bandwagon without being entitled to this. But the question remains: do we really want to know this? I think most of us are already aware of the fact that television can be fake, but we accept this because we want good entertainment. So maybe we should just accept that sometimes this entertainment comes with a little white lie, and sometimes a few big ones.

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