04.22.09

How Susan Boyle's Rival Won Me Over

Britain's Got Talent judge Piers Morgan on why Shaheen Jafargholi is just as unexpected—and talented—as she is, but in the vein of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.

My favorite part of the James Bond movies comes when the mad, brilliant villain appears out of nowhere to inform a stunned 007: “Not so fast, Mr Bond…”

I was reminded of this when 12-year-old singer Shaheen Jafargholi crashed onto the scene like a vocal bolt of lightning this week to challenge Internet sensation Susan Boyle on the hit U.K. TV show that I judge, Britain’s Got Talent.

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Just when the whole world—quite literally!—assumed that the glorious Susan, 47, had the competition in the bag after one solitary, yet utterly spectacular, two-minute performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, along comes young Shaheen to throw a massive great big spanner in the works.

Like Susan, the magic of Shaheen’s audition lay in its unexpectedness.

I remember the moment vividly. It came half way through a long day of fairly mediocre fare at a theatre in Cardiff, Wales.

Shaheen seemed a very ordinary, conservatively dressed, polite young chap. Certainly there was nothing about his appearance that screamed “Star!”

He started singing the Amy Winehouse song “Valerie.” It was OK, but nothing special, and my co-judge Simon Cowell stopped him in his tracks.

The crowd went silent, Shaheen looked shocked, and I wondered what on earth Mr. Cowell was up to.

Shaheen seemed a very ordinary, conservatively dressed, polite young chap. Certainly there was nothing about his appearance that screamed “Star!”

“What other songs do you have?” he asked.

“Erm, well I have …..” replied Shaheen.

Simon nodded. “Do that, instead.”

Lots of conspiracy theories have raged in the last few days about this situation, but every singer is told to bring two songs into the audition with them, and we often get them to sing both if we suspect there is a good voice lurking there somewhere, but the first song doesn’t give them a proper chance to show it.

Shaheen composed himself, then burst into the Motown classic “Who’s Loving You?” and instantly transformed himself from a competent kid singer into a potential global phenomenon.

It was a moment nearly as shocking as Susan Boyle, because, again, we just didn’t see it coming.

What a dazzling, beautiful voice he has.

It was like hearing a young Michael Jackson, with a dash of Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.

And, as with Susan, it was all so very British.

We don’t do conventional-looking singing stars where I come from.They’re all a bit “unlikely,” and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Not for us the size 0, perfect-teethed, poster boys and girls—the Britneys, Mileys, Justins, and so on.

Brits have always been prone to the more unconventional look. From rubber-lipped Mick Jagger and his ludicrously large head, to big-nosed Rod Stewart, bespectacled Elton John, and the aforementioned Amy and her giant beehive, our rockers and pop icons usually defy the normal laws of show-business aesthetics.

And when it comes to our talent shows, the “unlikely” factor is even more emphatic.

First we had Paul Potts, the chubby opera singer with the wonky teeth, dodgy suit, and voice like Pavarotti.

Then came Susan Boyle, the lassie from the Scottish village, who by her own admission may not win any beauty pageants, but whose soul and spirit have touched the planet.

And now we have Shaheen, who looks like any other normal, unexceptional schoolboy, but whose raw talent is quite extraordinary.

The common theme between them is that they have all become YouTube stars, with their short, often grainy, audition clips being seen everywhere from Poland to Dubai, Shanghai to Melbourne, Kansas to Paris.

And collectively they are showing the world that Britain really has got talent, we just don’t do it like anyone else.

So eat your hearts out, all you beautiful Hollywood people, because the “unlikely” Brits are on the rampage.

Piers Morgan worked as a gossip columnist for the Sun before going on to edit the News of the World and then the Daily Mirror, where he stayed until 2004 when he was sacked following his decision to publish photos of British soldiers apparently abusing Iraqi prisoners of war. Since then, he shot to fame as a judge on the top-rated show America's Got Talent and was the first winner of Celebrity Apprentice. His new book, God Bless America: Misadventures of a Big Mouth Brit has just been published. You can find more on Piers Morgan and Susan Boyle at Piers’ Web site: www.officialpiersmorgan.com.