In 1934, a radio show entitled “The Major Bowes Amateur Hour” was launched across the United States, making it one of the first known talent shows with a national audience.
The weekly show was hosted by Edward Bowes (a well-known radio personality of the time), who was convinced audiences would be intrigued by regular people attempting professional performances. He invited comedians, musicians, dancers, and other entertainers to perform, but the most popular acts were always the singers.
A year after the show’s launch, a 19-year-old Frank Sinatra walked into the studio to perform. Previously, Sinatra worked as a singing waiter, but he had no other musical credits to his name. However, his appearance on the “Amateur Hour” gave him massive national recognition and ultimately helped catapult him to global stardom.
Other talent shows soon popped up, including “Opportunity Knocks,” “The Ted Mack Family Hour,” “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” and “Top of the Pops.” They would all enjoy profitable runs, but eventually, each one shuttered due to waning viewership. Even the “Amateur Hour” would close its studio in 1970, having successfully transitioned from radio to television many years earlier.
However, there is one talent show that has stood the test of time.
Held every year since the first edition in 1956, the “Eurovision Song Contest” is an annual international music competition featuring participants representing primarily European countries. Organized by the European Broadcasting Union, the show has become one of the longest-running and most-watched non-sporting events globally.
The “Eurovision Song Contest” is responsible for the careers of Celine Dion (who won the event in 1988 representing Switzerland), and more recently, the Italian band Måneskin (who took home the grand prize in 2021). However, given that the contest does not include entries from North America, most of the winners, while famous in Europe, are unknown to American listeners.
But one winner of the “Eurovision Song Contest” did find international fame and fortune and did become darlings of U.S. audiences.
Go to YouTube and type in “Eurovision song contest, 1974, and ABBA.” You can then watch Benny, Björn, Agnetha, and Anni perform “Waterloo,” a song written specifically for that year’s contest. At the time, ABBA was a rising act, but had yet to gain much recognition outside of their home country of Sweden.
“Waterloo” would prove to be a major catalyst in their quest for fame. In subsequent years, the band would sell hundreds of millions of albums and enjoy many more hit singles, including “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Mama Mia,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 and in 2021 they launched their much-heralded holographic concert experience in London.
Most of ABBA’s hits were in the 1970s when I was coming of age. However, while it wasn’t cool for a teenage boy to dig the Swedish rockers back then, I secretly loved their relentlessly catchy songs, many of which became ubiquitous with the decade.
And that appeal has withstood the test of time.
So, when I was offered tickets recently to see an ABBA tribute band, I jumped at the chance. I also roped my wife and another couple into the show. We joked about how campy the experience would be, a point that was reinforced when we saw how many of the attendees were dressed in glitzy ’70s apparel.
And while it paled in comparison to seeing the actual band, it was a delightful two hours’ worth of songs that I was more than happy to sing along to.
I had another two-hour experience recently when I went to see this week’s feature, “What Happens Later,” starring Meg Ryan and David Duchovny. But while the ABBA show brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart, this film had me looking at my watch and anticipating its conclusion.
Ex-lovers meet again when their flights are indefinitely delayed at the same airport. They spend the extended time in the terminal wondering whether breaking up many years’ prior was the right decision (not a bad premise, but one that demands careful writing to make it work.)
Check this one out if you pine for Meg Ryan in yet another rom-com. And while there are glimpses of her once-endearing cuteness, overall, the film falls flat from mishandling.
A discontented “C-” for “What Happens Later,” now playing in theaters everywhere.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.