Questions raised by fate of contestants on British TV talent show

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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LONDON - Now that it's over, it's fair to ask: Was "Britain's Got Talent" worth it?
Susan Boyle, the most famous contestant, is hospitalized at the Priory Clinic in London with nervous exhaustion. Three children broke down on camera, leaving the stage in tears. Others were mocked by the judges and hooted by the fans. All in the name of reality TV.
Is it really a surprise that Boyle, an amateur singer with learning disabilities who lives alone with her cat, would have trouble competing live on national TV? Or that 10-year-old Hollie Steel would break down from the pressure? Or that 10-year-old Natalie Okri and 11-year-old Aidan Davis would burst into tears after being told they didn't make the cut?
Chris Thompson, medical director of the 14 Priory hospitals, said reality TV show producers have a responsibility to fully inform participants that instant fame can bring instant scrutiny and unbearable pressure.
Other mental health professionals had warned late last week that the fragile Boyle, who suffered oxygen deprivation at birth, seemed ill-equipped to handle the pressure.
Thompson echoed their concerns. "Anybody asked to sing live without professional training will face immense pressures, then follow that up with a barrage of public comments about her looks, talent and behaviour from all over the world and it's incredibly intrusive," he told The Associated Press Monday.
Thompson said it's tempting for reality TV producers to exploit people with mental health problems to boost their ratings and advertising revenues without fully understanding the risks this poses for the people involved.
"It is an ethical problem for producers," he said. "They need professional advice, to understand what it means if that person stays on the show."
Although he would not comment on Boyle's treatment specifically, he said patients hospitalized under similar circumstances would be evaluated by a team led by a psychiatrist, then possibly receive antidepressant or sleeping medication, and be advised to rest until they were well enough to participate in group psychotherapy sessions.
Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said the nature of shows like "Britain's Got Talent" can be overwhelming for people who are not used to the spotlight.
"Reality television programs and the media can very quickly propel people who lead very ordinary lives into a world that is unfamiliar and fast-paced. It is only right that Susan is being supported at this time and is getting the care she needs," he said.
Judge Piers Morgan, Boyle's trusted confidant, told NBC's "Today" show Monday that "Britain's Got Talent" was not to blame for her problems, although he admitted some thought was given to removing her from the show before the finals because of the pressure she faced.
He said he had no regrets about advising her to carry on despite the stress and the attacks of the British press.
"What she didn't like was all the negative stuff that was appearing in the papers," he said. "You know, you wake up one day and you've gone from anonymity to being the front page of every British tabloid screaming, `Cracking up,' `Boyling over.' It's going to have an effect on you."
- With files from Ben McConville in Blackburn, Scotland, and Nardine Saad in London.

Organizations: Priory Clinic, The Associated Press, Mental Health Foundation British press

Geographic location: LONDON, Britain, Blackburn Scotland

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