Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Why Cheryl was never going to make it in the US

X Factor judge Cheryl Cole takes to the red carpet at Cannes in an eye-catching little white number
Cheryl Cole
2. Cheryl Cole

So Cheryl Cole can now join the long list of things which the Americans simply don’t get: like tea, Bovril, Carry On films and Robbie Williams.

No shame there then. If anything it should be a badge of honour.

Of course the reason touted for her sacking as a judge from the US X Factor — that the show’s bigwigs were worried no one would understand Our Cheryl’s Geordie accent — is clearly a red herring.

After all, America had no problem with the Scouse of the Beatles, the thick Glaswegian burr of Billy Connolly or the Valley lilt of Tom Jones.

The problem wasn’t that Americans couldn’t understand what Cole was saying. The problem was they couldn’t work out what the Girls Aloud singer actually means.

Over there she represents precisely nothing. Stateside, she’s not Wor Cheryl but a so-so singer from a group no one has heard of.

America simply isn’t interested in having a ‘Cheryl’ — a woman pretty in an ordinary way, talented in an ordinary way, picked out by chance.

The irony is Cheryl has already made a much tougher journey, from a poverty-stricken upbringing on a Tyneside council estate to one of the biggest female stars in Britain.

Here, many women have taken Cheryl to their hearts, cankles and all, precisely because she is a kind of modern Everywoman.

They love her Geordie accent with its warm ‘pets’ and ‘loves’, and the fact that it is regional, not 1950s Received Pronunciation or contemporary Mockney. This is the sound of reality, of something with roots.

Cheryl is distinctive in Britain because she is a rags-to-riches story in a culture where the story always seems to be riches-to-riches. Female TV presenters are often plummy-voiced, well-educated daughters of professionals, like Fearne Cotton, Holly Willoughby, Davina McCall, Sophie Rayworth or Konnie Huq.

Even pop stars like Lily Allen, Florence Welch and Laura Marling are drawn from the ‘moody’ upper middle-classes.

For the X Factor audiences, Cheryl was their voice in the studio, the poor girl made good, the very epitome of why the show had meaning in the first place, a champion of the underdog in a show devoted to letting the underdog bark.

All that means nothing in America where every woman who is a star is already Everywoman.

From Britters to J-Lo to Shania to Leanne to Rihanna to Christina to Beyonce — black or white, Latino or redneck, every single one has come from nowhere to somewhere over the rainbow.

Entertainment is stuffed to the gills with Cheryls — only bigger, better, brassier, more beautiful and already globally famous. Also, Stateside audiences — see American Idol — are not prone to the bear-pit atmosphere that is the Brit X Factor. No gangs in the audience booing acts as they perform. No internet witch-hunts to get certain acts ‘booted off’. No nasty lobbies. Maybe it’s the ‘American Dream’ thing, but everyone seems to get right behind anyone who has managed, against the odds, to get on stage.

But that doesn’t mean the image the Geordie lass has constructed is meaningless.

It just isn’t going to work in the States. What she should do is take her rejection as a boon.

If anything, she should be a little bit ashamed for having droned on about ‘breaking America’ at all — as if being popular in the US was the only true mark of value. It isn’t.

Even those who ‘break the States’ often do so at the price of either blanding out or becoming a parody of Englishness.

Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan are successes in America precisely because they live up to the evil, cold-blooded, sneery English stereotype, ‘real life’ versions of the roles Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman play in the movies. But at least they’re memorable. Just look at the terrible Hollywood films of Hugh Grant. Or the current emasculation of Russell Brand.

No, Cheryl should come home and revel in being a Geordie lass. How many more millions, how much more adulation, how much deeper press intrusion does anyone need?

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