After more than a decade of work in Cambodian slums, and with a headache from watching local reality talent shows on television, pastor Timothee Paton has handed over his Bong Paoun Project aiding street children and has begun a “new chapter” in his missionary career.
He wants to harness the undiscovered talent of Phnom Penh and join the ranks of world-class entertainers with his own version of a UK talent show that has been successfully cloned around the world.
You’ve Got Talent is set to launch on August 31 at the ICA International Church in Phnom Penh.
Although the idea isn't new, Paton jumped at the opportunity to showcase the increasingly cosmopolitan character of the city, often overlooked by the entertainment industry.
Much of its potential, he says, hides in the shade of the city’s bars, schools and small venues where other nationalities gather.
“I’m trying to open people’s minds to the great world, because the great world is coming to Phnom Penh.
“The city has so many nationalities and cultures, and this show is especially for Cambodians to discover the variety of cultures they are blessed with.”
The show will not be televised, but Paton and his team of 13 volunteers have it planned to the smallest detail.
Once a month, contestants will audition for a chance to “show off their talent in the right way” in front of 500 members of the public who will also choose the winner.
“When the votes are counted, I will take the stage and say: ‘And the winner tonight is . . . !’ ”
The 90-minute event will feature all manner of performances – from a Korean violinist and an African gospel choir to the Bong Paoun Project Hip Hop Kids.
“It’s all about talent. It’s a pity to die with your talent or keep it to yourself. Next month, we have a magician flying all the way from Malaysia.”
The grand finale is scheduled for next June, when the winner of “the best of the best” will receive a symbolic trophy from Princess Soma Norodom.
“We might give something more than a trophy to the big winner,” Paton adds, saying the value of the prize will depend on the generosity of the audience and other potential donors.
Having a royal family member as the event’s patron will lend authenticity and glamour to the low-key contest that for now relies on leaflet advertising and the word of mouth.
But Pastor Tim has big plans on his agenda, and says he would welcome all offers from TV producers in the future.
“I know some people from local TV, but I want to wait for the first show in case it doesn’t go exactly as we planned. We can always improve."
Hoping to attract Cambodian youth in particular, the organisers expect different reactions from people who “don’t knock at the doors to hear what other cultures have to offer”.
“Our purpose is to disturb the stagnant society a bit – I think it’s a good time to do it for the new, open-minded generation,” Paton says.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dagmarah Mackos at [email protected]