ARRIVING HOME from work, I found my daughter watching a TV show featuring an exhausted young person of indeterminate sex weeping on a stage, as panelists made sophisticated, constructive comments such as: "Whoa, that TOTALLY sucked."
"I thought American Idol was on last night?" I asked, having spent an hour the previous night trying to labor at the dinner table while that agonizing spectacle took place at full volume on the other side of the room, if apartments as small as mine can be said to have other sides.
American Idol, the world's most successful TV program, features Simon Cowell, a man who cannot sing, telling people who CAN sing, that they can't. The logic defeats me.
My daughter explained patiently this was "completely different," by which I discovered that it was exactly the same thing, but with the public humiliation of dancers instead of singers.
The following night, a panel was roasting weeping contestants. It was a search for the next star designer.
The fourth night saw the same scenario once more. "This is a search for the world's best dog," my daughter told me. "You're joking," I replied. She wasn't.
I sneered at all this until a few days ago. That's when it was reported Cowell, the grumpy judge on several of these shows, had just signed a new deal for US$500 million (HK$3.9 billion).
For some of us, that's a lot of money. Why, if I had that sort of cash, I could do all sorts of wild and reckless spending, like buying shoes for my children instead of tying rags around their feet.
The scales fell from my eyes. Talent contests were a great idea. I quickly consulted the smartest people on earth - that's you, the readers - to come up with a draft list of surefire hits.
1. The World's Next Top Celebrity Disaster. We all know that the personal life of Lindsay Lohan, also known as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, is a mess. We need a new walking catastrophe. Can you party so hard that you get in trouble with the police?
Front-runners: spoiled children of the elite in Hong Kong, India, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh - and pretty much everywhere else, actually.
2. The World's Next Top Rogue Nation. North Korea has gone quiet, Iraq is beyond hope, and so is Afghanistan. The planet needs a new bad guy. All you have to do is pretend to be friendly with your neighbors while quietly making nuclear weapons to blow them to bits.
Frontrunners: Pakistan and Iran.
3. The World's Next Top Fake Democracy. A panel of experts will judge leaders from countries which promise multiparty democracy in their constitutions, but feature a single group clinging endlessly to power, year after year.
Front- runners: Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia.
4. Asia's Next Top Sacked Columnist. A dimwitted journalist writes columns poking fun at the rich and famous, forgetting that he is in Asia, where it's really not wise to do that sort of thing.