But now it seems that one young man from Kyrgyzstan has won a uniquely 21st-century kind of triumph by adhering rigorously to Greeley’s advice.
Atai Omurzakov -- a 21-year-old native of Karakol, Kyrgyzstan (population circa 70,000) -- woke up today as a Central European pop sensation after being declared the winner of "Cesko Slovensko Ma Talent,” the Czech-Slovak version of the popular “Talent” reality TV series syndicate, which includes “America’s Got Talent” and “Britain’s Got Talent.”
RFE/RL reported on Omurzakov in October after the Kyrgyz amateur first dazzled Czech and Slovak audiences with his robotic “electric boogie” dance routine.
WATCH: Atai Omurzakov's winning performance on "Cesko Slovensko Ma Talent"
“I thank you all. You do not know what this means to me,” Omurzakov told a live crowd and television audience after his November 27 win. The dancer said in October that he was competing for his mother. “I never knew my father. My mother didn’t have money. We had an apartment; we moved often. I remember my mother kept crying.”
Stuck in Karakol with few resources outside of his artistic creativity and some skillful moves on the dance floor, Omurzakov headed west -- his eyes set on the lights, the cameras, and the prize money of reality TV.
The young Kyrgyz man’s first stop was Russia, where he debuted in 2010 on “Minuta slavy” (Minute of Fame), an open-format talent show. There, Omurzakov donned Michael Jackson-esque black aviators and white gloves for his cyborg-dance number, a descendant of Jackson’s patented Robot. But “Minuta slavy” turned out to be a bust for Omurzakov, who didn’t get the necessary support from judges to move on to subsequent rounds.
A more timid soul might have taken the rejection as a notice to return home. But Omurzakov just continued to move west, this time to Ukraine, where he made it to the final round of "Ukraine's Got Talent" earlier this year. Though he ended up coming in second place behind local magician Vitaliy Luzkar, Omurzakov had the crowds strongly behind him for his finale performance, in which he alternately danced as an angelic and then demonic figure.
Spurred on by his near-win in Ukraine, Omurzakov took his act to the heart of Central Europe for competition in “Cesko Slovensko Ma Talent,” where he reused his dance material from previous competitions. For the winning Czech finale, Omurzakov rejigged his Ukrainian angel/demon dance. His first-place finish came at the expense of the other finalist, Scotsman Stevie Starr, a performance artist and “regurgitator” who has also auditioned for “Britain’s Got Talent.”
A number of Czech-speaking wags have already seized on this foreigner’s victory to proclaim that "the Czech Republic and Slovakia have no talent." But Omurzakov’s win may be less of a statement on Czech and Slovak talent than it is on the globalization of democratized pop culture.
The phenomenon of reality television, which began in earnest just over a decade ago in the United States and Western Europe with the advent of shows like “Survivor,” has blossomed into a worldwide genre capable of attracting and lifting a photogenic youth from a relatively obscure Kyrgyz city into a minor European celebrity. Warhol’s 15 minutes have never been so widely accessible.
Omurzakov’s reward is to move west once more. In addition to a princely prize sum of 100,000 euros ($133,000), he gets the opportunity to head to Las Vegas to refine his moves and perhaps win a few more ducats for Mom.
-- Charles Dameron