How to Turn Average Talent into Fame and Fortune

by Paul Michael on 4 August 2009 9 comments

Some people have great talent. Some don’t. And then, there are those people who are OK at something and yet, through smart thinking and ingenuity, create a niche for themselves that brings with it considerable fame and fortune.

I don’t know about you, but I’m OK at quite a few things. I can write. I can sketch. I can design. But I’m not the best at it. I will never be a Stephen King or a Leonardo Da Vinci. I am not a great writer or artist. And most likely, you’re not quite up there with other greats like Dickens, Mozart, Picasso and DeNiro. And yet, if you can think of a unique way to spin your average talent, you could have success anyway.

Here are the stories of five people who used their average talents to create above-average careers. Take note, be inspired (even if you don’t actually like that person), and maybe you can find a way to take an OK skill to new heights of fame and fortune. And if you make it, come back and tell us about it.

 

Richard Cheese

This fella’s real name is Mark Jonathan Davis, but he sings under the name of Richard Cheese And Lounge Against The Machine. Wikipedia describes his act as “popular rock, rap, heavy metal, and pop songs in a swanky lounge music swing band style reminiscent of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett. The band's name Lounge Against The Machine is a parody of the band name Rage Against the Machine.”

As a regular lounge music singer, he’s average. As a singer in general, he’s below average. Sorry Dick, but it’s true. I’ve heard better singers at a karaoke bar. But when Mark decided to become Richard Cheese and sing some of the greatest, filthiest and most popular songs of the last three decades in a style that feels right at home in a 70’s lounge bar, he made a name for himself. A big name. Covering bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, The Beastie Boys, Guns N’ Roses and U2, Richard Cheese has created his own category of parody entertainment. And with countless albums and TV show appearances under his belt, the boy has done well. A classic example of turning an average skill into something way bigger. (Be warned, if you do purchase a Richard Cheese album, get ready for some very strong language. The bands he parodies are not known for soft lyrics.)

 

"Weird Al" Yankovic

Now this guy you’ve heard of. Yes, he’s another average singer (to be honest, even worse than Richard Cheese at times) but he takes popular songs and changes the words to become something quite different. The joke should have worn very thin decades ago but it’s still going. In fact, his parody song “White And Nerdy” (a reinvention of the rap/hip-hop song "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone) got serious airplay and became his most successful hit, reaching #9 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100. It came from his album Straight Outta Lynwood, which is also riding high on Amazon.

Other famous songs by “Weird Al” include “Eat It” (a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) and “Smells Like Nirvana.” I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of his songs because they get old after about 30 seconds. But I am a big fan of his resourcefulness. His average singing talent has taken Weird Al on the ride of his life, and he is doing very well indeed.

 

William Shatner

Before all you Bill Shatner fans start boycotting Wise Bread, take a step back, a deep breath, and think about this for a moment. Can William Shatner act well? Can he sing well? Can he read poetry well? Can he even do TV commercials well? If we’re honest with ourselves, we all know the answer to that one. But that didn’t stop Cap’n Kirk from becoming a household name.

His strange, staccato way of speaking has been parodied more times than Tiger Woods has sunk a 10ft putt. And he’s a one-trick pony. In Star Trek, he was Captain Kirk. In TJ Hooker, he was Captain Kirk with a wig. In Boston Legal, he’s a really messed up Captain Kirk. And his awful renditions of classic songs, including Rocket Man, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and Mr. Tambourine Man (from his infamous The Transformed Man album) leave most people with either a headache or a chronic laughing condition. Despite all of this, he carved out a niche for himself that few have been able to copy. With average (if we’re being kind) talent in all of the performing arts, he has done exceptionally well for himself. And yes, I think he’s great as well.

 

Suzanne Somers

Wow, talk about fame and fortune from a little-to-no talent. Suzanne Somers shot to fame as Chrissy Snow in Three’s Company, an American version of the bawdy British comedy Man About The House. The acting was cheesy, the plotlines were obvious, but it did very well. Then came season 5. Suzanne wanted a pay increase from $30,000 to $150,000 per episode, plus 10% of the show’s profits. John Ritter and Joyce De-Witt were so sick of her spoiled attitude that they refused to work with her. And after several one to two minute appearances that were taped separately, she left the cast. That should have been the end of Suzanne Somers and her acting. But then, she became the spokeswoman for a product called the Thighmaster and made money hand over fist. The simple act of smiling and squeezing a silly-looking product between her legs secured her future, and her place in the hall of fame. From there, all kinds of Suzanne Somers diet and exercise books and videos flooded the market. And despite two or three failed attempts to return to a successful sitcom, plus a couple of stints in Playboy, Suzanne still manages to keep herself in the public eye through the Home Shopping Network. An astonishing career built on good looks and below-average acting skills. If I could do the same as Suzanne, I'd be quite happy.

 

Ed Wood

Those of you familiar with the Tim Burton biopic will know the name. Conversely, if you’re a fan of Ed Wood’s dire science-fiction movies, you’ll also know of his work. But one thing's certain – the man was not a good director. In fact, it would probably not be a stretch to call him a bad director. However, what Ed Wood did have was an unbelievable passion for movies, filmmaking, acting and directing. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t really any good at it, he made movies. And he also managed to work with some once great Hollywood icons, including Vampira and the original Dracula – Bela Lugosi. By far his best worst film is Plan 9 From Outer Space, a production so bad that it is widely known in Hollywood as the worst movie ever made. But guess what? Millions of people have heard of it. Millions of people saw his movies and read his books. While he may not have got fame and fortune before he died, he certainly got it afterwards. And some say that if he had been alive today, he would have earned the same respect that John Waters, Roger Corman and George A. Romero receive. Ed Wood’s average talents, coupled with his passion for movies, guarantee his place in the hall of fame. In fact, if he’d been a better movie maker, we probably wouldn’t even know his name.

 

These are just five of a long list of average (sometimes below average) entertainers who found success by carving out their own space, where they didn't have to compete with their talent, just their innovation. Also excluded from this list are, among others, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, that idiot guy from The Hills and any other socialite airhead. They were rich to begin with and they have zero talent, not average talent. If mommy and daddy weren’t powerful and wealthy, you wouldn’t know who they were and they wouldn’t be shopping on Rodeo Drive.

 

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Guest's picture

Oooooyyy, boy, I love Weird Al! He is so weiiiiiiiiirdddd ;)

By the way I agree with you. It's usually not the talent that makes you successful. There are many unknown yet talented people walking among us. It's practice (something I should do more often - regarding my drumming), creativity and a pinch of neatness that rockets you to the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame :D

Let's make some noise :D

All the best,
Zoli

Guest's picture
Deborah

What you posted today really gave me the strength to press on. Since I was very young (about 12) I wanted to be a mangaka (Japanese comic book artist). As I grew older, I felt that dream slipping away as it takes a lot of time during one's day to devote to such a venture. My data files from the story were destroyed 5 times which is why it has taken me six years to complete the rough drafts, that and having to work hard from a young age has gotten in the way.

I have 35 pages left of my story which should take me about a week and a half. For the first time I will complete my first graphic novel. I've never been an "exceptional" artist but I am extremely creative and I excel at creative writing, meaning the storyline will make up for the more "basic" art style that I have (similar to Ken Akamatsu, creator of Love Hina).

Anyways, I would just like to tell you thank you! Your post has really helped restore my faith that my dream as a career comic book artist may actually come true.

Paul Michael's picture

Never underestimate the power of determination. And send us a copy of your book when it gets published! I'm working on a kids book right now, and I know it will take a long time...but I will do it.

By the way, I think I left out Victoria Beckham from my list. Not that good a singer, not an actor, not a fashion designer, but she's made millions. Marring David Beckham didn't hurt her career either!

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh, now I must really stop reading this blog. William Shatner not a good actor???????????????????
Well, do you think you are a good writer?

Paul Michael's picture

And if you're seriously telling me Shatner is a great actor, I have to disagree with you 100%. I'm not saying I don't like him, I do. He's got a way with delivery. But come on, the guy is hardly a Pacino or Denzel Washington.

Guest's picture

Paul, this is an inciteful post; you've brought up something we all need to ponder at great lengths.

I've often wondered myself how it is that certain celebrities stay in the public limelight with what seems to be to be only marginal talent. You see the same thing with athletes, managers and business people.

I'm going to take a guess on why that is--and this is a complete guess, but I think a reasonable one. In all fields there are great performers, but in every field, most of the people involved in it are less than great, maybe only average.

So you have less-than-great types who rise to the top of the less-than-great ranks, maybe even to become "near great" by default. They get to that level because they won't quit, they won't go away, and they never stop digging. They're more an irisistable force than great performers. And obviously there's a huge niche for them because there are more than a few of them.

Most people quit if they think they can't get the brass ring; these people will take second, third or fourth place and play it for all it's worth.

We can all learn something from them...

Guest's picture
Kate

All of the entertainers here do have loads of "talent"- Shatner has his charisma, Somers has/had her looks, Ed Wood had his eccentricity and originality, and Weird Al (and I imagine Cleese, as well) have their creativity. It's these attributes that make them extraordinary, that give them the ability to stand apart from the general public. Some of the most traditionally talented entertainers of our generation (for example, Stephen Malkmus or Liane Balaban) have never managed to rise into the spotlight. Sure, the talent of Malkmus (a singer/songwriter) far surpasses Bob Dylan's, but he lacks the style and mystery Dylan entranced an entire generation with. The same thing goes for Balban. She is far more talented then most household names, and (imho) much more beautiful then Somers. However she lacks that strange mixture of charisma and excitement that turns actors and singers into stars.

Guest's picture

Enjoyed the post. Tiny Tim should have made the cut!

Guest's picture
Nealio

How about entertainers with SOME talent, but not enough talent to experience the outrageous success that they have?

Elton John, for example. I'd love to sit him next to Billy Joel and have them go at it on piano. Elton sold out to the Pop Demon once Bernie Taupin left. He went from soulful rock icon to pop diva almost overnight.

Or Neil Diamond. I never understood how a guy whose voice sounds like a cacophony of 17-year locusts could really find a following. I'm still waiting, after how many years? to hear his first jazz rendition from the movie "The Jazz Singer." If he's equating himself to Al Jolson, oh my, what an inflated sense of talent.