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The Rise and Fall of Reality Singing Competitions

Chief Features Editor

Published: Friday, February 28, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014 13:02


 The cringe-worthy middle school talent shows of your youth have taken to the world stage in the past decade in the form of televised singing competitions. With the promise of a record deal and eternal glory, millions of young hopefuls flock to the open-call auditions of the top three contenders: X Factor, The Voice, and American Idol. Each show has its own distinct style dependent upon the chemistry of the judging panel, the charismatic host, and the general talent pool, but as of late, the shows that were once a weeknight staple have plummeted in ratings, neutralizing the success of recent winners.

    On February 7, 2014, FOX announced the cancellation of Simon Cowell’s US X Factor after arguably the most talent-filled season yet. If you haven’t yet watched the performances of winning couple Alex & Sierra, I highly recommend doing so. The pair provided sultry, stripped versions of hits like Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love” and Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” to win over the judging panel week after week and to charm America into continually voting. With such a bright future ahead of them, it is disheartening to know that the platform from which their careers were launched has been pulled from under them, drawing into question the value of their victory.

    American Idol, the U.S.-born reality competition that premiered in 2002 and is currently in its thirteenth season, is a far departure from the days of judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell and talents Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. In over twelve seasons of record deals, only these two victors can be definitively praised for their success in the music industry. As one of the premiere competitions to secure a future music career, one would hope for a better success rate. Host Ryan Seacrest is the only enduring element of this show, joined by new judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. more for entertainment than for valuable critique. The show’s notoriety for exposing the craziest auditions during their extensive search should indicate American Idol’s emphasis on entertainment over talent, costing them viewership and esteem as a competition.

   One of America’s newer competitions The Voice introduced the concept of “blind auditions” to remove the commercial appeal of some artists and focus primarily on their talent. While the show has yet to prove its success as a venue to launch careers, the dynamics between original judges Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and CeeLo Green prove both entertaining and efficient in judging the talent. In alternating seasons, CeeLo and Christina are replaced by Shakira and Usher on the judging panel. The Voice provides a comprehensive sampling of music genres in its judges, allowing it to appeal to wider viewership. Recent winners Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbury have been featured on popular country radio stations, but have yet to receive any acclamations.

     Millions of struggling musicians audition for these reality singing competitions every year. This could indicate the longevity of such shows, but as ratings decline and judges stay on for an average of two years at most, I question how long these shows will remain in the music industry. Crowd favorites are sent home far too early, and voting seems to rely in the hands of tech savvy thirteen year olds, allowing them control of the market. No matter how much I support a talented musician, I can’t see myself going through the hassle of picking up the phone to call while artists hold up fingers toinidcate their voting extension.

   Gone are the days of sitting down with my family to watch Carrie Underwood blossom into a Grammy-winning superstar, replaced by highlight reels provided on Youtube and Hulu. Quite honestly, no one has time to watch these reality television competitions for two-hour specials on back-to-back nights, sitting through thirty minutes of commercials and an hour of mediocre performances to catch the three-minute song performed by the vocalist you knew would win from the start. The YouTube generation of artists like Justin Bieber seems to be replacing the television sensations as a way to launch careers and expose talent, and quite honestly, I think that few people will be sad to see the inevitable demise of Ryan Seacrest’s American Idol hosting career.

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