Ever since the rise of MTV in the 1980’s, reality music shows have dominated modern television. Shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice demonstrate just how popularized these programs have become, with American Idol even returning for its 16th season. While they all started in America, these shows have also expanded internationally, with spinoffs like The Voice of Italy and Britain’s Got Talent. What’s so striking about these programs is how easily people buy into the image that they paint of the modern music industry.
All of these “talent shows” blur the lines between a good performer and a good musician. Contestants are often introduced though tragic or peculiar stories to which audiences can relate. They are then judged based upon their singing skills, with very few performers presenting something other than a cover for their audition. Performers are then judged by three or four members of the music industry, some more competent and relevant than others. The problem with these performances is that by presenting a contestant who has a beautiful voice, but brings no original content, audiences then start to confuse good entertainers with good musicians. Most shows lack originality, where in order to win, you need to have the strongest voice, a strong personality, and have a good presence on stage. These are of course great qualities to have, but is this enough to be called a great musician?
On one hand, using covers makes the contestant and even the show standout more. Covers are more relatable, and they are more likely to strike a chord with audiences. Of course, this is serves as an advantage, as these shows are ultimately trying to sponsor artists that will sell records and bring visibility to the show (e.g. the creation of One Direction). As it relates to being called a musician, some argue that these performers are great musicians, because when covering popular songs, they bring their own feelings and interpretation to the stage. Others argue that it takes so much more than singing a bunch of entertaining covers, especially in this expanding music industry. It’s an interesting and necessary topic to bring up, even more so when you look at the success rate of a show like American Idol.
From it’s 15 seasons, American Idol has only 5 significatn winners: Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia Barrino, Jordan Sparks, and Scott McCreery. Each of these artists have seen tremendous success throughout their musical careers, cumulating grammy nods and topping album charts. However, this is only one third of the winners, the other 10 winners haven’t seen even close to the amount of success, and most of their musical careers have flatlined in comparison. This is just another example of the false reality these shows offer: winning = musical success.
While it’s obvious these shows provide a fun and intriguing concept, it’s diminishing the hard work musicians who don’t compete on these shows face in the music industry. Originality is what modern musicians strive for, and given the vast sea of music we have with Soundcloud and Spotify, finding original content has become increasingly difficult. On top of that, these music shows are inspiring people to pick up music with the sole purpose of getting famous. This ignores the purpose and passion real musicians play for, and ultimately expands the clutter of music in the already vast sea.
The above article was written by Quentin Singer. I thought that his comments definitely warrant our attention, but I see the music contests in a slightly different light.
Whether an artist wins or loses, the shows have tremendous value in promotion and bringing to the surface an artist that may otherwise never receive the exposure. Every so often you see a band like “We Three” rise to the surface and move through the elimination process of “America’s Got Talent.” They are original and have a very fresh and much needed talent to add to the music scene. It is of interest, that the band lives in McMinnville, Oregon, not exactly a music mecca like Nashville, Los Angeles, or New York 😊