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The first talent show called Popstars was created in New Zealand by producer Jonathan Dowling. TV producers quickly noticed that this reality television format could become a worldwide success, and so it was turned into a franchise which allowed other companies to take over the format. The term reality television alone tells us that we’re dealing with low quality here, but things got worse than expected. The music industry also got interested in such show formats, as the show itself was taking over the entire marketing and promotion. Formerly unknown teens came out of those shows as well-known mini-stars, with their singles and albums ready to be released right after the show finale. Quick money and low quality, that’s just the way the music industry likes it.
Pop Idol was a British television music competition created by Simon Fuller which ran from 2001 to 2003, replaced by The X Factor in 2004. After Pop Idol had flopped in the US, American Idol became the most popular talent show in the States in 2002.
While boy bands and girl groups were just annoying, talent shows are a much bigger problem as they have influenced the entire music business as well as entire generations of consumers in a very negative way.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the more fundamental problems of talent shows.
- The first problem of talent shows is the image of the artist they’re transporting. While looks have always been quite important in the music business, talent shows have mostly been focusing on young beautiful people winning the contests. This has greatly influenced the image stars now have, and young people often have difficulties to accept musicians that don’t fit into certain categories of looks. This again means that many good and talented artists have problems to get accepted by the masses nowadays, as they don’t fit those norms.
- At least some of those shows suggest that a musician is someone who can sing, dance, and entertain, and that’s basically it. If you can’t dance or entertain on stage, then you’re not an artist. The ones who will make it are those who know how to entertain, and how to please the masses.
- Those shows suggest that all artists are just puppets. Artists are being chosen by experts, they do what they’re told to do, and they sing songs other people composed for them. Talent shows propagate the image of factory-like music production, which has to do very little with the way real art is usually being created.
- Talent shows also suggest that an artist is simply someone who can sing and perform very well. But being a good singer doesn’t necessarily make you a good artist. There usually is no band, no instrument, just a sterile playback. Some talent shows have even been accused of using pitch correction during the performances.
- Those shows often do not promote singers that are also songwriters (the so-called “singer-songwriters”). And if one of the participants actually is a singer-songwriter, then they will do everything to convince him or her to give up the songwriting. The ones who want to do their own music usually get kicked out of the show as soon as possible.
- They want to create puppets that can be used and abused by both TV and the record companies. Talent shows will want to produce artists that can easily be manipulated. If you want to win such a contest, then get used to do what you’re told to do. Behave, dress, and style the way they tell you. Try to do your own thing, and you’ll be kicked out.
- They only promote mainstream artists and mainstream music. The resulting winner will be a mass-compatible product, and not a real artist. Breaking out of that pattern later on may be possible, but in most cases all of those kids will never be able to escape their destiny.
- Common people are voting for their favourite wannabe stars. The stars are being made by the masses, and the masses like crap. Even worse, people with brains will probably not watch those shows at all, and they will certainly not waste their money by making a phone call in order to vote for any of those soon to be forgotten puppets. Those phone calls often bring in the real money for the show runners by the way. Kids and idiots voting for their idols can easily be influenced by the show creators, who will simply put into a bad light any undesired participant during the show.
- The creators of the shows are exercising career control. Artists participating in such a talent show will have to sign a contract or a deal at a certain point of time (at least before the final shows), and those who refuse to sign will be kicked out. Such a contract will force the artist to cooperate with the TV channel and / or with a record company over a longer period of time, sometimes even for years. Even if an artist does not win the contest, then he or she will not be able to record an album or to sign with another record company as long as the contract will be in effect. If the creators of the show have no interest in you – and chances are big that this is the case if you’re not the winner – then you may be stuck for years, unless another company is willing to buy you out of your contract. Chances for this to happen are almost zero. The creators of the show and / or the record company will often be able to decide how many records you’ll do within the next few years, what genre and what kind of music you’ll do, what songs you’ll do, how you will dress, and what you will say in interviews.
- Talent show participants often earn less than artists that have been signed in a regular way. The show creators and the record company will get the vast majority of all income, they will earn money with every record sold, and in some cases even winners only got a fixed monthly income (turning them into something like simple employees in fact) or a very small part of the earnings during the months or years their original contract was in effect. Most of those contracts are top secret of course, and show creators do not want any of the contract details to get public. Talking to the press would in fact be a breach of contract, and could get the artist into real trouble.
- In the end, it’s all just reality television. Which means that those shows all suffer from the same problems other reality TV formats suffer from too. They’re fabricated plastic TV shows, offering low quality content for the stupid masses, and sometimes they’re even scripted. Don’t expect anything great or artistic to magically come out of such a format.
Of course all of those problems do not apply to all of the shows you can find on TV, but let’s say that most of those problems apply to most of them. Not a single great artist came out of such a show during the past 15 years, and none of those “stars” will ever have a real lasting impact. So talent shows are not the solution, neither for the artist, nor for the music industry. They may be a short term solution for TV channels, but nothing more.
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Chapter 2.3 • Page 5 of 6
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