Reality Television and the Music Business

Added on April 4, 2015

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By Artisthead News Correspondent, Alex Feigin.

Kelly Clarkson took the first winning American Idol title in 2002 when the show premiered on FOX. Her career blossomed almost immediately with her hit single "A Moment Like This." Soon following, her 2003 album entitled Thankful contained her first international hit "Miss Independent," leading her to win her first Grammy award. She continued to take the pop scene by storm with multiple platinum albums and singles including "Breakaway," "Since U Been Gone," and "Behind These Hazel Eyes." Years later, in 2009, she released her fourth studio album All I Ever Wanted, which contained yet another international hit "My Life Would Suck Without You." In 2011, she released "Stronger", by 2012, she had a greatest hits album, and this year, on March 3rd she released her newest album Piece by Piece. Kelly's career blossomed and it continues to do so, even well over a decade after her win on American Idol. The show continued to produce superstars like Carrie Underwood, the winner of Idol's fourth season.

Underwood soared as a country star, and dually as a pop star after she released her album Some Hearts in 2005, which included hits such as "Jesus Take The Wheel" and "Before He Cheats." She earned several Grammys, Billboard Music Awards, and even a Golden Globe award. She released Carnival Ride in 2007 and Play On in 2009. Her album, Blown Away, came out in 2012 with much success, and in 2014, she released a greatest hits album. What Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have in common as American Idol alumni is that they have maintained their careers after shooting to superstardom. Longevity is one of the hardest achievements to obtain, as a musical artist.

Besides the aforementioned two, there have been several other American Idol winners and contestants that have endured great success since their time on the show such as Chris Daughtry, Katherine McPhee, Kellie Pickler, Phillip Phillips, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, Jordin Sparks, and Scotty McCreery. Thanks to American Idol, all of these folks, and many more, have made it big in the music business. While there were a few talent competitions that existed before, such as Star Search, American Idol made its mark on America as a means for unknown artists to get a shot at the big time. The winner receives a recording contract with a major label as well as a management contract with 19 Entertainment. Several contestants maintained promising music careers after appearing on American Idol.

For a long time, American Idol was the must see show in the field, but in 2011, FOX also added The X Factor to its list, and NBC added The Voice. The X Factor has since been cancelled, but The Voice is still going strong, and shows it's a dominating force when it comes to ratings. While realizing that The Voice is a newer show, it has not produced successful post-show careers for its contestants in the way that Idol has. While the fate of the contestants of both shows are determined by the public, whether it's voting via phone, text or the internet, why does it seem that more people tune in for The Voice, yet their contestants aren't making as big of a mark on the music scene as American Idol contestants?

American Idol has audition rounds in front of three celebrity judges who select, by a majority vote between them, who goes to Hollywood. In Hollywood, there are group singing rounds and individual rounds which all leading up to what has commonly been the Top 24, or more commonly known as the Semi-Finals. The show has changed that process very minimally over the years. They added a Las Vegas round for a few seasons and it kept the viewers attention for the time being. Once in the semi-finals, the contestants face public voting, voting by the judges, as well as wildcard rounds which tend to spice things up. The ones who advance go to the Finals where one contestant must leave each week until a winner is crowned. This method worked like magic for the Idol team for many years. Of course there is not one single reason that American Idol doesn't create the buzz that it used to, but since Simon Cowell left the judges panel in 2010, the show's inconsistencies have increased immensely, and ratings have quite obviously gone down. Unfortunately for him, his production of The X Factor USA fell by the wayside in a few short seasons, but not before introducing the world to the widely successful female pop group, Fifth Harmony. Other acts to have some success after their stint on the X Factor USA include Emblem3, Bea Miller, and Alex and Sierra.

The Voice began in 2011, and runs two seasons per year, and is currently in its eighth season. The Voice takes a completely different approach then American Idol in regards to the show's format. The contestants perform in blind auditions for four celebrity musical coaches in hopes of being selected on one of the teams, judged only by their voices. Once the teams are formed, each team must decrease in size by going through Battle Rounds and Knockout Rounds until they move on to the live shows, where America's input is what keeps the contestants in the game. The celebrity coaches provide tons of entertainment as well as a much-needed break from the American Idol format. The show allows the contestants to be coached, rather than be judged by the panel of celebrities. Being on one of the teams ensures that your coach will support and guide you through the competition. The coaches use their knowledge and experience as successful musical artists to teach their team members a variety of singing and performance tactics they can use to better themselves as artists. The setting is much more intimate, as each coach seemingly grows very close to their contestants over the course of the show.

Another reason the Voice is extremely successful as a television show is due to their voting methods. While American Idol uses phone, text, app, and online voting, The Voice adds iTunes and Twitter to the list. Each week, the contestants on The Voice record a studio version of their song that gets released on show day. Votes are counted for the contestant when the songs are purchased on iTunes, and even more, if a contestant's song ends up in the iTunes Top 10 before voting time closes, they receive a large bonus. On the night of the results show, the Voice has an Instant Save, which uses Twitter over a short 5-minute period to save one of the bottom 3 contestants. This element of the show causes fans to need to tune in to the Results Show on time in order to save their favorite contestants.

Still, with all of these cool and quirky elements of The Voice, we haven't seen a real superstar emerge from the show. There is quite a mystery in play here. Why shouldn't the winners or contestants of The Voice be taking the industry by storm just as the Idol contestants have in the past? We could consider that the show airs two seasons in one year, so there is less time for the winners to make career moves before viewers are already beginning to watch another season. We could also consider that with the elimination of more contestants in a shorter time frame, we don't have enough time to get to know each of them individually. We could also continue to consider that the intimacy on The Voice is channeled between the coach and the contestant, rather than the contestant and the viewer. Obviously, there are many considerations to be made, but one observation that keeps coming back to haunt me is that while The Voice hasn't produced any real industry superstars, it has, in fact, made even bigger stars out of their already superstar celebrity coaches.

The most affected coach by The Voice is Adam Levine. Not only has Levine's band, Maroon 5, released their newest album entitled V, but the group has been touring and performing at several award shows with their highly successful new singles including "Maps," "Animals," and "Sugar." In addition, Adam Levine was named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive in late 2013, and he has since released a clothing line. It seems like a very popular public opinion that Adam Levine's association with The Voice has had an extremely positive affect on the continued success of Maroon 5. Before The Voice, Blake Shelton might have been well known in the country world, but now he is a household name. While being married to Miranda Lambert definitely helps your cause, The Voice allowed Shelton to expose his music as well as his personality.

Christina Aguilera has enjoyed a long and successful career, but there is no doubt that her association with the Voice allowed for her 2014 album Lotus to reach a larger audience than ever before. With her duet of "Just A Fool" with fellow coach, Blake Shelton, she was able to use her position on the show to promote her album in a really effective manner. Usher released several singles, such as "I Don't Mind (Featuring Juicy J)," after his time on The Voice in 2013, and he has been very successful with music sales as well as his current tour. Between Gwen Stefani, Shakira, and Cee Lo Green being put in the spotlight again, and the show using the success of Pharrell Williams to keep viewership up, the coaches seem like they are the ones holstering what the show has to offer, as opposed to the contestants.

Personally, I love The Voice. I love the coaches and their banter, the format, and the talent they find and hope to exploit. The show is extremely entertaining and fun to be a part of as a viewer. It has provided small public success to certain winners such as Danielle Bradbury and Josh Kaufman, and other contestants such as Christina Grimmie and Chris Jamison, but maybe what we can take away from all of this is that the show is more about the actual production of show when it airs, as opposed to the goal of finding and managing new talent and careers after the season ends. This idea doesn't take away from the brilliance of the producers and their ability to put out a wonderfully creative product to countless fans. Nonetheless, American Idol seems to have taken more pride in guiding some of their marketable winners, and other contestants, to success in the industry. Though, at the end of the day, it has only been a mere few American Idol alumni that have shot into superstardom.

Whether or not you are a fan of these singing-based reality television shows, they have altered the music scene more than we are aware of over the last fifteen years, or so. From a pop culture standpoint, the effects of these shows have been substantial. The success of the artists', or lack there of, might depend on their marketability, their genre, their appearance, or whether or not the show's producers pursue them after the season is done airing. It comes down to so many different factors, but one we can all probably agree upon is that the means of being discovered by the world, as a musical artist, have changed. Whether or not American Idol or The Voice is the platform for potential talent, we will continue to find new ways to have our talent discovered and relished thanks to television, the Internet, and whatever technology comes next. I can't wait to see where it all goes!

 

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