TV Singing Competitions: How About Something Fresh?

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It’s good that NBC’s “The Voice” chose Shakira, who’s been known to offer some great guitar-playing moments to go with her singing, as a substitute for Christina Aguilera on this season’s panel.

But while I don’t mind people who go on shows like ”The Voice,” “American Idol,”  or “The X Factor,” nor do I mind that two Guitar Girls who participated on shows like these–Patrice Pike [7th place on “RockStar: Supernova” in 2006] and Rebecca Loebe [preliminary-round contestant on “The Voice” in 2011]–played their hometown of Austin, TX nearly a couple of weeks ago as part of “Invasion of the GoGirls,” part of me tends to wonder about the tens of thousands of professional, hard-working and struggling musicians, Guitar Girls included, who are trying to gain a level of respect that would put them on a parity with the virtual unknowns who try out for, eventually earn, and win these above-mentioned primetime network TV shows.

One key flaw that these TV musical competitions have is that, about 99% of the time, they don’t reward originality or instrumental artistry.  You don’t hear much in the way of fresh, new material; it’s almost always people singing others’ songs.  I’m not sure if that flaw entirely explains why, for instance, “American Idol” is only half the viewership draw that it was just under a decade ago, or why, despite being heavily hyped in its fall 2011 debut, “The X Factor” hasn’t been heavily-watched despite the presence of former “Idol” panelist Simon Cowell.  But when viewers get tired of the same old routine, no matter how you present it, then I think that perhaps it is time to rethink the concept and give it new life.

It would be one thing to suggest that the producers of the existing shows freshen up their formats by allowing bands and singers to try out with original material, and there has been an instance or two of that happening on those shows.  But it would be another, and a better thing at that, if some influential or enterprising TV producer came up with an idea for a competition show that goes beyond just “taking a song and making it your own” [a cliché heard often on many of the existing competition shows] to showcasing the songwriting creativity and, where applicable, instrument-playing abilities of the contestants.

If such a show like this were to happen, it would be one in which, like those that are on nowadays, the viewers pick their favorites, and you eventually have a winner.  But unlike them, you wouldn’t necessarily need a panel, and it doesn’t have to be a one-by-one elimination.  Just a certain number of acts playing original songs each week, and whoever wins goes on to the next round.  As for the champion’s prize, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a major-label recording contract; it can be a six-figure sum of cash, and maybe a touring opportunity.

Granted, to paraphrase what I wrote last year, any musician doesn’t really need a show like “Idol” or “X Factor” to be successful; that has been proven many times over the last decade.  But while there’s some debate over whether a primetime network TV music competition is still the most efficient way to be exposed, at least the idea of one that promotes songs that have never been heard by most people, as opposed to one that features overplayed songs that the contestants generally have to do, would be quite fun to watch.

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