ABC Announces New Singing Competition; World Sighs
The last few weeks, we've been DVRing the shit out of the second season of The Voice to ensure we wouldn't miss a second. There is something thoroughly riveting about that show -- partly because of the concept (waiting to see if the judges will turn their chairs around for the contestants) is totally engrossing, partly because we like seeing underdogs succeed (looks don't matter here!), and partly because of the judges' amazing chemistry. There's The Nice One (Blake Shelton), The Diva With a Heart (Christina Aguilera), The Creepy Sweetie (Cee-Lo Green) and The Car Salesman (Adam Levine). We can't stop watching -- and viewing figures would suggest we're not alone (the season premier had 37.6 million viewers).
But, as much as we love The Voice, we couldn't help but sigh and roll our eyes when ABC announced this week that, this summer, it will be launching a new singing competition, titled Duets. The concept is a desperate bid to do something no other singing competition is currently doing -- making the judges do duets with the contestants each week. Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Ritchie, Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, and Robin Thicke are the stars taking part.
It's a novel spin, but anyone who watches The Voice knows that the worst moments of that show are always when the judges take the stage. When those egos go up there, the show becomes an awkward exhibition that has zero to do with the talent of the contestants (which should be the whole point) and everything to do with judges patting themselves on the back. The obvious flaw with the Duets concept is that anytime an unknown is on stage with a star, the audience's focus will immediately gravitate towards the person they already know and may already love. How is an unknown singer going to shine and thrive while trying to emerge from the shadow of their superstar mentor? It makes zero sense in terms of launching new careers.
Speaking of new careers, what a lot of people seem to conveniently fail to notice is that, for all their bells and whistles and hype and overwrought eliminations, people who win singing competitions often don't make it in the real world afterward. For every Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, there's a Lee DeWyze and a David Cook. Even last year's Voice winner, Javier Colon, has dropped almost completely out of sight. And, as talented as she is, will X Factor winner Melanie Amaro really be worth that $5 million record contract she won?
Competitors should start getting realistic about what their participation in these things will actually achieve. No one wants to end up being a punchline, and even truly memorable singers, like Beverly McClellan from the first season of The Voice, don't see their profiles raised that much after the show is over.
Duets would also do well to take some notes from X Factor. After one of the most bombastic TV launches in history, what was left at the end of it? Results so disappointing that the host (handsome-but-misunderstood Welshman, Steve Jones) and half the judging panel (crazy-pants Paula Abdul and impossible-to-like Nicole Scherzinger) all got fired. And that was after British pop tart Cheryl Cole got the axe following the first episode. What happened with X Factor is a strong indication that the public doesn't really want any more singing competitions.
Hell, fans are already getting tired of the ones we've already got. American Idol figures have been down this season despite a panel of highly entertaining judges. The viewing numbers -- although still huge -- have been a fraction of what they once were, all season. Only last week did the show see a 12 percent increase in viewers, probably thanks to the fact that ABC and CBS aired mostly repeats that night. The show ultimately got 18.5 million viewers -- not to be sniffed at, but Idol is the old faithful. As long as it's on, millions of people will still tune in. Whether or not they'll rush out to buy the records of the winner though, is another thing
ABC, ultimately, is getting to this party way too late with a concept that simply isn't strong enough to compete with its already-established rivals. If The X Factor survives another season, it will be a little miraculous. And if Duets takes off in a manner even close to that of The Voice, we'll eat our Kelly Clarkson CDs on America's Got Talent.