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The Impact of TV Talent Shows


By Dr Daniel K. Robinson
(2013)

Its hard to turn on the television today without being bombarded with advertising for the latest version of a TV Talent Show. Whether it is IDOL, XFactor or The Voice, these shows have grown in popularity, both in Australia and overseas, over the past 10-15 years. Sue Collins (2008) provides us with a helpful depiction of what constitutes as reality TV highlighting, the production of reality TV expands the labour stock to include nonunionized, nonpaid or lowpaid contestants playing themselves . While the telecasting of talent shows, and their nonpaid or low-paid contestants, is not new, the promise of subsequent fame to competition winners is. For example, running win competitors (19831995) money. on the long show talent

Star Search were offered the chance to prize Comparatively, todays TV Talent Shows offer recording contracts and a chance at celebrity. The commodification of celebrity (Collins, 2008, p. 90) is a key component in drawing willing participants into the public display of their talent. With the advent of social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, the opportunity to present oneself as significant, beyond the traditional confines of immediate influence (family and friends) has ensured a ready market of people willing to gamble their talent in front of national audiences. This newly formed environment presents itself as a challenge to modern singing teachers who are regularly confronted with students wishing to participate in TV Talent Shows. How should todays singing teacher respond to the student who insists on auditioning for the TV Talent Show? In a recent online survey1 respondents were asked whether they thought TV Talent Shows further the career of participating singers. Eighty five percent
1 The survey, TV Talent Shows, was conducted using the online survey tool: Survey Monkey. Conducted 110 March, 2013; the survey harvested an international participant sample of n305.

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(n247/292) of respondents acknowledged that some of the participants careers are benefited by their participation of such programs. One respondent (SP281) commented,
The television exposure may assist those singers who already have professional collateral in place (i.e. Albums/singles available via online merchants/websites/physical distribution) to further raise their profile and increase sales to a broader audience. This is presuming however that the stigma of actually being involved in the show does not detract from the pre-existing branding the singer has established in the first place (musically and image-wise).

This insightful response highlights the need for careful consideration when participation is being contemplated. Anecdotally, I have observed that many amateur singers do not apply this level of pre-thought when deciding to attend the various shows auditions. It seems singing teachers are not offering much guidance either. Of those survey participants who had received singing lessons from a qualified/experienced singing teacher (n197/293), 76% of respondents suggested that participation in TV Talent Shows was never discussed during lesson time. With the prevalence of these programs, and their apparent focus on singers, this statistic is a concerning observation and requires further attention. Why are singing teachers not engaging their students in conversation about these programs? Ethically, while not directly accountable for the singers wellbeing outside of their own teaching studios, teachers have a responsibility to direct and school the development of the student; both as singer and as artist. What psychological impact does the rollercoaster-like journey of these programs have on successful auditionees; not to mention the winners who experience the elation of winning, and the often short lived celebrity status (only to be absorbed back into society as if nothing happened). One contestant (Fiona Mariah) in a recent Australian season of Australias Got Talent, reported that she had suffered a period of depression (Day, 2012) after her elimination from the show. Non-successful participants are not the only ones subjected to the mental severities of these programs. The now famous Susan Boyle, after coming second in the 2009 version of Britains Got Talent,
Susan Boyle Runner-up: 2009 Britains Got Talent

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was immediately shuttled into the uber-celebrity activity of rehab upon its [the programs] conclusion (Locke, 2009, p. 3). Ultimately, singing students are responsible for their own decisions, but surely the singing teacher fraternity should discuss the pros and cons associated with participation more openly with their students. Pedagogical Considerations There are a number of pedagogical concerns that can be discussed between teacher and student. Firstly, teachers should encourage their students to consider the short and long term ramifications of their participation in TV Talent Shows. The short term considerations include the psychological impact of immediate rejection during auditions. It is important that singers attend the auditions with an understanding of the audition process; and a contextualisation of who might be auditioning them. Typically, due to the high numbers of auditionee hopefuls (generally in their tens of thousands), TV Talent Shows conduct cattle call auditions. The cattle call is often a quick (30 seconds per auditionee) process designed to move the talent through at a high rate2. One survey respondent (SP213) commented on their experience at an audition stating, From my experience auditioning with The Voice, the process is gruelling, unfair & motivated by how much money the record company and TV networks can make. This persons comment highlights the impersonal nature of the cattle call process. Perhaps this sense of despondency could have been mitigated by open and frank discussion between teacher and student. SP213 had received singing lessons but their audition for The Voice was never discussed during lessons. It may have also helped this individual to know that, in the case of The Voice, many of the allocated spots for the program contestants have already been allotted to singers directly contacted by the program producers.3 This weighting of the audition process further lessens the opportunity of the naive participant who believes the auditions are based purely on merit. Anecdotally, I have noted a heighted sense of self-doubt in student singers after they have been through the cattle call process of these TV Talent Shows. Due to
2 These programs often employ a three phase audition process. First phase: Cattle Call; Second Phase: Present to Program Producer; Third Phase: Present to celebrity judges panel. 3 I had a student who was contacted directly by the program producers. This unsolicited approach came with a special code which was to be written on their audition form; ensuring unrestricted passage to the higher levels of the audition process.

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the mass-media presentation of these programs and the repetitive nature of their advertisement (not to mention the program proper) it seems that many singers, albeit subconsciously, lift the programs to a status of power; a power that has somehow earned the right to determine whether a persons vocal talent has the right to be heard. This process driven, stratification of voice, can leave the unprepared singer either elated or dismayed; neither of which are properly founded given the swift manner in which the voice has been assessed. For those who have been dismissed from the process, the lack of feedback can leave the singer void of the necessary affirmation required to continue their journey of development. At times the encouragement from friends, family and trusted singing teacher are not enough to gainsay the all-powerful TV Talent Show that commences its advertising with slogans such as, We are have found the best 20 voices in [place your countries name here]. Obviously, if youre at home in your living room watching the ad you are not counted among the top 20; so where do you rank? Given that ranking is being subtly presented by the programs as that which must be attained too, the non-ranking of unsuccessful auditionees inadvertently suggests a status void of worth. The consideration of long term ramifications is also necessary. While participants are eager to win, many may not dare to believe they actually will. This can cause the auditionee to not fully consider the long term impact of their involvement. For example, successful auditionees are required to dedicate approximately three months of their lives to the programs season. For some participants this will require the leaving of jobs; employment that may not be available when they return from the journey. For some older singers part of the appeal might be the escape from the everyday; but have these singers considered the consequences that might be wrought on family and friends? The personal cost of celebrity is high; and often the charge is paid by those closest to the person enjoying the fame (as well as the celebrity themselves). Finally, there is an impact on the perception of what is required to hone the craft of singing. The short 3month zero to hero process of the TV Talent Shows gives the impression that anyone can be plucked from obscurity and placed on a national/international stage; celebrated for their new found vocal prowess. Juliette Hughes (2005), while commenting on the impact of Australian Idol on

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young voices writes, It all seems to have been a resistless propulsion into the culture of consuming rather than doing. Idol culture all about the product, not about an artist developing naturally. Hughes comments bring us back to where this article commenced: the commodification of celebrity. When the auditions have been run, the competition has been staged, a winner selected, and recording contract awarded, what is left is a person transformed into a commodity; a commodity with a shelf life whose length is often determined by the technical resolve (or lack thereof) of the contestants main tool: the voice. One recent example of this is Australias 2012 season of The Voice where the winner, Karise Eden, has had limited exposure directly following the programs completion. Notwithstanding the fickle nature of show-biz, and understanding that Eden could release an album under Universal Music the day after this article is published, it seems plausible that one distinct mitigating factor restricting the long-term success of Edens ongoing career is the obvious dysphonic nature of her voice. What cannot be determined here is whether Edens voice was functionally compromised prior to the commencement of the programs season or whether the severities of the vocal loads sustained during the programs three months of performance are to blame. What is certain is that Edens voice, without professional care and instruction, will not travel the distance required for an enduring vocal career4. The singing teacher is well advised to discuss the challenges facing the voice when it is subjected to the inflexibilities of the program proper; once the machine starts rolling it stops for no-one (not even the contestants). Of course, one cannot ignore the many success stories that these programs have produced. Artists such as Kelly Clarkson (USA), Guy Sebastian (Australia), Leona Lewis (UK) have all received their start from TV Talent Shows. Whether these successful participants might have developed into vocal celebrities, aside from their respective programs assistance, will remain debateable. What is clear is the TV Talent Show format (and new versions yet to be released), for the
It is important to note here that I am not commenting on Edens talent as a singer, stylistically or otherwise. Simply, any sports person with a physical injury will be unable to perform at their peak; so too it is with voice. A damaged voice cannot sustain sound to the best of its ability.
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foreseeable future at least, is here to stay. It is important, therefore, that teachers and students of voice carefully consider their engagement with and participation in such programs. It is a case of buyer beware; or as the case may be, singer be smart.

References Collins, S. (2008). Making the most out of 15 minutes: Reality TV's dispensible celebrity. Television New Media, 9(2), 87110. Day, W. s. (2012, 12th November). AGT finalist: 'It's rigged'. Women's Day. Hughes, J. (2005). Idol voices. The Age, from http://www.theage.com.au/news/music/idolvoices/2005/12/02/1133422077032.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap3 Locke, K. (2009). Paul's enthusiasm: Mass media, interactive technology and musical performance. Paper presented at the PESA, Hawaii.

Who is Dr Daniel K. Robinson?

Daniel is a freelance artist and educator. In 2011 Daniel completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Queensland Conservatorium Grif ith University. He has served as National Vice President (200911) and National Secretary for the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing (200611) and was awarded the ANATS National Certi icate of Recognition for service to the profession in 2012. Daniel is the principal Singing Voice Specialist for Djarts (www.djarts.com.au) and presents workshops and seminars to church singers across Australia and abroad. He and his wife Jodie have three children and live in Brisbane, Queensland Australia.

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