Imagine, as an up-and-coming entertainer, trying to upstage Britney Spears. (Lest you forget her power as an upstager, already established star Christina Aguilera kissed Madonna on that VMA stage, too.)
That’s exactly the prospect the contestants for the upcoming season of X Factor are going to be faced with as they’ll attempt to prove themselves as breakout stars in the same room as one of the biggest pop stars/media fixtures in the world. That’s not to say this season of X Factor couldn’t find a Kelly Clarkson in the rough. Then again, the only pop star Kelly Clarkson had to outshine was Paula Abdul. (Sorry, Paula.)
It’s an interesting conundrum in the reality television world that’s begun to emerge since American Idol’s revolving door of celebrity judges led to The Voice, where the judging panel is arguably the reason people tune in. If the judges, like X Factor’s Spears and Demi Lovato, are the stars, what happens to the contestants? Has the era of finding new talent ended for good to make way for remodeling stars’ careers?
When Idol debuted a decade ago, the nation became fixated on Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarani. (Hey, these were simpler times.) Sure, there was fascination with the judges, especially Simon Cowell’s patented brand of meanness and Paula’s patented brand of crazy (sorry again, Paula), but viewers were invested in the contestants. When fans voted for Clarkson and helped launch the career of a bona fide star, it felt like this was a reality show that worked. When you watched Idol, you were going to find a star, not have one handed to you.
But things got a little muddled. For every legitimate star Idol produced (Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry) there were ones that fell through the cracks (Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard). And the judges’ table shake-ups (the coming-and-going of Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, the addition of Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler) changed the overall tone of the show. For some, it felt like the show began to lose sight of its unknown talent-driven purpose.
Newcomer The Voice acknowledged that who is sitting (or in their case, spinning) at the judges’ panel does actually make a difference with viewers and built a show around that notion. While the industry fate of Season 2 winner Jermaine Paul remains to be seen, he was still overshadowed by The Voice judges Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and the aforementioned Aguilera. Hell, even Purrfect the Cat soaked up the spotlight more often.
It seems like with the announcement of Spears and Lovato, X Factor is taking The Voice’s cue to make the stars the stars. Let them create the must-see TV. While there’s no doubt the method does work, is it a long-term sustainable plan for success? X Factor will undoubtedly pull in viewers curious to what Spears and Lovato will do, but will they stick around to watch them beyond a season or two? If reality shows had the same contestants every year, it’s a safe bet viewership would decline steadily with each season — won’t the same notion apply to judges, no matter how (in)famous they are?
While Idol has fallen into the celebrity judge sphere, the contestants have remained the focus of the show. Until The Voice produces a true superstar on the stage or X Factor differentiates itself as the show that has both wildly popular judges and contestants, reality show hopefuls are in for an even bigger challenge than breaking out in an already challenging business.
Do you think The Voice and X Factor are changing the landscape of reality television competitions? Are the stars taking over and the contestants becoming second banana? Sound off in the comments section!
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