Counterpoint: Those TV Singing Competitions ARE Worthwhile
Following country artist Sundance Head’s victory during Season 11 of The Voice, his coach, Blake Shelton, called out Universal Music Group for not supporting the winners of the TV singing competition, all of whom sign with one of UMG’s record labels as part of their prize. More broadly, Shelton was pointing out the lousy track record that TV singing competitions in general — The Voice, American Idol, Nashville Star, Can You Duet, etc. — have when it comes to turning their winners into superstars.
Shelton’s comments aren’t entirely off base. TV singing competition winners, as well as the other contestants who look to continue their 15 minutes of fame following their time on such shows, do often struggle; however, superstardom is a particularly lofty goal.
Only a few superstars rise to the top of the music industry each decade. To expect every TV singing competition winner (or even most of them) to get to that level is a recipe for disappointment. Re-frame the goal as moderate success, though, and these competitions’ track records improve.
Take American Idol, for example: It’s true that Idol Season 15 winner Trent Harmon‘s career hasn’t rose as meteorically as Carrie Underwood‘s did following her first-place Idol finish in Season 4 in 2005 … but Harmon is currently signed with Big Machine Records, and his single “There’s a Girl” is in the Top 30 on the country charts.
"TV singing competition contestants do often struggle following their time on the shows; however, expecting them all to be superstars is a recipe for disappointment. Re-frame the goal as moderate success instead."
Kellie Pickler and Scotty McCreery, who are among country music’s former Idol contestants, also have much to be proud of following their time on the show. From The Voice, there’s recent Grammy Awards nominee Cassadee Pope — who earned herself a No. 1 album in 2013 and a popularity bump thanks to her recent duet with Chris Young, “Think of You” — and rising star Jordan Rager, among others. Nashville Star gave country fans Young and Miranda Lambert, both of whom have built stellar careers following first-place and third-place finishes in 2006 and 2003, respectively; Can You Duet launched Steel Magnolia and Joey + Rory.
True, some of the aforementioned acts have floundered a bit in recent months; Steel Magnolia are no longer together, and Joey + Rory, although they amassed a solid following, will likely be remembered mostly because of Joey Feek’s death following a heart-wrenching battle with terminal cancer. But career ups and downs aren’t something that only former TV singing competition contestants experience — compare RaeLynn and Drake White, for example.
RaeLynn was eliminated in the quarterfinals of Season 3 of The Voice in 2012 and signed a record deal shortly after her time on the show; however, after spending a few years releasing singles and EPs and working on a full album, she parted ways with the Valory Music Co. in 2016, before releasing a full-length project. A few months later, though, RaeLynn, signed with Warner Music Nashville, is currently on tour with her former coach, Blake Shelton, and is preparing to release her full-length debut. White, meanwhile, was dropped from Universal Music Group before releasing a full-length record — but he’s now finding success on Dot Records.
If any artist goes on a TV singing competition looking for instant and major stardom, they don’t have the right goal. The competition should be an accelerated step forward: Use it to get your name, face and music out to a national audience, instead of more slowly building a following through social media, small live shows and word of mouth. No matter what happens after the TV show ends, that sort of exposure is something that so many aspiring artists would kill to get.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on March 20 for another installment.
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