It did not use to be this dramatic. American Idol and America’s Got Talent’s previous shake-ups in the judging panel were slight cosmetic changes: Kara DioGuardi provided some honest singer-songwriter feedback, Sharon Osbourne upped the wacky factor, Ellen DeGeneres came in because she was well-liked and her star was on the rise with her hit television talkshow. Then, the world and other artistes in the industry watched and gawked as Jennifer Lopez used American Idol to revive a fledgling career and gain relevance in the music industry. Artistes took note as J-Lo used American Idol viewership to premiere her would-be-hit track “On The Floor”, which would have otherwise been glazed over had she not stepped back in as AI judge. It was a foolproof strategy: not only were contestants benefiting from the singing competition, so too were the judges.
Usher and Shakira probably do not need any help in this department as both artistes are holding their own in their careers. So, it came as a surprise when both artistes were named as the new judges of The Voice beginning Season 4. What makes it even more intriguing is that they will be replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, who both wanted to leave to establish their careers and go on tour. It was their way of saying “Thank you The Voice for lifting my name, now I shall pick up where I left off before this show started”.
Christina Aguilera using The Voice’s Season 3 premiere to tease her newest song Your Body from upcoming album Lotus is a strong indication that these shows are becoming savvy publicity machines for those who take advantage of them. Enter the new candidates: Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to The X Factor. To have them on Voice or Idol would be blasphemous: notice how both artistes have built careers based on their personality and quirks. Publicity vehicle choice: check. Britney could not have chosen a better time to come on the show: with three comeback albums under her arsenal, she was still exhibiting strange signals of erratic behaviour. Rumours of mind control and answer-feeding were rife as she promoted her recent albums in interviews. The X Factor provided the right opportunity for viewers to see who she “really is” and judging by initial episodes, she’s no different than you or me.
Demi Lovato’s star is also on the rise. Back from the brink of manic depression (although rumours would tell you she’s just feigning it under pressure from her publicists), Demi is also using the same tool as Britney to show to her Lovatics and the unbelievers out there that she is back in the A-Game. Britney and Demi share some very common traits of crashing down and rising back up, which can be quite disturbing if they were factors Simon Cowell took into account when deciding who should go on the show. Maybe this is the “X Factor” – capturing someone back on the rise and then catapulting them into the stratospheres of the charts? Don’t rule out a Britney-Demi collaboration: seeing as how these two are beginning to be chums (over their experiences, maybe), taking it to the studio would prove highly cathartic.
Then, comes American Idol. Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban – all stalwarts in their own respective fields and propped up by their fanbases. Britney and Demi may have cultish fandoms, but the Lambs, Barbz and Urbanites (in respective order) really take the cake for the way they prize their star. Mariah, Nicki and Keith are a combination of unique voices, outre personality and beings in isolation for their worlds do not collide with one another. That is why initial shots of the judging panel appeared stilted, with not one judge sharing a hugging-it-out moment. Keith provides a great addition to Idol’s country-friendly vibes and could propel his star further than Blake Shelton in The Voice, with the latter’s show not courting over the country base yet. However, it is Mariah and Nicki that are the frontrunners in the Idol panel, for similar yet separate reasons.
Mariah Carey is a classic example of a star that continues to shine, despite being plagued by weight and voice issues. Call her diva – her Lambs (her fandom) will take it for what it is. After all, for an artist that has sold more than 200 million records worldwide, you bet she has the right to call herself whatever she wants. With her fourteenth studio album scheduled for launch this March, Mariah will definitely be using Idol to push out her buzz singles. Ditto for Nicki, whose flamboyant wigs and Nicki-isms deserve a whole world for herself. With her re-released second album coming out this November and her tour starting in a few weeks’ time, Idol once again provides a platform for Nicki to sell her work. However, with Idol’s fledgling viewership ratings, it’s unclear if the artistes are using Idol or the other way around.
With so many judging reshuffles, time will tell if any of these will pay off or will it be time for another reshuffle. With competing shows and artists all vying for a slice of the publicity pie, the show is now more about the judges themselves than ever before. It may take away the lustre from the singers themselves, but Idol’s Philip Philips has proven himself to be a successful contestant since the fracas ensued, with single “Home” making it on the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. What is more important than trying to keep up is proving a show has longevity – Idol only managed to stay on for so long because of the lack of competition. A fragmented viewer base will mean someone will have to bite the bullet. Worrying indeed, considering all this tussle may actually signal the death of the singing competition genre. Good luck, Usher and Shakira. You are going to need it.