Editor’s note: This is a guest post by my good friend Bukani Duba. He is an artist, songwriter and producer. His last project The Sweet Science is available here. Connect with him on his Twitter or Facebook. This is part 1 of a 2 part series.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase, “Wow, you should enter Idols,” I wouldn't need to enter Idols, because the prize money would be rendered obsolete. Ok I’m lying – if I had $10 000 for every time I heard that phrase, then we’d be talking. But the point still stands; I've heard that too many times than I’m comfortable with.
“Wow, you should enter Idols.” As if Idols is the benchmark for good vocalists/musicians. So imagine the surprise on some of their faces when I tell them that I did enter Idols in 2010, and I didn't even make it through the preliminary auditions.
I was with a cast of incredible vocalists that I know to be 1000 times better than me. I must admit I was naive back then, knowing 10% of what I now know about the industry. I learned my lesson, and I continue to learn because this industry devours the ignorant.
Through my experience of being on a TV Talent show I have put together five points as to why I feel they are not a true reflection of talent or an artist's music career, if you’ll indulge me.
1. TV competitions are TV shows, not Talent shows.
Imagine my surprise after being in the cold for five hours in that queue, and hearing some – let’s be honest – less than average vocalists practicing in the queue, then seeing those people make it through the prelims, whereas nobody in my above average group made it.
Another point could be made by a dynamic that I saw in Season 3 of The Sing Off, America’s popular all a-Capella talent show. One of the favourites, right off the bat, was a group called Vocal point. Their performances were amazing from the first episode until their last; one could have scored all of their performances, save one, above 90%. The problem with that is that the crowd got so used to seeing them perform at that level, that they soon became bored of them and focused on other teams who were struggling. Although Pentatonix (the eventual winners) were undoubtedly a cut above the rest, I still felt that Vocal Point, and Afro-blue, for that matter, were hard-done-by to be eliminated before Urban Method (3rd place). The underdog appeals to people more than the one who’s got it together. You sell an underdog story and you've got yourself ratings. I've seen some not-too-bad vocalists get picked over some amazing talents, because the latter had ‘nowhere to grow’. Hardly fair, is it?
But if we’re being honest, the amount of real talent there is at the auditions is too great. We could never choose if every good person made it, so they filter out some good people and hope they will try again the next year. That’s understandable, I guess.
2. Winning can be likened to winning the lottery.
Some may argue that you win on talent, but like I mentioned in the previous point, most of the talent is filtered out before they even see the celebrity judges (let it be noted that I do not accuse every TV competition of this, some are actually based on talent). My point is that by the time you make it to the finale, you have defeated odds that are arguably over a million to one, taking into account the amount of people that auditioned, the sometimes random selection of those who make it through and the fickle voting process.
By those odds, it makes one wonder why people don’t say, “Wow, you've got a talent for finance, you should enter the lottery.” Yes, some ‘talent’ shows have as much to do with talent as winning the lottery has to do with finance.
You see, a millionaire is not someone who wins a million bucks; it’s someone who earns a million bucks – consistently. How many stories of bankrupt former lottery winners have we heard? You cannot live a millionaire’s lifestyle if you aren't earning a millionaire’s salary. It takes years of hard work to make millions; you make mistakes and you learn from them, you sometimes lose money because you take risks but the experience you garner in the process teaches you how to live once you start earning in that bracket. Overnight millionaires do not have that experience; they don’t know how to keep millions and most just squander all of it.
They don’t have the financial literacy that millionaires have and don’t know how to handle the amount of responsibility given them. It’s like making a recent graduate the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Now, of course there is the exception to every rule: those who build a successful business with the money they won and those who are frugal with their winnings. But these people have at least some experience or knowledge about business and dealing with money; it never comes from thin air.
The parallel I’m making is this: A lot of the time, the winners of these shows, more often than not, disappear into obscurity. I could probably name a maximum of three winners of Idols SA. I don’t even remember the dude who won just last year. I do remember Brenden though; who I feel had more claim to the title of ‘Idol’ than did Musa (I just looked him up). Their problem is the same as overnight millionaires’. They usually don’t have enough experience and knowledge about the industry that they are diving headfirst into, and have to deal with a level of responsibility that they haven’t worked for. They don’t have their own contacts; they don’t have their own ‘style’ cultivated through years of trial and error.
Again there are always exceptions, and Khaya Mthethwa is one of them. When I met him last year on the set of Clash of the Choirs SA, I could tell that he was a hard worker. Plus, he had been involved in the music industry for a while before he entered Idols. He knew who he was, he knew his style and he had good contacts with whom he was able to make something happen after his tenure on Idols. He didn't expect to be spoon-fed and that gave him the edge over some of the previous winners of Idols.
To be continued...
Q & A:
What do you think of talent shows on TV? Leave a comment below