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Music-Variety Elimination-Competition Reality-TV Series

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May. 21st, 2012 | 01:31 pm
music: You Can Get It If You Really Want -- Jimmy Cliff

As a TV network sage once observed, while a fool may be born every minute, there is an amateur born every second. And nothing benefits a budget better than talent you don’t have to pay.

We are at the deepest prime-time confluence of amateur-talent revenue streams since the last Olympics.

One week ago, Canada’s Got Talent anointed the winner of its first season — Sagkeeng’s Finest, an engaging trio of teen male clog dancers from a Manitoba reserve. On the same night, America’s Got Talent began its 7th season with four hours of auditions. (My favorite was the duo of Magician and Concert Pianist — the former sawed the latter in half, then dragged the upper half to a baby grand, which the upper half played, quite well indeed!, from below, with his hands over his head. I’m not sure what they’ll do next time.)

Gone for now is Cover Me Canada in which pre-selected barbands from across the country competed with fresh interpretations of Cancon hits for celebrity judges, including some of the original hit-makers (winner decided by viewer voters). But newly booted up last weekend was Canada Sings, a performance competition between workplace gleeclubs which duel for prize money for their respective charities. The deciders in this series are rapper Vanilla Ice, singer Jann Arden, and Laurieann Gibson, choreographer to Lady Gaga and other stars.

Earlier this month the American version of The Voice wound up a much-improved and much-commented-on second season. Next year we’ll also have a Canadian version on CTV with judge/coaches Anne Murray, Bryan Adams, Nelly Furtado and Trevor Guthrie ... and a Quebec version on TVA, judges TBA. Eight more countries set to launch in the year ahead will bring the total number of Talent franchises in televised operation around the world to 40.

The last hour of Dancing With The Stars’ Season 14 performances tonight on Fox/CTV will be followed tomorrow by two hours devoted to “Results”. American Idol Season 11 (ABC/CTV) has its last hour of performance the same night, an hour earlier (8-9 p.m.), and will announce the winner on Wednesday’s two-hour finale (Rihanna has promised to sing if there’s time.)

Then it will be Thursday, and networks are ensuring that no one will have to go through withdrawal. So You Think You Can Dance (Fox/CTV) will begin showing the auditions for the new Season 9 from 8-10 p.m. before moving to its regular Wednesday timeslot next week. Competing at the same time is the two-hour premiere of a new American series called Duets (ABC/Global). Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol, and three other vocal stars — Jennifer Nettles, John Legend and Robin Thicke — prepared individually by taking what ABC, grandly but dubiously, calls “a journey across America” to find two (2) amateur singers worthy of being their Duet Partners. One of these eight singers will win a recording contract.

Duets were also a big factor in The Voice, of course, — the “Battle Rounds” were made up entirely of competitive duets — but no voice-competition TV I’ve seen has used duets better than TVA’s Star Académie. Most of you outside of Quebec won’t have heard of the series, which combines elements of Big Brother (weeknightly highlights of life and training at the residential Academy’s mansion) with elements of American Idol (a three-hour big-stage, big-audience performance show every Sunday), but our Jean-Marc Couture last month became the 100th singer in the world to win a contest in the Star Academy format and will, along with our other Francophone graduates, launch a 30-concert tour at the end of this month with six performances at the Bell Centre, Montreal’s largest indoor venue. But what may be unique about our version is that after superstar Céline Dion came home during the previous Season 4 to do some really supportive coaching and singing with all the finalists on one of the Sunday shows, this year every guest performer from Mes Aieux to Lionel Richie incorporated every finalist into their sets as collaborators.

Clearly this is a more cost-effective format than that of Celebrity Duets, a nine-episode series from Simon Cowell in 2006 that had Little Richard, Marie Osmond and David Foster as judges, 30 duet partners with gold and platinum records to their credit, and contestants from other walks of fame who stepped out of their comfort zones to sing with them. (Cheech Marin of Cheech & Chong, for example, got to perform with Peter Frampton, Randy Travis, Clint Black, Aaron Neville and Al Jarreau before he was eliminated, and Xena: Warrior Princess Lucy Lawless likewise with Michael Bolton, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Loggins, Dionne Warwick, Richard Marx and Bonnie Tyler. All of whom probably expected to be paid and expensed.)

The newer formats, though, are gold-chip businesses. Each of the four famous coaches on The Voice made $75,000 an hour in their first season; NBC will be giving them all substantial raises for Season 3, but Christina Aguilera will take the cheese/cake with a salary of some $10 million. (Remember that this is part-time work!)

Industry folk call this the “the J. Lo effect” after American Idol agreed to pay Jennifer Lopez about $12 million to replace judge Simon Cowell, who was leaving the show he created to launch his next show (The X-Factor) ... and the ratings remained solid. Idol host Ryan Seacrest, who was getting by on an annual salary of $5 million back in ‘09, is completing the first of his three years at $15 million.

America’s Got Talent (a franchise also nurtured by Cowell) upped the ante by signing an American judge named Howard Stern to sit at the right hand of British judge Sharon Osbourne for what Canadian judge Howie Mandel let drop as $16 million. NBC also agreed to spend about that much again to relocate the show from Los Angeles so that Stern could continue doing his New York-based radio show. (His five-year deal with Sirius XM is worth an estimated $400 million to him.)

Meanwhile the million-dollar prize to the winner is typically paid off over 40 years, which isn’t even $500 a week, even if you’re a soloist. But gosh, think of the glory!

Now insiders report that Cowell is offering a newly record-breaking salary for a newsmaking new judge for X-Factor USA. (While I found the first season to be a ponderously unpleasant variation on the theme of Idol-atry, the concept is coming on strong and will soon be operating no fewer than 36 franchises of its own ... without any help yet from Canada.)

Cowell has also been stirring up ‘controversy’ (aka ‘free publicity’) by claiming to the BBC that The Voice is a rip-off of The X-Factor, but he hasn’t put his lawyers where his mouth is. So when X Factor USA comes back in the Fall for Season 2 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, it’s partly because The Voice pre-empted Mondays and Tuesdays for Season 3.

As a result, though, there’s not enough room left for the brilliant a cappella groups of The Sing-Off, which NBC cancelled in its prime last Sunday. As well, CTV’s So You Think You Can Dance Canada will not be back for a fifth season this summer, and its Canadian Idol continues suspended, presumed cancelled, since the end of the sixth season in 2008.

Of course, all this is just the shiny tip of the reality-TV iceberg, most of which concentrates on losers (sometimes with cruel mockery, often justified, sometimes with big-hearted, tear-jerking sympathy). But this is where the 99.9% can come to surrender their dreams to the lofty benevolence of the 0.1%, for whom all is business as usual.

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Comments {3}

Peter Marmorek

(no subject)

from: uhclem
date: May. 24th, 2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
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So THAT'S how you've been spending your time! Thanks for the closeups on a world I'll never have seen. Hope for links to spectacular performances anon....

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plumechamps

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from: plumechamps
date: May. 26th, 2012 09:33 am (UTC)
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Okay, just one for now, a delightful demonstration of doggedness.

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Peter Marmorek

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from: uhclem
date: May. 26th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
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No, that's not dogginess. I know cos I have one and he won't do stuff like that.

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