Daily Archives: September 22, 2012

Reality TV: “Ratchet” vs. “Quality” or Just a Gimmick?

This week, when the ratings came in, we learned that The Voice stomped all over their reality TV competition rivals, that nobody cares about Simon Cowell’s X-Factor, and (gasp!) nobody but nobody tuned into So Think You Can Dance, the best of the reality TV competitions out there, so my heart sinks: it’s all but a wrap-up for that wonderful quality show.

So, it got me thinking: what’s the real story here? I would never argue that audiences prefer “quality” talent over “ratchet” TV (by “ratchet,” I’m referring to that street term, defining the lowest of the lowest common denominator).  If that were true, great singing shows like The Sing-Off wouldn’t have gotten canceled, and So You Think You Can Dance wouldn’t be in danger of the same fate.

And, The X-Factor isn’t failing because it engages in dull and uninteresting meltdowns and bad auditions, it’s just not the kind of “ratchet” people want to see. And believe, ratchet sells, or VH-1, MTV, and Bravo wouldn’t be doing so awfully well with its parade of the trashiest and most ghetto of the peeps: Basketball Wives, the Kardashians, Love and Hip-Hop, Jersey Shore, you name it. If audiences didn’t watch “ratchet,” Oprah wouldn’t be scrambling to feature the likes of these folks to interview or “fix their life,” as she has done with her OWN network, a cable channel that was supposed to offer the best quality programming – only for her to later learn that nobody will watch that.

Lo and behold, Oprah features a Kardashian and an ex-Basketball Wife, and her ratings go through the roof.

Folks want to see the trainwrecks, it seems.  Not necessarily on a reality TV competition show, where folks want to see talent, or at least compelling talent.

Why The Voice works so well, at least for now while the new TV season has yet to get underway, is that it’s got a unique audition set up.  After years of American Idol and America’s Got Talent, aren’t people just excited because the show already starts off with nearly or already professional singers versus the amateurs coming off the street? And isn’t the real hook the way that proven star-turned-judges seem to “judge” singers just on their vocal talent and not on other sellable qualities? The Voice is successful because it has set up a brand new gimmick that no other talent show has done.

At the same time, are the singers as good as we think they are, or we just imagine them to be because a Christina Aguilera or a Blake Shelton was moved enough to turn her/his chair around during blind auditions?

Would our very own David have had the kind of Voice that would be compelling in such a set-up?  After all, most of the quality of his Voice is not in showy runs and power-belting but in his emotional subtleties.  In a gimmicky show like The Voice, I don’t know if it would have been enough. During the “Battle” rounds, for example, singers are expected to compete and out-sing the other duet partner. David accommodates and harmonizes more than out-sings. How would that go off in a competition?

All I know is: I’m glad David appeared when he did.  He came at a time when we were not yet tired of American Idol, even after six seasons, and the show was smart enough to introduce instruments to the performances. Good, because David showed he could sing and play piano (a step up since, the season before, Melinda Doolittle brought a subtlety and vocal brilliance to the black girl “diva” style that used to be a regular staple on the show) but bad because he was trumped by a guy playing a guitar – which seemed oh-so-novel back in those days.

Indeed, it is my belief that the 1-2 punch of Melinda Doolittle Season 6 and David Archuleta Season 7 completely changed the vocal game on Idol.  Once they demonstrated the brilliance of vocal stylization and emotive singing, regular singers the following seasons came off as totally subpar, which is why the guys playing guitars started dominating and the only other pure singer to advance well has been Adam Lambert, and that’s mostly because he was such a flamboyant performer. Heck, Jessica Sanchez managed to advance as a runner-up because the “novelty” was that she was Asian American who sings like a black girl (bringing in the original “diva” herself – Jennifer Holliday – to prove the point in their much talked about finale duet).

So, it’s not so much that Idol can no longer make their contestants into crossover pop stars; the problem is they have had superior singers who got outshone by lesser talents (simply because American TV voters want to see “growth” instead of those who never needed “improvement” because they already excelled at their craft and thus became “boring” to watch) and little by little, slowly but surely, the show’s credibility gets chipped away.

In a sea of vocal mediocrity, the competent white-guy-with-guitar is the winner who takes all.

After a while, that doesn’t make for compelling TV, and being a big star like Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler doesn’t translate into being a personable and useful judge on a show.

Obviously, Idol needs a “gimmick” to go forward, but it won’t be tied to “quality” or “ratchet.” TV viewers will watch anything sometimes, and the only time I tuned into X-Factor this week was when I couldn’t find anything to watch that evening, after I had had a non-stop busy day at work and needed to unwind and “not think,” and so sometimes you put up with any old crap on your TV.

Still, if these shows are looking to find the “next superstar” (not that they are, they’re just looking for canon fodder to shore up their TV shows) seriously, who cares? After so many reality TV shows and a lousy music industry, we just want something interesting to watch and pleasant music to listen to.

Perhaps the producers haven’t figured it out yet: for some of us, we’ve already found our “star” from their TV line-ups (David!!) and have moved on and frankly couldn’t care less what brand new face and name they want to put out there.

Just dazzle us with talent and keep me from dozing off in front of my TV when I’m trying to unwind.

And, if after all that, you can’t deliver the entertainment, then please get off the stage!