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!


Posted on September 22, 2012, in current trends. Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. right on hg right on,has for the voice i think the contesent are pre picked, what do you think

  2. There are so many of these singing shows, I am starting to confuse one with the other. I used to really like them! It’s kind of sad.
    I think if David were on The Voice NOW, at almost 22, he would win. He has the stage presence he didn’t have at 17. He most assuredly would have been chosen back then, but in a sing off – he is so generous and wants everyone to shine. It’s hard to say.
    Speaking of that show, whatever happened to the winners? I remember watching Javier Colon and was blown away by his performance of Time after Time. I looked up his youtube videos back then, he had quite the career going earlier on. So talented.

  3. Another gem Hg, you are such a talented writer. Yes, I have found my star in David and I have moved on from singing shows.
    But I still like dancing shows especially SYTYCD, it will be so sad if it goes away. My wish is that someday one of David’s songs (not a cover) would be danced to on the SYTYCD show. Oh well, again, times will tell what will happen when our David returns to his music career where he belongs.

  4. Great post hg. I am so glad that David was on AI in S7 and not now. The winners and contestants of The Voice have not done that well so far. Javier was dropped from his label. It remains to be seen if the winner of X Factor last year Melanie will do much better. I still watch all these shows for entertainment but I am not looking for the next great superstar vocal talent as I think that was already found in AI S7. That would be David.

    • Great minds think alike “that would be David” , lol.
      Somehow I’m so confident that when he returns to his career, everything will fall into place for him and his career will skyrocket.

  5. I also loved The Sing-Off, HG and enjoy popping into the Voice but have yet to see x-factor. I am sure I will tune in sometime to check on what the judges are like there. I do think that it was great timing for David to be on the show when he was while we were all still really enjoying it and the judges really seemed to appreciate and acknowledge his amazing ability to connect with the song and help the listener connect with the song. I have to say that I am looking forward to Dancing with the Stars that starts Monday because I enjoy all the pro-dancers and am really looking forward to seeing some of the returning “stars” because a lot of them have fun personalities and I also really enjoy how quick and funny the host Tom Bergeron is (I can take or leave Brook Burke). I like that the judges never change and sometimes my favorites from So You Think you can Dance show up on the show. I am looking forward to this Sunday (tomorrow), because a bunch of Northern Calif. fans are getting together for lunch. So if there are any NorCal lurkers here, everyone is welcome! (Simply Thai 11:30 6295 Jarvis Ave, Newark, CA (they tried to pick a central-ish place).

    • Oh my gosh, have a fabulous time at the lunch tomorrow, I am a NorCal gal, but can’t make the lunch. I would of loved to meet other ODD fans, however, lol. another someday thing….like going to a David concert, yet to experience that joy.
      I am a big DWTS fan and am so excited about the all stars show. I feel the same way as you about Tom and Brook. Another wish: David going on DWTS to sing his mega hit song in 2014.

      • I would love to see him on the show too as a singer, not a dancer. If you dm me your e-mail address on twitter cq (I am @collegemom12) , I will add you to the list that we have so that if another lunch gets planned, you will get an e-mail. This is our second event this year – very casual and just because someone tweeted that they wanted to get together agan.

      • Sounds like fun but I live in New York State. I do wish l was a NorCal gal. lol I was against David going on DWTS 4 years ago as a “star” dancer but now I think it is a great idea. I hope that when David returns to his career he goes on DWTS either to sing a mega hit or as a “star” dancer. It has been a good boost to many of these celebrities careers to be on that show.

    • collegemom, I’m not on twitter, just never felt the need. I’ll just have to get the info from this site. Maybe someday I’ll have the pleasure of meeting you.

  6. Thanks HG for another great article which hits the nail on the head. I love all the reality talent shows – dancing and singing, but you are right in that they are no longer compelling T.V. I like The Voice the best right now because all the singers are good. I just want to listen to some good singing but I have found my star in David. I don’t like X-Factor. I have watched it this season to see Brittany and Demi as judges. I actually like Demi the best as she comes across as genuine. There are too many train-wreck auditions and over-the-top back stories. They seem to be trying really hard to obtain the young viewer, but I don’t know if they can get them. I’m sure Idol may get some viewers to tune in to see the new judges but, I don’t think they will be able to get the viewers back that have left.

    The winners seem to have very little chance of success. Melanie, winner of X-Factor was put on a diet and possibly had an etiquette coach per this article at MJs: She had a couple singles that didn’t go anywhere. She hasn’t put out an album yet. I wonder how much of the $5 million prize the winner actually gets or is it all for a recording contract?

    I wish I lived in Northern California too, but I’m from Iowa which is a bit far to go. I do love Thai food.

    • Thanks for the info about Javier & Melanie, guys. I’ve been wondering what happened to them. That’s crazy about Melanie. Am I wrong in thinking that Simon would’ve been involved in helping start her career? Or did he just “discover” Melanie & then his part was over? If he did help afterwards, how could she not have begun with a hit single?

      Also, tbh, I never cared for The Sing-Off. I’m not into singing groups, & I felt the overall production lacked a little…pizazz. After a few episodes, I was bored. Not crazy about any of the shows HG mentioned, actually. lol. I had no use for AI after David left, & after the struggles that he & other alum have had, I feel like they aren’t producing big stars anymore. So I have no reason to want to watch. I think X-Factor is too much like AI. Same gimmick, except the audition is in front of an audience…

      I think DWTS has better ratings than SYTYCD because peeps enjoy watching celebrities try new things that are out of their element…I think part of why I watch The Voice (although not alot) is the “angst factor”. After the contestant tells their “sob stories”, the producers make us want the judges to turn their chairs around. After all, this person has worked sooo hard to catch a break, & it may be their last chance eveeeeeer. lol. I agree, too, that having the judges listen only to the voice is neat. It won’t allow them other excuses for turning contestants down, & gets back to the fundamentals of what all the shows should be about…I think they would’ve all turned their chairs for David in a heartbeat. 🙂 And although he tries not to outshine others, he usually ends up doing it, anyway. lol. So I think he would’ve done just fine in the sing-off rounds.

  7. i thought oprah could have had higher ratings if she had had more interesting shows on her network. for example, i would like to see something re. the girls who attend her school in south africa. with her magazine & satellite radio show, i’ve heard enough from her “doctors”, e.g, oz, phil, etc.

    re. idol, i think part of the problem is that the show drags on too long before a winner is selected. by the time of the finale, it’s easy to tire of the judges and some contestants.

    best wishes to the nocal archies; enjoy lunch!

  8. I agree with you desertrat. I think the show drags on too long on AI and all these other reality talent shows. Too many auditions are shown on all of those shows.

  9. Interesting, thought provoking articles like this is what make me tune in daily.

  10. “….great singing shows like The Sing-Off wouldn’t have gotten canceled,…”

    all these singing shows are confusing me, lol. upon first reading this post, i thought ‘the sing-off’ was the show with john legend and kelly clarkson as judges.

    • No that was Duets. The Sing Off was the accapella groups competition. I too loved that one. The judges were really good too, it had low ratings but it was up against Dancing with the Stars. I watch them all.

      • grammyj, you brought up something that is curious to me. You said that Sing Off was against DWTS that was why the ratings were low. In today tech world almost anyone can record one show and watch another at the same time, so I guess the recorded show would not be counted in the ratings war? a little confused about the whole rating thing now a days.

        Another thought:
        I have been thinking about my ODD and why I’m still here wanting to read any tidbit that comes my way about David and especially anything regarding his career. I came to the conclusion that David’s career is a long running show for me and like any good show, I can’t wait to see what happen next, lol.

      • I liked both the Sing Off and Duets. I still think that Ben Folds, Kelly Clarkson, or John Legend or for that matter any of the judges on those two shows would have made great judges on AI this year. It looks like AI never even considered the ones that would have made the best judges this year.

      • this is in response to cq @ 11:22:

        I don’t have dvr but I believe if you record a show and play it later, you can skip the commercials. if that’s true, companies probably prefer to place their ads on shows with high real-time viewership, i.e., high ratings.

      • Thanks desertrat, never thought about that, yes the commercials are very important and, lol, I do skip them when I record a show. I know that a lot of friends and family I know record almost everything and never watch in real time. I love recording because I know I can watch a show on my own time and not be a slave to TV.

  11. I know my cable company has what is called on demand and you can watch some of the shows on some of the networks at a later date. It is not all shows and all networks that do prime time on demand. I wonder if the on demand count as you can’t fast forward through the commercials?

  12. I just had a thought…wonder if David was approached with a deal to do a reality show about his mission? I know that he would never do it, because this mission is such a private thing for him, but would it be a little better for us fans to deal with the whole stepping away from his career if we could see him every week on tv, lol.

    • The Mormon Church would never allow a mission to become a reality show. They have very strictt rules for just about everything amissionary does and making it a reality show wou?d never be allowed. David can’t even use facebook or twitter or call his family except on Christmas and Mothers day. Most of the rules a missionary has to folllow seems to have been written long ago and never changes. It is a very conservative religion that does not embrace changes or any new ideas.

  13. It seems many celebrities or even a non celebrity that do a reality show get great promo and money from it.

  14. I watched SNL last night and was impressed by the performances by the band Mumford & Sons . I was not really a fan before but it was nice to hear a band perform real music on TV with no auto tune or dance beat for a change.

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