The Unrealities of Reality TV.

The Unrealities of Reality TV.

You’re a great singer! Have you ever thought about trying out for the Voice?

I’m pretty sure the judges of the voice pilot Voltron as a side job.

I think most singers and artists probably get this question at some point. Even with the death of American Idol and the falling popularity of shows like the Voice, I’m asked this question a couple of times a year.

Before I get too far into this blog, I want to say that I know the question is meant as a compliment, which I appreciate immensely! But this way of thinking about artists troubles me, and I’m always tempted to pass on my opinion to people who ask. I never get too far into it – usually I thank them and move on – but every once and a while, I’ll let a little bit of what I think about these shows slip out.

Long before I learned about contracting issues and other problems regarding reality TV talent shows, my instinct has always been that I’m not what they’re looking for. I’m an okay singer, by which I mean I have my thing, and it’s kind of a unique thing, but my voice is not exceptionally good in terms of range or pitch (being partially deaf in one ear probably has something to do with this). I’m working on it with exercises and my pitch is much better than it was even a year ago, but I wouldn’t say I’m Kelly Clarkson level of quality and consistency and range. These are all things that winners of these shows have in common.

They’re usually looking for a very specific brand of pop, which is also beyond my strength as a vocalist. Occasionally they’ll pick a winner that isn’t a pop singer, but even they don’t sound anything like me. They all seem to fit squarely in a vocal genre. They want people who can do crazy runs and/or are extremely marketable, inoffensive, and apolitical. That’s a whole list of things that don’t apply to me.

But aside from the fact that I don’t think I’d ever be X-Factor material, these shows are known for having some of the shadiest contracts in the business. Clauses often include their sole ownership of everything you ever create, past and future – even if you don’t win, which is a terrifying thought as an independent artist. Shows that rely on votes often manipulate polls at the producer’s whim. In other words, the ‘reality’ part of the show is a bit fuzzy.

I’ve met people who have actually made appearances on these shows and have been dropped because they won’t or can’t follow the script. They manipulate the editing of an event to make you look great or terrible – whichever they think will get better ratings. They decide what the audience thinks of you. Viewers are spoon-fed stories and perspectives. Everyone involved in the show, from the cast to the viewers, are manipulated to a disturbing degree. But hey, that’s show business, right?

I’m also just a huge fan of being able to create my own work, and I take great pleasure from the process of writing, editing, and tracking my music with Eric. Maybe I don’t have the best producers in the world to workshop the hell out of my songs, but I do have the benefit of avoiding a system of creation that’s been described by its members as modern slavery. I love making my own art, and owning what I make. I love choosing who I work with. For example, we had a great time recording with our friend Steve on Aether, which you can see below:

Not having financial backing is the price you pay for independence, but these days, it’s more than worth it – and viable if you can manage yourself and your finances independently.

I also just hate waiting in line, almost as much as I hate being given a script that is not sincerely my own. If I want something in life, I’m not going to tack a number to my chest and beg people to judge me and find me worthy. I’m going to perform, and people will like what we do, or they won’t – but I won’t fade back into another life regardless, because being an artist isn’t just a dream for me. It’s a job, one that I do with great pride, careful planning, practicality, and realism. Reality TV is many things, but real and practical are, funny enough, not among its qualities.

So no, I don’t think I’ll be trying out for the Voice or any other reality show any time soon. But I’m happy to take the compliment, and keep my freedom.

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