Yesterday, I pointed out that none of the 12 winners of The Voice is as famous or successful as several losers from rival show American Idol: Clay Aiken, Chris Daughtry, Katharine McPhee, and Jennifer Hudson — who became so famous and successful that she’s now a coach on The Voice.
I’m not the only one to notice this. Recently, The Atlantic and The Huffington Post have posted stories showing the challenges Voice winners have dealt with, and how the disparity between the show’s producers and record label executives sometimes means winners fall off the musical radar after their victory.
Winners of The Voice get $100,000 and a record deal with either Republic Records or Big Machine (both part of NBCUniversal). However, sometimes contestants who make for compelling television aren’t always the same as musical artists who can sell records.
In other cases, Republic does sign the winner and then simply mismanages them or doesn’t make them a priority.
Research from The Atlantic and HuffPo shows that winners Javier Colon (Season 1), Tessanne Chin (Season 5), Craig Wayne Boyd (Season 7), Sawyer Fredericks (Season 8), and Allison Porter (Season 11) either left or were dropped by Republic shortly after signing. Craig said record executives had no idea who he was when he first appeared in their offices after winning. Tessanne blamed her horribly low first-week sales (just 7,000 copies) on poor promotion and neglect from Republic; she’s now signed with Justice League Music.
Add to that list Jermaine Paul (Season 2), Josh Kaufman (Season 6), and Sundance Head (Season 11) who, as HuffPo puts it, “have yet to release albums with Republic Records, and perhaps never will.”
To their credit, sometimes the coaches step in. Blake Shelton has had Sundance Head tour with him. Alicia Keys still works with Season 12 winner Chris Blue. Adam Levine has signed some contestants (but not winners) to his 222 label.
Adam has been particularly critical of what happens to winners after the show turns them over to the record labels. On Howard Stern’s show, he said, “We do so much great shit for these singers, and then they go to a record label that I won’t mention. But they go to a record label that fucks it up.” He added, “The rollout of all that is still such a mess. Our business [music] is the worst right now. No one knows what they’re doing.”
That doesn’t mean every winner has vanished into oblivion. Season 3 winner Cassadee Pope’s studio album Frame by Frame hit #9 on the US chart, and #1 on the US Country chart. She has toured with Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley. Season 9 winner Jordan Smith’s first album hit #2, and he has been touring nationwide ever since. Virtually every winner is still working in some way, either signed with a smaller label, releasing songs independently, or writing for other artists.
So Voice winners have found success…but not the superstardom that they or the viewers expect (The Atlantic points out how often the show uses phrases like “living your dreams” or “dreams come true”). Unlike Idol, the show doesn’t require contestants to be amateurs, so it sometimes gets people like Cassadee Pope, who was lead singer of a group that had already released an album on a major label.
It’s not too late for recent winners like Sundance Head and Chris Blue to build a big following while they’re still some momentum. And maybe Addison, Brooke, Chloe, or Red from this season will finally become the show’s breakout star. But for so many winners, their biggest day wasn’t signing with a label or releasing their first album — it was being declared “The Voice” of the season. Each has to ask themselves: Is that enough?