Is Home Viewer Voting Really The Be All, End All of TV Talent Shows?
Winter is notorious for being less stacked in the talent show department than the other three seasons, but 2019 is bringing us a lot of new programs in the genre during the colder months! We’ve already got the internationally-imported The Masked Singer on FOX, AGT spin-off America’s Got Talent: The Champions on NBC, and if that’s not enough talent for you, next month The World’s Best will premiere on CBS.
Leading up to these shows there had been some concern from people who predicted they wouldn’t do so hot because of the lack of one often-present, almost defining characteristic of TV talent competitions: the home viewer vote.
While the aforementioned programs are far from the first to not feature input from those watching the show on television, it is true that part of the appeal of a lot of the most popular shows in the genre is the fact that we, the viewers, have a say in the process. American Idol, The Voice, Got Talent, The X-Factor, the list goes on. But, as ratings and viewership for shows like Champions and The Masked Singer have proven, there are plenty of ways for reality talent shows to appeal to viewers without having them participate.
Focus On Talent
There is a noticeable trend among reality talent shows that don’t involve voting: the objectively “best” acts tend to fare better.
Countless mediocre country artists have gotten carried to the finale on American Idol and The Voice based on the mere fact the show’s main demographic tends to favor that particular style of music, resulting in stronger singers getting cut early. The there’s the token “most improved” contestant who makes it to the finals over other, stronger performers because the viewers love to see a good “journey” which has pretty much become a staple of Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. And we all know how apt audiences are to support their sentimental favorites with exceptional backstories, even if their talent is less-than-remarkable (America’s Got Talent viewers take the cake in that department).
Yes, it’s reality TV and all in good fun, but sometimes we just want to see amazing singers, dancers, and variety performers go out there, do their thing, and get rewarded for it. Shows that feature a panel of experts in whatever genre the show is based on making the bulk of the decisions usually result in a strong competition, with only the best acts making it far us getting to see some amazing performances every week.
Some shows – like The Four, America’s Got Talent: The Champions, and Dancing With the Stars Juniors – don’t have at-home voting but do allow the studio audience to have a say in the process. Those shows tend to have merit-based results as well, and I suspect that’s because those people probably aren’t show the “extra” footage we see in the edited episodes and can only base their decision on the performances they see while at the taping. (This goes double for shows that tape the entirety of their season in advance, so people can only vote on what they witness the day they’re there and the performers can’t rely on goodwill from previous episodes if they bomb their performance.)
It’s Not The Destination, It’s The Journey
“Winning isn’t everything” may be a cliche statement parents tell their kids after they lose a soccer championship, but it also applies to certain reality talent shows, and it’s definitely noteworthy that two two aforementioned new talent shows on the block (that have been killing it in popularity so far!) are ones this sentiment wholeheartedly applies to.
America’s Got Talent: The Champions is really more of a celebration of some of the most memorable acts from the Got Talent franchise than a serious competition. Yes, they are competing, but only for bragging rights, and no one will get to perform more than two competitive routines. When only 20% of the acts per episode advance, most viewers are well aware their favorite is unlikely to get a spot and seem to be enjoying watching them perform regardless.
When it comes to The Masked Singer, the competition is even more of an afterthought. The real contest here is being the first among your friends to figure out who is hiding under each mask. No one seems to care if the singers are good or bad and I’ve seen zero complaints about any of the eliminations so far – in fact, a lot of people have actually been HOPING for their favorite to get the boot so they can find out their identity.
Bringing People Together
With the busy schedules and “go go go” mantra of our modern society, watching television “live” has become a less and less popular activity, let alone with a group. But these talent shows have become one of the few kinds of “event” programming that has families gathered around the TV together every week. These are our modern day equivalent of variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show or The Hollywood Palace; shows that feature various performances of singing, dancing, and the like that people of all ages can watch, enjoy, and talk about together. And we have lots to say about The Masked Singer, AGT: The Champions, The Four and many more, even though we don’t have any say in their outcomes.