17 years ago, the first season finale of American Idol aired and amassed over 22 million viewers. The winner, Kelly Clarkson, not only received a record deal with RCA Records, but saw her name rise in charts months later with singles such as pop–rock anthem “Since U Been Gone.” With six top 10 hits by the end of 2005, she became the first true star to come out of a reality singing competition.
As the pool of game show victors continued to increase—Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, Phillip Phillips, David Cook—so did the number of game shows themselves. Singing ability, though, was no longer the only criterion at hand. America’s Got Talent, one of the more notable competition shows, has a reputation for producing stars like Grace VanderWaal. However, the actual premise of the show does not solely include singers, but any type of talent.
Some shows, such as The Voice, add external elements beyond vocal talent to maintain intrigue. The NBC show uses the gimmick of the judges facing away from the performer in large red chairs and spinning around when they find a voice that they desire on their team. The charm of the television program hardly derives from its contestants, but from the judges acting as characters, taking playful jabs at one another.
The most recent program of interest, over a decade since the prime of American Idol, is Fox’s The Masked Singer. Rather than introducing random contestants to promote the rags–to–riches narrative, it takes already–known entertainers and costumes them in eccentric attire to perform in front of a crowd. The purpose for the judges is to play detective and figure out their true identities.
The formula of taking an unknown person and turning them into a star is no longer a novelty. At the root of the entertainment industry, there is no longer a need for exposure for the common person anymore. A record deal can be obtained by a high school teenager, uploading Youtube videos of themselves singing from the comfort of their home. The next Kelly Clarkson could be found with a Twitter thread or TikTok page. The originality of cultivating a star through America’s votes has gone stale.
Is there a higher intrinsic value behind today’s do–it–yourself artists compared to those who underwent an audition process and weeks of competition performances to receive a record deal? When examining the trajectory of the both, it’s not that simple. Among the 17 seasons of American Idol, only a handful became household names in the industry. Additionally, due to the saturation of content on social media and streaming services, algorithms are inreasingly becoming the method through which people find new music, rather than focusing on empirical talent.
Nevertheless, there does remain the possibility that America is tired of singing competitions altogether—a concept wrung out of all of its quality of interest. It's time to find a new avenue to both find new talent and entertain audiences, one that might not involve T–Pain dressed as a masked monster.