Point: Reality Show Tryouts? The Risk Is Greater Than the Reward
A strong showing on The Voice or other singing reality television competitions can be a metaphorical steroid shot for an artist’s career, but like real-life performance enhancers, the cost eventually supersedes the gain.
The immediate exposure and coaching can’t be replicated, and the winner gets a pretty fat prize. But then what? Quick! Name the last three winners of The Voice. There's Sundance Head, that actress ... didn't Meghan Linsey win?
It’s leaping from a tall building on faith someone will be there to catch you.
After a short honeymoon period, winners like Craig Wayne Boyd and Season 11 winner Head find out there is no infrastructure in place to take advantage of this momentum. Boyd claims no one at his new record label home even knew who he was. Head signed with Republic Records New York in early February, a news item that was overlooked by every country media outlet. He hasn't released a single, and in nearly three months, no publicist, manager or industry professional has contacted Taste of Country (or the Boot) on his behalf. The music video for his song “Darlin' Don’t Go” was recently removed from YouTube, and there is not a long or short history of New York-based record labels making waves in Nashville.
Boyd chose to go at it alone, and he’s made a few strides in releasing singles and digital music. The Season 7 winner isn’t quite the ghost Season 10's Alisan Porter or Season 8's Sawyer Fredericks became (if you're curious, Porter almost immediately ran into issues with Republic, while Fredericks and Republic separated at the start of 2017. His mother is now managing his career). In fairness to both Boyd and Head (and many country winners before them), they are tremendous talents. Blake Shelton is right to lambaste the NBC show’s record label partner because they clearly are not making a long-term investment.
Who is country music’s most successful winner of The Voice? With a platinum single as a solo artist and No. 1 hit as a duet partner (plus CMA, ACM and Grammy nominations), Cassadee Pope seems like the clear No. 1. Radio success has been difficult to come by (non-winners like the Swon Brothers and RaeLynn have out-performed winners like Danielle Bradbery), and initially, that was partially due to skepticism of artists born from reality television. Scotty McCreery faced this. Lauren Alaina still does so, although, she’s just now, nearly six years later, putting "American Idol runner-up" further down in her bio.
The subtle difference between 2017 and 2011 (when McCreery-mania was thriving) is that radio isn’t alone in skepticism. Fans are nonchalant at best about artists they vote for. There’s not nearly as much picketing for a more fair, less political system. We watch these shows in the moment, for the moment. We relive the highlights, but then put it behind us when the news cycle turns. The last reality show winner to leave fans begging country outlets to pay attention was Tate Stevens, the country X Factor winner.
If you haven't thought of Tate Stevens in four years, this Point/Counterpoint has reached checkmate. He won in December 2012.
The artists are washed out in this process. Not being able to claim anything tangible within months of a reality show win doesn’t look good on a resume. Labels aren’t going to call a non-winner one or two years later. If you’re a new artist, your time is up before the stopwatch app on your iPhone was even called upon. It’s leaping from a tall building on faith someone will be there to catch you.
The reality show path also skips a few important steps in artist development -- mainly the live show. One recalls a young Carrie Underwood struggling to fill Kenny Chesney’s stage as his tour opener in 2006. A decade later she’s one of the best, but immediately after American Idol, she was a fresh foal. Even the most competent, self-assured artist is cast only as the next big winner, a label that dismisses everything he, she or they accomplished to that point.
Artists of a certain age see reality television shows as a last chance. Kris Jones of YouTube fame is going to appear in 2017, and that's fine because he'd all but given up on his dream. At best a tryout should be considered a last step, not a first step. And treat that step like a wind tunnel money machine. Grab all you can before your time is up.
Who Is Kris Jones? Find Out:
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back in March for another installment.