When Reality Singers Struggle, We’re to Blame
There’s no better story than an underdog story, and every spring and fall The Voice tells a good one. Some talented, but unheralded singer finds fame after besting hundreds of other aspiring stars in a battle of song. Famous coaches help. Viewers vote. A winner is announced and confetti falls.
The story ends.
But it doesn't end there for the singer. On Tuesday night (Dec. 15), Jordan Smith was crowned Season 9 champion of The Voice, and the expectation is that he’ll record an album, release a single, tour and have a chance at superstardom. That winning a reality show has proven to be more of an obstacle than an asset over the last decade will be forgotten by Smith’s fans, and hopefully by Smith as well, as nothing holds one back like a bad attitude.
In a few months, if things aren’t moving quickly, some of the Kentucky native's fans will tweet hateful things at his record label (Republic Records) or radio stations that refuse to play his music. If country singers Barrett Baber or Emily Ann Roberts would have won, their fans would email Taste of Country asking why we don’t cover the winner at the same pace we cover Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood (we see you, Tate Stevens fans).
Adam Levine’s recent comments that winners on The Voice aren’t handled properly by record label executives after the show finishes reveal his blind spot for his team and his show's basic premise.
“We do so much great (expletive) for these singers, and then they go to a record label that I won't mention,” he told Howard Stern in October. “But they go to a record label that (expletives) it up.”
After Smith won, Levine doubled down, telling USA Today: “So, the baton has been passed to the record label and hopefully they’ll do right by Jordan Smith. Right, Republic Records?”
Craig Wayne Boyd agrees with Levine. The Season 7 The Voice winner told the Las Vegas Review Journal that his new label home (Dot Records Nashville) didn’t have any idea who he was when he showed up after winning last December. With the help of a good lawyer, he got out of his contract and has recorded an album on his own. Dot hasn't commented on that story, but one wonders what could have happened if Boyd didn't lawyer up so quickly. Maybe nothing. Probably very little, if you look at who's come before him.
Every indication is that Boyd will release a single to major radio stations early in 2016. Radio programmers treat an independent artist with slightly more respect than a subway busker, so it's difficult to imagine this talented singer landing a hit faster than he would have had he stayed with Dot. Maybe his short-time label home didn't mind, however. Levine could be right, they could have (expletive) it up. But they wouldn’t have if they believed there was money to be made.
Danielle Bradbery and Cassadee Pope are the two other country singers who have won The Voice, and both found modest success with a debut single before their foothold slipped. How many of the other winners have you heard from recently? Jermaine Paul? Tessanne Chin? Javier Colon? Sawyer Fredericks?
The easy and gratifying response is to blame the show or the record label, two faceless entities that can't fight back. "NBC can’t produce stars," some say, even though Fox’s American Idol has struggled with winners in recent years as well. Nick Fradiani, anyone?
Maybe the best talent is skipping reality television? That old adage that there are no shortcuts could be proving true. After all, the current crop of rising stars (Cam, Chris Janson, Kelsea Ballerini) all did things the old-fashioned way. Brothers Osborne worked and played around Nashville for years before signing a record deal and releasing their hit song “Stay a Little Longer.” In fact, the Top 10 rocker was their third single, the followup to two radio misses.
But stars like America’s Got Talent contestant Benton Blount and The Voice finalist Meghan Linsey straight up hustled to get where they were before auditioning. Reality TV is not the lazy man’s route, or the amateur’s path. It’s difficult to argue Smith or any of the three finalists on The Voice are talentless.
Raw? Maybe. Sometimes.
The truth about why eight previous winners have struggled is difficult to swallow, but perhaps it’s time: We’re to blame. If you and I were more invested, Smith would be a star. It's not intentional. As Americans, we love a good story, and this story ended when Carson Daly popped the tension bubble and announced the 22-year-old as the champion. A more real and symbolic indication that it’s time to abandon our interest in him, Roberts, Baber and the other guy is unimaginable.
There were even credits! We're trained to stand up and walk away when we see the credits. No one loiters in a dark theater hoping the action will soon pick up again. There's little incentive to stick around to watch the next story, especially when we know it’s not beginning for several weeks or months. If you left the television on, your local NBC newscast likely started in with an urgent story about ISIS or the Republican primaries or a local bond issue. As fast as the passing of a single frame of television, Smith and Season 9 became an old story.
Scotty McCreery may end up as the last true reality show “winner.” Even though he’s yet to notch a Top 5 hit, each new single to radio is met with a more ears and more praise. His fans have stuck with him, and they seem willing to stay seated long past the confetti and the credits.
They just don’t come that patient anymore.
Singers on The Voice do have one advantage other reality-raised singers do not: the mentors. Shelton has been especially active in making sure his team gets the opportunities they deserve, especially when they don't win. RaeLynn and Gwen Sebastian are two he continues to mentor to this day. Neither are dependable country hitmakers yet, but both have found more fame than they would have without him. They're talented, and in the absence of an audience with a long memory, he's doing all he can to make sure they don't fade away like Josh Kaufman.
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