Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Televised Singing Contests

Every Sunday night a televised singing contest makes its appearance on one of the main channels. Shows like American Idol, The Voice, X Factor, and many, many more come on to show the U.S. who some of the best singers in the country are. Other countries have their own versions of these competitions, but the U.S. has the most televised singing contests.

The shows range in different variations of competitions. Some allow private auditions, others public. The size of the crowd varies, and even the audition itself can vary. A fairly recent show called Killer Karaoke even features singers who have to compete while accomplishing their fears. All of the competitions feature famous guest judges, normally singers, who can help the competitors learn how to better their voices. Although some of these singing shows are fun to watch, I often ponder the rules of the competition.

For the majority of the people who audition, I believe they sound amazing. All the competitors sing their hearts out, and almost all of them sound amazing. I find it difficult on how the judges decide who continues onto the next round and who goes home. In the competitions, it eventually reaches a point where they let “America” decide who continues onto the next round. People can vote on their favorite singers to continue, and eventually, the person with the most votes wins the competition.

Although few people who end up winning become internationally famous and AMA winners, the competitions aren’t futile. It is an experience where you can learn how to sing better and interact on stage during performance. Many people who get kicked off the show during the earlier stages of the competition come back the next season to retest their luck. Many famous singers have come out of the competitions and, obviously, become successful. Some performers include One Direction from the X Factor, Jennifer Hudson from American Idol, Miranda Lambert from Nashville Star, Kelly Clarkson from American Idol, Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent, Carrie Underwood from American Idol, Pentatonix from The Sing-Off, and Adam Lambert from American Idol. (Just to name a few.) A USA Today article discussed the failure of singing shows to create famous performers.


The singing competitions have gained success in televised views. You can go on youtube and look up the competitions auditions and there will be tons of views. Also, many people put together compilations of the best and the worst auditions. Whichever program had the first televised singing competition started a trend that continues even today; still, new contests are popping up but with different rules and concepts.

1 Comment

  1. While your post talks about the explicit “rules” that make up reality singing television, I’d like to touch on some unspoken rules that govern what footage airs, whose stories are told, and how singers are marketed to America.

    I used to watch American Idol with my family growing up. We stopped watching because it seemed like in an effort to get higher ratings and keep audiences’ attention, the producers intentionally humiliated people auditioning. If you go on youtube and search “American Idol worst auditions,” approximately 210,000 results come up. Viewers loved Simon Cowell because he was mean and made contestants cry on camera. Why is it that we like to see people be ridiculed? In a show that is only an hour long and has so many commercial breaks, why do producers think it’s a better use of time to show people singing poorly than people singing beautifully?

    Even moving past those first few weeks of auditions, the way results were presented, the use of interviews and inclusion of “overcoming” extreme hardship to get on the show made me feel like the audience was emotionally intruding into contestants’ lives more than was often necessary. It seemed like to be memorable and have an advantage with voters calling in, contestants had to offer an extreme personal backstory. In response to your question, wondering how producers or voters decide who stays and who goes, I wonder if the choice comes down to how “sell-able” the person is in terms of looks, story/empathy appeal, charisma in interview, etc., rather than voice alone.

    To be fair, the show is called “American Idol” and arguably all of the factors I listed contribute to that persona and ought to be considered. For me, it just felt disingenuous. The premise of the show was that anyone with a great voice could be the next idol, but season after season I saw people who looked very similar. When there are outliers to the mold (like Susan Boyle in the UK), they are sensationalized because no one expects it. Some people might point to Susan Boyle as an example that anyone can succeed on reality singing shows; I see the fact that she stands out and is a household name as evidence that usually the norms for age and beauty within these shows are rigid. She is remarkable because she was so overwhelmingly talented she could defy them.

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