The Changing Face of the Reality Singing Competition.

american idol judging panel jlo steven tyler randy jackson

There was a time, ten or so years ago, when American, and then Australian Idol, hit our screens and was judged by washed-up middle-aged music industry big wigs, like Simon Cowell, Mark Holden, Ian “Dicko” Dickson and the token women on the panel, Marcia Hines and Paula Abdul. These judges were mostly respected, if unfamiliar to Idol’s target demographic. Apart from Abdul’s “Opposites Attract”, I wouldn’t have known any of them from a bar of soap.

Not only was this before Britney, J.Lo, Mariah et al. demanded millions to sit in the judging chair, but it was also prior to the influx of talent shows; reality shows in general, really. Now we have myriad Got Talent’s, Voices’s, X-Factor‘s and the truckload of former and current stars it brings with it.

x factor australia judges

For every Britney and Christina, whose careers have been languishing in the pop wasteland for the last few years and could be helped by a judging role, there’s a Nicki Minaj, whose choice to judge the latest season of American Idol in the prime of her career baffles me. And we can’t forget Jennifer Lopez, who was the epitome of irrelevance prior to taking on the gig, and is now once again one of the highest earning performers in the industry (thanks, in no small part, to her franchise of perfumes) and deservedly so, as I saw her in concert last year and she is the consummate performer. Closer to home, Guy Sebastian, a reality singing competition winner himself, had a sprinkling of top ten and number one hits in the last few years, but really hit the big time with the Eve and Lupe Fiasco collaborations, “Who’s That Girl?” and “Battle Scars”, respectively, released after his turn as a judge on The X Factor.

x factor judging panel britney spears demi lovato simon cowell

So the “expert” record industry execs have pretty much gone the way of Dicko, albeit with the mainstays Cowell (The X Factor in the U.S.), L.A. Reid (ditto) and Randy Jackson from the original series of Idol, to make way for younger, sexier and more relevant judges, sometimes with an overhaul in between each season. And then there are the performers so out of place that were obviously hired ’cause everyone else turned them down: Demi Lovato, Khloe Kardashian (as a host) and, arguably, Nicki Minaj.

I think the new season of Idol’s focus on the feud between Mariah Carey and Minaj hinders not only the show (it’s about the TALENT), but also Nicki’s career in the long run. 2012 was perhaps Minaj’s strongest year to date, with “Superbass” being certified platinum, and “Starships” dominating the airways. While she’s never had a number one hit on the U.S. Billboard charts, Minaj was infiltrating pop culture at warp speed, so to her it might have seemed logical to dominate reality television as well. But, to me, singing competition judging panels are the domain of has-beens; people who’ve been down a similar road and can offer advice on the highs and lows of stardom. Who knows? Maybe Minaj will be the one to change that.

What do you think? Do you long for the no-frills early days of Idol, or are you all for big names on the judging panel overshadowing the talent?

Images via People, Wikipedia, Digital Spy.

2 thoughts on “The Changing Face of the Reality Singing Competition.

  1. “Guy Sebastian, a reality singing competition winner himself, had a sprinkling of top ten and number one hits in the last few years,” Ummm. Prior to taking up a judging position on X Factor Guy had alreadt had five top ten platinum/multi-platinum albums and six top ten singles. Four of those singles reached #1, equalling the amount of #1 singles that John Farnham and Johnny Okeefe had released during their entire careers. His 2009 smash hit #1 single ‘Like It Like That’ was not only the highest selling Aussie artist song of that year, but was also the 6th highest selling Aussie artist song of that decade. All before X Factor returned to our screens in 2010. “Sprinkling of hits” is a bit of an understatement I think.

    Of course since X Factor he has released two more #1 singles, both seriously multi-platinum, putting him out in the clear with #1 singles as far as Aussie males go in our music history, and third overall for all Aussie acts. Three other top ten singles, two of which also reached mult-platinum. Plus two further top ten albums, one of which became his second #1 album and third to reach multi-platinum status. So yes X Factor has certainly helped his career, but it was going pretty darned well before that. Now look at what talent show judge/mentoring has done for other Australian act’s music careers. Natalie Bassingthwaighte – one single released which seriously flopped. Delta’s career – her worst performing album to date, leaving the ARIA Top 100 after a few months with only gold status when her previous three albums reached multi-platinum. Kind of shows that perhaps Guy’s recent success, while being supported by his X Factor profile is more due to the quality of music he is releasing than simply because of X Factor.

    • Hi MaryB,
      This is obviously a subject you’re more knowledgable on than me, and I applaud your passion.
      When I wrote “last few years” I meant since about 2009 with “Like it Like That”, but upon second glance, I maybe should have chosen my words better as Guy’s been more successful in those past four years than he had in the previous four.
      Perhaps I could’ve gone with a better example… Thanks for your comment.

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