Sunday, October 16

The X Factor Wins Battle of the Bankrolls

Simon Cowell quit American Idol and currently
 judges on another reality show, The X Factor. 
All the buzz about Simon Cowell’s latest sensation, The X Factor, is not all that  buzz worthy.  What sets this self-proclaimed phenomenon ahead of the other reality singing show?  Money. Big dollars. That’s it.

Compared to other singing shows The X Factor is more about big money and high drama. The winner gets $5 million. The promotional budget exceeds imagination.  Most noticeably, the audience gets pulled into the drama of personal lives. To turn away from the show would mean turning our backs on some of the neediest people in society. Check out Dexter Haygood’s audition: . Not saying he can’t sing; just sayin’ it’s typical of the drama.
Yes, there are some great singers. BUT, we get the backstory on homelessness, poverty, my husband said I was too old—all kinds of let’s pity these unfortunate folks so we feel obligated to stay tuned.
Let’s face it. Simon Cowell is a genius when it comes to amassing large tons of money.  He knows how to poke our entertainment buttons. The music. The lights. The trailers. The talk shows. The hype. You’d think the man prepared The Last Supper and we were all invited. He brings in the huge audience and the big stage right away to make the whole process even more theatrical. Smart man.
Is any of his latest coup original?  Mostly not.
Here’s the scoop:  The X Factor adds a little bit to the premise of American Idol, rips off original concepts from The Voice and can’t compete with the originality of The Sing Off. 
Team Adam's Javier Colon
Season 1 winner of The Voice.
Think about it. Boot camp? Really? Singers who made the cut on The Voice joined their celebrity mentors for vocal coaching. Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Greene and Adam Levine each tutored singers of their respective teams.  The X factor bootcamp? Not original.  Not even close.  BTW, all of the coaches from The Voice are singers while two of The X Factor judges are singers and the other two are in the music business.  
As host of The Voice Carson Daly remarked in an interview with,  “We hang our hat on the fact that our coaches are mentoring these artists and not judging them. The relationship between them was something that was really cool.”
Another rip off? The focus on cutting edge technology. The Voice went all out to involve social media with coaches, singers and host all involved.  They tweeted, they posted on Facebook, contestants interacted with fans—it gave an extra element to the chow.  The X Factor attempt to involve social media looks feeble in comparison. It’s like an after thought.
The X Factor admits their ultimate champion is more about being an entertainer  than a singer but their elimination rounds say otherwise.  They do allow older contestants to compete but in a condescending way.  They shove them into an old folks category instead of allowing them to compete in the male or female categories. It looks like a patronizing token.  Some of the best singers are over 30 but we shall see if they seriously have a shot at the top spot.
The X Factor also includes groups but that part is pretty much more fluff.  Producers eventually threw some individual singers cut prior to Boot Camp together to even make enough competitive groups. It seems to be an added category in an attempt to separate the show from the other singing shows. Nothing more. No way will a group be allowed to win. They just play a role.
Much the same story goes for allowing younger contestants.  It seems more for the sake of pointing out a a deviation from Idol or for show that anything else. Some of the younger contestants were chopped with a well at that young age they will have other chances compared to this old guy so what was the point?  That’s right. Separate the format from American Idol to appear refreshingly new and original. Didn’t work. Too many crying young people made it really awkward.
In reality, sure the reality singing shows must have a little drama to keep everyday people watching. We’re not all music majors or opera singer wannabes.  Of the four shows I watch (yes I said four) two are much classier for one simple reason:  they don’t collect their ratings by humiliating naive people
Carson Daly hosts The Voice on NBC.
Guess what people? You’re not laughing with them; you’re laughing at them!

Boos and hisses for both The X Factor and American Idol for all the camera time spent making fun of poor singers—many have lots of issues. It kinda feels like the bullies on the playground in grade school. You know the ones. They single out someone sad  and weak (mentally or physically) and pick on that poor pathetic kid.  It shouldn’t be tolerated at school and it sure as hell should NOT be shown on a stage in front of millions of viewers. Not showing a clip here or I’d be supporting the bullying tactic.
Regarding the twin images of Idol and X Factor auditions, Voice host Carson Daly summed it up best,
 “We won’t whore it out.” 
Gotta love it. Straight to the point. The Voice is more about the singing and less about personal drama.

Quick summary and rating for the big four singing shows (according to a non expert but somewhat normal viewer):
American Idol and The X Factor on FOX
These Siamese twins are just too much alike to separate for the purpose of a review.  They audition singers from around the country choosing contestants for the next round.   

Idol typically picks one or two types for the top 12 for the sake of controversy and improved ratings. Remember Sanjaya Malakar? There you go. The judges placed him in the top 12-not the viewers.  The X Factor judges selected a few singers for Boot Camp never heard/briefly heard on stage.  Hardly fair when it comes time for viewers to vote.  Seems like the formula is simple. Emotional backstory=lots of TV time.
Yes, of course both shows feature some true talent.  One of the best to come from American Idol’s loins, Adam Lambert, made it to runner-up status due to viewer votes. Compilation of Adam Lambert’s Idol songs . The best ever performance of Idol in my clouded opinion:

Adam Lambert, runner-up on Season 8 of American Idol.
Slight problem there. He was too controversial for viewers to objectively judge ability to entertain. Who beat him for that year’s title? Right. Lambert has broken all kinds of records with a huge fan base around the world. Yes, I am a groupie. He inspired this blog title, of course.  
Here’s a Carrie Underwood performance to give a little balance. She won the Idol title in Season 4.
And what about the judges for these twin shows?  Shucks. It’s Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell back together again. Been there. Done that.  Found it quite sickening the first time around.  Paula is not quite as flaky. I take that back (validated by hugging/crying with homeless guy and others). Simon isn’t nearly as mean (trying something new). Producer  L.A. Reid adds a little class. Nicole Scherzinger? Sell out. Caver. Left The Sing Off for greener pastures. It is all about pure talent. She is all about the drama. Obviously.

Obviously she was added for more spark, aka drama.  Her ability to drawing attention to herself gave British judge Cheryl Cole de boot to bring in the drama queen the fake accents. Right y’ll? The network said she was too difficult to understand and lacked chemistry with the judges. Sure. Whatever. She wasn’t controversial enough. Bring in the fake twang diva Scherzinger to do that trick.
Paula and Nicole are pushover judges unless Simon really thinks someone is great. Then they roll eyes at each other and vote NO! That’s right ladies. Let one of the best singers go and ship her ass down the road. Too bad for her Simon bragged about her.  Just think, in a few months she can tell her coworkers at McDonald's that the great Simon Cowell liked her.   

Idol judges? Meh. The original dawg, Randy Jackson,  is still around for consistency. Judge Steven Tyler helps draw a generation of rocker groupies into the Idol fold and JLo, well Jennifer Lopez  brings in her own fan base. Add to that the sympathy fans due to recent divorce.  Neither of them really like to be critical of singers.  They are both pretty faces who can sing so that ain’t all that bad. Not great; not horrid.
The Voice on NBC
The Voice initiated a couple refreshing ideas for singing reality shows. They also had a couple big FLOPS. Love the idea of no visual images to select a singer for their teams. You can say people don’t judge by looks but then you’d be a liar.  That part was awesome (not counting homophobia and obvious shock of less-than-model material). 

The really, really stupid? The boxing ring with two people singing the same song competing to continue. DUH. Not a good way to showcase their best qualities or a fair way to pick a winner. Sample of the Battle round:
Teams? Awesome. It was fun to see how the different celebrity’s worked with different singers.  Black Shelton seemed to adopt of couple of his too-shy girls. Kinda cheesy but turned out sincere. Christina is awesome and also thinks she is awesome-evidenced by always, always doing and recommending over-the-top loudness. Adam was also very genuine and helpful ending up with the eventual champ-great singer. Cee Lo let his personality show. His work with singers and his performances were WAY out there. In a good way. Here’s an example. It’s Cee Lo’s production with his finalist Vicci  Martinez:

Oh, and did you know the judges invited their teams to their homes? Imagine that. Here a duet with The Voice Season 1 winner Javier and his coach Maroon 5’s Adam Levine:

As far as the hosts are concerned, Simon can bitch all night long about Ryan Seacrest. It’s basically a jealousy thing due to attention. Seacrest can be a bit full of himself but so what? He does a great job. The X Factor guy? Obviously, Welsh star Steve Jones is  supposed to be “in the background” where Simon wanted Seacrest. We see just enough of him to want to hear more of his accent and take a longer look at his hunky looks. Eye candy. Doesn’t impact show much either way.
Host Carson Daley gives credibility to the show and its concept. As a well known music TV host who constantly reviews music, he brings a great element to the show.

The Sing Off  on NBC
The Sing Off? Truly by far pure talent with real people and real singers.  Some come with their own sob stories but it’s not the focus. Talent is.  Acappella music is difficult. Without all the controversy there isn’t as much to sell a viewing audience. Too bad cuz this show is the real deal.  Check out the recap of season 2 to get an idea of the quality of competition.

Okay,  so it’s not necessarily talent as in Hey I am the next Placido Domingo or  Lady Gaga-type raw talent but they are surprisingly able to find the right key and carry a tune-a task some Idol finalists can’t seem to manage.
Working in a group requires dedication and practice. Besides all the vocal parts, numbers are choreographed requiring extensive rehearsal time.  Some groups members sacrifice their time and/or personal lives for the chance to get to The Sing Off.  The financial reward isn’t nearly as attractive but the title is highly regarded.  It’s all about vocal instruments. Young. Old. Old School. Hip Hop. Diverse. Jazz. Groups adapt songs to fit their genre or adapt their style to spin a song.  Love it.

Committed won Season 2 of The Sing Off.
Judge Ben Folds is incredibly good-as in he knows music and can judge objectively from that platform.  Plus, he is hilarious. Even when he tries to be funny and fall flat, he’s still funny because he doesn’t try to be someone he’s not.  Plus, he doesn’t sugarcoat criticism but he isn’t harsh. If singers cry he didn’t cause it. Shawn Stockman . This former Boys to Men crooner  is a little less critical but still honest.  Singer Sarah Bareilles replaces turncoat Nicole. Both are singers but the difference is Sarah is slightly less ditsy and more into judging from a musical perspective. Her giddiness seems to come from genuine excitement for the performances. She gushes over herself and talks a bit much but she is a fake personality like her predecessor. Hey, she’s not the only one who can be pussy-cattie!
The minus? HOST. Nick Lachay and his pathetic attempts to reference 98 degrees and his career get sickening real fast. But, if you have to trim the budget or cut quality somewhere, better to be the host than the judges.  His cheesiness does distract a bit but he’s doable. To listen to, that is.

Stereotypes of acappella  music lacking dimension is way off.  Many of the groups sound like they are performing with a band.  Check out one of my favorite versions of RadioHead’s Creep. .  Keep in mind it’s all vocal—no instruments allowed. Last year’s runner-up group, Street Corner Symphony, gives an original twist to these lyrics. If you like their sound, Here’s a compilation of their experience on the show.
Season 10 American Idol winner, teen 
country singer Scotty McCreery.
So, let’s summarize.
More people watch the shows with high drama who support humiliating less fortunate people while fewer people watch  singing show due to singing talent. Sounds about right. Aren’t we a motley crue?
Compilation of X Factor good auditions

photos courtesy

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