This parody video doing the rounds of the Internet recently featuring John Lennon singing his 1971 hit, Imagine to a bored and unsympathetic panel of judges on The Voice (U.S.) pretty much sums up many people’s opinion of talent shows and the talent, or lack thereof, that they ‘discover’.
Music purists declare the contestants to be manufactured, products of commercially-focused and image-conscious Television Producers. Foo Fighter‘s Dave Grohl aired his strong feelings about reality TV talent shows to NME saying that the shows homogenise music so that “everyone sounds like fucking Christina Aguilera.”
Now, I don’t honestly know what fucking Christina Aguilera sounds like (no desire to find out either!), but if it sounds anything like the artists unearthed by these shows, television audiences and music consumers alike, absolutely love it!
Channel 9′s version of The Voice here in Australia was a massive ratings success, pulling around 2million viewers at its peak. Viewers registered their votes by opening their wallets and purchasing tracks from the show, sending contestants to the top of the iTunes charts. But does this new TV phenomenon really make any difference to the quality of the music we hear?
When Australia’s Got Talent was dropped by Channel 7 it was quickly picked up by Channel 9 and all-singing, all-dancing pop sensation, Timomatic, himself a reality show contestant, was included on the judging panel. He, not surprisingly, disagrees with Grohl.
“Each to their own. I think there are people that have come from talent shows that are just products and nothing more than that and also there are people like myself who have come off talent shows already having a strong identity of who they are and a strong work ethic and a strong foundation musically of what they want to sound like; that have the talent and the ability to go the whole nine yards. So, I think each to their own, I can understand how people can say that, but I think to generalise it is, you know, another thing in itself.”
Certainly contestants on our most recent season of The Voice showed us that they can indeed bring their own style and interpretation to popular music. Not all, but some. Contestants like Danny Ross and Kiyomi Vella undoubtedly brought their own unique styles to the songs they performed, despite the fact the fact they didn’t write or even choose those songs themselves.
Timomatic believes that if you stay true to yourself, it is possible to avoid the stereotype. “I think it’s just a different way of doing it,” he says. “I don’t think it’s less credible or more credible, it’s just different and I think people are quick to forget that a lot of the major artists that have come in our generation, in pop music in general, have come from talent shows. The Jackson Five were on a talent show; a lot of people, amazing people, have had to prove themselves, and I think it’s a very natural thing, I think there’s no correct formula and to do the hard slog, or whatever people want to call it, I don’t think it’s necessary, I just think it’s got to be organic and real to what you want to do.”
Performing is what Timomatic has wanted to do since he first saw Michael Jackson on TV and he’s worked towards that goal since he was 15 or 16 years old, preparing to make the most of each opportunity. A self-trained dancer, Timomatic majored in vocal training at music school to get his vocals up to scratch and since taking the opportunity to launch his own career on TV, has gone on to release several platinum selling singles and a highly successful album. He sees the show as just another vehicle, another opportunity to get noticed in a highly competitive market.
“I think reality TV shows do well in getting you exposure, but they do nothing for sustaining a lifestyle and growing, so I think that, yes, it’s a quick way to get out there in the public, but the rest is really up to you because there’s a lot of winners of competitions and contestants, who have done nothing afterwards and I think that the missing link is that you’ve got to really take the initiative and it takes a lot of bloody hard work to sustain.”
Artists like John Lennon may not have had the opportunity to launch their careers on reality TV shows or on YouTube, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the judges wouldn’t recognise talent when they heard it. It also doesn’t mean that they would never have been recognised for their hard work in today’s ultra-competitive market.
Sure, Dave Grohl can rant that the judges wouldn’t know talent when they saw it and video-makers can comment on the supposedly sad state of the music industry, but nobody is forcing anybody to watch the shows or buy the records.
Just as nobody is forcing anybody to stop creating or consuming great Independent music and talent that wouldn’t be seen dead on a reality show.
Timomatic’s latest single, Parachute is available now.