Talent. Charisma. Heart. Passion. Star Power. The qualities most judges look for in the contestants of the many singing competitions that have aired on television. The concepts and judges vary based on the show, and the ideal goal is to be the last one standing and win the grand prize of either money or a recording contract. The more realistic goal in this day and age: to make enough of an impression on viewers, create a fan base, and hopefully get the attention of a record label that otherwise would have turned a blind eye.
After all, the winning title doesn’t actually guarantee success or mainstream popularity. Since reality competition shows have been on television, there are probably only a handful of the winners we can actually name, and of those, it wouldn’t be wrong to mix one up with the Destiny Childs and Jennifer Hudsons of the world — those breakout stars that were humbled by losses that would later catapult them to success. Those that “Cardi B’d” their competition like the female rapper did the Love and Hip Hop franchise, if you will.
Even with the many reiterations of these kinds of shows, singing competitions have continuously managed to entertain us with talent, possibly because of their ability to distract us from reality, get us invested in the contestants, and potentially provide us with similar bragging rights to the ones we still use when referring to Obama’s victory in the 2008/2012 elections.
Despite still being on air, it’d be remiss not to mention the decline in ratings that resulted in the once phenomenon American Idol from being taken off air (they have since decided to bring the show back) and that brought total viewers of The Voice’s 13th season premiere down 10% since its very first episode aired in 2011.(It was the lowest ratings for a season premiere that the show has seen since its inception).
The lack of interest doesn’t seem to stop there. Many similar themed shows have since premiered, putting spins on the concept either with the generalization of overall talent, as in America’s Got Talent, a process that requires singing in duets like in Duets, the search for a group as in the Making the Band franchise and most recently Kelly Rowland’s Chasing Destiny, or the specification of a star in a particular genre, like in Nashville Star. It’s been difficult, however, for some to gain the same amount of traction as did American Idol and The Voice.
With discouraging ratings that might be due to a lack of interest or the overused theme, how then will The Four: Battle for Stardom, the newest singing competition fare against its predecessors?
After months of promotion via Diddy and DJ Khaled’s Snapchat and Insta-story, The Four aired January 4th on American Idol’s home network, FOX. Bringing an exciting twist to singing competitions as we know, contestants auditioning for the show are tasked with the pressure of impressing the judges enough to receive the four rings/yeses that would allow them to challenge and battle any of the four singers in the seats, the very first four being contestants that were personally chosen by the panel of celebrity judges. These aspiring artists, whom are meant to reflect the different genres and diversity in music, then perform their song of choice. The live audience votes for their desired winner, and the person with the most votes is safe for the remainder of the night. At the end of six weeks, the final four battle for the grand prize of being named iHeartRadio’s “On the Verge” artist and will receive a recording contract with Republic Records, through Universal Music.
In the first episode, two positions were taken, two were secured. In the second episode, the remaining two of the original four contestants also lost their seats. It is this level of excitement that keeps you on edge as you watch with no indication of the next person to be eliminated. The format of the show, ironically, mimics a practice Diddy had already been known for, particularly in Making the Band 4 when he threatened Day 26’s security with equally talented male singers who were willing to take their spots.
The idea of celebrity judges can work in their favor. While it failed on the 12th season of American Idol (Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey feud), the success it brought to The Voice has had critics questioning whether the show may be more beneficial to the coaches than it is for the actual winners of each season. Unlike The Voice, the celebrity judges are more than just four eclectic voices in today’s music industry, but rather a mix from different eyes and ears one would encounter in the music business: a singer/songwriter (Meghan Trainor), a super producer (DJ Khaled), a mogul (Diddy), and most importantly, a record executive (Charlie Walk).
Neither of the judges are known to be the Simon Cowell, in terms of delivering a blunt opinion of each performance. Instead, that honesty is seen in all of the judges, whose visions and different tastes in music either result in a passionate argument for or against certain contestants. The idea that one is not playing a certain role and in fact going off emotion adds authenticity, and watching the smack talk between challengers and the seated four, with occasional outbursts from the judges further adds to the excitement level on this show. It doesn’t hurt that the beautiful Fergie is the host either.
The Four has all the ingredients to be a great show, but whether it will stand the test of time is something that we’ll have to wait and see.