TV talent shows – The rise and fall of a pop star
TV talent shows like Star Search, Pop Idol and X Factor have become a permanent feature of the TV schedules. For many young people, they seem to offer the fastest route to success in the music business. But what has become of the stars from the last few years?
People dreaming of a career as a pop star now often use one of the TV talent shows as a springboard into the music business. The format promises a rapid rise to wealth and success: before you know it, you’ll have crowds of fans screaming for you; you’re better known than some politicians, and doors open for you. At least, that’s the theory, but how does it really feel to take part in – and perhaps even win – a TV talent show? What is the flip-side? And what happens afterwards?
Programmes like Popstars, Deutschland sucht den Superstar (‘DSDS’ for short), The Voice of Germany, X Factor, and Germany’s contest to find its Eurovision entrant are just a few of the many talent shows that appear on German television alone and attract audiences of thousands. Most of these shows, such as DSDS or X Factor, follow an international format and are also screened in many other countries. For instance, you can watch El Factor X in Colombia or NZ Idol in New Zealand; in Hungary, you can become the next ‘Megasztár’ and, in Austria, even the next ‘hero of tomorrow’(Held von Morgen).
But while talent contests have probably been around as long as human beings have been on the planet, it’s only in the last few years that they have become so big on television. They show us people – often very young – with a greater or lesser talent for singing who all want the same thing: to become rich and famous. These individuals, who just the day before were entirely unknown, Mr or Ms Average, suddenly appear in front of expert judges and huge audiences, to show us they’ve got what it takes to be a pop star.
Maybe you know someone who’s taken part in a TV talent show, or who applied to take part? Or perhaps you’ve even taken part in one yourself? Tell us your opinion about TV talent shows in the Community, in the KULTUR – CULTURE group.
Of course, it’s never simply a question of who has the best or most unusual voice. Rather it’s about how the supposed pop stars of tomorrow are sucked in overnight to a giant marketing machine, with interviews, background reports, styling and coaching sessions, and appearances in limousines and on red carpets. In the blink of an eye, they start to feel as if they’ve made their break into the music business, the equals of Madonna or Robbie Williams. Yet they also need phenomenal levels of self-discipline and willingness to compromise, since the people who most often succeed in this area of the music business are those whom promoters find most flexible or most appealing, those for whom the producers already have a suitable hit song waiting in a desk drawer, and those blessed with nerves of steel.
The roar of the crowd or deathly silence: What comes after the TV talent show?
But what actually happens when you make it? What becomes of the winners of the TV talent shows? In most cases in Germany, where it’s been possible to follow up the story, all the hype, not to mention the success, was over soon after the show. Of the former winners, a few manage to stay active in the music business. Take Alexander Klaws, for example: since winning the first series of Germany’s DSDS in 2003, he has changed managers and musical style several times, he’s appeared in musicals and he’s now trying his luck as a crooner.
For many others, however, the dream of stardom dissolved soon after the talent show ended. Elisabeth Erl, for instance, who as ‘Elli’ won the 2004 series of DSDS, actually founded her own record label but now earns her living mainly as a teacher. Meanwhile, Lena Meyer-Landrut, winner of the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest, seemed to be everywhere in Germany for a while, with concerts, advertising deals and TV appearances. Today, though, hardly anyone talks about her any more, and if you visit her website for current concert dates, you’ll be disappointed.
There’s no business like show business
From the very first rounds, judges like singer Dieter Bohlen remind the candidates relentlessly how difficult it is to succeed in the music business, and how hard the competition can be. They also, though, use this as an excuse to strain contestants’ nerves, pausing agonisingly before announcing the voting results, or exposing and taunting the less talented participants. And that, of course, sends the viewing figures up.
How difficult it is even for – or perhaps especially for – the winners to reorient themselves and chart their own course after the usually brief excursion into pop stardom is charted by the flood of new books that give an academic analysis of the phenomenon of TV talent shows or in which former contestants report on their experiences as a way of getting even with the industry. One such book by Martin Kesici and Markus Grimm, who won Star Search and Popstars respectively, is entitled Sex, Drugs & Castingshows and promises to ‘reveal all’ about popular TV talent shows.’ In the first pages of the book, Kesici reveals that he ‘never wanted to become a pop star. Or if I did, then I wanted to be a ROCK star!’
What TV talent shows are there in your country, and which of them do you watch? Do you know what has happened to the winners? Are they ’still a success in the music business today? Tell everyone in the community group KULTUR –CULTURE about the stars in your home country, and let us know what you think of TV talent shows!