Published on August 27th, 2012 | by Hunter Schwarz0
The Reality Singing Competition Diva Arms Race: Why Search For A Superstar When You Already Have One?
The average American might have trouble naming a winner from the past five seasons of American Idol, but at least they’ll be familiar with the judges. According to Us Weekly, Nicki Minaj is currently being considered to join the judging panel on Idol alongside Mariah Carey when season 12 begins in January. It would be the latest acquisition in the reality singing competition diva arms race that’s costing the shows millions to lure high-profile pop stars into second jobs to drive up ratings.
There’s no doubt the shows’ judges know what it takes to be a star. Between Carey, X Factor’s Britney Spears and The Voice’s Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine of Maroon 5, reality singing competition judges have a combined 29 No. 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. The show’s contestants haven’t fared as well, only producing seven (and three of them are from the inaugural Idol, Kelly Clarkson).
What began as a search for the next superstar has become a platform for music industry veterans to relaunch or burnish their careers, but could seasoned musicians also help revitalize the shows and find bonafide, chart-topping pop stars?
When the first season of Idol aired in 2002, Paula Abdul had long since hung up the microphone. It had been more than a decade since her last No. 1 hit, and she hadn’t released an album in seven years. It didn’t seem that Abdul had any intention of recording again. Although she did record two charting songs toward the end of her time as judge — including “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” a song from Randy Jackson’s Music Club compilation album that reached No. 62 — she seemed content to judge.
When Jennifer Lopez joined Idol nine years later, however, she was more earnest in using her new platform to reignite her recording career. Prior to her stint as Idol judge, several of her singles failed to chart, and more people talked about her fall off a human pyramid during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards than the actual song she was performing. After two seasons on Idol, however, she was back on top with “On The Floor” becoming her biggest hit in years.
“For the first eight seasons, you could have someone who wasn’t a household name,” said Fred Bronson, author and chart columnist. “Once you got Ellen on, the stakes were up … They keep going for bigger names. You have to go bigger.”
Bronson said landing a role judging these shows can help a recording artist’s career.
“Being on these shows absolutely raises your profile,” he said. “Just being on television helps to sell records.”
Mariah Carey, second to only the Beatles in amount of No. 1 hits, has only managed a single top ten hit since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, and Christina Aguilera’s last album failed to go platinum. Although Britney Spears is coming off a largely successful record (her first to spin off three consecutive top ten hits), her time on X Factor could be helpful in further rehabilitating her image, bringing her into the living rooms of people who haven’t heard much about her since she disappeared from the front page of every tabloid at supermarket check-out stands circa 2008. No matter the ups and downs of a recording artist’s career, they all stand to improve their chart fortunes with their heightened visibility.
But the shows are still about searching for the next superstar, Bronson said.
“The success of the shows doesn’t rely on the judges, it relies on the contestants.”
And although the newest judges don’t have the experience sifting through contestants the way Simon Cowell does, they’ll know what they’re doing. Bronson, who has previously judged Country Music Television’s Next Superstar, said after years of watching these shows, he instinctually knew what to do, and the new judges will too.
“I kind of knew how to do it because I’ve been watching it forever,” he said. “Certainly, Mariah will have a lot to say.” ♦ ♦ ♦
Hunter Schwarz graduated from BYU in journalism. He is the editor of the Student Review, an off-campus alternative newspaper in Provo, UT. You can follow on Twitter at @hunterschwarz.