"The X Factor" judges from last season are, from left, L.A. Reid,… (Ray Mickshaw, Fox )
If you've managed to keep up with the array of singing competitions on the air without succumbing to exhaustion, kudos. With "American Idol," "The Voice," "The X Factor," "America's Got Talent," "Duets" and more, there's no shortage of series vying for ratings and votes for their would-be superstars.
With revamped seasons of "The Voice" — Usher and Shakira are subbing for Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera — and "Idol" underway (expect a reboot for "The X Factor" this fall following the departure of half of its judges) it prompts a question: Is changing the celebrity cast enough to revitalize these shows?
Our vote is no. But fear not, we've come up with some quick fixes that could make the most popular franchises — "American Idol," "The Voice," "The X Factor" — more enjoyable for viewers at home. And maybe even push winners toward stronger, more relevant careers once the show ends.
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Sweeten the prize. These franchises love to tout their rewards, be it a $5-million cash prize or a record contract. But, in a time when indie acts are making big splashes in the industry with innovative DIY methods, it's time for shows to up the ante and offer prizes that justify being on-air for up to six hours a week. As "X Factor" and "The Voice" have already proved, scoring a deal doesn't translate to success. How about a prize package that includes an opening slot for one of the show's superstar judges on tour? Or a lucrative publishing deal? Or even A-list representation?
Focus less on the judges. We get it, tapping Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, Steven Tyler, Nicki Minaj, Usher, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez or Shakira adds credibility and star power. However, once the show fires up, let's pull back on the star adoration and try to focus on the contestants. Play up the expertise the judges bring to the table instead of just their celebrity. How awesome would it be if more camera time was lent to the judges delivering sound criticism rather than showing montages of contestants fawning over them?
Tap more record men. The smartest thing "Idol" did was enlist Jimmy Iovine as an in-house mentor during a 2010 reboot. The last two winners under his tutelage have already eclipsed recent predecessors. "X Factor" had Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid at the table, but their competitive spirit took precedence to mentoring contestants who weren't on their team. It should be a prerequisite to have the label head who signs the winner as part of the show, but in a capacity that benefits all the finalists.
Let the music count. "American Idol," "The Voice" and "The X Factor" go out of their way to let fans know their favorite contestant's performance can be purchased on iTunes. However, only one show counts the song purchase as a vote. These franchises are ultimately about producing a viable recording artist. What better vote of confidence can viewers show from their sofa than saying this contestant was so good I'll buy his or her cover of Elton John for $1.29 as opposed to just texting or calling some 1-800 number? The real coup for contestants is having the public buy their music now, which would allow producers to tally the purchases each week and show contestants where they stand on the "chart." Think that's too harsh of a measure? Well, millions voted for Lee DeWyze to win "Idol" in 2010, but only 39,000 folks actually bothered to buy his album the week it was released.
Dial down the train wrecks. Yes, watching a dozen or so talentless individuals screw up the lyrics to "Bohemian Rhapsody" is often good for a laugh. But the amount of airtime given to the train wrecks has become cruel — especially when you consider the pre-screening these shows do. Let's stop giving the attention-seeking wannabes face time with the judges and reserve that for contestants who can actually carry a tune. Besides, the shows could milk another hour, or two, out of viewers later with a "Best of the Worst" clip show after the audition round is over.
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