Has the TV-Made-Pop-Star Era Come to an End?

By May 15, 2014Music

The past decade has seen a major rise in musical talent shows such as American Idol, X Factor, and The Voice. Following the success of these music-based television phenomena, big TV companies such as FOX, ABC and NBC have cashed in to join the frenzy and have produced big hit musical dramas like Glee, Nashville and Smash. But, according to a recent post by the New York Times, there has been a major plummet in ratings, suggesting that more and more people are losing interest, rendering these musical TV sensations into has-beens, and bringing an end to the TV-made pop star era.

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It all began with the notorious Simon Cowell, television producer/talent judge/A&R executive/owner of music publishing and television production house Syco, known for his blunt criticisms directed at the talented or talentless abilities of contestants. Pop Idol came first. Launched in 2001, the show triumphed. Will Young and Gareth Gates, the top two winning contestants of the first series, immediately came out with number one singles in the UK. Once Pop Idol rose to the heights of the highest success, expanded into an international TV franchise, and adopted the name Idol, Cowell created the X Factor franchise (2004) under Syco and has since discovered the likes of Olly Murs, Leona Lewis, JLS, Cher Lloyd, Little Mix and One Direction.

Olly Murs – Dance with Me Tonight (Play this video in Creation 5)

Cher Llyod – Sirens (Play this video in Creation 5)

Syco also produced America’s Got Talent (2005) and Britain’s Got Talent (2007), the show in which Cowell discovered the astonishing Susan Boyle, who debuted as the number one global best-selling album of 2009. Meanwhile, American Idol, created by Simon Fuller, began airing on FOX in 2002, becoming one of the most popular shows in the history of American television, and known for having launched the careers of international superstar Kelly Clarkson and country music star Carrie Underwood. In 2011, along came another competition called The Voice, based on the Dutch show The Voice of Holland (2010). To this date, in both the UK and the US, judges have failed to discover or create the next big star.

Susan Boyle – first audition Britain’s Got Talent (Play this video in Creation 5)

In 10 years we’ve seen small town girls and boys with big dreams soar into global stars. However, after a decade of star-searching competitions, can we only name enough acts to count on one hand? While Clarkson and Underwood both went on to sell over 13 million albums and have a net worth of $29 million and $70 million, respectively, Leona Lewis has gone on to sell over 20 million records worldwide and has a net worth of $19 million, and One Direction have sold over 12 million records and have an estimated net worth of $30 million. These guys are the only ones to have really made it to the big leagues on the world stage, and are playing hardball as they continue to hold spots in the top charts. However, what happened to the others? They seem to have disappeared from the spotlight.


While the number of viewers watching American Idol has massively dropped, with the latest episode attracting seven million viewers, compared to the 30 million it seduced in previous years, both US and UK series of The Voice, which is the strongest performing show of the lot, and the X Factor, have seen a similar drop in ratings. Richard Rushfield, author of American Idol: The Untold Story says: “in terms of a general pop star, we haven’t seen one of those come out of a (U.S.) show for a while now”. With regards to American Idol, Simon Cowell confirms in an interview with the Times: “the last true breakout artist we had was Carrie Underwood on Idol. That was eight years ago”.


This begs the question: why the sudden drop in ratings? Have we run out of talent or have we simply lost patience and interest? The public is looking for longevity in the careers of the musicians it votes for. The problem is that we’re not getting it and TV singing shows are failing to create new stars. Today, the market is filled with fleeting acts that make it big one day, but disappear the next. Perhaps we’ve simply had enough. According to Simon Cowell, these shows “have flooded the market” and “something has simply gone awry”.

In an interview with Conan O’Brien, Sharon Osbourne, ex-X Factor judge, has a lot to say regarding the X Factor and other singing shows. One thing is clear; Mrs Osbourne is fed up all right!

Sharon Osbourne Is Fed Up With Talent Reality Shows (Play this video in Creation 5)

And what about music television in other forms, such as TV dramas?

Fox’s musical comedy-drama television series, Glee, was launched in 2009 and has sold over 36 million digital singles and 11 million albums worldwide. The show’s pilot episode averaged 9.62 million viewers, had a following of 12.45 million during its season 2 premier, was the fourth highest revenue earning show of 2012, and ran strong for 4 seasons, until the ratings plummeted in season 5, and averaged 2.3 million viewers in March 2014, hitting its all time low. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox will be dropping the final two episodes of Glee season 5 due to poor ratings. What does the future hold for season 6?

ABC’s musical drama Nashville, launched in 2012, had over 8.93 million viewers watch season one’s premier. However, season two saw its ratings fall to an average 4.5 million views. It was rumoured that ABC was to pull the plug on Callie Khouri’s country music show, but, on May 9th, despite low ratings, ABC announced that the show, starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, was to continue. Nashville has officially been renewed for a third season.


Unfortunately, NBC’s Broadway drama, Smash, also launched in 2012, didn’t make it very far and was cancelled after two seasons for the same reasons – poor ratings.

So what’s the verdict? Should we be saying goodbye to the days of the TV-made pop star and musical television drama series?

The answer is “yes”. An article in Rolling Stone quotes an off-the-record conversation between a production exec and the Times, explaining that “record companies have moved past the notion that they could break artists from these shows”. Indeed, it’s time for something new to rise from the ashes of this “pop-star factory”. It’s about time we return to the good old days, where a concoction of talent, hard work, determination and a few lucky breaks is what determines the fates of our artists. As for music-based TV dramas, well, perhaps it is time to move on, but there will always be room for new TV series… that’s a given. Their lifespan is programmed to come and go. Their nature is ephemeral.


Yet, despite their ebbing futures, ABC has plans to not only launch a new talent contest called Rising Star; it also has plans to produce Galavalant, a new musical comedy, whose soundtrack will be written by Disney composer Alan Menken. Vis-à-vis Simon Cowell, he simply can’t help himself. Only two days ago, Cowell announced he is to launch a new TV show called La Banda, to create “the next Latino boyband”. Clearly, he’s looking in yet “another direction”.


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