One Direction. Kelly Clarkson. Fifth Harmony. Leona Lewis.
We can all name a few celebrities off of the top of our heads that have had their lives changed or names made through a national talent show. American Idol, X factor, The Voice. And even noughties shows like Pop Stars: The Rivals which birthed Girls Aloud – one of the UK’s most successful girl-bands. Talent shows have become a force of nature; with virtually every nation adopting them in some form. They have also proven to be very lucrative for broadcasters – one year it was estimated ITV made as much as £100 million from the show’s advertising revenue alone.
Embarrassment and humiliation have always been the name of the game for several talent shows.
From an audience perspective, we experience a clear case of schadenfreude – we can’t help but gain some pleasure from watching people embarrassing themselves on television in the name of gaining fame. ‘Didn’t anyone tell them they don’t sound great?’ you wonder to yourself as you watch. This activity is probably made worse by the fact that this schadenfreude has become a family sport because most talent shows are shown on weekend evenings – which is typically family get together time for many households.
Over time, the talent show format has gotten tired and old. Audiences are still watching them but the appetite for something new and different is growing. So it’s about time broadcasters listen and give us what we want. And perhaps, with the BBC’s new show Little Mix The Search that is finally happening.
Little Mix the Search
Since their X factor win in 2011, Little Mix has enjoyed a number of achievements, and with ‘Little Mix the Search’ they can now proudly add a talent show to that list. The show is currently being broadcast in the evenings on BBC One. Each week so far we’ve seen the girls hold auditions for different types of bands. Altogether they’re looking for six; a Girl dance group, a vocal and instrument group, a boy band, a girl band, rap R&B and a co-ed/mixed-gender group. In the end, the bands will battle it out for the winning spot – of which the prize is to accompany Little Mix on their next tour. Exciting, right?
It’s interesting to see the girls in a different setting, where they have to make difficult decisions with the future of other individuals in their hands. Contrary to other shows where judges often compete against one another to win, the girls freely discuss their views on contestants in an effort to make a unanimous decision. Of course, this doesn’t always happen and sometimes they are divided but the warmth and closeness between them is evident even within this decision process.
Despite not having any talent management experience there is a clear emotional benefit to having the band members as judges. As former talent show contestants who have been through the daunting experience themselves of auditioning, then performing nightly for audience votes – they know a thing or two about what the contestants are feeling at every moment on the show (they are able to empathise. To be fair they constantly remind us of this when talking about certain contestants, with statements such as ‘she reminds me of me’ or ‘don’t they remind you of us’? There is no doubt that this is one of the show’s main selling points. You even see this in the feedback they give which is generally very uplifting and constructive – even when they have to reject a contestant; definitely a far cry from Simon Cowell’s piercing comments or Louis Walsh’s generic; ‘you really made it your own.’ By contrast you hear things like ‘I just want to convince you at (sic) how beautiful you are, because you’re stunning and I really enjoyed that’ band member Leigh-Anne Pinnock said to mixed-race contestant Eden who had mentioned before she sang that when younger she was always insecure about her natural hair.
It is heart-warming to have the emotional warmth in a show since compassion is needed most at times like auditioning which can feel very daunting and intimate all at once for many people. However, it also has its downside since you need to maintain a fair amount of detachment to say ‘no’ to people. But what we see all too often is Little Mix in a mist of indecisiveness at making a decision that seems so absolute.
Simply the best, better than the rest?
Although the show brings something new to the table when it comes to talent shows it is also missing something. A good example would be the non-option to sing a second song. It’s commonly known that an audition song can be the make or break of the audition. It needs to give you room to display your personality but also your talent – in particular your range. Especially if it is your first time auditioning you may not get the song choice right the first time around so that second song option has acted as a lifeline for many contestants who needed it to prove what they were capable of. As judges that come across as very compassionate and kind, it seemed odd that this saving grace wasn’t given to contestants as it could have made all the difference for some individuals who were rejected.
Overall, it would be safe to say that the show definitely offers something different, particularly because contestants are portrayed in an authentic light and empowered. There are no sob stories and small violins to distract us. Neither is there embarrassing moments and snickering comments that could haunt contestants for life. Instead, the focus is on what matters – the ambition, the talent and the people. And that sure is refreshing. Yet, despite that, there is still something missing. Perhaps not all elements of the traditional talent show format need to be scrapped – the second song option is a good example of this. But that being said there is a lot of potential here. The show is only in its first year and is, therefore mouldable – so (if renewed for future seasons) hopefully we’ll see more things added to or amended within the formula over time to fix some of the flaws mentioned.