Why “Talent Shows” can hurt our artists more than they help

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BY: Jodee Brown

Magnum Kings and Queens reduced to mainstream peasants, Rising Stars fading away not long after shining high above their competitors, people following the Tastee Talent Trail getting lost on their path to greater successes.

These have been the all-too-familiar themes with artists graduating from Jamaica’s most popular talent shows, looking to take that next level into stardom. While it must be acknowledged that these outlets have undoubtedly helped bring acclaim otherwise anonymous careers, helping them to get closer the brink of realizing their potential, it can be argued that these weekly shows designed to help properly push artists into the spotlight are inadvertently pulling them away from the heights they hope to achieve.

Magnum Kings and Queens is arguably Jamaica’s most popular talent show at the moment, headed by its superstar judges, Cordel ‘Skatta’ Burrell, Professor Nuts, Khadine ‘Miss Kitty’ Hylton and show host, Yanique Barrett, who, like a lot of artists who audition for the show was a relative novice herself. You could argue the self-professed ‘Curvaceous Diva’ is the biggest star the show has ever produced in terms of mainstream appeal and success considering none of the 14 winners of MKQ have gone on to earth-shattering success following the show.

The most prominent of the bunch have been current JCDC Festival song winner, Deep Jahi, season six winner, Jonnah and Baby Tash, the first diva to win back in 2008 and while each of them have earned a modicum of success and possess capabilities of greater things, each of them still find themselves yearning for the acclaim they strove to achieve when entering the competition in the first place. Other past winners such as Hurricane, Singer Jah, Press Fyah and Nioma have largely been absent from the spotlight since and in some cases, like former winner Poor and Boasy, when they do garner media attention, it’s not necessarily for the reasons we hoped.

Anytime someone brings up Digicel Rising Stars, Christopher Martin and Romain Virgo and to a lesser extent, Shuga are names brought up when talking about the competition, and still are considering since the latter won in 2009, few remember the names of the competition winners since. Even fewer can tell you who have won Tastee Talent Trail since Nadine Sutherland won the competition’s inception in 1979. Just look on the winners list and see if you even have heard of one of these names.

Winning any talent show is certainly a blessing in terms of the musical and financial benefit garnered from earning such status. But on the journey to said status, you’re basically exposed. Particularly on MKQ, where week after week, artists are asked to sing their own material in the hopes of winning approval from the crowd and judges just to advance, one’s entire catalogue can be put out there just for the sake of winning the million dollar prize, thus leaving their proverbial think tanks with little fuel. Once it’s all said and done, expectations attached to any post-show material that comes out are sky-high given how good their songs performed on the show were to get them that fans. In fact, it’s somewhat better if you don’t win, like in the cases of Beenie Man, King Yellow Man, T.O.K and more recently, Laden, Specialist and Jah Bouks where they don’t have the burden of winning on their backs, thus reducing expectation once having moved on from these shows and garnering as many, if not more plaudits for original material after the fact.

Furthermore, once these artists have conquered their battles on these respective shows, they are basically like college students; graduating with honours and left to fend for themselves in the real world, and as well all know, the real (music) world is a cutthroat industry. Despite the advice judges provide show by show, one can help but wonder if said judges and their connections within the entertainment world can do further to prepare these winners for the pros and cons of the industry; providing outlets train them further to help them fine tune their vocals or lyrical content for the bigger stages and so on because even after the fact, a lot of these winning contestants are still far from the finished article as musicians.

Even in the case of our most celebrated talent show winner, Tessanne Chin, who won season five of The Voice, you also have to wonder whether her run on the show did her more harm than good. Undoubtedly, without this international platform and the coaching she received from award-winning musician, Adam Levine, she would still be the same highly underrated, rarely acknowledged songstress she was prior to her journey last fall. It changed her career for the better as people finally got to see the God-given ability and excellence most of us knew she possessed.

On the contrary, you do wonder if that exposure was just as much of a hindrance as it was help solely due to the fact Chin’s major label debut album, Count on My Love failed to connect in the way most were hoping. While blame should be assigned to the label’s seemingly modest promotion of her record (Walmart? Really?), and the fact it offered a change of pace from what we saw from her week by week on the Voice stage, once people got a dose of her unique ‘yard-flavour’ mixed with tastes of rock, pop and soul on the show – few Jamaican artists fuse genres better than her – people were hungry for more of the same. Once you use a particular formula to win a talent competition, music lovers will logically want you to continue using that formula at the next level to greater success and will feel let down if otherwise. More times than not, it does not work like that, either because said formula will eventually run its course with the public eventually or, in her case, the artist decides to switch it up a bit in an attempt to reach a new audience. It’s a can’t win situation regardless.

Now of course, these points are being made excluding other mitigating factors: What the personal situation of the winner is, personal desire or motivation to make it big in the industry, assembling the right team to work with. All of those things are certainly important. But once you are on a talent show, there’s no hiding, no ‘out of nowhere’ stories and your life’s work is pretty much being judged on the spot, thus regardless of whether an artist wins, that artist’s confidence will either soar or be shattered depending on how they were rated by the judges and patrons who watched on.

Without question, talent shows have served a great purpose. But just Jay-Z’s album, once your blueprint is out there for the world to see, such an outlet can be a gift and a curse all in one.


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