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home : opinions : columns   July 23, 2016

6/23/2014 9:06:00 AM
Column: Reality TV talent show travesty

Craig Sterrett

Some of the worst reality shows accomplish greatness. It’s not the nasty, scheming strategies of the competitors in the “real-life” situations, most of which are skit-like set-ups. And it’s not the occasional pathetic comedy of some of the participants’ stupid acts in unreal situations created by the TV show producers.

What some of the bad shows on formerly minor networks accomplish is helping to raise advertising revenue to help pay for some fantastic drama, mystery and cop shows on channels that realize people actually want to watch cop shows and mysteries. My examples are recent series including “Longmire,” “The Bridge” and “Fargo” — all of which have too sharp of edges to be family fare.

As for the former “big three” networks, I know “The Amazing Race” is an interesting show, a competition in global travel into the unknown. And even though I tell people I don’t watch reality shows, I have to confess to being a former watcher of “Cheaters” and for the past two years of “The Voice.”

I think “The Voice” is decent entertainment, like a variety show with unknowns doing all the work. The past three seasons, the singers’ talent show has shown the public some great singers, although they don’t always make it to the finals. (The “public” gets to weigh in on the vote via cell phone, text and Twitter, which doesn’t bode well for the competitors who are starting to find a gray hair every now and then.)

But “The Voice” is terribly flawed.

I don’t think Adam Levine, People magazine’s “sexiest” and star and lead of the hit-making group Maroon 5 could ever make the top four in “The Voice” competition, if he were one of the unknowns. A judge one week would say he occasionally sounded flat in a high register or make some other sort of remark, unwittingly sowing the seeds of his elimination. And, Levine’s strength is singing high notes.

“The Voice” also drags out the competition to get the maximum bang for its buck out of the eager singers. Shameful, isn’t it?

Oh, I’m sure a few of the non-winners will make records and do some ads. They should be able to ride the wave of popularity for a year and get some gigs, if they have a band.

But the biggest problem with “The Voice” is it’s a bunch of competitors singing cover tunes.

Yes, the judges ooh and ahh and congratulate the singers when they rearrange somebody else’s song and “make it their own.” Um, no: It’s somebody else’s song.

What would be more realistic is a reality show where people with, and perhaps without, talent come to auditions and then the tournament-like shows while playing their own music.

That means they either would have written, or at least brought with them, a new tune, new song and maybe even new sound. In that case, a popular vote by people on Twitter or via text, aka teens and young adults, would be fine, because traditionally they’ve been the ones who determine who is going to be popular. So, let them vote on people playing their own music.

That’s a process in the music industry I’d love to witness — if the judges (and people commenting on Facebook and Twitter) could avoid being cruel.

As it is now, when you watch “The Voice,” you are not seeing the next Shakira or even the next Blake Shelton. You’d never see Tracy Chapman — Boston street musician who was discovered, late 1980s — yep, I’m dating myself. You’re seeing people who may well have written their own music and songs, but they get on the show and advance with O.P.S. (Other People’s Stuff.)

By the way, I liked the kid two seasons ago, because at least she could play a guitar.

Want to read some stronger opinions?

Look up what Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) has to say about TV talent shows. He’s of the belief that great music is created by a bunch of passionate people who get together in a garage or basement, practice, sound terrible, keep working and eventually start to find their own sound.

Of course, some of his tirades aren’t fit for a family newspaper, so surf for yourself and at your own discretion.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or

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