Many a career has been undeniably boosted by reality talent contests like America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and the Voice. The ensuing attention and record sales are attractive. What singer wouldn’t want a piece of that?
With American Idol gone – although there is talk of its return – The Voice has become the contest many of my students dream of (as I write this, I have a student planning her final lesson with me this week before flying to Louisiana for her audition). I think they prefer it to American Idol because of the mentoring role that the judges take on. I prefer it because it’s a much more positive show than Idol, which reveled in displaying embarrassing first auditions and insulting follow-up critiques. There was no real value in Simon Cowell’s demeaning comments, except for in television ratings. As a vocal coach, I vehemently disliked his judging.
I worry sometimes about how many of my students set the Voice as their primary motivation. There’s nothing wrong with it, in a general sense. Planning an audition sets a clear goal with a deadline, and that’s always helpful for progress. And the audition itself is a great experience. My concern is that there’s an unspoken idea out there that the Voice is much more important than it actually is – as if making it onto that stage, or not, says something about a singer’s ability to become a career performer.
So, I thought I’d take a moment to share my thoughts on shows like the Voice. This isn’t to talk anyone out of auditioning but to level the perspective on how important these shows are. So, here are some things to think about if you’re considering a Voice audition.
The Voice (and others like it) is a reality show first and foremost.
Yes, it’s a singing competition, but’s a reality show FIRST. For example, if many twenty-somethings have been chosen to move on in the competition, and you’re a great twenty-something singer, they may pass you up because they want more older contestants. Your ability to sing is only one factor in consideration. How you fit their producing needs is another, sometimes more important factor.
The Voice represents a “box” for singers to fit inside.
The Voice has more variety of styles and performers than Idol did, no doubt about it. But it still holds itself to a certain ideal – a top-ten commercial pop ideal – that is only one type of singing. If you write your own songs, or do your own take on covers, or you want to start a Beatles tribute band, fitting into that ideal isn’t a requirement. Think about performers like Norah Jones, Ellie Goulding, and Lorde. They’ve made careers out of singing, even without Christina Aguilera runs.
Successful careers are rarely fast-tracked.
Many of the folks who do well on the Voice have already gathered lots of experience performing. There’s no shortcut for this. If you’ve never sung in front of an audience (other than your drunk friends during Karaoke night), you’re not ready for the Voice no matter how talented you may be. These shows give the impression that people are working at Walmart one day and then magically become singing stars the next. Reality doesn’t work that way. Having talent is only the first step. Working to shape that talent is the next requirement. The other singers auditioning already have!
You don’t need the Voice.
In this airbrushed, auto-tuned world we live in, fame and fortune are idolized. The attention that “normal” people get on these shows feels validating in our imagination. But there are SO many other ways to reach for your singing dreams. If you want to go for it, go for it! But don’t for one minute think it’s your only choice, or even your best choice.
Remove your fame-goggles and take an honest look at your life.
There are so many ways to be a singer and performer. You can have a full-time job and gig with a band on evenings and weekends. You can form a full-time function band. You can be a studio musician while growing an online presence with videos of your originals. What fits you best? What works for the quality of life (relationships, responsibilities) that you need and want? Counting on the Voice to make your career is a little like planning for retirement by playing the lottery. Some people win, but most of us work jobs until we’re old. What’s the balance you want in your life as you go for your dreams? And after you reach them?