It's the ultimate lie. Fans of singing competition programs know it. We've all heard it. It's the lie the judges tell the contestants, at their most vulnerable (elimination) and when they need to hear something positive the most: "your journey does not end here. We'll be hearing more from you for years to come!" There is no greater lie on television today than this one.
This season on The X Factor, Britney Spears has broke out the ultimate lie on multiple occasions. She's a repeat offender. Why? Because she doesn't know how to be critical. And this lie isn't just told to runners-up or third place finishers. People in a pool of fifty are told this. How is it possible that so many are going to make it? Especially when the winners of these shows, more often than not, bomb on their initial outings and are subsequently dropped from their record labels. For every Carrie Underwood, there's a Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Lee DeWyze and Fantasia Barrino.
Sure, some of these people pop up from time to time, but to suggest they are anywhere near the creme de la creme is preposterous. Taylor Hicks didn't win hoping to land a spot on a trashy dating show in the summertime on FOX. Fantasia Barrino didn't win to land her own short-lived reality show. Lee DeWyze didn't win to perform on American Idol one year later. Wow, you performed on and won American Idol, and your big payoff? You get to perform on there. Again. Next year. And immediately fade into obscurity.
Look at Carly Rae Jepsen. She placed third on Canadian Idol's fifth season. Her post-win album garnered below-average sales, even by Canadian standards. She performed here and there, but nothing major. It wasn't until a chance hit song struck it rich all over the world that Jepsen made it big. We actually heard her name long after she was on Canadian Idol. And just how many people know she got her start there? Most know her as the girl that Justin Bieber made. She is one in a million. Other past Idol contestants? Where are they? Occasionally one will pop up in People Magazine, doing something completely opposite to music. More often than not, they fade away.\
So why does the ultimate lie keep going? People aren't stupid. Fame is unobtainable. The chances of making it are next to none. These aren't cynical views, these are real-world views. Everyone wants to live the Hollywood life. But only so many get there. And even fewer people make it there via American Idol, The X Factor or The Voice. There is a certain stigma attached to doing these shows. Once you do it, there is rarely a second chance in to the A-List. Jepsen is the exception. She made it almost without Canadian Idol. The only people to truly make it after Idol, so far, are Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. That's it. Kelly Clarkson's star faded after her 2004 album Breakaway, though she's making a slow comeback. And Jennifer Hudson has made a bigger splash in film, thanks to her Academy Award. That leaves Carrie Underwood as the one true star any of these shows has made.
Jordin Sparks? She's not there. She could break through, but hasn't yet. Adam Lambert? He's known more for his personal life and wardrobe choices. Clay Aiken? More of an advocate for gay people. A commendable job, but certainly not the same as a huge star. Chris Daughtry? Maybe, but not quite. The X Factor and The Voice are too young to properly judge, but give me anyone from either show and my first question will likely be "Who?" Not a good sign.
But The Lie will continue. It has to. It helps Simon Cowell to keep his job. It gives hope that maybe, just maybe, someone will make it someday, long after a gut-wrenching elimination on a television show. The only silver lining is in how you define fame. If you define fame by toiling away in small clubs and venues, barely making enough to get by, barely on the radar anymore, then that's where you may end up. Famous.
So don't worry kids. If you don't make it here, you'll be around for years to come. Just no one said it would be in the spotlight.
While I have your eyes, this week coming marks the semi-finals of this year's The X Factor. Since I've gone so long without talking about it at length, allow me the opportunity to break down the final four, the judges and the odd couple hosts.
The token country crooner has regularly topped the leaderboard in viewer votes. Oh yeah, that's a thing this year: for the first time ever, producers are releasing in what order each contestant placed with viewers. Right, because we'd believe anything they tell us. If the votes are true, Tate has placed first three out of five weeks so far. Impressive. If only the man had an ounce of talent in his body. Country, more than any other genre, breeds imitators. Cheap imitators. And imitators prosper because the country fans just want to hear the same stuff over and over. Originality is rare in country, but it's there if you look hard enough. Tate Stevens is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. He plays the part (cowboy hat, gruff look, goatee, everyman features, countrified vocals), but he lacks anything to set him apart. To put it simply: he lacks the x-factor.
Now we're talking serious photocopies. And these boy banders don't even copy One Direction. You know, a relevant boy band, especially considering they originated on The X Factor UK. No, Emblem3 reminds me more of Hanson or Backstreet Boys from the 90s. They're stuck in another musical generation. They're cute, vaguely innocent and mildly talented, so teen and tween girls love them. As does Simon Cowell, their mentor. But there's absolutely nothing that puts them above a certain other frontrunner in the competition. If they win, it's another in a long line of futureless winners.
Five girls, all attractive, all talented, nothing genuine about them at all. They operate as five girls thrown together (which they are), rather than as a cohesive grouping. Emblem3 at least works because the boys are a real group, not a mash-up of previous failures. For Fifth Harmony to win, all three remaining semi-finalists would have to drop out. Their borrowed time is almost up.
***Carly Rose Sonenclar***
The unofficial winner of the season. There's no contest here: she's talented, she's 30 going on 13 but she's still young, she can take any song so far and make it her own without making it obnoxious, she's the reason this show exists. She has the x factor, if it's real. She has It. It's hard to believe someone so young is blowing away competition three times her age. Her frontrunner status is marred only by Tate Stevens, the inexplicably beloved country singer. If she loses, it will be a travesty. But remember that Susan Boyle and Jackie Evancho both lost on their respective competition programs. Carly Rose's inevitable loss will hopefully lead to a real career. And I hope that's not The Lie talking.
Last year, resident lug Steve Jones bumbled his way through hosting duties, making Carson Daly look like the Jeff Probst of singing competitions. Naturally you want someone seasoned, someone with spark, someone professional and fun. So you hire... Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian (I refuse to call her "Odom")? Lopez has gained a professional status, thanks to hosting entertainment news show Extra, but he's basically a rent-a-host. He does the job, comes across as likable and professional, but peel away the top layer and you're left with an amateur. But next to Khloe Kardashian, he's Dick Clark.
Still, they're an oddly likable pairing. It's as though I can't live with them, and I can't live without them.
After last season's disastrous foursome of Simon Cowell, L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul, the producers dropped Scherzinger and Abdul in favor of young (and relevant) blood in Britney Spears and Demi Lovato. L.A. Reid continues to be the whitest black guy since Bryant Gumbel. His reputation precedes him, having worked with some of the biggest current names in the music business, but his criticisms make him look out-of-touch and dated. His opinions resemble someone stuck in twenty years ago, rather than anything relevant to today's music.
Simon is Simon. He's in love with himself, his boy band and himself again. His back-and-forth sniping with Demi verges on weird and sexually-charged.
Now I'll admit I was one of those people that felt Britney Spears would be a bland judge with nary a critical bone in her body to tell people when they sucked. Not only was I right once the ridiculous smoke screen of "she's actually a mean judge!" promos lifted, but every comment she makes is obviously manufactured. Someone has to be feeding her these eye-rolling one-liners. And she's being paid $15 million? Easiest money being made on television. I would love to know if it's Britney mentoring the contestants, or a proxy to Britney.
The true revelation of the season was not the "princess of pop" but instead Demi Lovato. What these shows have focused on is maturity. Age. Experience. Which is great, but the vast majority of contestants are in Demi Lovato's age range, and they (and we) need the young perspective. She speaks with sincerity, not a script, and she doesn't load on praise when it's not necessary. She's been shot down hard by Simon, but she doesn't seem fazed. Why hire people that will only praise and not give proper criticisms? She's used words like "boring", "sleepy" and the like. Imagine a Paula Abdul or Nicole "It didn't quite work for me tonight, but you look amazing and you know you're the best and you'll have an amazing career in this industry" Scherzinger saying anything like that.
No, I can't either.
That does it for this week's look at The X Factor and The Ultimate Lie. Later this week, I take a look at the "filth" on television, as well as a look back and send-off of CW's Gossip Girl.
Until then, stay tuned.