We can all pretty much agree that Reality TV has officially taken over the airwaves. With the wide variety of shows out there the most popular would have to be the music competition genre of reality shows; to include Making the Band, American Idol, Brothers to Brutha and so on. But with all of this conjured up group harmony building along with an “America’s Next Top Model” style of music recruiting, where did this fad all begin and what affect does it have on the performers and the music as a whole.
The music talent competition boom really took place in 2002. Up until this time the only serious musical talent inclined shows were Showtime at the Apollo and Star Search. While these respective shows may have launched the careers of many great stars, no show has been quite as widespread as Fox’s American Idol.
As most of us well know, American Idol is the show where hopeful singers go to audition for the chance to be the “next big star” in the music industry and there performances are judged by 3 (now 4) judges. The major fan fair developed with this show because of the non singing people who had the nerve to get an attitude when told in sometimes overly blunt fashion that their singing is by far the “worst” singing they’ve ever heard by the judges. The show has spun such artists as Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino. But the most noted of the celebrities to be birthed from this show would have to be that of Jennifer Hudson, who didn’t even come in as runner up but, was 7 spots away from the top. As is also the trend with this reality franchise even the losers, end up on top with Hudson going on to land a staring role alongside Beyonce in Dreamgirls and an Oscar for this role all before singing one note for her debut album; then going on to win countless top honors once the album was completed.
Now music based reality shows become the new rule in must see television , but the stars created by American Idol were the exception as it doesn’t always end in a fairytale.
Also in 2002 we were lucky enough to have the rebirth of another singing talent search franchise in that of Making the Band. Originally created on ABC in 1999 by Lou Pearlman (the discoverer on *Nsync and The Backstreet boys), The first two seasons featured the group O town, and documented their creation and rise to fame. The show didn’t take off however, until it moved to MTV and the likes of Diddy took it over to create his own hip hop group for Making The Band 2.
Making the Band 2’s saga played out over 3 seasons; season 1 create the band, season 2 make the album and season 3, dissolving the group. The group now know as Da Band, was made up of Sara Stokes, Fredrick, Ness, Babs, Chopper, Dylan. Diddy’s fiery attitude mixed with the hunger of young talented hip hop and R&B artists was a must see. Who could forget Diddy sending the freshly made Da Band, on foot to Brooklyn (from Manhattan, to fetch him a slice of Cheesecake, oh or how about when he made them stand in the hall reciting the lyric’s to Biggie’s first hit “Juicey”…priceless. That coupled with the fights within the group, you couldn’t take your eyes away. Then every once in a while they got in the studio and actually made some music, and somehow managed to create a certified Gold album.
When all the fun and chaos came to an end at the finale of season 3, not many of us were surprised as it had reached the point that group members couldn’t even be in the same room and group member Frederick didn’t show up at all for the finale. This was only the tip of the iceberg of what was to come from this franchise. The Show would continue on for six seasons 3 seasons dedicated to Making the Band 3 which documents the creation and rise of Danity Kane. Then the most recent 3 seasons documented the creation of Day26 and Donnie Klang’s careers, the making of their albums, along with Danity Kane’s sophomore album, and ultimately the demise of Danity Kane.
In the midst of all of this music making there was a love story and of course drama. But was everything really what it seemed or did the editing create excellent TV through smoke and mirrors. If you remember back to this most recent season of Making the Band 4, there appeared to be quite a few issues in the group all rooted around Que, painting him as the “crazy member” of Day26. But Que asserts he’s perfectly fine. Speaking with Singersroom in April, Que confirmed: “I’m not crazy or on drugs or anything. I just have a strong opinion. I laugh at it too because they don’t show everything. Like you guys have seen on television our show is 100% real so whatever you see it happens and it’s real but the editing can twist up the story.”
One may also remember the cause of one of the very heated debates was Brian and Will’s taking charge in the studio. They were up in there delegating things in charge like they were the director’s of this movie, but Brian asserts again, that was not the case. "
"Actually watching the show it made me laugh like “wow it’s so not like that…like in the studio, Brian and Will…Brian and Will”… it’s definitely not like that” but through editing they’re sort of able to just move things around to fit the storyline – which is cool. Whatever makes great TV but, we’re definitely not like that," Brian told Singersroom.
Not one to be left out BET threw its music based reality tv hat in the game with 2005’s Blowing up! : Fatty Koo. The group,based out of Columbus, Ohio,consists of: Eddie Brickerson, Gabrielle Travis, Joshua Welton, Marya Barrios, Ron Riley and Kiana Allison (aka Valure). This show differed in formula in that the group was already created (amongst themselves), and had just signed a record deal when the show begins. It was 14 weeks long of a day in the life of up and coming artists trying to make it big in the music business. But no reality show is complete without its drama. The group released the single Bounce which doubled as the shows theme, and they shot a music video. After their show ended they did ultimately release an album, House of Fatty Koo; however the show never came back for subsequent seasons, and there’s no telling where the group members are today.
In 2008 BET put another making the band esq straw in its cap with Brothers to Brutha. This show again follows the conditioning and rise of up and coming boy band Brutha which consists of: Grady Harrell, Anthony Harrell, Cheyenne "Papa" Harrell, Jared Overton and Jacob Harrell and yes they are all brother (Hence the name). There season only lasted six weeks, as again this group was already formed.
With these microwave music groups it can be hard to be taken seriously. All we get as viewers is the drama, but what happens when it’s time to put the mess away and perform. D. Woods formerly of Danity Kane explains how difficult it is to win over fans when the camera’s stop rolling.
Now we’re winning people over without it being constructed for ratings. On the one hand we had an advantage because so many people already knew us from watching the show, and on the other hand, because of that people already had a perception of us so it was almost harder than if we were just a new group coming out because people thought they already knew what we were about from being on the show.
And now with the demise of Danity Kane, there is starting to arise talk of a Making The Band curse. As the last men standing Day26 has some big shoes to fill. So they just released there sophomore album and while the camera around it seems like Diddy is no Mr. Nice guy but Brian of Day26 insists he’s actually pretty cool and Diddy gave them just the seal of approval he needed to him solidify Day26 as the real deal.
That dude like jumped up and started dancing and clapping around like “I’m very proud of guys. You got in there and did what you had to do for a great album.” To hear that from a person like Diddy is like an honor man. The dude is a legend and he’s been doing this forever. To hear that come out of his mouth sealed the deal. Like Day26 is for real in his mind and it’s not just like a gimmick TV show group; it’s for real.
How does all of this translate when it comes to dollars and sense? I mean Danity Kane and O-Town have enjoyed measurable success.
So what we (the viewers) have is a formula for great TV and a ratings bonanza in the drama filled world pf reality TV. Some are more pronounced than others. MTB’s drama makes Grey’s Anatomy look like an episode of Sesame Street, becoming a soap opera featuring a soundtrack; while AI’s drama peaked with Simon’s bitter tongue and the suspense of who is being vote off this week.
With American Idol reaching its ninth season and a plethora of knock off Making the Band type shows popping up such as: Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll (CW 2007), The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliot (UPN 2005), and R U that Girl with Tboz and Chili (UPN 2005); trust this reality tv show as a new scout for talent is the wave of the future that doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon. But is that good news? Are we creating better music or simply more gimmicks to a melody?
—— By: Lauren M Walker