America’s Got Talent has long touted itself as the greatest and biggest talent show in the country. They have a more diverse talent pool than any other reality competition show. It is a show where anyone doing anything can walk away with the grand prize. Yet as America’s Got Talent heads into the twilight of its tenth season, the previous winners have been remarkably similar. Out of the previous nine America’s Got Talent seasons, five of them have been solo singing acts. (Five might has well come with an asterisk because Terry Fator was a singing ventriloquist.) This similarity is troubling. While America’s Got Talent shouldn’t eliminate singers altogether, there should be more strident and strict regulations for who makes it to the live shows.
They Don’t Separate Themselves from the Crowd
My grievance with the solo singing acts on America’s Got Talent has nothing to do with their actual talent. They are, for the most part, amazing vocalists and can hold a note in a way that I can only dream. My reason is simple as it is crotchety, I can see these types of acts on any other reality competition show. American Idol, The Voice and the cancelled X Factor all were/are the homes to solo singers trying to make a name for themselves. American Idol really kind of started the boom of parading out struggling artists for America’s votes and affection and in the preceding years it’s act has grown stale. The Voice has an advantage of being more enjoyable and fresher version by having a diverse pool of talent and presentation. The Voice trusses up their talent in a way that makes them feel special and discovered. America’s Got Talent doesn’t have that same luxury. The singers on America’s Got Talent, by and large, don’t feel enormously different than those that would be on American Idol or The Voice.
I could easily see this season competitor, Benton Blount being on Team Blake on The Voice, or Samantha Johnson would be the front-runner on American Idol. The same goes for other acts like Sharon Irving, Daniella Mass, Alicia Michilli or Arielle Barill. They do not have a unique enough sound to really separate them from the mass of reality singing talent. This is not to say that any of them are bad but they don’t have that special something that makes America’s Got Talent the only possible platform for them. Alondra Santos is the closest with her female leader of a mariachi band but considering she was in the bottom of her week of live shows it might not be enough to connect with America. She certainly isn’t as wild as Piff the Magic Dragon who can exist nowhere else but on America’s Got Talent.
They are the Overwhelming Majority
There is also the sheer volume of singers that evidently always gets left in America’s Got Talent. Of the remaining thirty-one competitors left on America’s Got Talent, seven are singers. It doesn’t sound like a lot but when you consider that all of them could conceivably be the top twenty one then the percentage gets much larger.In the first round of live shows out of the seven acts who made it through three of them were singers, almost half in other words.
In simple non-mathematical terms there are more singers than any other America’s Got Talent genre act. By design America’s Got Talent still has a couple of comedians, a few magic acts but there is seemingly no limit to how many musical acts they will allow. It makes sense in a way singing is the most identifiable and marketable talent a person can have; taste of music is subjective a good voice is not so debatable. When it comes to having a diverse and interesting show though that’s where America’s Got Talent struggles with its clear deference to singers. It’s no wonder that almost all the winners come from that category because odds are good that if you make it to the live shows in America’s Got Talent, you can sing.
The Non-Singers Do Better Outside of the Competition
Speaking of the winners again it is important to point out their life after America’s Got Talent. Unlike American Idol or The Voice, America’s Got Talent has a spotty record at best when it comes to producing stars. No one has heard of Kevin Skinner, Michael Grimm or Bianca Ryan since they won their respective season. I point this out not to shame the past winners or to criticize their skills. The music industry is notoriously hard to break into and often has nothing to do with talent but the overall lack of success does show a general fatigue in the public. These acts are good enough in the small pond of America’s Got Talent to attract America’s affection but once they’re thrown into the ocean they falter.
Case(s) in point, the non-singing winners have a greater level of success than their musical counterparts. It’s hard to remember an America’s Got Talent winner who had a bigger and more sustained splash than magician Mat Franco. Season eight winner Kenichi Ebina has continued success as a traveling dancer and performer. Revisiting that asterisk, Terry Fator, a singer with a unique and very America’s Got Talent twist, is the only winner to still maintain his Las Vegas show nearly a decade later. It helps that the barometer for success is different for magicians, dancers and singing ventriloquists. We expect our singers to be our superstars and household names in a way we don’t for our illusionists. The point is that while America might prefer a singer at the time of competition’s end they will continue to support the talent that breaks the mold and surprises them. It’s not impossible for a solo singing act to pull off this feat but it is much harder.
As I said at the beginning, I’m not advocating the elimination of singers from America’s Got Talent. With pun very much intended, they add an important voice to the cast of contestants. No talent show is complete without the hopeful pop superstars. America’s Got Talent should just structure its talent better so there isn’t such an overwhelming majority to one type of talent. Perhaps the first rounds of live shows should be organized like the judge cuts used to be, with a single genre of acts going in one night. All the musical acts going first, then comedy based and so on, rather than the “random” way they are sorted now. Once America’s Got Talent gets to the live show there is very little the producers and judges can control without endangering the sanctity of their competition but there are steps to take to guide America in the right direction.
But what do you think? Do you prefer the singers too much to see them dwindled down? Or would you prefer a more balanced and more varied landscape of competition? Or do you think I’m just stubborn and bitter because I can’t hold a tune without my voice cracking? (You’re right about the last one.)
America’s Got Talent airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC
(images courtesy of NBC)