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  • Writer's pictureMeera Belle

Why I'm not a fan of talent shows...

Updated: Jan 8

A long time ago, I was the founder of a vintage vocal trio. We were novel, slick, we worked incredibly hard and were each professional performers - all of us very well-trained and excellent singers. We had, as they say in the biz, each paid our dues over many years of training, practice and performance work.

Then came the rise of the modern 'Talent Quest', the Australian Idol and The Voice - for us, it was Australia's Got Talent and we rode that roller-coaster right through to the semi-finals. It was exciting and full of promises. We were having 'exposure', we were showing Australia how fabulous and employable we were and there was the shining apple dangled of a recording contract, TV appearances and national tours. All of that was true....for the 'right' winners. who had already been chosen by the TV network long before any of us had been presented to the audience. The reality was this was NOT a talent quest at all, it was a carefully orchestrated bid for TV viewers and advertising revenue and a money grab for the network tied up with an intricate manipulation of viewers' votes.

We got caught in that manipulation and, looking back, it probably precipitated the end of us as a group, but being well-trained artists we took it on the chin and went on our respective ways wiser and better-equipped in the long run. That's the benefit of experience and skills honed by hard work.

You can reasonably assume a talent quest does what it says on the tin - it is a search for the most talented among a bunch of people all presenting the best of themselves and may the best win the prize offered which ought to be worth it and commensurate to the quest.

Nowadays, talent quests seem to have devolved into unpaid 'opportunities' to have 'exposure'. It has become a wry joke in my industry, that venues or organisers put on these 'opportunities' and promise 'exposure' as if you could rock up to perform for free in their venue and be magically discovered by someone important in the crowd and start your stellar rise to fame and fortune.

Unfortunately, unless that venue has issued personal invites to agencies, recording companies, TV executives, and talent scouts, the likelihood of anyone being in the audience who could advance the career of a hopeful artist is next to NIL.

What is actually happening is that eager young talent is duped into believing that it is OK to play for free and OK also to promise the venue THEY will bring all their friends and family to support them (basically bringing their own crowd so the venue never has to do any work to cultivate an audience on its own merit as a venue!) and market themselves at their own costs, bring their own equipment to boot and do it all at their own cost for nil return. But the venue will get free entertainment and a full bar...

I deal with young people who have stars in their eyes and it's wonderful that they do, budding young artists need to be mentored and supported to reach those stars. What I will never ever do is tell a young singer they can be discovered singing for free in a local bar or event venue, where the organisers haven't the faintest intention to assist them to be 'discovered', but are profiteering off them instead.

I'm not talking about amateur theatrics - that's valuable ongoing training where you can expect a critic to be in attendance and you have a chance to make an impression in the direction you may wish to go. And if you are a band, you should be taking every chance to play live but always with a ticket deal or fee negotiated.

However, unless you are being offered payment for your talent, the chance of a decent prize (a proper contest), the guarantee of industry-professional scouts in attendance, the opportunity to be critiqued by a judge (eisteddfods) or the opportunity to be mentored by another industry professional for guidance and ongoing training, you are simply being asked to give your talent away at a very base rate indeed. That's not a lesson we should be giving our young artists. This is why PItch Perfect Vocal Studio students get two concerts a year for which they are given a theme and they choose repertoire to work on and present to an invited audience. There is purposeful learning, technical support and teaching, and the prize is their confident performance as a result of co-creation.

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