Talent shows—why are they still on-air?
How stardom and the need for views has reshaped the social appeal toward TV talent shows.
Talent competitions have been on-air since the late 1940s. Ted Mack & the Original Amateur Hour, a talent show that ran from 1948 to 1970, was the first series to feature contestants from across America who competed for a weekly prize based on their talent and votes from the audience. Paving the way for shows like America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and The X Factor, talent shows have remained an audience favourite for centuries. But as social media marketing expands and performers can showcase their talents without entering an often-biased competition, I wonder: do we still need talent shows on air?
To answer this seemingly simple question, we must consider the aspects that made audiences fall in love with talent shows in the first place.
In my opinion, talent shows became popular because they created a social contagion. Viewers imagined themselves as the performers on screen. They wondered: What would happen if I auditioned in front of a panel of judges? As these shows promoted stardom, it became infectious. Talent shows have created a platform where everyone can get their chance at fame.
The unaddressed problems of stardom result from the unrealistic expectations placed on contestants—particularly young artists who are forced to choose one talent to be good at.
Today, in the fight for viewership, many TV talent shows are forced to evolve to remain relevant and appeal to society’s more modern media tastes. For example, The Masked Singer (2019-2023), a singing competition where celebrity performers wear head-to-toe costumes to disguise their identities, has become widely popular due to the guessing game that it creates for viewers. It does not matter who the celebrity is, on the show they can appear as an owl or a panda, and audiences will not know who they truly are until the end. As a result, the show promotes inclusivity, and each performance is judged solely on vocal ability and charisma.
Still, the main goal for contestants on talent shows is to reach global exposure. But, with the rise of social media apps like TikTok, are these shows necessary? In my opinion, social media is much more accessible and can be equally entertaining—especially for the Gen Z and millennial population. Users can showcase their talents without the long line ups, flashing lights, and often toxic environments that lead into audition rooms.
Although talent shows have been known to unite artists and viewers, many prefer the more nuanced and accessible forms of self-expression that are available on social media apps like Tik Tok. While there are benefits in competing on shows like American Idol, the often-harsh expectations that contestants face are eliminated through social media. For the sake of diversity in media, let’s keep the talent shows going, but keep in mind that becoming a star in Hollywood is not always met with lots of shine.