Millennium Post

Reality of reality shows

The oven has been put to great use this week. Ma had grilled some chicken and veggies in a spicy, hung-curd marinade last night. It was the sort of dinner that women like me, who’re trying desperately to knock off a few stubborn kilos and yet, unwilling to settle for anything that doesn’t taste good, dream about. Ma was done with her meal by he time I had barely made it halfway through the first boneless, liberally slathered with spices, breast piece. I assumed she must’ve been ravenously hungry, and ergo, eaten so quickly. But, I realised I was on the wrong tangent when I saw her hurriedly get up and run to her bedroom. About 20 seconds later, I heard some faint strains of music floating.

When I finally finished licking my plate clean and polishing off even the burnt bits, another half hour had already passed. As I walked past her room, Ma beckoned me to come have a look at the telly, which was the source of the said strains of music. She explained excitedly that a young woman was singing some terrific Hindustani semi-classical music on a Bengali music reality show, and then added curtly, “you aren’t the only one with gifts, you see”!

Music took a giant leap in the Hindi general entertainment space when Zee TV launched a singing-based talent hunt show in 1995. In 1996, Doordarshan followed suit with Meri Awaaz Suno, a show that helped Bollywood playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan get discovered. Different versions of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa went on for years and in 2004, Sony TV launched Indian Idol, an adaptation of American Idol. The show is believed to have revived the genre. And, this was followed by Fame Gurukul, on the same channel, of which I was a part of, the following year. Then came a flurry of singing reality shows such as Star Voice of India, Jo Jeeta Vahi Superstar, Chote Ustaad, X Factor and Sur-Kshetra. 

It’s been a decade since my only reality TV stint, and I’m still not convinced if they really are good for singers specifically, and the music industry at large. Yes, they give great exposure to amateur <g data-gr-id="86">artistes</g>, make them insanely popular, guarantee them a lifetime of live shows, and put them in touch with all the powers-that-be in the industry.

But, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that they are destroying organic talent and cluttering an industry that’s already on the brink of bursting at the seams with the existing talent pool. Music is not really something people listen to anymore. It’s more about watching than hearing now. Even more than ever, it’s become a commodity thanks to these sorts of shows (ratings) and the Internet (likes and views).

There’s no dearth of talent in this country. Especially when it comes to performing arts. We’re culturally inclined towards the arts, and hence, it isn’t uncommon for us to veer towards them. But, in a country that doesn’t have a functional music industry, and where musicians are dependent on the film industry for every kind of work, I’m not sure what sense it makes to create ‘winners’ and superstars’ out of every second talented singer! Lakhs of people audition for these shows, and why not?

Who doesn’t want a shortcut to fame and success? Not all are good, obviously. But, a lot of them are. In fact, there’s very little to choose among the best 25-30 contestants of every reality show. I know, because I was a part of one of these, and in the top 14. I knew I was as good as the ones rated above me, and the ones ranked below me were as good, if not better, as me! So, what happens once the show is over? What happens to the winners? Are their lives set? No. The winners of Fame <g data-gr-id="79">Gurkul</g> have long faded into oblivion.

Honestly, people seem so convinced about that ever-lingering ‘big break’, it’s like there are a zillion ‘breaks’ just lying around, up for grabs! Considering there are hundreds of new singers coming to Bombay every day, and only a handful film producers willing to risk using a fresh voice, those ‘big breaks’ are about as rare as finding a piece of hay in a stack full of needles!

Yes, we enjoy the cringe-worthy auditions all the way through to our more talented contestants, but we fail to see the detrimental effects that music reality TV shows have on the music industry. Let’s be honest, it may be entertaining but what music reality TV shows offer are quick, manufactured, relatively cheap substitutes for real music. As Sting so eloquently put it, it is “televised karaoke where (the contestants) conform to stereotype.”

Propelling contestants into the limelight perpetuates the celebrity culture, whereby real talent is not merited, but the public is drawn to an image. It makes me want to question the integrity of the audience, too! These shows do not encourage artists to explore and develop their musical talents. They are moulded and processed, which is boring. <g data-gr-id="72">Artistes</g> can’t be turned into assembly line manufactured products. Every singer is different from another! And, nothing happens overnight. It takes years in order to be an overnight success! 

There is no one set path to get into the industry; each artist has managed to break through in various ways. These aren’t things that were passed on to me by anybody. These are lessons I’ve learned in my first few of professional singing. Nothing comes easy. There are no free meals. Reality shows are pretty lies. 

The author is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy
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