Tonight NBC rolls out the first episode of its much-hyped, overly-complicated singing competition The Voice. This is a mistake on so many levels, mostly because America has depleted its talent pool to the point of exhaustion. With our countless number of reality talent competitions, there is no one good enough to be on these shows anymore.
Talent is much like fossil fuel—while there is a lot of it out there for us to burn, we will eventually come to the point where we completely run out. This is happening faster and faster as the success of shows like Project Runway, Top Chef, and American Idol has created a talent competition for just about every skill imaginable. The worst, though, are the singing, dancing, and other performing shows that glut the airwaves. Not only is there Idol and The Voice but also America's Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance.
And because that wasn't enough, we're about to get Platinum Hit, Bravo's competition for songwriting (which is really the most boring part of the hit-making process) hosted by former Idol judge Kara DioGuardi as well as an American version of The X-Factor, former Idol judge Simon Cowell's rip-off of, well, American Idol. Didn't they learn anything from former Idol judge Paula Abdul's failed attempted to rip off So You Think You Can Dance with Live to Dance?
The biggest problem is not that there isn't an audience out there to watch all these shows (which is debatable) but that there aren't enough qualified people out there to fill all the positions to make these competitions viable. Idol itself has burned through more than 200 great singers in its 10 seasons, and that doesn't even count all the also-rans and Hollywood wannabes that tricked their way past the open auditions. We've gotten some great singers from the show, like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Chris Daughtry. Jennifer Hudson even won a damned Oscar! But what has the show done for us lately? David Cook? Kris Allen? Lee DeWyze? Yeah, not so much. And the current crop of singers, while the best from the show choirs at their respective high schools, isn't all that great. Each year the bar (and the age requirements) get lower and lower so that there will continue to be grist for the texting tween mill. All this is doing is ruining what little integrity the title of American Idol had in the first place.
The same thing is happening on So You Think You Can Dance (and America's Top Model and America's Next Best Dance Crew and Please Vote For Me So I Can Be Rich). Each year everyone gets a little bit worse and a little bit more boring.
But where we're really feeling the pinch is on shows where the talent is even more specialized. While the final contestants on Project Runway in the first several seasons tended to be promising young professionals any of whom would make great designers, the winners of the last couple of seasons have been completely lackluster. But they were still the best, which wasn't hard considering their competition was seemingly drafted right out of Sally Stringer's Sewing School in Secaucus.
And with success comes imitators, so then Runway was competing for a small pool of people with Bravo's The Fashion Show and NBC's upcoming Fashion Star as well as other lesser programs So You Think You Can Sew. Enough already!
This is all just a matter of numbers. The number of qualified fashion designers in this country is finite and rather small. The number of qualified fashion designers int his country who want to appear on a reality television program is an even more finite. By doing season after season year after year, producers are inevitably scraping the bottom of the talent pool before new, deserving talent has had a chance to grow. The reason we watch many of these shows in the first is to see gifted people do amazing things we could never do, whether that's the seamstresses on Runway or the nouvelle vaudeville of America's Got Talent. But America doesn't have any talent anymore. We have used it all up.
Just look at The Voice! First of all, the concept is a crazy mess. The judges can't see the singers until they decide they like them, and if they like them, then they get to mentor the singer, but first the singer has to decide which judge's team he wants to be on and the judge with the best team wins—who knows—something(?) and the teammates get, well, they get to be on television or something. Got it? Good. Then one of the contestants is Idol reject Frenchie Davis, which just goes to show that all of the really good singers have already tried out for one of these dog and pony shows.
Pretty soon, there just isn't going to be enough capable people to be on any of these shows, and the more they suck, the more the audience will stay away, and hopefully they'll all fade quickly. The only competition shows we'll have left will be The Biggest Loser and Dancing with the Stars, because if there are two things America is not short on it's fat people or D-list celebrities willing to do anything for another shot at fame.
Until then, we'll just have to witness the slow depletion of our very limited talent pool as those that are less and less deserving are paraded in front of us, dying for our approval, but being subjected to our jeers. Soon we'll be praying these shows to go the way of the variety hour. Then, maybe a decade after that, we'll find some real talent yet again.