The Slow Death of the Live Show

If you couldn’t tell from everything else on this blog, I love Reality Singing Competitions because I enjoy finding new artists to follow and hopefully see live. My favorite part of each show is the live rounds, for three reasons:

  1. Limited editing means I get a feel for how each artist would fare in concert
  2. New performances from each contestant every week means I have time to get invested in my favorites
  3. I get music to listen to from my favorites while I wait for a full album

Lately, however, American Idol, The Voice, The X Factor, and the Got Talent franchise have been gradually weakening my interest by cutting back on the number of live shows.

In 2015, American Idol had 11 weeks of live shows and winner Nick Fradiani performed 24 times. In 2016, that was cut back to seven live shows and winner Trent Harmon performed 19 times. In 2018, this was further cut back to just five weeks (six episodes) with winner Maddie Poppe performing just 17 times (including reprises and 20 second snippets of several songs). This year, Idol is adding a week to the season, as many fans wanted. So we are now up to six weeks of live shows – better than last season but still a far cry from where we were.

The X Factor UK remained at 10 weeks of live shows longer than any other show. In 2015, they cut back to 7 weeks. In 2016, they went back to 10 weeks. But in 2017, they cut back to 6 weeks and messed up the format in new and exciting ways. In 2018 we landed back at 7 weeks, where I hope we will stay when the main show returns in 2020.

The Voice is a show I don’t watch for several reasons:

  • Mark Burnett (the most important reason)
  • The focus on the judges at the expense of the contestants
  • The lack of anyone having success after the show
  • The fact that even former winners don’t always get invited back to perform again
  • The fact that recent winners have spent six months just trying to claw their way out of the record deal that is supposed to be the reason people want to win

But if, say, Mark Burnett retired, someone else took over, and I was considering watching again, the latest revelation that there will be only THREE traditional live shows would end that on the spot. That is a number that makes X Factor Australia’s five live shows seem downright glorious. If there was any doubt that The Voice is 100% about the judges (and lord knows there shouldn’t be), this change fully erases that doubt.

The Got Talent franchise at least has a little bit of a reason to cut back on live shows. Many acts on that show can’t spread out their act between seven or eight performances. Season 9 of America’s Got Talent had four rounds of live shows. Season 10 reduced that to three rounds. Thankfully, we have remained at three rounds for now, but I am perpetually in fear of Britain’s Got Talent’s format spreading to the US, with just three rounds of competition altogether. AGT The Champions had only two rounds, which was one of my top 3 problems with the show (the other 2? The lack of live voting and the cutaways to Howie saying “Wow!” and “AMAZING!” in the middle of performances)

The audition rounds rate higher, which is what matters if you only care about having a successful television show. But if you want people to come audition for your television show and for music fans to get invested, you need more time. I can’t say that the cutback in live shows has prevented more stars from being launched. But I can say it has certainly lowered my excitement for these shows. Will I watch anyway? With the exception of The Voice, I will. But I will always yearn for the glory days with 10 weeks of live shows and time to watch contestants grow.


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