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How Effective are Reality TV Shows?

Edward Hsu and Michelle Ma

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        Before Kelly Clarkson, One Direction, Fifth Harmony and Cher Lloyd became celebrities, they were young hopefuls on reality television shows. Competitive reality singing shows such as “American Idol” and “The X-Factor” provide a platform for contestants to attract fans, gain recognition and start their own music careers. 

       Participants compete in reality television shows with the hopes of propelling their professional careers and attaining fame. Kelly Clarkson, for example, whose songs can still be heard on radio stations and music streaming services today, quickly gained widespread media attention when she became the first winner of “American Idol” in 2002. Similarly, Caleb Johnson, winner of season 13 of “American Idol” in 2014, went on to release his album “Testify,” which debuted at number 24 on the Billboard 200. What makes Johnson’s situation different, however, was that despite his initial fame, Johnson sold only 11,000 copies of his album –– the least sales of any “American Idol” winner to date. To put this into perspective, Kelly Clarkson’s first album, “Thankful,” has sold over 4.5 million copies since its debut. Both Clarkson and Johnson were winners of the same show –– so what made the difference? 

       It can be inferred that shows such as “American Idol” are merely outlets for individuals to showcase their talent and ability. What comes after depends on the individuals themselves. This can be compared to how an initial spark –– in this case, a reality television show –– is capable of starting a fire or debuting one’s career, but only with the right circumstances and character.

       In another instance, Justin Guarini, the contestant who lost to Kelly Clarkson in “American Idol,” did not let one failure prevent him from achieving success. Instead, Guarini went on to perform on Broadway in the show “Wicked.” Guarini found his true passion, one that winning the television show may not have been able to provide him. Clearly, the outcomes of these reality television shows do not decide the careers of the competitors.

       This trend is also apparent in “The X-Factor,” another competitive reality singing show. Although initial solo contestants Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik did not win the show, judge Simon Cowell encouraged the group to form the English boy band “One Direction.” Since then, the band has won 7 awards from the American Music Awards, 20 awards from the MTV Awards, and reached 800,000,000 views on Youtube for the band’s hit song, “What Makes You Beautiful.”

       Despite success stories from winners of competitive reality television shows, the names of most contestants — including those of winners — have never surfaced again. Undoubtedly, a competitive singing television show such as “American Idol” or “The X-Factor” can only provide a small head start for its winners. Whether a contestant will achieve his or her goals depends not on what a show can provide or on their finishing place, but instead depends on various factors including character, talent, and determination. There are countless roads to success, and reality television is just one of them.

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