Reality TV: the pitfalls of pinning hopes on ’Idols dream’
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For many young up and coming artists reality TV competitions like Idols, The Voice and X-Factor hold the promise of fame and fortune, but all too often the dream turns sour.
South African musician Steven-Lee Lewis knows all too well the disappointment of pinning hopes of a prolific career on talent competitions. He was part of the group Four which won X Factor South Africa in 2014. It took almost three years for Four to release their debut EP. The hype after winning the competition quickly fizzled, and the group announced their split.
The industry would have notched the split down to the “X Factor” curse, a term coined in the UK, as few of the competition winners such as One Direction had huge musical success stories.
Lewis had also hedged his bets on a second music reality TV show Motorokr Star competition in 2010, and won the a worldwide talent competition hosted by Motorola. Part of his prize was an opportunity to fly to New York and record a song with two international stars Fergie and Wyclef Jean, both former members of pop music sensation, the Black Eyed Peas.
But Lewis was in for more disappointment as the song Holiday he collaborated on with the two artists, will only be released in August this year, a decade later, because of a copyright and contract wrangle.
Lewis said his hopes and dreams were once again dashed.
“It was very challenging and became more so when Motorola became insolvent. There were so many companies involved, and to get hold of everyone was a mess.
“All of it was very frustrating, but I never gave up on fighting to own the track, because it was a big part of my career,” he said.
He now hopes fans will enjoy the track which he said was inspired by “the feeling you get when you let your hair down on holiday, and we just wanted to spread a positive message of having fun.”
Many of the acts from reality shows such as Idols and The Voice have had short-lived success. The acts have been dropped by their label after poor record sales, while dozens of the winners have failed to chart after their initial successful single from winning the show.
Idols SA season 5 co-winner Sasha-Lee Davids said she wished Idols SA had taught her more about owning the rights to her music.
“I wish I was more involved in my album or the distribution of it,” she said.
In 2009, the year that Davids won, South Africa went through a recession and she received no cash prize.
Idols SA season 13 winner Paxton Fielies felt that she was adequately prepared for the industry by Idols SA, even when she was just a contestant.
“They taught us how to manage our finances, work with managers, and how to navigate this space,” she said.
Fielies, who was 17 at the time of winning, said her challenge in the industry came as soon as the next Idols winner was announced.
“Breaking out as an independent artist and getting my audience to understand that I am more than just the competition, was very difficult,” she said.
Both Fielies and Davids agreed that you don’t have to win to make a success in music.
“The music industry changes all the time. Everybody has to work hard to stay relevant, whether you win a competition or not,” Davids said.
Fielies added: “Winning the competition gives you a boost, but you can still be successful without it.”
Both Idols winners believe that the music industry could do more to shape and develop local talent.
“We are all still learning and growing as artists in a saturated industry, and need assistance in staying relevant,” Fielies said.
Davids added: “There should be more workshops educating new artists about their rights, owning their music, and making sure they know what it is they are signing up for.”
Sony Music Publishing artists and repertoire manager, Munya Chanetsa, said one of the main challenges that creatives face in the industry was a lack of knowledge.
“This is what differentiates successful artists from those that are struggling to make a break. There’s also a lack of business-minded management and artists aren’t choosing the best representation,” he said.
Chanetsa reflected on the industry and acknowledged that one of the flaws was that it has failed to provide artists with clear guidelines.
“They need to say ’these are the things you need to do to create your brand and maintain it’. That’s where the issues are.
“The information is out there, the industry just hasn’t done a good job of putting it together. People need to be educated,” he said.
Chanetsa said it was worth noting that record labels don’t do artist development like they used to.
“There was a more intense investment in the past. Now, artists need to invest in developing and building themselves as a personal brand.
“Even if your record deal ends, you will do great in the industry with an established brand,” he said.