The continued ratings success of NBC’s The Voice has inspired ABC to join the crowded talent competition fray this summer with Duets, which will star Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie, Robin Thicke, and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles. The four stars will each select two amateur singers after a nationwide talent search and serve as mentors and perform with them each week, with the eventual winner earning a recording contract with Hollywood Records.
Duets is ABC’s latest attempt to match the success of Fox’s American Idol, the show that launched the singing competition genre in 2002. As NBC’s The Voice has usurped American Idol’s ratings dominance, becoming the highest-ranked show on the fourth-ranked network, the temptation to compete for the large audience is growing. The CW announced a few days earlier that it has picked up Queen Latifah’s The Star Next Door, featuring Gloria Estefan and John Rich, which is also set to debut this summer. The Voice was last summer’s breakout hit after it premiered in April. Fox’s The X Factor will also continue to battle for viewers in this oversaturated market when it returns in September.
With these two new shows, the time may have come to begin questioning whether the genre is still relevant. Despite its ratings, The Voice‘s first winner Javier Colon is far from a household name, and both American Idol and The X Factor have struggled over the past months with a revolving door of celebrity judges. Even the grandfather of the genre has not had a huge success since 2005, when Carrie Underwood won the fourth season. Clarkson will bring some inside experience to Duets, having won the first season of American Idol nearly a decade ago, but with so many talent shows, is there even enough talent left to tap?
But the bigger issue at hand is what all these talent shows are doing to America’s television-watching public. The reality genre is well-known for its tropes and clichés, but we seem to be reaching a tipping point where the lack of creativity is becoming rather ominous. What is NBC’s new Fashion Star, after all, but a slight twist on Project Runway? The competition concept has been tweaked to work for interior design, pastries, and even drag queens, hours and hourss a day of shows that follow the same weekly challenge-and-elimination format. Even The Voice and The X Factor themselves are exact copies of, respectively, Dutch and British hits. It’s a tired complaint, but innovation is becoming less and less a selling point every year as audiences contend themselves to sitting down to the same show several times a week. But as long as those shows bring in the ratings, the networks will keep airing them, and we’ll keep watching.