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5 Truths You Need to Know about TV ‘Reality’ Talent Shows

Demi Lovato, Simon Cowell, Paulina Rubio, Kelly Rowland at the "X-Factor" Season 3 Photo Call

There are huge misconceptions about TV talent shows – says Lis Lewis.

We interviewed Lis Lewis who is a true coach-to-the-stars in L.A, with clients such as Britney Spears and Rihanna.

She has seen many of her students go through the talent show machine, so we ask her to spill…

The Fame Fades Quickly

Steve Brookstein singing

Steve Brookstein was the first ever X Factor winner. After some rows over his treatment on the show, he’s written an autobiography called Getting Over The X

Singers entering shows like The Voice, X Factor and American Idol believe they will gain tonnes of fans and become famous regardless of whether they win or not.

I have seen people come off the show after being top 5 and then go back to high school. They go back to being their regular self. No longer are they surrounded by constant activity and press attention.

For the past 6 weeks they have been under the microscope and under huge pressures. They experienced excitement and adrenaline and felt on top of the world. Then suddenly they are thrown back into their normal daily lives. It can be heart breaking.

There is nothing set up to help them adjust to this sudden change. They try to keep track with other people who were on the show with them. They often seek connection with their peers and fans.

During their time on the show they are required to develop their social media and constantly be on Facebook and Twitter. They have the opportunity to develop a big following online. The challenge is to maintain this once the show ends. But, unfortunately, this often doesn’t develop into anything.

Reality is Manipulated

Lis with Loren Allread from The Voice

Lis with Loren Allread from The Voice

Another big misconception about these shows is that it is actual reality. TV can be very manipulative. This is done for the sake of entertainment.

The shows are governed by law so they cannot fix the outcome/winner, but they can do an awful lot to effect it.

For example, if there are two singers singing the same song, they are both going to have to sing it in the same key. The producers are the ones who choose this key, so one singer is going to benefit and the other one may not.

There are many tactics like this: the producers change the song at the last minute, they change keys, they change arrangements. They can shake up the show’s direction or a contestant’s performance.

Producers Go on the Prowl

One Direction have achieved phenomenal success, despite finishing third on The X Factor.

One Direction have achieved phenomenal success, despite finishing third on The X Factor.

There are a series of auditions. The first is the giant cattle call that we see snippets of on TV. After this there are producer auditions which are like call-backs. Some people skip the cattle call and go straight to the producer audition – and then there are people who skip even that!

This doesn’t necessarily govern who is in the finals. The singers can change radically as the show develops. Some people emerge as amazing raw talent, and others who start off as strong fall by the wayside. These developments cannot be manipulated and they’re exciting to watch.

The producers are scouting all the time on Facebook and Twitter. If they see an artist with a big social media following, they want to have that person audition for their show. After all, their job is to find great talent. They also scout voice teachers to get their best talent.

Remember that they are casting. When an email goes out searching for singers, it is often from an external casting company. They may want ‘the little girl with the big voice’ or ‘the country singer with a heart of gold’. They are casting characters, not just voices. If you are a loud rock singer and they’ve just cast that character, you won’t get the part.

It’s not about you, it’s about what they are looking for, and you have no idea what they’re looking for.  A successful audition for you should be one you’re proud of, whether or not you get a call back.

Don’t Become a Victim

Some shows like to accept people because they aren’t good. They think it’s funny for the audience to see someone who is out of tune or performing badly.  If I am training a student who wants to audition, I want them to be realistic about how the show could affect them if it shows them in the wrong light.

If I think a student has the potential to be out of tune, or not interesting enough, I’ve got to tell them. It scares me that they could be victimised. An experience like that could scar them. They should be clear eyed about their strengths and weaknesses.

A Culture of Singing

Since these shows have been on air, more people than ever before have started taking lessons and singing at karaoke. That’s a fabulous development.

On a positive note, these shows have encouraged people who love to sing to take their singing seriously. In the past 10-15 years since these shows have been on air, more people than ever before have started taking lessons and singing at karaoke. That’s a fabulous development.

Some people may go to the big cattle call audition and not go any further. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. They get the chance to perform, they meet other people like them and have a great time. How amazing to be in a room full of singers! They may have different backgrounds and skills, but they all have the same great love of singing. Music is a wonderful expression of our innermost feelings and experiences. Music is it’s own reward.


VoiceCouncil's Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Brandon Brandon - You've Got a Friend

You have such a lovely soft tone which is a pleasure to listen to. You tend to stick your neck forward, which is common among singers who play an instrument. Try straightening the back of your neck – this will give your whole voice a sense of stability. Also, the way you pronounce your words is very timid. Try over enunciating your words to get more differentiation between vowels. This will give your voice more resonance, precise pitching and will make you appear more confident. Finally, the more you practice adlibs and moving around your range, the better you will get, so keep at it!


Lis LewisLis Lewis is a celebrity voice teacher and coach in Los Angeles whose clients include Rihanna, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Iggy Azalea, Colbie Caillat, All-American Rejects, Jimmy Eat World, Courtney Love, Miguel and many more. She has been training recording artists for over 30 years. Lis is the author of the books The Singers First Aid Kit and The Pop Singers Warm-Up Kit both published by Hal Leonard. Find out more on her website: thesingersworkshop.com


  • Hi Liz. Good article. I don’t trust these shows. Hope all is well.
    http://www.TheVocalistStudio.com

  • Dave Stergo

    Having been a contestant on this years X-Factor in Australia, I agree wholeheartedly with these comments. I am glad I did the show being in my 40’s as it gave me the maturity to get the most out of it. I did not do it for publicity or as a means to enhance my career, I had all but given up on a career when I was asked to come in for a producers audition, which may seem strange to some, but I engaged it both as a personal development opportunity and a platform with which to tell the story of my family. My personal goals were to fall in love with music again, meet some great people and tell my story. I succeeded in what I hoped for.
    I found myself in a counselling role more than a few times for young hopefuls believing that this is the only way that they will have meaning in their lives. I would have never audition for the show if the opportunity had not been handed to me as I have never be that comfortable about the premise of such shows but I am glad I did it. It helped me grow as a person when I needed the most and I have returned to playing music. I am grateful.

  • GREAT RESPONSE DAVE! When ever these shows hold their auditions in Seattle, there is a mob of people 10 blocks down the street. I’m sorry, I just can’t stand in line for 6 hours so that some ??? can listen to me sing for 9 seconds as they are eating their lunch and say “next”! I have better things to do with my time and self respect. I have had students that did this and is sounded absurd what they went through. Some intern that couldn’t sing a note if their lives depended on it, saying “next” and never even looked at the singer as she was texting on Facebook.

    I will add this… I think Liz makes this point as well… From the beginning, I have always been very put off by these shows because making fun of people seems to be a big part of the premise. To bring in bad singers, so they can have footage of the judges laughing and insulting the singers. WTF is up with that?! That is awful and I simply can’t believe that people find that entertaining. Hurting people’s feelings is not entertainment. I really hate that aspect about these shows.

    Also, a lot of these judges are celebrity artists which offers some insights surely, but they are NOT voice coaches. They can’t tell you anything about formants, onsets, training techniques, etc.. There are probably a few exceptions, but being a big star does not some how make you qualified to coach and build voices. The ability to sing well, does NOT guarantee that you can teach or coach a singer at ALL! This has been proven over and over again! I have a voice teacher certification program. And I can tell you, that some of the most amazing singers I have personally worked with to become voice coaches, are simply awful at teaching.

    There are a few great coaches that are also great singers, but that is rare.

    https://youtu.be/fs6q4ZNDzkk