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Are you Prepared to Appear on a Reality Talent Show?

What misconceptions do you have about reality talent shows? – Asks Diane Hughes.

Diane Hughes is an Associate Professor of Vocal Studies and Music and an expert in vocal artistry, vocal pedagogy and vocal performance.

She lifts the lid on televised singing competitions, and how, as a contestant, you could be negatively affected by the experience.

Are you prepared for criticism?

For some singers, reality TV talent shows serve as platforms for exposure and career development. That’s great! However, for most, it’s not a pathway to instant stardom!

For others, there are potential misconceptions surrounding the experience of being involved.

Specifically, the experience of being critiqued in a very public, yet personal, manner can sometimes be disheartening.

This is because singing is such an embodied and emotive experience, and the potential impact stemming from public criticism should never be underestimated.

Are you prepared for emotional strain?

Singers may be unprepared for the realities of singing in these competitions and there are potentially all kinds of emotional, physical and vocal strains that may become evident in various ways.

Take, for example, a singer who is not prepared for lifestyle changes and the related stresses of production schedules, media engagements and the pressure of constantly learning new repertoire.

Typically, bodies and voices fatigue under new and/or sustained stresses. Given the schedules of reality TV talent shows, there can be little allowance for ill health.

Of concern too is the notion that ‘loudness is greatness’ where audiences respond positively to the big notes. However, for some singers repeated big notes can be problematic (when sung without appropriate vocal technique) and fatiguing.

In many ways, I think what we are seeing now in reality TV talent shows also reflects an emphasis on a ‘back story’ or narrative concept that has become so significant in the 360° artist model. This has the potential to put added emotional strain on artists.

While it could be argued that these types of strains mirror professional realities, coping with these stresses when in the limelight may have great impact on amateur or developing singers who are unfamiliar with professional expectations and demands.

Are you prepared to go back to real life?

In my experience, singers don’t cope very well when their success fades. This is particularly true if singers value the traditional notions of artist ‘success’ such as audience validation or label distribution. And while I think there are highs and lows in any career, for singers it’s much more complicated.

This may be partly to do with experiencing intense emotions when singing and even performance adrenaline rushes, but it also has to do with individual expectations and the desire to ‘sing’ or to be a professional singer.

Singing is such a personal, emotive and creative occupation. With that, there is a certain level of vulnerability. When perceived validation ceases or falters, then the result can be crushing.

Are you prepared to break out as an independent artist?

In the ‘new’ music industries and the digital environment, success is no longer defined by ‘traditional’ concepts. Artists should always be looking for or creating opportunities in which to share their songs.

The credibility of pop singing lies in its evolutionary nature so, hopefully, we could see additional creativity valued in overt ways rather than prizing the ‘covers’ model of many televised singing competitions that marginalises original songs.

The future may reward a breadth of originality!


Associate Professor Diane Hughes teaches in Vocal Studies and Music at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Di has an extensive background in contemporary popular singing pedagogy, and has been an invited speaker at conferences and seminars. Her work within the industry has involved artist development and recording. Di’s research interests include vocal artistry, vocal pedagogy, vocal recording, vocal performance and singing in schools; current research projects include vocal health, emotion and voice, the singer-songwriter, cultural musicology, and collaborative producing in recording. Research on singing in schools led her to become an advocate for the development of cross-curriculum voice studies in school education. She is currently the National President of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing Ltd (ANATS). Find out more about Diane Hughes.