Do you have what it takes to be a professional singer?
Don't ask me. I'm too busy. Instead, why don't you audition for "American Idol"? If they give you a pass, you can always try out for "The X Factor". Still no luck? Why not hustle over to "The Voice", where the judges will listen to you sing...with their backs turned. Still coming up empty handed? See if "America's Got Talent", co-hosted by Mr. Class himself Howard Stern, has a slot available. Just make sure your bio is accurate, OK? Then there is that new show on ABC called "Duets", where unknown warblers get a chance to perform duets with "super stars like Robin Thicke."
Who is Robin Thicke? And why are they calling him a "super star"?
Robin Thicke is the son of Alan Thicke, a Canadian television fixture who unwisely chose to challenge Johnny Carson of "The Tonight Show" for late night viewers back in 1983. His show was called "Thicke of the Night" and it achieved Bad TV Immortality by earning a "0" Nielsen in certain places. According to the classic tome Bad TV by Craig Nelson, when Thicke watched a tape of his debut, he fainted (I'm not surprised). Later Alan redeemed himself a bit by playing the dad on the hit sitcom "Growing Pains", which featured Kirk Cameron as his girl crazy son. For a while the show featured a bratty kid played by one Leonardo DiCaprio.
Robin, meanwhile, is described as a song writer, singer, actor and record producer. For a while, he went by the moniker "Thicke". All of which is fine. However, I'd never heard of him until the "Duets" folks started beating the tom-toms for this show. And just because ABC calls Robin Thicke a super star doesn't mean he is one.
Anyway, what baffles me even more than calling Robin Thicke a super star, is the endless proliferation of singing shows on network television. Where once there were comedies, dramas, movies-of-the-week, mini-series, documentaries and variety shows, there is now singing, singing and more singing. People sing alone, in groups, with accompaniment, with no accompaniment, with Karaoke machines, with judges facing the wall. They may call themselves by different names, they may be hosted by different people, they may offer cash prizes or record contracts, but these shows ARE ALL THE SAME. And they follow the same format:
1) A trio of show business figures of dubious origin criss-cross this great nation of ours looking for undiscovered talent. In my opinion, they rarely find any.
2) The judges (and their chatty-Patty hosts) stop here and there, where crowds of hopefuls line up to receive an official audition number. These pit stops are ALWAYS accompanied by lots of time lapse photography of clouds parting, cars zooming by, day turning into night and into day again which I hate.
3) One by one, the judges are treated to starry-eyed hopefuls whose singing abilities range from actual potential to reasonable to OK for the church choir to can't carry a tune in a tin bucket.
4) If you pass muster, the judges will tell you "You're going to Vegas!" or "You're going to Hollywood!" or "You're going to New York!", which is where the show's principal set is. How you get there, who pays for stuff etc. is never explained.
5) When the show has its 10 or 15 or 20 finalists selected, the singers begin singing in front of a large audience on a gaudy set. The music is often unbearably loud, there are needless special effects (like dry ice and images of fire) and clumps of young people may be standing close to the stage waving their hands in air as if they are trying to catch the attention of a circling cargo plane. It's my sneaking suspicion that these "fans" are planted there by the producers and couldn't give two hoots about who wins these things. Also, if "celebrities" happen to be in the audience, it's my other sneaking suspicion that they have been asked to appear and are getting a nice check in return for doing so. They may also be affiliated in some way with the network. Again, I can't prove any of this, I just feel it in my gut. I feel this way because I am a deeply cynical person, my heart having been hardened by several tragic experiences. But I'm lots of fun at parties.
6) After the singer sings, the judges will critique the singer. They will offer up comments like "That was great!" or "You were a little flat" or "I didn't think you were feeling the lyrics, dawg." The singer, meanwhile, will try and stay composed during this part of the show and promise to take the judges' advice to heart.
7) The judges then decide who stays and who goes. The judges may base this on a numerical score they assign each singer or from the tallies culled from callers, texters and on-line voters. The judges' scores could also be combined with votes from callers, texters and on-line voters, a complex theorem that often leads to some head scratching results (i.e. like Bristol Palin's second place finish on "Dancing with the Stars").
8) As the weeks drag on and the herd thins, the singers are often asked to sing in various styles to show off their versatility. Whether they have the vocal range to manage this many song styles is often embarrassingly obvious (i.e. no).
9) When a contestant must be shown the door, the atmosphere of these shows takes on an ominous tone. The lights dim. A hush falls over the crowd. The host becomes very, very serious, as if he or she must tell a beloved family member that their favorite pet has just been devoured by rabid wolves. The judges look uneasy, even tearful. The contestants are brought up one by one, as if they were facing a parole board. The host says a few words. There is a dramatic pause. The host says a few more words. There is another dramatic pause. The contestants, meanwhile, look like they are about to faint dead or at least wet themselves. If a contestant is "saved" for another round, they nearly swoon with relief. When the unfortunate one is told they are out, a collective "oh-h-h" washes over the room. Then the audience applauds their encouragement, the singer tries to be brave and those "saved" until next week try to be gracious without gloating.
10) Repeat step 9 until there is no one left and crown your "winner". Whether that person goes on to have a professional career beyond playing at Bar Mitzvahs and the glories of dinner theater is anybody's guess. Besides, no sooner has the "winner" been crowned than the show's producers are out frantically resuming their search for the next winner.
Truly, these "reality show" competitions have got to stop. The mindless search for America's next top singing/dancing/modeling/weight loss/bachelor/bachlorette/cooking show host/design show host/fashion designer/ inventor has reduced the TV schedule to a Job Fair from Hell. I, for one, was not the least bit worried about who America's next (see list above) was going to be.Why? Because if there is one thing America has never been short of, it's B-grade celebrities. They've always managed to pop up in movies and TV shows and on the Top 40 without any outside help.The nice thing about them? They don't stay around for very long. Now, however, network television seems to have become obsessed with finding as many of these folks as possible and inflicting them on the public. Even worse, they expect us to watch them finding them. Enough!
Bring back my comedies, dramas, made-for-TV-movies, documentaries and mini-series! Stop subjecting the beleaguered American public to this endless amateur hour! And above all, stop calling Robin Thicke a super star!