The United Kingdom has revealed the six performers that will take to the stage in the BBC’s National Final, ‘ Eurovision: You Decide.’ Remember that we have six acts and three songs, so we get a bit of musical duels to start with, before the three song superfinal.
Singing ‘Bigger Than Us‘ we have Michael Rice and Holly Tandy; singing ‘Freaks‘ we have Jordan Clarke and MAID; and singing ‘Sweet Lies‘ we have Kellie-Anne and Anisa. If you’re keeping track, we have alumni from All Together Now, The X-Factor, and Britian’s Got Talentin the mix. I’m guessing that multiple choruses of ‘these are all former talent show contestants, I’m very upset and angry’ have already started in the media (both mainstream and social). And they are all wrong.
While it might make for a snappy headline in the tabloids or an easy Twitter sentiment, it simply reflects the reality of the modern music scene in the United Kingdom. If the BBC are focusing on new talent, the big surprise would be if all six acts had not tried out for any of the singing based talent shows.
If you are a singer in the UK and want to have a musical career, where do you go to start and build up a career? The traditional route of starting a band and getting into the bars and small venues around the country still exists, but the number of venues is decreasing.
For this generation’s singers who are starting out there has been one consistent option… the reality-TV/talent show hybrid. Starting with Nigel Lythgoe’s ‘Popstars’ in 2001, if you can make it through the open auditions, you get time on a national platform and a good shot at a career. And if you think the odds are long, they’re not unattractive when you look at other routes into the industry.
Eighteen years after Lythgoe’s show launched Hear’Say, is it any wonder than anyone who wants a singing career has at some point submitted themselves to one of these auditions at a minimum? Forget the word reject, if they made it to air they are ‘X-Factor alumni’, which to me simply means they have personal belief, a drive to succeed, and understand how the game is played.
Meet The Industry
Getting through the TV auditions and to the later rounds of any of these talent show gives the artists something vital to build their careers, no matter the result… recognition and exposure to the music industry’s back room heroes. Writers, managers, promoters, bookers, they are keeping tabs on these shows. It’s not just the winners who pick up careers from these shows.
Looking back to that first year of Popstars in the United Kingdom, and you had the first mainstream appearance of Darius Danesh (now Darius Campbell). He may not have won through in Popstars (or the following year’s Pop Idol), but he has continued to work in the arts to this day, including runs as Billy Flynn in the West End production of ‘Chicago,’ Sky Masterson in ‘Guys and Dolls’, and originated the Rhett Butler role in the theatrical adaption of ‘Gone With The Wind’.
Look through National Final and Eurovision alumni and you’ll find an increasing number of performers who picked up their first break in a TV talent show; to highlight a few you have Mans Zelmerlow in Swedish Idol, Michael Schulte in The Voice of Germany, Dami M in The X Factor Australia, and Loreen in Idol 2004.
Not bad for a bundle of ‘X-Factor Rejects’!
What Are The Alternatives?
If you don’t go for up-and-coming artists in your National Final, there are essentially only two other routes you can go for.
While it’s very unlikely that an established artist would decide to represent the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest, if one decided to take a very big risk you could see a single artist multi-song National Final (a route Finland is taking once more in 2019). Even then, the political environment in the UK and the levels of appreciation in the mainstream media to the Song Contest leads me to think that no sensible manager would recommend this to their client.
Then there are the older artists who are seen as likely candidates by the mainstream press and the casual fan in the United Kingdom. Witness the almost constant mentions of Steps in conversations about Eurovision in the media, harking back to a mythical view of the Song Contest that has almost no relevance to the modern show. In any case there’s a feeling that the modern Contest is happy to be seen as a platform for artists nearer the start of their career rather than at the end.
Which leaves you with the up and coming artists, who will predominantly have shown their hunger for a musical career by working through the talent show circuit.
Thre’s going to be a lot more talk about the choice of artists by the BBC, and it will not surprise me that the ‘X-Factor-isation’ of the UK National Final will be a hotly debated point. For me, the fact that the BBC has gone this route is a sign that the BBC is in step with the music industry.
‘Eurovision: You Decide’ is not yet a ‘top-tier’ show for managers to immediately place their young artists, but 2019’s cast shows that You Decide has gained acceptance and credibility over the last few years. This is what progress looks like.