Focus shifts to star judges, as contestants falter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Javier Colon's family and friends were so excited when he won the first season of "The Voice," they assured him he was set for life — and famous.
The 35-year-old musician knew better.
"I never expected that I would be like the next Kelly Clarkson," Colon said, referring to the superstar who got her start on "American Idol." ''Expectations and hopes are different things. Fortunately for me, I've had a lot of experience in the music business — some good ones and some not so good ones — that led me to auditioning for 'The Voice.' I've learned to just not expect much."
More than a year after his win, Colon is without a record contract and still trying to land a breakout hit on the charts. He is just one of the increasing singing contest winners who are struggling to find their way after TV success. Among the more recent "Idol" winners who have faltered after capturing the crown include David Cook and Kris Allen; and while runner-up status or even being a top finalist could lead to fame in the early seasons, like with Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry, prospects for non-winners have dropped so much that this year, "Idol" stopped offering second-place finishers a guaranteed recording contract.
Last season's "X Factor" winner Melanie Amaro's debut single, released last month, hasn't made much of a dent on radio (though her official album debut is in December) and there are concerns that the most recent "Voice" winner, Jermaine Paul, may end up following the same path as Colon.
It all points to a troubling trend for those who still believe in their original mission from the early days of reality TV.
"That's what the show, at the end of the day, was designed for," said Simon Cowell, a judge and creative force "American Idol" who has since moved to "The X Factor," which debuts Wednesday on Fox. "Ratings are important, but if you're not producing the goods year on year, then it's sort of pointless making these shows."
At the same time, there's been a noticeable shift in the competition shows' focus. Once content with finding the next Mariah Carey, these days it's more about ... well, Mariah Carey.
Far more ink has been spilled over the new "American Idol" judge's eight-figure salary and the show's revolving judging panel than on last year's winner (Quick: Name him). And the ante is upped repeatedly as new shows pop up all over the television dial — each with its own star-laden list of mentors, coaches and judges.
Over at "The Voice," which also debuted this week, they've made changes for Season 3 they hope will help aspiring artists shine through. The NBC show has been popular and viewers love the chemistry between coaches Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Yet the show hasn't produced a breakout star yet, something producers hope will change now that they've altered some of the rules that led to quick eliminations.
"It's not that long of a season, so by the time we get to the end it's like, 'Oh, my God, I don't know who I like. I happened so fast,'" Shelton said. "And we do realize that the attention's focused on us more than it needs to be. And the viewer ... that's the only thing they've had time to figure out because they've had 60-something contestants to wade through."
Shelton and Levine have tried to extend the buzz for their contestants by taking them out on tour. And Green says he tries to stay in contact with each team member he's had since "The Voice" shot to the top of ratings when it debuted last year.
The flamboyant entertainer thinks the lack of post-competition star power might have something to do with the deteriorating music industry itself.
"It's a genuine concern of mine, man, because I'm concerned about the industry at large, that it does not carry and develop more young talent," Green said. "We're talking about stars, sensations. I just don't see those fireworks that once were. It's not as exciting. It's not as plentiful."
Cowell argues you need more than star singers to anoint the next big talent. On "X Factor" Epic Records chairman/CEO L.A. Reid is as crucial as celebrity judges, which this year includes Britney Spears and Demi Lovato.
Over at "Idol," there's question about the status of Randy Jackson — the last link to the show's original panel with Cowell and Paula Abdul. The rumored list of names who might replace outgoing stars Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler has included Nicki Minaj, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, not executives or producers.
"I wouldn't trust four singers on one of these shows," Cowell said. "You've got to have record executives balanced with the artists. The artists give one perspective and the record label gives a completely different perspective."
Of course, the celebrity argument cuts both ways. Some note it may be too much to ask for these shows to produce such a rare commodity.
John Rich, who's actually moving in with a contestant for 72 hours on the CW's "The Next," says those who've gone on to become stars did so because they had something special: "Sometimes great singers win the talent contest and sometimes great artists win the talent contest. More times than not, probably a great singer wins, not a great artist."
As Colon predicted, the year since he won has been challenging. He asked out of his record contract with Universal Republic when he felt he wasn't getting the necessary promotional push and support. But he recently wrapped a swing through South America with Maroon 5 at Levine's invitation. He played in front of 35,000 in Sao Paolo, Brazil, perhaps the highlight of his career. And more importantly, he's now able to draw several hundred out to a gig in North Dakota, drawing on his own star power.
"The Voice" didn't give him stardom, but the wave of momentum from the show has given him a career.
"My expectations going into the show were just, you know, I want this to be a good opportunity for me and good exposure and hopefully I'll be in a better place than I was before the show started," Colon said. "I'm definitely there and beyond that."
AP Television Writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott at http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.
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