American Idol vs. The X Factor vs. The Voice: Measuring the Success of Singing Competition Shows
When American Idol’s inaugural season kicked off more than a decade ago, no one knew what to expect. No televised singing competition had been successful since Star Search, and even though the panel of esteemed judges — Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson — created buzz, no one could have predicted its impact on pop culture today.
Fast forward to 2013. In a few weeks, we’ll enter a new year with not one, not two, but three huge singing competitions on air and half a dozen more talent contests circulating television. While Idol’s return with a new panel of judges — Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban — will hopefully uptick ratings from a lackluster 11th season, the question is whether they’ll ever produce another Kelly Clarkson.
However, the other shows currently in circulation are eclipsing Idol in ratings, and with Cassadee Pope crowned as The Voice’s third season winner, the hit NBC show may have its first real win. Though the infamous red chairs started spinning three years ago, the two previous winners haven’t yet reached superstardom. Season 1 winner Javier Colon is far from a household name, releasing a few singles that failed to chart in the Billboard or iTunes Top 10, and Season 2 winner Jermaine Paul’s biggest claim to fame thus far has been Samsung and Kia commercials.
But with Cassadee comes hoards of fans from her previous days in pop punk band Hey Monday, a strong season on The Voice, and record-breaking single sales on iTunes. Like The Voice Season 2 runner-up, Juliet Simms, it will be fans that determine Cassadee’s success, and so far, things are looking good.
When it comes to stacking The Voice up against American Idol and Simon Cowell’s latest venture, The X Factor, it’s a mixed bag. Yes, Idol has more successful former contestants and winners, but it has also been on the air for a decade. The Voice’s ratings far surpass both Idol and The X Factor and has only been on for three seasons — no small feat for a relatively-new show.
At the same time, the U.S. edition of The X Factor is just starting to heat up. Season 1 winner Melanie Amaro has released a few relatively popular singles, but her debut album has yet to drop. And on Dec. 19, the show crowned Tate Stevensas its second winner, a country crooner who wowed the judges week after week. He beat out fan favorite, 13-year-old powerhouse Carly Rose Sonenclar, who is arguably better suited for the iTunes single-buying tween demographic, but for good reason: Country is one of the America's most popular genres. Though Kelly Clarkson is a force to be reckoned with, Carrie Underwood has surprisingly sold more records than her, and American Idol Season 10 winner, Scotty McCreery, has also made a big name for himself. However, we’ll have to give it time to see how successful Melanie and Tate are, but one of the perks of winning a fan-voted singing competition is that artists emerge with a solid fanbase — especially when it comes to country music — that will hopefully follow them throughout their careers.
Case in point: tween favorite boy band One Directiondidn’t win The X Factor UK (which Simon Cowell started before moving on to the U.S. version), but the runners-up found great success in both England and now the United States, surpassing the likes of Justin Bieber and Rihanna on the charts daily. And even though Carly Rae Jepsen’s infamous single “Call Me Maybe” didn’t garner much success in her home country of Canada, the third-place Canadian Idol winner caught Justin Bieber’s attention and is now raking in single sales worldwide. On the flip side, X Factor UK winner Leona Lewis continues to be successful, even though she won more than six years ago!
This goes to show that with singing competitions, it’s not just about winning — it’s about what winners do after the show. On The Voice, Season 2 favorites RaeLynn, Chris Mann, and Juliet Simms are all on the road to stardom thanks to their coaches’ help after the competition. They quickly put out great music, keeping their fan base entertained and close by, and have been reaping the benefits ever since. Even this season on The Voice, contestants like Mackenzie Bourg, Amanda Brown, and Cody Belew immediately started posting self-recorded videos and kick-started small tours to ride out their 15 minutes of fame, and hopefully this can catapult them back into the industry sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day, you get what you give on these singing competitions. Idol may reign supreme for now, but in five years, that may not be the case. With The Voice kicking off its fourth season in the spring rather than waiting for the fall, they’ll not only have double the amount of contestants and winners, but new coaches Shakira and Usher (who notably discovered Justin Bieber) will lend their own expertise and new flair to the show, as will Mariah and Nicki on American Idol. We’re in for a crazy year of competitions, but if they keep producing amazing talent like Kelly Clarkson, Cassadee Pope, and One Direction, we’re not complaining.
Which show do you think is most successful? Sound off below!
Alyse Whitney is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @AlyseWhitney.