Jake Worthington & The Great Reality Show Hype
Have you ever heard of Justin Guarini? How about Diana DeGarmo? Blake Lewis, anybody? Or how about Lee DeWyze? Does Dia Frampton ring a bell with anyone? Anyone?
Dia Frampton was a contestant on the inaugural season of NBC’s reality singing contest The Voice. Frampton, like all of the other names listed above, was either a runner up, or a winner of either The Voice or American Idol. And there’s an infinite list of other indistinguishable names from where these names came from: singers that reached the very heights of reality show competition, only to fade back into the unknown masses once the next season kicked off. Reality singing show nerds might be laughing at me right now, knowing all of these names, and the styles and stats of each artist. And so maybe to them, I’m the one who needs to fade back into the unknown masses. But even those people should hang with me for just a second more.
Not to pick on poor Dia Frampton, but let’s just take a look back at what happened to her after she made it onto The Voice finale, and almost won. In December of 2011, Dia released an album called Red through Universal Republic Records. How did the album do? It reached a peak of #106 on the Billboard charts. The album’s lone single “The Broken Ones” didn’t chart at all. But in reality, that’s not bad compared to the actual Season 1 winner of The Voice, Javier Colon. His album peaked at #134 on the Billboard charts. In fact Javier, who had his own successful music career before The Voice, released an album way back in 2003 that made it to #91 on Billboard—43 spots better than the album contracted to him after his big reality show win.
Of course for all these types of anecdotal stories about reality show winners, there are success stories such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and to a lesser extent, artists like Kellie Pickler and Scotty McCreery. But many of these big stars came from the first few seasons of American Idol, while many other finalists and winners have completely dropped off the map or have taken to starring in other reality show competitions, or reprising B-level acting roles to attempt to keep the momentum of their big reality show win rolling.
And this brings us to the matter of the young, fresh-faced finalist on The Voice, Jake Worthington. Jake finished 2nd and has captured the hearts and imaginations of many traditional country fans by wearing a big cowboy hat, and singing Keith Whitley songs on the show every chance he got, along with songs from Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and others throughout the competition. Hey, that’s great. Great for this kid, and great that good, real country music is being exposed to the masses through him. But how many times have we been through this exercise with one of these reality show contestants, wondering if they are the ones that will rise out of the unclean masses to save country music with big reality show exposure?
I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. Jake Worthington seems like a really good kid, and good on Blake Shelton for shepherding him to the top level of the competition, and doing so while letting him keep his voice and style instead of swaying him in a more pop direction. But the reason that The ‘X’ Factor was canceled, the reason that American Idol has seen dramatically-declining ratings, and The Voice has remained stagnant, is because these competitions cannot consistently deliver winners that truly are American Idols, or that truly define “The Voice” of a generation.
Producers try to shake up the production, they shove more star power into these shows than the viewer can compute. ABC, despite the writing on the wall that with so many of these singing shows, they’re cannibalizing each other, is still starting their own competition come next season. But these shows are not delivering on their promise to the American public of delivering stars that they will then see selling out arenas, and performing on the Grammy Awards. That is why the singing reality show model is losing steam.
Opportunity is only what you make of it, and regardless of what the marketeers of these shows try to sell you on, the simple fact is nobody has the power to anoint a star. The winners themselves must still rise to find themselves, must still figure out a way to connect with the public at large. Some stars have done this like Carrie Underwood. Many haven’t like Javier Colon.
Let’s not overlook that it says a lot about the appeal of traditional country music that an artist like Jake Worthington even made it as far as the finals of The Voice. Everywhere you turn there’s people preaching to you that nobody wants to hear traditional country anymore, and it can be argued that Jake Worthington’s coach, Blake Shelton, has been one of the loudest champions of this sentiment. But whether it is Shelton changing course by seeing the blossoming of Jake Worthington right before his eyes, or the American public letting their voice be known by voting for Worthington, George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards this last year, or even the recent announcement that Big Machine Records is partnering with Cumulus to reintegrate classic country artists into the fold, everywhere where traditional country is given a chance, it proves that it’s appeal and resonance with the American people is not on the wane as many would have you believe.
And don’t discount Mr. Worthington just because his path led through a reality show. At this point, with artists like Dan+Shay being nominated for awards before they’ve even released an album, and previous reality show contestants like Kellie Pickler putting out albums like 100 Proof that end up becoming the best country music has to offer in a given year, the most important question to ask is not where the artist came from, but what they accomplish with the opportunity they’ve been given.
Jake Worthington’s success, and the renewed interest in traditional country that might bestow, has much less to do with The Voice and where he placed, and much more to do with Jake Worthington, and if he has the stuff to speak to people’s hearts, and the guts to stick to who he is as an artist.
Our job is to help him.
May 20, 2014 @ 8:13 pm
Why did they slow that song way the fuck down? It’s slow enough lol
May 20, 2014 @ 9:17 pm
For me , these ‘contests’ are over after the blind auditions in the first few weeks. Once its in the hands of viewers ………well. The absolute best voice in this round was voted out several weeks ago .
Great exposure for an artist to build on ….if they have the money , the time , the no-quit , the long term support of a label ( how’s that for an oxymoron ? ) a spouse and family who don’t mind the long hours , the Kraft dinner nights and the taxing conditions that an entertainment personality ( notice I didn’t say recording artist ….that’s usually another oxymoron ) needs to commit to for career success .
On the other hand , this is a great way for a network to get world-class talent at Walmart prices for weeks on end . So EVERYBODY is a winner . For about 8 weeks.
Good luck to Jake . He’s a great singer , in my opinion ….but ( and as crass and judgmental as this may sound ,) I think we all know that in the mainstream country music market he’ll need Tim McGraw’s trainer to have any kind of serious impact with 15 year old female fans and their moms.
May 20, 2014 @ 9:52 pm
I’ve been watching The Voice from the beginning, but I burnt out early this season after my favorite, Ryan Maloney, was eliminated. As you said Trigger, many fall off the face of the earth once the show ends. Most of the artists are of the cookie cutter variety, although I found two favorites in Chris Mann and Terry McDermott I still follow from past seasons.
Back to Jake, I went and listened to some of his covers from the show and he definitely passes the sound test. He has a great voice and good taste in song choices. I was worried he would do bro country songs, but that wasn’t the case at all. He chose Alabama to perform with on the finale. I think he has what it takes, but like you said it depends on what he does from here on out. Does he sell out or does he follow his heart? The first album will be the indicator. If he follows his heart, I will certainly be a fan of his and he would help the cause of saving country music.
May 20, 2014 @ 9:54 pm
One more thing I found of interest from him: the comments on YouTube and iTunes about his performances. I saw a lot of comments saying his voice is “flat,” his songs put them to sleep and how they hate country music. So maybe he is one of us 🙂
May 20, 2014 @ 10:31 pm
Thanks for writing this. I was surprised at how he maintained true to traditional country throughout the competition despite being paired with none other than Blake Shelton. I kept waiting for him to have to sing a Luke Bryan or FLGA Line Song. It speaks volumes about the staying power of traditional country music that this didn’t happen. I’ve been rooting him for him throughout the show, and happy to see he came in second. Hopefully he will stay just as true to himself for the rest of his career as he was during the show. Truly a genuine and likable guy.
May 20, 2014 @ 11:36 pm
I work at The Voice and have had the opportunity to see Jake’s progress. I love that kid. He puts his all into it and is the genuine article. Trigger, I agree with some of what you say here – that the reality show format can be overhyped for what it actually delivers…BUT, it’s not their job to deliver the savior of any music format – it’s their job to pull ratings and win Emmys. That show is doing exactly that. Also, curious that you don’t mention Cassadee Pope. Though I have hated every offering she’s put on radio this far, her album has been certified Gold. She’s the Season 3 winner. Danielle Bradberry is making her own way as well. She won season 4. The Swon Brothers? To me, a novelty. But I think Jake is someone from whom we’ll be hearing some good things – a few years from now. He delivers his songs with authenticity and a solid voice. That’s going to speak to a great number of folks who tire of (or mature out of) the bro country fad in the next year or two.
I think he’ll be just fine.
May 21, 2014 @ 8:04 am
The point of that exercise (which I admitted was anecdotal) was to explain that a win guarantees you nothing. There are success stories with runner ups and winners, and there are failures. My desire was to instill a little bit of reality in people who think that Jake Worthington could become a country music savior.
May 21, 2014 @ 11:43 am
Another thing with these type of shows is that in some genres it works better. I think it works great in country because there seems to have always been more of a focus on just being a likeable strong vocalist. No need for a band or certain image just a name and a voice. Rock wants a band and more often than not pop wants something more edgy than someone who was discovered during primetime on NBC. Look at the history of reality singing shows and at the artist who actually got big. The biggest portion are in country.
March 10, 2015 @ 10:39 am
New music will be out at the end of March 2015 He has stuck with his traditional way and I believe people will see the artist that he really is. True and traditonal.
May 21, 2014 @ 1:41 am
Why is it that whenever reality singing show contestants are mentioned Miranda Lambert’s name is almost universally omitted?
You know most of these contestants fail to resonate with the public? And I should be stating the obvious here, because (the vast majority of them) are overweight and/or unattractive. Carrie Underwood is a superstar because she’s a stunner. That voice on some pudgy face-for-radio would never be heard. Oh sure there are exceptions, most of them men, but they’re rare. Is it unfair? Yes. Is a revolting reflection on our decaying society? Yes. But it’s reality. That’s why The Voice has done the worst in terms of a marketable winner. It sure is democratic to choose a contestant based on talent alone but it’s also a pipe dream. Judges (producers) need to be able to pick the hottest one with the greatest talent.
May 21, 2014 @ 8:00 am
Yes Miranda did compete on one of these shows at one time, but that was not the origination of her deal. Many, if not most current country artists have some talent show experience. Kacey Musgraves does too.
May 21, 2014 @ 8:34 am
This is pretty dead on, although there is one exception to the rule and this happened outside of the U.S. Susan Boyle was the runner-up on Britain’s Got Talent. Then again I don’t know the overall track record of music shows over in the UK.
May 21, 2014 @ 5:06 pm
I think we should take away fan vote on these shows, because they almost always fuck shit up. Was Cassadee Pope really the best singer on last year’s Voice? She’s got an awfully flat voice, if you ask me.
May 21, 2014 @ 6:51 am
I think the appeal of American Idol was largely due to the early episodes of each season. Some audiences loved seeing Simon Cowell tear down aspiring singers. I never got the appeal, but then I don’t think American’s Funniest Videos is particularly funny, either. I don’t see anything amusing about other people’s misfortune.
As for the impact of these shows on music, well, overall it’s been minimal. Nashville Star was on for 6 seasons. Of the six winners, only one – Season 4 winner Chris Young – has gone on to have a moderately successful career (although Season 2 runner up George Canyon is a star in Canada). The biggest stars to come out of the show both lost: Miranda Lambert came in 3rd in Season 1 and Kacey Musgraves was 7th in Season 5. If a country music talent show with judges like Robert K. Oermann, Tracy Gershon, Anastasia Brown and Jeffrey Steele can’t pick more than 1 ‘star’ in 6 seasons, that tells you that the format is flawed.
May 22, 2014 @ 3:33 pm
George Canyon was already known in Canada before Nashville Star.
May 21, 2014 @ 7:12 am
These types of shows, along with their celebrity judges, trigger my gag reflex.
I would watch Dateline, 48 Hours and Paula Zahn reruns any day of the week over these shows’ season finales.
Ditto for “reality shows”, except for Cops, of course, which is real.
Nonetheless, I wish this young man the best with his career.
May 21, 2014 @ 7:29 am
My wife loves this show and I watched the whole season with her. I never watched more than 2-3 episodes of it, just not my cup of tea. But when Jake did Keith Whitley, I thought “hmmm, interesting and he’s only in high school”. Most kids 17and 18 yrs old have no clue who Keith Whitley is, yet alone “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. I thought that he would fall into the pop FGL songs later on, but he never did. The comment that shocked me the most was when Blake said country music needs someone like Jake to bring back the traditional music of the past. Jake seems like a kid whose parents raised him on some classic country and 80’s/90’s country. He’s a kind and likeable kid, so I hope he does well.
May 21, 2014 @ 9:49 am
If that dickhead Blake actually said that, the irony is painful after his whole “old farts and jackasses” thing.
May 21, 2014 @ 9:52 am
He did say it.
May 21, 2014 @ 7:41 am
Part of the problem is that there are only so many people who actually have the combination of talent, desire, and good fortune to actually become successful. All of these talent shows are drawing from a diluted talent pool. It’s just not big enough. This is also one of the reasons the NFL doesn’t have 50 teams. But on the other hand, it seems like the machine can make someone famous if they really want to, regardless of talent. Who knows?
May 21, 2014 @ 8:02 am
Yes. If you think about it. In history, maybe one or two artists would rise out of obscurity per year to really have a big, national impact on music. But each year, these shows anoint four or five new artists that are supposed to accomplish this, not counting the artists that are doing this naturally. THere’s just not enough space in the American popular consciousness for them all.
May 21, 2014 @ 8:49 am
So glad to see you write about this young man! He is such a sweet soul with a genuine love of traditional country music. They gave him a car last night and he said he is giving it to his Grandma because she bought his first car for him. At 18 he already has a wonderful sound and a genuine respect for the music. You may remember Trigger I wrote you about him early. I was a fan of his then and still am!
May 21, 2014 @ 11:09 am
Here’s my problem with all this. I think that Jake is a good, genuine kid. I was cheering for him. But lets not forget out of the limited number of songs he sang on the show there were two 80’s rock songs and they took probably the worst Brooks & Dunn hit out there and cheesed it up with 2 flatbed trailers and daisy duke back up dancers. To me they were just using Jake as a very likeable fresh face to push the same caricature of country they’ve been pushing for years now. It was more inline with stuff like “International Harvester” than the current bro country stuff but still. I just hope that his genuine personality and innocence doesn’t just make him an easy target for Nashville to change into who they want him to be.
May 21, 2014 @ 11:21 am
In my very limited interfacing with “The Voice”, one thing I’ve noticed, and something they do differently than “American Idol” is they really go all in on the marketing and branding around the artists that has this sort of unsettling, modern-day Lawrence Welk feel to it with the stage props and such. I know that a lot of what happens on these shows is image-based, but this takes it another step further. The ‘X’ Factor did this as well.
May 21, 2014 @ 11:27 am
My wife loves the show and as these type of shows go its at least more focused and less meandering than American Idol. And yes they definitely go to great lengths on the imagery.
May 21, 2014 @ 11:44 am
I second this emotion.
It’s Jake’s heart that will win people over. His sincerity shines through the hype.
He’s young but I think he’ll accomplish more than the winner. Sad to say, but it’s all true. The winners of these shows are footnotes a year later.
The shows do make stars out of the judges and restart careers. They last for months and you’re worn out by the time they’re over. I prefer them over sappy comedy shows with canned laughter. I listen while I do chores.
Alabama, McGraw and Coldplay were very good.
May 21, 2014 @ 11:57 am
I can’t agree with that at all. The McGraw song was a lot better than his other recent material but his voice didn’t sound great, Alabama seemed tired, and Coldplay was at best boring.
May 21, 2014 @ 11:59 am
Oh, if anyone knows Tim’s diet secrets, I want to know what they are. He really is fit. He must work out like a Marine. He should start a boot-camp for those who are bloated from too many beers.
May 23, 2014 @ 10:11 am
Interesting comment camie . As we watched Tim the other evening , more than one of us wondered if he had been ill …he looked gaunt and frail ( and sounded it at the ACMs with Faith …couldn’t seem to hold his notes ) My son’s girlfriend who wasn’t familiar with Tim , asked if he was an “old time country star ” and thought he was in his 60’s .
May 21, 2014 @ 12:07 pm
Chris Martin is an absolute fox. His sex appeal has went up a 1000 notches since his unconscious coupling or is it conscious uncoupling.
Anyway, they always talk about women with a “divorce glow”….well, Chris has never looked so good. I love his new album and wow, is he handsome.
May 21, 2014 @ 2:32 pm
I wonder if he’s any relation to Cal.
May 22, 2014 @ 2:36 pm
Cal is handsome, too…must be so.
It’s so odd, but today I can’t even remember who won the Voice.
May 23, 2014 @ 10:50 am
— The most successful “coronation” single ever released was Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” When did he win? Season eleven, which coincidentally enough was the season when ratings really started to nosedive.
And Scotty McCreery won season 10 – long after the most-watched seasons produced ultimately forgotten winners like Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks.
The “star” thing is not a source of the ratings downturn. If it were, the show never would have made it past season two — Ruben Studdard sold albums on the basis of his win, but he never really went anywhere in terms of generating hits.
— Jake Worthington did do a lot of stuff right as far as country goes, but I disagree with the part about Blake not steering him to pop. Note that two of his final performances–and his most successful ones, in fact–were the adult contemporary songs “Heaven” and “Right Here Waiting.”
May 23, 2014 @ 12:11 pm
I am saddened that many fall off into the ocean after the show. I’m sure it’s far more challenging for them to rise above the stigma of a talent contest. We devour them like oreos. One is never enough, but more than a handful…you feel sick.
My AM radio station reported that this year’s A.I. finale was the worst ever. They have another new voice talent show in the works. If something worked once, just drive it into the ground until you scream.
Does anyone every find true love on the Bachelor/ette show? Never.
They’re coming out with a GMO salmon soon. A frankenfish with genes of an eel and something plastic. I’m not going to devour it.
I enjoy reading everything about Country culture here. You can apply it to other areas of your life, I do. It’s more than who’s hot and who’s not.
It’s about what’s authentic vs. a fig newton of our imagination. I’m sure some may think we’re ‘purists’, but culture defines us. I’ve really expanded my Country music appreciation views. It carries over into other areas.
I remind myself that there are creative, beautiful individuals out there in every walk of life.
May 23, 2014 @ 1:36 pm
My views on GMO diverge somewhat from my views on country music, for the simple reason that food is a matter of life or death. Based on the articles I have read, GMO holds the potential to significantly increase food production, perhaps even doubling it. If genetic modification can be done safely and result in more malnourished people worldwide gaining the ability to afford food, then I would call it a win-win.
May 24, 2014 @ 2:56 pm
Funny, today we have a Monsanto protest ….the locals with signs, posters are marching down the street. They don’t want no stinking GMO seeds and I don’t want frankenfish.
I don’t really like hyrid Country. Our little bakery had to shut its’ doors. The GMO flour made the baker sick from too much exposure/dust in the lungs.
November 19, 2014 @ 5:15 pm
Blake Shelton being asked about the Voice not producing superstars so far: