Five years ago, a tiny brunette with a guitar in her hand presented herself to a panel of judges that would, moments later, cast her in the fifth season of Canadian Idol. She was 21 but looked 14, and when she started to sing, their faces lit up. The girl, of course, was Carly Rae Jepsen. She only placed third in that competition, but, well, you know. Number one on Billboard charts, Bieber accolades, international sensation. She’s doing OK, maybe.
In Canada, the talent search has a long and storied history, from radio through to television and the web. And yet, Canada does not currently have a televised talent contest worth its salt. The last with any footprint was Canadian Idol, which remains the most watched television show in Canadian history and which was cancelled in 2008. Since then, there have been many attempts to repeat the formula (including CBC’s recent Cover Me Canada and the nascent Over the Rainbow), but none have succeeded on the same scale. Had they, we might have five Carly Rae Jepsons instead of just one. And that would be to Canada’s great benefit.
It’s easy to scoff at the talent competition, especially when the proliferation of American contributions to the category seems increasingly ridiculous (turning chairs, anyone?). But if we want homegrown pop stars who can compete, we may have to persuade some of our networks to invest in homegrown Idol-type shows.
This is also the position held by Insight Production Company CEO John Brunton, whose company produced Canadian Idol and who is always seeking an opportunity to air the next good talent search TV show.
“TV remains the great water cooler,” he says, also citing the opportunity inherent in such shows for transmedia, that great buzzword. “These kinds of shows cause people to communicate with each other via social networking and other means. Shows like Idol get you to vote.” In this way, the audience is involved in the creation of a pop star, which means they are more likely to be invested in that person’s future. Not only did they know her when, they chose her when.
The problem with creating such shows in this country is the eternal problem of Canadian television: it costs too much, and it’s too difficult to carve out a niche for a show when the big-budget American equivalent is happening — often simultaneously — on an opposing channel.
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