In “Platinum Hit,” premiering Monday, Bravo takes the formula it perfected with “Project Runway” and “Top Chef” and plugs in a dozen singing songwriters — which is not necessarily to say “singer-songwriters,” in the James Taylor sense of the phrase — and whittles them away weekly until only one remains, holding cash and contracts. You will recognize the elements, even to the way that the demerits of the losers are enumerated in groups of three: “Your song was trite, confusing and uninspiring.” “Your song was not memorable, it was not emotional, and it did not speak to us.”
There are differences, to be sure. In “Runway” and “Chef,” the go-for-your-dreams element of the game is buried by the more interesting and exciting practical business of making stuff. In “Platinum Hit,” as in “American Idol,” the dreams are always front and center, personified in the contestants themselves. For although it is framed as a competition among songwriters, it is clear that this is a competition among people who themselves want to be pop stars.
They would rather be Jewel, that is, the show’s friendly host-judge, than head judge Kara DioGuardi — who, though her songs have been recorded by a mess of big-name singers, is only famous because she was a judge on “Idol.”
In the first episode, the aspirants are asked to write a song about Los Angeles, which inevitably brings forth a series of variations on the theme of making it big. Members of a generation raised on the idea that to want something really bad is in some way to deserve it, they can seem a little silly in their self-approving urgency, though I don’t doubt this is partly a matter of editing and partly a matter of playing the game.
There is Nevin, who declares, “I sing for the widow, I sing for the orphan.... I am a leader of men.” There is Nick, who is “a musical genius for sure”; and Jes, who calls herself an "über-quirky songwriter”; and Jackie, who does not mention that she was a once semi-finalist on “American Idol”; and Scotty, who does not mention that he was a contestant on ABC’s “The One: Making a Music Star,” which featured DioGuardi as a judge and lasted all of two weeks in 2006.
It would be truer to the premise, and the professional world the show is supposed to mirror, if the songs were not sung by the people who wrote them. The sort of songwriting “Platinum Hit” demands is the industrial sort, made to order in short time and less concerned with art than with efficiency.
“If you give me a record and that song don’t catch me in the first two, three seconds, I’m on my BlackBerry and that song is out the window,” says guest judge Jermaine Dupri. DioGuardi is even stricter: “You got one second to grab us, one second.” I hope that is not literally true, but it might explain a few things about modern pop.
Still, they get to make their music, solo and in groups, that we may see the egos collide and mesh, expand and contract. And if nothing here screams New Dylan or Next Gaga, or bids in any way to rival the best of “Runway” or “Chef,” the craft-under-pressure and problem-solving elements work as before. It’s amazing what people can do in a day.
When: 10 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)