Sara Bareilles feels like the new kid in class. Despite Grammy nods for singles “Love Story” and “King of Anything,” the singer thinks viewers of NBC’s a cappella series, “The Sing-Off,” will be confused when they see her on the judges panel.
“I didn’t come to the table feeling like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the household name,’” said Bareilles, who joined the series for its recently premiered third season. “A lot of people still don’t know who I am.”
Bareilles, currently touring with Sugarland, replaced Nicole Scherzinger on the “The Sing-Off’s” panel, which includes Ben Folds and Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman. Bareilles’ addition bookends a year in which music-based competitions have increasingly sought a jolt of credibility by recruiting musicians landing hits on today’s charts.
While “American Idol” attracted Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler to a post-Simon Cowell season, stateside adaptations of international hits such as “The Voice” and “The X Factor” are out for “Idol’s” blood — and ratings. Before year’s end, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton — and that’s only one show — Colbie Caillat, Jewel, will.i.am and Jennifer Hudson will all have appeared on freshmen series. The shows all boast of the priceless advice that contestants stand to benefit from superstar judges. But what’s in it for the artists?
“I’m really drawn to the emotional connections of these people and their stories,” Bareilles said. “But, of course, being on television is a great opportunity for a lot of people to get to know [me].... It was a no-brainer.”
Reality TV has long appealed to singers hoping the exposure will translate into music sales, and there’s no better time to get in on the competition.
Cowell, the creator and executive producer of “The X Factor,” was typically frank when discussing the selection process that led the show to booking Paula Abdul and veteran record executive Antonio “L.A.” Reid.
“One of the things we spoke about when putting together the panel, [was] we have to have people who have had a hit record, or are having hit records so they genuinely know what’s happening on the charts today,” Cowell said. “Otherwise, everything would become a celebrity panel.”
Lopez smartly timed her comeback effort, “Love?,” with her stint on “Idol.” The set’s lead single, “On the Floor,” entered the charts at No. 9, her highest debut, and the album bowed at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart — a coup for the singer-actress whose stock had plummeted after getting canned from longtime label Sony and her last film, “The Back-up Plan,” performing poorly.
It makes one wonder, had Aguilera’s time on “The Voice” come earlier, what influence it could have had on her album “Bionic” and film “Burlesque.” Both bombed, resulting in comments that her career had stalled. But within a few weeks on “The Voice,” her star began rising again. Aguilera’s duet with sparring partner Levine on his band Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger,” which premiered on the show, shot off and recently hit No. 1 — the first chart-topper with her name attached to it in nearly a decade.
The bounty spread to the rest of the judges: Shelton notched his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and Green — already a household name with his massive single "… You” — became a ubiquitous presence.
Branding consultant Amanda Guralski attributed the shift to performers needing to capitalize on their name recognition without jeopardizing their image.
“You can’t just get by anymore with a couple of great hits, you really have to play up the entire package,” Guralski said. “These shows allow them to step up and say, ‘I’m an expert in my field.’ They know ranges, they know pitches and they know what doesn’t sound good.”
Scherzinger, who left “The Sing-Off” for “The X Factor,” gained plenty of buzz after her promotion from co-host to judge, replacing British singer Cheryl Cole.
Scherzinger and Cole have reality show pasts, and although Scherzinger achieved fame with the Pussycat Dolls, she’s stalled as a solo artist, whereas Cole has flourished. After Scherzinger’s serially delayed debut arrived to moderate success overseas in March, the U.S. release in November is aiming to tap into the expected momentum of the highly touted series. More than 24 million viewers tuned into its two-episode premiere last week, according to Nielsen, but not close to the 40 million “Idol” averaged weekly.
“They asked me to guest judge in the U.K. … just come in for a few days, in exchange, I would get to perform,” Scherzinger said. “I guess it was well-received. From then on, Simon and I kept in touch, and here I am. It’s amazing that I’ve come full circle. Having gotten my break on a talent reality search [2001’s ‘Popstars’], I can definitely empathize.”
Attracting top-tier talent like Caillat, will.i.am, Hudson and Leona Lewis to cable channel the Hub’s freshman series “Majors & Minors” provided a critical “stamp of legitimacy” for the project, said Tom Corson, president and chief operating officer of the RCA Music Group.
The show, focused on singers ages 10 to 16, never boots anyone off, but the winner lands a record deal with Boardwalk Records/RCA Records and will be featured in a national concert tour. RCA will distribute the music weekly via iTunes.
“Unlike some of these other shows, [the artists] are really giving back. It’s very authentic,” Corson said. “They are mentoring from a professional standpoint, and they have contributed to the development of a young artist.”
Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.