The Next

With the relatively recent trend of reality shows utilizing actual celebrities on their judges’ panel, it’s no surprise that the antics of the already-famous often overshadow the wannabe-famous. But it’s a feat to treat the contestants with as much disregard as The CW’s new entry into the singing reality arena, The Next.

With any kind of actual commitment from its celeb judges, The Next could be an intriguing concept. Think of it like MTV’s Made crossed with The Voice. The judges—Joe Jonas, Gloria Estefan, John Rich, and Nelly—are tasked with mentoring four hopefuls who already have some sort of following, be it online or in their hometowns (the first episode takes place in glamorous Orlando). The winner from each town is announced that night and moves onto the the final round, where they will get the live-show treatment in LA at the end of the run.

The problem with reality show mentors is that there’s no real sense of how much time they spend with their charges. We see Christina have dinner with her team on The Voice or Miley Cyrus spend a good five minutes with each American Idol contestant, but the intimacy is clearly staged. The Next tries to alleviate that staginess by forcing each artist to spend 72 hours helping out their contestant. Of course, 72 hours isn’t enough time to make a star, but it’s longer than the average Idol judge spends with the people they eviscerate every week, so it’s a start, right?

Except it’s not. Either The Next casting producers chose the blandest Idol rejects they could find, or they’re not given enough camera time to create any sort of human drama to go along with their segments. What made Made so utterly watchable was seeing episode subjects tussle with their mentors and beat themselves up over failures, but there is no such tension or action between the singer and celeb on The Next. The critiques are broad and don’t actually get at the heart of each singer’s problem. Jonas coaches Taylor Buono, a YouTube singer who needs to get out of her comfort zone. Girl hasn’t even graduated high school yet, so let’s get her out of that before she starts busting comfort zones, shall we? Estefan’s singer, Cori Yarckin, is already “big in Japan” but professes stage fright. Judging by Yarckin’s overwrought “Edge of Glory” (yes, apparently it’s possible to over-sing Lady Gaga), either Estefan is a miracle worker, or Yarckin was overstating her problem. John Rich has to make sure country singer Michael Ray doesn’t overthink, and Nelly similarly ensures that pop aspirant Itzy Rodriguez believes in herself.

Each contestant would be met with karaoke-kisses of death on other, more esteemed singing competitions. Their problems don’t necessarily lie in a lack of self confidence or over-thought, but instead in that they are dull with run-of-the-mill voices. Rodriguez sounds almost bored singing Katy Perry’s “Firework;” Michael Ray on Eric Church’s “Springsteen” sounds like every other deep-voiced country singer, sans spark and life; and I’m sure Buono wins every high school talent show she enters, even with the out of the box choice of OneRepublic’s “Secrets.”

To its benefit, The Next moves swiftly but, in return, there is little reason to vote for any contestant. Their personal segments are spent focusing on the stars. Did you know that Estefan is not accustomed to cutting the lawn? Or that Nelly is quite adept at selling sunglasses to white women who probably have no idea who Nelly is? At least Idol allows their contestants overwrought backstories so we’re voting for the guy with the dead wife or the chick with diabetes rather than the singer who deserves to win, and that’s okay because Idol producers understand that personality is as much a part of fame as talent. Then again, with news of new celebrity judges becoming a revolving door thing on Idol, the reality-show behemoth might not be that far off from The Next status.

Stray Observations:

  • Is The Next the most awkward title of a show you’ve ever heard? Even host Allison Hagendorf sounds uncomfortable saying it.
  • At one point, Rich walks in on Ray doing scales in the shower. Rich, who is holding a seemingly lit cigar that doesn’t appear to be smoking, surprises Ray but the camera doesn’t cut away fast enough and you can see that Ray is wearing shorts. You can see them again when the shower curtain accidentally falls down.
  • Apparently Rich owns an eggplant-colored, velvet smoking jacket embroidered with silver thread. Its appearance is the best part of the show.

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