McGill: Important feedback from talent contest judges is lost to crowd-controlled voting

Haleigh McGill

Last weekend I had the privilege of participating in CSU’s Got Talent for the second year in a row, and as usual, it was an incredible instant-bonding experience with the participants, hosts and all the important people behind the scenes who made the show possible. If you do the show for the sake of the feeling that comes from showing your best cards to a great crowd, it’s so much fun and the energy is borderline magic. 

While that’s all good and well, a significant part of the thrill of talent contests is the challenge of getting the judges to like you and the anticipation of their feedback. I crave constructive criticism and honest evaluations of my voice and my stage presence, and while I also want to make a strong appeal to the crowd, at the end of it all I want to walk away a better performer. Other contestants can be a great source of this kind of feedback too if the interaction behind the scenes isn’t fueled by competition — which fortunately for us at CSU, it’s not. 

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Fellow performer Nicole, who rocked an inspired rendition of “Come on Eileen” accompanied by a couple of really talented swing dancers helped give me the confidence and additional direction for how to command the stage, and combined with critical feedback from someone who isn’t at all concerned with my feelings would be the perfect balance for reflecting honestly on my performance. I genuinely want to know, in a professional’s opinion, how I measure up to the competition. 

The most significant difference in the show from last year is that this year, the crowd completely controlled the results and the judges were really only there to give each performer a pat on the back once they finished. Whichever performers got the the top three highest amount of favorites on each of their specific CSU’s Got Talent tweets won first, second and third place. The judges’ roles changed once they no longer carried any weight in the decision of the show’s winners, and consequently opened up the results to be based more on popularity than the quality of actual talent.

For example the last contestant of the show, a singer named Daniel who performed “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith, had upwards of 100 favorites for his tweet long before he even performed. And since the judges don’t have any tough decisions to make, their feedback is all lighthearted, positive praise for each performer even when certain parts of performances may have been mediocre, my own included. 

None of this is to say Daniel isn’t talented along with any of the other contestants, because that’s one of the best things about participating in the show — everyone has a really great act to contribute and it’s a priceless experience to be able to learn from each other in such a short time. But that’s also exactly why I want the judges to have to be critical of the performances and have some say in the final decision; because we’re all really good at what we do. 

As explained on NBC’s website, The Voice is structured pretty evenly for audience participation and the expertise of the vocal coaches. Up until the live playoff round, the coaches have total control over who progresses within their teams and then the audience is able to vote in the narrowing of the top 20 in which from that point on “the two singers with the lowest number of votes are sent home each week” until eventually one is named “The Voice.” So at least in this case the well-trained and qualified judges are in a lot of ways “grooming” their team to be narrowed down to simply the best talent for the crowd to then choose from, and their feedback is sometimes harsh or hard to accept but it’s extremely beneficial to the performer. 

I acknowledge that two major difference between The Voice and CSU’s Got Talent are that the former spans multiple weeks while the latter spans one night and that CSU’s Got Talent allows for acts outside of just singing, but I think that the voting and constructive criticism systems could still be learned from when planning the show in the future. 

And I will admit, it’s really cool to have the president of your university reconfirm how talented you are in front of the crowd, but on the other hand, I also want the judges to be critical. There are things I know about my talents and abilities but there are many things that I continue to learn along the way, and a lot of that comes from experts who really know their musical sh*t. I think we should get back to finding a balance between crowd participation/engagement and a well-structured judges panel that holds a significant amount of power. Crowd appeal is important, and so is honest feedback and evaluations based solely on talent from an intentionally selected judges panel. 

Collegian Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.