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My Problem With Tweens In Reality Music Competitions

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Diamond WhiteI can completely admit that the pull of Britney Spears on a judging panel brought my Gen Y heart to The X Factor. I’ve been watching the show and enjoying the talented musicians and bickering judges. However, I have one big problem with this show and I just don’t know that I can get past it. I have a problem seeing tweens and young teenagers submit themselves for scrutiny and public voting. I have a problem seeing them stand up in front of millions of people and be judged, and possibly being told that they weren’t good enough. And I even have a problem seeing them praised and lauded as the next big thing on a show that only uses their talent for television ratings.

Can you name the top 12 of last season’s X Factor? I can’t even name the winner. Can you name the recent American Idol winners and runners-up? I got nothing. Sure, singing competitions had the power to give us Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. They also left a whole lot of Sanjayas running around. Or better yet, they left a whole lot of Chris Richardsons. He was on the same season as Sanjaya, it’s just not that no one remembers who on earth he is.

At one point in time, judges like Simon Cowell were telling all of these people that they could be great. They could be stars. He was building them up for the viewing audience, so that we would feel like we were helping to choose a new superstar. The truth is, the produces of the show just needed us to believe that these contestants could really make it in the music business, whether that was true or not. We needed to have to hope.

Now imagine a 13-year-old girl like Carly Rose Sonenclare being told by a panel of people that she looks up to that she’s a “star in the making.” She feels on top of the world. In her head, she’s already sold millions of records. Unfortunately, the future might not be so bright, and it definitely won’t be so easy as singing one great song a reality singing show. We have lots of proof, seasons upon seasons of contestants, showing us that it doesn’t always work out unicorns and rainbows.

Look at a girl like Diamond White. She’s another 13-year-old who was kicked off last week’s show, then brought back on by the judges after a week of reflection. Think of the roller-coaster ride this television show has put this young girl on, all for the viewer’s amusement. What happens if Diamond gets voted off again? We really want to put a girl who is still in middle school through that type of anguish all over again?

Adults who sign up for these reality competitions know what they’re getting themselves into. They have fully-formed identities and hopefully a whole lot of confidence to cushion the blow should they fall out of the competition. Middle schoolers simply might not be ready for this level of intensity, especially when the rewards are so highly unlikely. It’s fun to think that they’ll all become superstars. They’ll be the next Justin Bieber. The honest truth is that they’ll probably be more like Chris Richardson.

I feel like we’re using these young kids. We’re propping them up only to forget about them once the season ends. And while that’s sad enough to do to grown adults, it’s downright cruel to kids who haven’t even hit high school yet. There’s a reason most reality shows have an age limit. The strain of competing can break down adults. It’s not fair to impose that on a young kid, even if they think they’re ready. And honestly, there are two judges on that panel who know and understand the difficulties of child stardom. You would think that Spears and Demi Lovato wouldn’t want to see these young kids used and tossed aside, like they’ll inevitably be by the reality singing world.