It sounds like a familiar idea: a procession of punters sing songs, hoping that the audience at home will vote them the winner. But there’s a twist to Channel 4’s new karaoke-fest The Singer Takes It All, hosted by Alan Carr: the singers stand on an 18-metre-long conveyor belt, called “the track”, which is controlled by viewers – live – via a smartphone app.
The app also has an off-air role. Since its recent launch, it has been recruiting singers to take part in the show. Would-be contestants upload a video of themselves singing, and app users vote to choose who will make it on to the TV.
Over 30,000 people have downloaded the app and over 1,000,000 votes have been cast for the featured hopefuls.
Perhaps alarmingly, the producers are retaining no discretion to reject punters who can’t sing. “We know from the way viewers have voted on other shows that sometimes it’s the big characters who appeal,” says David Flynn, chief creative officer at production company Endemol UK. “So we expect people to be dressing up and performing, we expect people to perform in different places to capture attention.”
The smartphone app itself, available on both Android and iOS, is simple, mainly purple and yellow, and has big “hit” and “miss” buttons for voting while the show is on air. Of course, other singing shows have their own companion apps, and viewers habitually post their opinions on Twitter and Facebook. But these things have always played second fiddle to the main phone vote. With the app taking such an important role, The Singer Takes It All is the first British show to depend entirely on this so-called “second screen” activity. And not everyone believes it will necessarily turn out well.
“The downside is if you make unwatchable TV that’s only relevant to people who have the app,” says Duncan Gray, a former commissioner of entertainment at ITV and Sky, who now makes Sky1’s Got to Dance. “Every time technology gets better, people excitedly say, ‘We can do this now.’ But if you actually analyse it, it doesn’t make the story you’re trying to tell on the TV screen more compelling.”
Gray’s analysis is borne out internationally by Rising Star, a talent show that also asks viewers to rate acts via a smartphone app. It was a hit in its native Israel, but a US version (with judges including Kesha and Ludacris) has recently flopped. ITV has bought the rights to Rising Star in the UK, and is currently putting the call out for contestants. And the hurried arrival of The Singer Takes It All has raised eyebrows among TV executives outside Channel 4, who wonder how different it can be from the now-falling Rising Star.
Justin Gorman, Channel 4’s head of entertainment, stresses that The Singer Takes It All is a game show, not a talent show. Each episode is self-contained, and – unlike Rising Star – there are no music-industry judges or promises of stardom. “People crave those rags-to-riches stories, but what tends to happen is that when you unfold them, they’re not true,” says Gorman. “Whereas with us, there’s no record contract. It’s quite simply how good can you be on the night? Well done, you were the best, here’s some cash.”
Gorman and his colleagues (as well as producers Endemol and two technology suppliers) have been working hard to ensure that the app doesn’t crash when thousands of people use it all at once – and also to ensure that every vote is counted, avoiding a repeat of the voting scandals that hit the TV industry a few years ago.
Still, with its reliance on thousands of smartphones, contestants who might or might not be able to sing, massive computer systems counting the votes, an independent adjudicator and a conveyor belt, The Singer Takes It All will be a mighty achievement if it works. “What we’re doing here hasn’t been done before, and it could go a number of different ways,” says David Flynn. “It’s certainly the scariest show I’ve ever made.”
It could be brilliant – or a car crash. The interesting thing is – you get to decide!
To download the app search the App Store or Google Play for “The Singer Takes It All”