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Arts & Entertainment

Stardom not guarantee for talent show winners

| Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010

As reality television took hold in America, it became more difficult for artists who won acclaim to sustain success after a show wrapped, experts say.

That means there's no guarantee Jackie Evancho's success on "America's Got Talent" will translate to sold-out venues and chart-topping recordings, even though the show's judges predict her stunning soprano voice will make her a star who travels the world.

"Just a few years back, the winners of the competition shows really did become big stars," said Jim Joseph, author of "The Experience Effect: Engage Your Customers with a Consistent and Memorable Brand Experience."

"Now, not so much," he said. "We've become oversaturated. So once they win, the game is over for (viewers)."

"America's Got Talent," ending its fifth season, attracts millions of weekly viewers. But some previous winners remain unknowns in the entertainment industry.

America's Line, a daily syndicated odds column, on Sunday picked Evancho, 10, of Richland to win the prize of $1 million and a 25-city tour. Her odds were even money. Odds for the other contestants were: 5-2 for dance team Fighting Gravity; 4-1 for outrageously attired singer Prince Poppycock; and 10-1 for soul singer Michael Grimm.

The finalists perform on the NBC show between 9 and 10 tonight. The winner will be announced Wednesday, when the show airs from 8 to 10 p.m.

In Pittsburgh, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato yesterday declared it "Jackie Evancho Week" and asked workers to dress the City-County Building portico with a banner encouraging people to vote for their hometown star.

"She never fails to express the love and pride she has for her hometown" when interviewed on the show, Ravenstahl noted. Onorato called her talent "inspirational" and said Jackie shows "poise and determination well beyond her years."

Yet star status isn't a given.

This month, country singer and 2009 winner Kevin Skinner performed at the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in Marietta, Ohio, and the Great Frederick Fair in Maryland. Having finished a recent tour of U.S. military bases, pop opera singer and 2008 winner Neal E. Boyd will appear at Ohio Northern University in October and the University of Missouri-Columbia in November.

It can be done, however.

First-season winner Bianca Ryan debuted at No. 57 on Billboard charts with her self-titled album and sold about 200,000 copies worldwide. She toured Europe and the United States with Disney artists Aly and AJ and is working on another album.

The popular Fox TV show "American Idol," which seeks to develop pop stars, turned out Grammy winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, each of whom has sold millions of records and filled amphitheaters.

"America's Got Talent" differs in that contestants of all ages often represent distinct genres, such as country or opera, and have no plans to become pop stars. The show also features varying types of performances, not just vocal.

Viewers tend to lose interest in competition reality stars, said Jeff McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

"Many of them, frankly, are fun to follow while in the competition but don't have staying power or sufficient talent to take the step to established celebrity," McCall said.

Still, competition reality shows have posted big ratings during the past decade, media experts said.

"People love to witness a success story, especially when it doesn't involve having to encourage someone firsthand," said Robin H-C, a behaviorist and published life coach.

Boyd was marketed two years ago as an underdog, having withstood bullying in a small Missouri town for being biracial and overweight. Skinner worked as a chicken catcher in a small Kentucky town before auditioning for "America's Got Talent."

Jackie Evancho doesn't have a storied past, but her mature voice that astounded music experts made her an instant favorite.

She hopes to follow the path of chart-topping classical artists such as Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli.

Jackie's popularity on the show is a testament to the universal appeal of classical music, said Christopher Hahn, general director of the Pittsburgh Opera.

"It's difficult to tell what will happen now, but she has a natural ability to connect with people," he said.

Additional Information:

Jackie's competition

• Fighting Gravity turned a one-time performance at Virginia Tech University into a spot in the 'America's Got Talent' finale. The floating dance troupe/magic act is influenced by Japan's Kabuki theater, marionette puppets and black light theater, said co-founder Gregg Curtin, 22.

Fourteen fraternity brothers -- in front of and behind a curtain -- set glowing dancers in flight. They disappear, and then reappear.

'We're average guys who followed a dream that no one thought was possible,' Curtin said.

• John Quale, 32, a.k.a Prince Poppycock, advanced to this season's finale with support from underground performers in Los Angeles who grew up on the outside looking in. His circus-like production and grandiose costumes forged a following at artsy gatherings and Goth parties in West Los Angeles and are well-received by America.

'Friends (who have tried out) discouraged me from auditioning because they didn't want me to get torn apart,' Quale said. 'But it's already me making fun of myself, so I feel OK getting in front of people.'

• Soul singer Michael Grimm was a signed country artist in his early teens before hearing Otis Redding on a jukebox. He performed his soul show, inspired by Al Green and Sam and Dave, in Las Vegas clubs before auditioning for 'America's Got Talent.'

His grandmother played piano at their church, which drew him to music. When Hurricane Katrina took everything from his grandparents, it broke his heart. They now live in a trailer, so his dream is to win the $1 million and 'get them set up,' he said.

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