Changes in how we are consuming media are also accompanied by changes in how media is produced. American Idol’s creator, Simon Fuller, made the first move towards TikTok talent search competitions with new group, The Future X. But as influential as TikTok as become, I don’t know that it’s strong enough to make the world’s next big pop group the way we’ve seen with traditional talent shows.
There are three singers and four dancers who were all discovered after posting TikToks of themselves auditioning with the hashtag #NextInMusic. From there, Fuller chose singers Angie Green, Luke Brown, and Maci Wood, and dancers Jayna Hughes, Sasha Marie, Tray Taylor, and Drew Venegas to create the final group. I find it interesting that they only have three singers and four dancers, but Fuller’s track record is well-known in the business, from the Spice Girls to Lewis Hamilton and while he hasn’t in recent years had the major success that he did in the 90s and early 2000s, that experience should not be discounted.
And there’s definitely audience potential, because the hashtag has received over 300 million views over five weeks. While these numbers are huge for cable television, they aren’t surprising for TikTok, and that’s probably one of the reasons why Fuller saw TikTok as a great opportunity. TikTok is basically an audition tape now, a showcase for talent. I’m sure that these group members do have a lot of talent, but so do the thousands of other influencers who are already on the app with millions of followers and still not enough momentum to cross over to traditional fame (the D’Amelio’s and Addison Rae are the closest to this but they still aren’t quite there).
And these creators were auditioning from the comfort of their own homes. It’s one thing to have talent, but it’s another thing to have control over your talent. One of the most important aspects of shows like American Idol or The X Factor is the live audience because it tests the contestants on how they handle pressure and carry themselves while on a stage in front of a big crowd and influential judges. That’s something you can’t recreate on TikTok, but something you can easily act on TikTok. There’s no edit option on a live broadcast to millions of viewers at home, but that scenario is what is closer to a famous performer’s reality. Can you bring it when it counts? I have no doubt that these members are talented, but we haven’t been able to see them prove themselves on a big stage, with variables that you cannot control outside of the screen of your device, the same way we've seen other groups do this on traditional talent shows on TV.
Another thing that you can’t recreate on TikTok is the same kind of authenticity fans are able to follow throughout a talent show series. As a retired Directioner, I know how important it was for my growth in obsession for me to rewatch every single interaction they had on The X Factor. Their nervousness, stories about their home lives, awkward dancing, and reaction to hearing Simon Cowell say that he has put them together as a group was all a part of why I fell so hard for them because we saw five regular dudes who had no idea what fame was about becoming a close-knit, charming, and confident boy band. And as time went on, they continued with that goofy, fun, and not-so-polished identity that everyone fell in love with on the show, which obviously worked well for them. The Future X is missing that authenticity because they were put together solely based on talent and not chemistry. There’s something that feels a little too manufactured, and it goes back to them being able to control all aspects of what Fuller was able to see, and then Fuller picking them online and curating this idea of what a successful group is “supposed” to be on paper. What will really make or break them will be how they mesh in real life as they navigate working together. Do their voices blend well in person? Are there too many possible leads? Do they have that natural banter with each other that is needed in interviews with the press? How do they feel about not controlling all aspects of their performances and lives now that it is out of their power?
On the other hand, they have made strides to create a fanbase through their TikTok page with content and more sneak peeks. To me, they come across as another content house in some of their videos, but that isn’t a bad thing to do if they are trying to attract more eyes on TikTok. I hope they give us more personality because TikTok audiences tend to get tired of content houses just as fast as they rise to fame. Overall, the account doubles as group bonding, which is always important in any group (all groups need to have a mutual goal to last in the long run—not a personal one), and a way to engage a fanbase from the very beginning, so that they feel like they were along for the ride every step of the way. (Lainey: this is what BTS did to great effect. Look at how engaged their ARMY is, and it’s because so many of them were following along when the members were nobodies.)
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The group is living in Malibu together to record music before being the opening act for a sold-out tour in Brazil that begins in March 2022 with Now United, which Fuller also created. I’m sure The Future X will be able to pull off some songs that become a TikTok trend—especially if they stay consistent with their content on the app (TikTok will most likely boost their content because Fuller was working directly with the app). But the ultimate goal is to rise above the TikTok threshold into traditional fame, the way BTS has done, so I wonder how The Future X will make up for the gaps that TikTok can’t fill as they get ready to take on the industry.