If there’s one formula for distinguishing a Bravo competition-reality show vs. those of other networks it is: Creation vs. performance. (This category, mind you, does not apply to the Real Housewives series, et al., which are about their own kind of performance.) Top Chef, Top Design, Work of Art and, once upon a time, Project Runway were all about creators—the people who make and conceive menus, artworks or outfits. Broadcast networks, on the other hand, focus on performers—singers, models, and so forth—who aim to have star power and whose stories don’t require as much background knowledge about craft.
So maybe it was only a matter of time until Bravo adapted American Idol into a songwriting competition, and Platinum Hit, which debuted last night, was the result. The first outing was intriguing in its own way, but it lands in a weird place between Bravo material and broadcast material, and I’ll be curious to see if it manages to grab either the Top Chef or the Idol audience.
The thing about Bravo is that it has a strong sense of what it is now as a network: basically, a channel about upscale consumption—either the people who do the consuming (Bethenny and co.) or the people who produce goods (chefs, designers) or provide lifestyle services (hair stylists, real estate agents). Even the artists in Work of Art roughly fit the category, to the extent that art can be collected and displayed.
Pop songs, you could say, are also a lifestyle accessory—you add them to your iTunes or play them in your car and thus construct a soundtrack and a narrative for yourself. But they’re a more populist one than a niche product like, say, sous-vide duck breast. So Platinum Hit went pop with its casting, signing up Idol’s Kara DioGuardi as a judge and Jewel as host. DioGuardi had problems on Idol, where first she struggled to make an impression, then, as she asserted herself, often came across sour or peevish. Whether it’s the editing or the subject matter, she at least seems more comfortable in her earnest judgments here, and generally seemed like more of a presence on the show than the low-key nominal host Jewel.
As for the songwriting, in theory this could make for a strong reality show: yeah, breaking the process down into “hooks” and claiming the writer has a second to grab the audience may be a little reductive, but that’s pop music. Listening to someone bang out a melody and try to shape it into a song is more immediately graspable for a non-expert—even if you don’t eat in fancy restaurants or have any fashion sense you’ve heard songs. At minimum, this is fresher and more interesting than Idol clone The Voice.
But to paraphrase Tim Gunn, a few things worry me about the debut. First, whereas it can be fun to see someone try to salvage a horribly planned Top Chef dish, listening to an embarrassingly bad song is just excruciating. Second, at first glance, the gap between the top tier and also-rans seems pretty wide. (I may be wrong, and it’s been a while since I watched my screener, but right from the get-go, power-popster Nick seems a pretty strong bet to win the thing.)
And finally, writing a good hook and writing a good lyric are two different talents—and it’s pretty clear that Platinum Hit was not cast on the strength of the latter talent, as the first challenge, songs about Los Angeles, proved. If you want to torture yourself, take a read of the lyrics page for the first episode, which contains more references to “angels” and “dreams” than the Old Testament and a New Age bookstore. Maybe next year they could pair the show with Platinum Lyricist?