Contestant Logan Staats with mentor Shania Twain (photo: Bell Media)
If you haven’t heard about this new music competition series on CTV called The Launch, then there are some heartbroken people at Bell Media, because they’ve been pulling out all the stops promoting it.
The six-episode series (with a special seventh episode added to revisit the artists) tries something new with the singing competition format that has been tried and toyed with a dozen times. Rather than just having singers compete against each other for a record contract at the end of the series, each episode ends with a contestant’s career being launched with a new single (that’s available for download or streaming, and gets generous airtime on Bell-owned radio stations).
Based on the first episode, which aired on Wednesday, the show is divided into three roughly equal parts: the auditions, in which five artists compete to be among the two selected to record a song; the recording, in which the two finalists record a sure-to-be-a-hit pop song provided to them by a guest writer/producer; and the performance, in which both finalists perform the song live in front of an audience, and one is selected to launch with that song.
Julia Tomlinson’s audition was cut from the first episode of The Launch. (photo: Bell Media)
Those who paid attention during the first episode might be asking themselves why I said “five” above, since they only saw three auditions. Two artists, Julia Tomlinson and Alex Zaichkowski (aka Havelin), had their entire auditions cut from the episode (presumably for time), which really really sucks for them. They’re on the website, listed among the artists, and the post-episode press release even says they were in the episode, but all you saw of them was a 10-second voiceover during which it’s explained that they didn’t make it through. Their auditions are posted online at the links above if you want to see them.
In these kinds of shows, at least you can say the artists that don’t make it got some national television exposure. These two didn’t even get that.
UPDATE: I asked Bell Media about the cuts, and whether we should expect the same for future episodes. The answer, unfortunately, is yes:
THE LAUNCH is an entirely new format that has been evolving since it was greenlit. During the editing process which began after the show was shot in August, September, and October, it became obvious to our original production team that there was so much amazing footage we knew it would not fit into a conventional hour-long TV show. But we still wanted to showcase and promote all of the talent who were chosen for the series. So we made the decision to make the show a full 360 experience with audition footage of each episode’s five artists featured on ctv.ca and on YouTube and in the extended cut on CraveTV.
Alex Zaichkowski, who performs under the name Havelin (Photo: Bell Media)
Laura Heath Potter, Director of Communications for CTV, said the affected artists were advised prior to broadcast. She also noted that all the artists got to promote themselves as they promoted the series:
Bell Media has supported all 30 artists that participated in the series through interviews on national, local and radio outlets, as well as in our on air promotion campaign and digital extras on ctv.ca and paid digital promo over the past few months. We are building a new format and are grateful to have 30 Canadian artists act as ambassadors to the series and what it is attempting to accomplish — creating new original singles by Canadian artists that resonate with music fans and viewers.
Episodes are still being edited and finalized, but for all the upcoming episodes that have been through a final cut, each of the artists that have auditions being offered exclusively as part of the extended directors’ cut and separately on ctv.ca and YouTube have been informed already.
One of the strengths of this series is that you see how the sausage is made. Not all pop stars write and compose their own songs. Many of them have the music and lyrics handed to them and just add their voice for a producer to mix together. That’s the case here — the song is written and ready before the panel even meets the contestant at the audition. The discussion afterward is about whether the producer can make the song work with that artist. And they have 48 hours to do so.
The song for the first episode is called The Lucky Ones, and you hear it throughout the episode so it gets stuck in your head by the end. It’s a pop song, with uninspiring lyrics like “close your eyes and hold me close tonight” (to say nothing about the misogynistic objectifying parts like “I never want to see your heart happy with another”), and a melody that doesn’t really set it apart from anything else you’ll hear on Virgin Radio. It has six writers and four producers listed for it, and … well, it sounds like a song created by committee.
As much as I’m critical of the song, it might have been good if the episode spent some more time actually introducing us to it. All we got was 15 seconds of producer busbee saying it’s about how much he loves his wife as we listened to a production demo performed by an unnamed artist.
The series has lined up a long list of music industry professionals to help the artists through the process, and each episode has its own mentor (Fergie, Alessia Cara and Boy George are among the others) and producer (most of which are Grammy … nominated). The constant presence is Scott Borchetta, one of the executive producers of the show, whose claim to fame is having discovered Taylor Swift. Having real experts gives the series some authenticity. Unfortunately Borchetta is a bit stiff on camera.
Though there’s no Simon-Cowell-type bad guy, the feedback from the panel is interesting and productive. Particularly in the middle segment in the studio, you get to see a real producer working with real artists, making sure they have the tempo right, that they’re on the right note, that they make sure to pronounce the lyrics well. It’s played up a bit for drama, but it’s interesting to watch.
Hopefully it’s just a first-episode-introduction thing, but the hour was overly narrated by a voice we’re not introduced to. (If she sounds familiar, that’s because it’s former Virgin Radio 96 announcer Andrea Collins.) There’s a lot of stating-the-obvious and repetition here that could be considerably cut down, and the narration is done in an announcer’s tone that works for a 10-second TV promo but less so for a full hour.
The Launch doesn’t have gimmicks. There are no swivelling chairs, no coloured lights to indicate success or failure, there isn’t even an audience vote component. The experts choose who gets to record the song, and they choose which artist to launch at the end of the episode. (The live performance is in front of an audience, which looks odd because not one of them is holding a cellphone.) This is good for people who want to see a show about music and artists, and works to The Launch’s advantage. It’s not as glitzy and expensive as The Voice, America’s Got Talent or American Idol, but it owns that.
The editing (less oh-gosh-who-do-we-pick and more studio time and performance) and narration could use a bit of work, and the songs could be a bit more original, though these things don’t prevent us from enjoying the show.
But for goodness sake, if you’re a show about respecting artists, don’t cut entire artists out of it and make them feel stupid for promoting the episode that has so unceremoniously cut them out of it.
The Launch is an original format, and one of the big ways Bell Media head Randy Lennox has made his musical mark on CTV. I think it has some potential as a format that could be exportable elsewhere, despite its flaws. And I’ll be tuning in for the rest of the season.
The Launch airs Wednesdays at 9pm on CTV and can be watched on demand at ctv.ca.