Why Bret Michaels & Other Music Stars Turn to Reality TV for Fame, Fortune
Why Bret Michaels & Other Music Stars Turn to Reality TV for Fame, Fortune

In terms of album and single sales, the successes are legendary: Multiplatinum sellers Susan Boyle, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson all got their start on reality TV. Others have seen more modest-but still notable-sales success: Most recently, Fantasia's "Back to Me" sold 117,000 first-week copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (The reality TV halo even extends to music projects that may have been generated as a result of a pact with the devil. In January, Heidi Montag's debut album, "Superficial," reached No. 41 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart.)

One element remains consistent, however. Make a mark on one reality show, and it almost guarantees the chance at another season or spinoff. "If we're doing a series, the goal for us isn't just to have one season," Olde says. "The goal is to have multiple seasons."

For example, VH1 dating show "For the Love of Ray J" spun off with "Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business," which features the siblings and their parents-a expansion of the franchise that took the Norwood clan some time to decide to do. "Brandy and Ray J, they're used to the cameras," Sonja Norwood says. "But my husband and I, we were like, 'Oh, my God.' When we were shooting the commercial [for "Family Business"], they had to come and coach us on four lines. They would stop the production and say, 'Mom? Dad? You guys got to do it this way.' "


After dozens of music reality TV shows have debuted, the challenge becomes changing up the format enough to keep viewers interested. "It's kind of like saying, 'When are people going to get sick of books?' " Olde says. "If you tell them a good story and give them a good character that they care about, I don't think there's an end for it."

Part of this comes from casting outré performers to draw in the audience-Oxygen recently announced a reality show in development with former "Making the Band" star/Danity Kane member Aubrey O'Day-but new format tweaks to the genre are also in the works.

Evan Bogart, who's part of the songwriting collective the Writing Camp, with credits on Beyoncé's "Halo" and Rihanna's "SOS," is working with True Entertainment and Bravo on "Hitmakers." The show is in the final stages of casting, he says.

"A couple of years ago I said, 'I wish there was a show for songwriters, like 'Songwriter Idol,' " Bogart says. "A lot of times, people come up to me and they're like, 'How do you write a song?' I can't tell anybody how to write a song. The only way to tell you is to show you how to write a song."

Looming over all of these shows is the fall 2011 debut of "The X Factor" on Fox, ex-"American Idol" judge Simon Cowell's U.K. import. "X Factor" is a talent competition like "Idol" but features much more intensive mentorship of the contestants by the judges. In England, "X Factor" netted more than 11 million viewers-an astonishing 47.8% share of the total TV audience in its time frame-for its season premiere on Aug. 21, according to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board.

Despite making a reported $50 million per year toward the end of his tenure as a host on "Idol," Cowell stands to have a much bigger payoff on "X Factor," since he serves as judge and executive producer with his production company, Syco Television. Besides doubtlessly earning a big payday for licensing the format from the United Kingdom to American TV, it also means that he stands to gain a share of whatever music sales are generated from the talent on the show.

Sharon Osbourne was a judge on "X Factor" in the United Kingdom for four years and is now in her fourth year as a judge on "America's Got Talent"-another British format import. Amid her many experiences with the medium-she also was a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" earlier this year-she says artists looking to break into reality TV should know that one fact holds constant.

"You cannot bullshit the public," she says. "Yes, people will vote for you because they like you or because they feel sorry for you-but if you put out a record and it sucks, it ain't going to sell. It's over."

To learn more about building an artist's brand, attend the Billboard/Adweek Music & Advertising Conference Sept. 15-16 in Chicago. To register, go to billboardevents.com.