Successful careers no longer a given for reality TV

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Javier Colon’s family and friends were so excited when he won the first season of “The Voice,” they assured him that he was set for life — and famous.

The 35-year-old musician knew better.

“I never expected that I would be like the next Kelly Clarkson,” Mr. Colon said, referring to the superstar who got her start on “American Idol.” “Expectations and hopes are different things. Fortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of experience in the music business — some good ones and some not so good ones — that led me to auditioning for ‘The Voice.’ I’ve learned to just not expect much.”

More than a year after his win, Mr. Colon is without a record contract and is still trying to land a breakout hit on the charts. He is just one of the increasing number of singing contest winners who are struggling to find their way after TV success.

Among the more recent “Idol” winners who have faltered after capturing the crown are David Cook and Kris Allen; and while runner-up status or even being a top finalist could lead to fame in the show’s early seasons, as with Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson and Chris Daughtry, prospects for nonwinners have dropped so much that this year, “Idol” stopped offering second-place finishers a guaranteed recording contract.

Last month’s debut single from last season’s “X Factor” winner, Melanie Amaro, hasn’t made much of a dent on the radio — though her official album debut is in December. And there are concerns that the most recent “Voice” winner, Jermaine Paul, may end up following the same path as Mr. Colon.

It all points to a troubling trend for those who still believe in their original mission from the early days of reality TV.

“That’s what the show, at the end of the day, was designed for,” said Simon Cowell, a judge and creative force on “American Idol” who since has moved to “The X Factor,” which debuted Wednesday on Fox. “Ratings are important, but if you’re not producing the goods year on year, then it’s sort of pointless making these shows.”

At the same time, there’s been a noticeable shift in the competition shows’ focus. Once content with finding the next Mariah Carey, these days it’s more about … well, Mariah Carey.

Far more ink has been spilled over the new “American Idol” judge’s eight-figure salary and the show’s revolving judging panel than on last year’s winner. (Quick: Name him.) And the ante is upped repeatedly as new shows pop up all over the television dial — each with its own star-laden list of mentors, coaches and judges.

Over at “The Voice,” which also came back this week, the show’s producers made changes for season three they hope will help aspiring artists shine through. The NBC show has been popular and viewers love the chemistry among coaches Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Yet the show hasn’t produced a breakout star, something producers hope will change now that they have altered some of the rules that led to quick eliminations.

“It’s not that long of a season, so by the time we get to the end it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t know who I like. It happened so fast,’ ” Mr. Shelton said. “And we do realize that the attention’s focused on us more than it needs to be. And the viewer … that’s the only thing they’ve had time to figure out because they’ve had 60-something contestants to wade through.”

Mr. Shelton and Mr. Levine have tried to extend the buzz for their contestants by taking them out on tour. And Mr. Green said he tries to stay in contact with each team member he has had since “The Voice” shot to the top of ratings when it debuted last year.

The flamboyant entertainer said he thinks the lack of post-competition star power might have something to do with the deteriorating music industry itself.

“It’s a genuine concern of mine, man, because I’m concerned about the industry at large, that it does not carry and develop more young talent,” Mr. Green said. “We’re talking about stars, sensations. I just don’t see those fireworks that once were. It’s not as exciting. It’s not as plentiful.”

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