Singers perform through avatars on new series ‘Alter Ego’

Rick's Reviews

Contestants on the new FOX series “Alter Ego” will only be seen by the judges through their avatars. (Photo courtesy of FOX)

Anyone who enters a singing competition – whether it be at a small local venue or on a nationally televised competition program – eventually has to face the reality that their voice is not the only thing being judged. It might not be intentional but they are also being evaluated by how they look.

Even a series like “The Voice” will start with contestants only being heard by the judges. But, there comes the big moment when the chairs swing around and the physical appearance of the contestant becomes a part of the equation.

The team behind the new FOX reality competition series, “Alter Ego,” has come up with a way for contestants to be heard and seen without actually exposing themselves. The production uses technology to create avatars that the judges will see while those concerned with how they look remain safe from view while they sing.

How that works can be seen as “Alter Ego” launches with a two-night event starting 9 p.m. Sept. 22 on FOX.

Executive producer Matilda Zoltowski says, “We hope to get the opportunity, using the alter egos, to give singers and people who wouldn’t necessarily usually be able to take part in a show or a competition like this, and give them the chance to do it, and I think we’ve succeeded.

“It’s a great opportunity to have real people with this amazing technology in a way that we haven’t seen before.”

Contestants are given the chance to show how they’ve always wanted to be seen by creating their dream avatar to reinvent themselves while showcasing their unique performance style via motion capture technology. Each performer will be off stage where they are wearing a special suit that captures each movement they make.

Judges only will see the fanciful versions of the singers. Those judges include singer/songwriter and seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette; actor, singer and television personality Nick Lachey; Canadian producer, songwriter, singer and visual artist Grimes; and multi-Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, producer, entrepreneur and actor will.i.am.

Emmy Award-winning Rocsi Diaz is the host.

The timing is right for this show in terms of technology because of how visually spectacular each of the avatars will look. Executive producers stress that just having the avatars look human would not have ramped up the show the way they wanted.

Grimes is convinced viewers will connect with the wild-looking avatars more than if they just looked human.

“I feel like the main way people engage with alter egos in the current climate is through video games and stuff. It’s like video games have overtaken music and movies in terms of people playing them,” Grimes says. “It’s the biggest entertainment industry.

“And so, I think, in terms of how the public is currently engaging with alter egos is, they’re engaging more with the crazier type. I think it’s actually more natural to them.”

That opinion is shared by will.i.am who sees the show as an extension of the way people dress up for Halloween or go to the extremes of cosplay. He describes the approach by the competition show as “putting makeup on your spirit.”

The technology allows for extensive “makeup” as the avatars can be given any look or ability. It will be possible to make it where the gender of the performer is not obvious from the way the character they created looks.

That element is particularly pleasing to will.i.am.

“Imagination is genderless and it’s beautiful. I write songs, sometimes, pretending to be girls in the studio. When I’ve written songs for Fergie in the past, I’m dialing into my inner femininity, learning everything from my mom, and my grandma, and aunt,” will.i.am says. “Now, this performing, we all have been reminded that the imagination is genderless.

“It’s a beautiful mix of both feminine and masculine energy all intertwined in the show, and the representation of that, and it is freaking fantastic.”

Once all the performing has been done and a winner presented the cash prize of $100,000 their connections to their avatars don’t have to end. The contestants – particularly the winning contestant – will be given the opportunity to take their avatars into the real world.

Taking avatars into the real world may sound like science fiction but Rob Wade, President, FOX Alternative Entertainment & Specials, points out that ABBA recently announced a world tour where their avatars would be appearing on stage.

“There is a recording potential here. These avatars can go around and they can be interviewed on real sets with people, as a normal star would do. They can tour live around the world at a stadium,” Wade says. “So, we really believe in this.

“I think the judges believe in it and are excited about taking the winner of this to the next level and possible stardom.”

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