Our generation's Susan Boyle is an avatar named Wolfgang Champagne
And other notes from watching 'Alter Ego'
When a piece of pop culture gets described as "dystopian," it's because it feels so futuristically deranged that it could only possibly be a harbinger of the end times, something that would happen in a novel about teenagers fighting to save earth. At first glance, singing competition show Alter Ego is dystopian, but at second glance, it makes total sense. It was inevitable that we would end up at a point in the culture where Nick Lachey is clapping at a motion capture avatar named Wolfgang Champagne voiced by a 60 year old truck driver singing an Italian opera rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." This is who we are now, and I'm at peace with it.
The concept of Alter Ego is not unlike that of The Masked Singer or The Voice, in that it gives contestants a chance to show off their singing skills without being judged for who they really are. In this version, the singers are backstage wearing one of those unitards with motion capture dots all over it, like Tracy Jordan trying to be Garfield. The singers, in their little suits, are backstage performing for a bunch of tech crew members while the audience and judges watch their avatar, a cartoon thing that looks like an alien from The Sims, perform for them. And the judges don’t get to know their real identity until they’re eliminated, or they win. The avatars have green skin and blue hair and shoot flames. They have names like Wolfgang Champagne and Loverboy and Queen Dynamite. The quality of the AR technology is objectively terrible and looks like that feature Google has where you can search “lion” and then take a photo with an AR lion in your living room.
Like any good competition show, the contestants are given a backstory where they have to emotionally explain why they want to perform using an avatar. Most of the time, the answer is because they're not comfortable performing as themselves and instead would prefer to perform as a skinny blue man with abs. Several contestants express that they're self-conscious about their bodies or being overweight, and performing as the avatar will make them feel more free, while others don't want to be judged for singing an unexpected genre, like the opera singing truck driver or the young Filipino kid from Wisconsin who wants to be in a boy band.
I feel for these people, and they don't deserve to feel bad about their weight or appearance, regardless of whether or not they're great singers. But something tells me Alter Ego is not the answer.
In nearly every single scenario, the avatars are skinnier and more conventionally attractive than the singers, even if that's not something they specifically asked for. You might be like "how can a blue man with flames for hair be conventionally attractive?" I don't know but he just is! What would really make the show cool is if they could perform as centaurs or goblins or like maybe just a regular blue alien Sim who isn't skinny? I just can't emphasize enough how much this show sends the message that the judges and singers need the contestants to be skinny in order to take them seriously.
In addition to Nick Lachey, whose face looks like it's animorphing into David Duchovny, the judges are will.i.am, Grimes, and Alanis Morissette. It's a strange combo for sure, some might even say a cosmic gumbo, but all of these shows involve pulling celebrities from different corners of the universe together so viewers can say "isn't that wacky?" That's why The Masked Singer has Ken Jeong, a former doctor, seated next to Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaxxer.
Despite this show being absurd, it's also very watchable, if only for the cognitive dissonance you get from seeing a contestant say "he and I really bonded," about performing with his avatar or Alanis telling a sexy-evil-robot-Aladdin looking avatar that she has a crush on him.
It becomes an even bigger hoot when you learn that these animated avatars aren't actually performing on stage as the show makes it seem. The avatars appear on monitors that are at stage-level so the judges' sightline won't be off, even though they're really looking at an empty stage.
Some say live music is irreplaceable. Well I say that nothing can replace Wolfgang Champagne.