A singing competition where contestants don costumes of neon animals or creative creatures may seem quaint once viewers set their eyes on the technology-laden “Alter Ego.”
“Alter Ego,” which premieres Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. on Fox, features amateur singers who perform behind the scenes, donning special headsets and lending their real voices to digital avatars that step on stage and therefore into the public eye for them. And those involved in the series feel the technology it uses could be the future of the industry.
“I have huge stage fright,” said singer, producer and “Alter Ego” judge Grimes at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the new competition program. “I’m a writer and a producer and I love designing performances and stuff, but I just have really bad mental health effects from being a front person. I find it quite emotionally intense. And I think the show really represents for a lot of people who might be more of a behind-the-scenes person but who loves the idea of architecting a performance. … It’s very hard to find a world-class performer in the same body as a person who is making sick beats and writing sick songs; that’s like a rarity. And I think this show represents a future in music with a lot more possibility for different types of brains.”
The technology “Alter Ego” uses was not fully in place when the network announced the show at the May upfronts, Fox Entertainment president of alternative entertainment and specials Rob Wade admitted. When the team behind the show more fully immersed themselves in it, one thing they noted was that photo-realistic avatars were not quite up to the standards of being used on a show of this scale. Wade noted that the photo-realistic versions came across a little “cold” and “creepy,” which led to the show utilizing more fantastical avatars instead.
“You could have basically more fun,” Wade said of this style. “Why do a show called ‘Alter Ego’ with avatars if you’re just going to replicate human beings? They should be something a little bit more fantastical a little bit superhero-like, in a way.”
Added Grimes: “The average person would connect more, I think, to the fantastical alter egos because I feel like the main way people engage with alter egos in the current climate is through video games. … And so, they’re engaging more [with] the crazier type, and I think it’s actually more natural to them. Probably most people are already vibing into the alter ego space and [the show] is taking to the next level.”
The avatars, therefore, can have skin tones in hues of greens, reds, purples, with body types that run the gamut, as well. Contestants can select avatars they think speak to who they are inside or simply ones they think will catch the attention of the crowd.
“The imagination is gender-less and it’s beautiful,” said singer, producer and show judge will.i.am, who noted that when he writes songs, he sometimes has to tap into what his mother or sister or cousin might feel like and therefore write from a female perspective. When it comes to the performances on “Alter Ego,” he added, “We all have been like reminded that the imagination is a beautiful mix of both feminine and masculine energy, all intertwined, and this show is a representation of that.”
Singer, former “Masked Singer” contestant and show judge Nick Lachey noted that “there’s nothing more liberating” than being able to be whatever you want to be, which is the point of allowing contestants to select a digital avatar to step on stage for them. Reflecting on the group of singers the show saw in Season 1, Lachey said, many if not all of them felt “maybe for the first time in their lives, truly liberated as a performer.”
The winner of the first season of “Alter Ego” will receive a cash prize of $100,000 and the opportunity to be mentored by the panel of judges, which also includes Alanis Morissette. But after filming the first season, those who worked on the show feels that the talent and passion of many of the contestants could lead them to careers regardless of where they place in the competition. As will.i.am put it, “J.Hud didn’t win ‘American Idol,’ but she’s J.Hud now.” So, “hell yeah, there’s going to be singers that have careers off of this show,” he said.
Specifically, Wade explained, the contestants do have the “opportunity to take these avatars into the real world.” They can perform on stages (he cited ABBA’s recent tour announcement as an example.) and they can even “go around and they can be interviewed in real sets by people as a normal star would do,” he explained.
Watch a new sneak peek of “Alter Ego” below: