March 15, 2019

As American Idol’s ratings tumble, the long-running TV show has a new rival on a different screen entirely—Twitch. Earlier this month, the live-streaming video platform announced its first ever singing competition Twitch Sings: Stream Star. The contest has a $20,000 prize for the winner, who will have to compete live, on-stage at TwitchCon Europe in Berlin, Germany.

Twitch is an omnivorous platform and is looking to complete with everything from YouTube to Facebook to television itself. But its karaoke game’s real rivals are apps like Tik Tok, and the game is likely a response to the lip-syncing video app’s influence. Tik Tok has already been facilitating collaboration with its popular “duet chains”—videos miming a previous video’s actions.

Similarly, Twitch Sings is most compelling when it’s collaborative. You can perform a split-screen duet (maybe even sing with your favorite streamer), vote on song choices, or cheer someone on with Twitch’s “Bit” currency. In comparison, these dynamic offerings make shows like American Idol or The Voice seem boring, antiquated, and static.

Many people focus on the live videogame play as the whole of Twitch’s appeal, but the company has quietly pushed the envelope on the dream of interactivity and television. Users have also gotten creative with how they use Twitch’s tools to connect with the community. Streamers will freestyle rap based on the chat comments, take recipe requests for cooking shows, and give live drawing lessons.

It’s important to remember that TV networks have tried—and failed—to make interactive television a thing. (Netflix is a notable exception, and no wonder they’re looking to do more interactive content.) It’s ironic that American Idol, a pioneer of the public vote by call or text, would be outdone by a more interactive upstart.

Twitch Sings will likely take off for the same reasons Twitch has become popular in the first place. A 2016 study found that Twitch users watch other people play videogames for tension release, or achieving a sense of escape and diversion from everyday life, along with the social aspects of consuming streaming. Coupled with that, music is a powerful tool for helping us feel connected to other humans. In a 2015 study of adult students, groups who sang together bonded more quickly than those who did creative writing or craft classes.

In the near future, our next Shawn Mendes or Camila Cabello will come from Twitch Sings (or something like it). But the difference will be that viewers will get to consistently engage with them, and no matter how famous they get, interactivity will be a staple of those creators’ form of entertainment and their fame.

Join this open duet: Not only is Twitch Sings challenging televised singing competitions, but it’s also staking its claim in a rapidly growing scene filled with apps that offer what American Idol can’t—interactivity. By making social media fun again, Twitch Sings is a great entry point for non-endemics to get on Twitch’s platform without being tied to games explicitly.

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