Talent competitions are pretty much the only thing you can find on TV these days. Whether it be dancing, singing, cooking, or even modeling there is a competition for everyone. But they aren’t all gold. Some bring new innovation to the genre, and some just copy old formats and hope no one notices. But one thing is for sure: all talent competitions are not created equally. There are different judges, hosts, talent pools, and tons of things to consider when judging how good or bad a talent competition really is.
Since American Idol burst onto the scene in 2002, reality TV has never been the same. While it may not have been the first talent competition on TV, it was the most prominent and brought many others to the forefront. Now there is a complete over-saturation of these shows and we’re here to tell you that some are much better than others.
20. Ultimate Beastmaster
This one ranks lowest mostly because of how unoriginal it is. The Netflix produced series is pretty much a giant rip-off of American Ninja Warrior (a spin-off in its own right, and a show we’ll see later on in this list!). The competition brings people from around the world together to run through a giant obstacle course where only the most physically fit will come out on top. Like we said before, it’s basically a carbon copy of American Ninja Warrior, bringing next to nothing new to the table. The best thing it has going for it is Terry Crews as one of the hosts, but even that can’t save it from the bottom spot!
19. The Four
This is one singing competition that’s just hilariously bad. On paper, it sounds like it should work. You have heavyweights like DJ Khaled and P. Diddy as judges, a new competition style not seen before, and a great prize: the successful judges shaping the winner’s career. The gladiator-style competition has four singers competing to keep their spot week to week, getting knocked off if a new performer out-sings them. And as new and different as the format is, it’s pretty boring. For one, the premise is overcomplicated. In what world do audiences have attention spans that have to decipher a reality show like it’s Game of Thrones? Also, the show even says at the forefront that it’s not solely interested in the best singers, just good performers. And it fails at finding either. At the end of the day, this is the sorriest American Idol knockoff yet.
18. Food Network Star
This one fails low on the list because it’s another derivative copy of great shows that came before it. The cooking competition is pretty much the same as any other on TV with one twist: the winner gets their own Food Network show. The show boasts that it will make the next Rachel Ray or Ida Garten but it all seems pretty disingenuous. Most of the greatness of the past and current Food Network stars comes from their love of cooking and their charismatic personalities — not the desire to be a cooking celeb, which is really what almost all of the contestants on this show want. And there’s something off-putting about contestants who constantly harp on their desire to host a famous cooking show. The only thing going for it is its fantastic repertoire of chef judges who are all highly above this.
17. Dancing With the Stars
Before you start railing your pitchforks at me for ranking this one so low, hear me out! When was the last time a season of the show was actually good? Yeah, it’s been a while. The show was once a goliath on reality television. Who wouldn’t want to watch famous people learn the tango?! But after a while, the format got stale. It turned from legitimate celebs to the bottom of the barrel, and the most recent season was the most forgettable yet. The season showcased sports stars (and, ugh, gave Tonya Harding a platform) and if you didn’t know Adam Rippon was going to win from the first announcement he’d be on the show, then you’re just stupid. The season was condensed, too, and before you knew it was on it was over. And with very little fanfare. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
16. American Idol
American Idol was once the biggest reality talent competition on TV. It’s basically the reason we have all the talent shows we do today. But time has not treated it well. The first few seasons were amazing! You had Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson at the judges table and a young Ryan Seacrest as your host. The singers were genuine, and at times genuinely bad. And it was all fun and new and entertaining! But then something happened. The original judges left the show, with shoddy replacements trying to fill their shoes. The show slowly became more about tragic stories than discovering talent. And the winners just never went on to do anything anymore. Kelly Clarksons they are not. Staying on too long – and being rebooted – ruined the legacy of the show.
15. So You Think You Can Dance
This dancing competition was, at one time, pretty exciting. A bunch of talented people giving it their all and busting out some truly impressive dance moves is just fun to watch. But as time has gone on, the show has stayed far past its welcome. After over a dozen seasons, you start to think you’ve seen it all in terms of dancing. While sometimes something new is showcased, most of it is pretty much the same stuff you’ve seen before. So, in the end, it becomes a little boring. The only saving grace is the variety of styles showcased that can break the monotony. Plus, do you know the name of a single winner? Yeah, me either.
14. The X Factor
The X Factor was a bona fide hit in the U.K. when execs decided to spin it off in the United States to compete in the talent competition market. Unfortunately, it never did as well here as it did there. It seemed promising at first — Simon Cowell was adapting the show for U.S. audiences to compete with his old show American Idol and it reunited him with Paula Abdul. But the show did not live up to lofty expectations. It fell into American Idol’s shadow, unable to find much real talent since most people were auditioning for the tried-and-true singing competition. Another indicator that it wasn’t all that great: you can’t name a single winner because they never went anywhere! Fifth Harmony was put together on the show, but placed third. The show wasn’t all bad, with the judging panel being a highlight. But it was bad enough overall to rank on the lower side on this list.
13. Skin Wars
Skin Wars has one of the more interesting premises in talent competition TV. Contestants show off their body-painting skills in this battle to see who the best artist is. And while it’s pretty interesting on the surface, in execution it can be a little boring. While many of the paintings are beautiful, intricate, and mind-boggling, they’re also paintings on a body canvas – painfully temporary. There’s not much payoff there. You’re not going to see the winner playing big stages or becoming wildly famous from their skills. It’s just a nice little showcase for niche artists, and for that, it fits pretty squarely in the middle of this list.
12. HGTV Design Star
Anyone obsessed with HGTV and home decorating will be pretty gung-ho about this talent competition. Unfortunately, it suffers in the same ways Food Network Star does, though less severely. While the participants are unabashedly fighting to have a TV show, and assumingly Joanna Gaines-like fame, they at least feel like fully formed people. The contestants include actual contractors, artists, interior designers, and architects that want to elevate their brands. None of them really get any level of television fame, but watching them compete does give viewers a few home decor tips!
Masterchef is one of many, many cooking competitions on TV. And while it’s infinitely a fun watch, it’s pretty middling as far as cooking talent shows go. One big benefit it has going for it is Gordon Ramsay, but he’s also pretty tame in this series. Who doesn’t love a screaming, berating Ramsay?! Cooking shows, in general, are some of the best on TV because they focus less on spectacle and more on actual talent. Which is why Masterchef earns pretty high marks on this list despite being a pretty benign reality show.
10. Face Off
Unlike its similar counterpart Skin Wars, Face Off feels consequential. The competitors are all competing to be special effects artists, a booming industry in Hollywood. And they’re all pretty impressive! Instead of just painting designs on bodies, they’re doing realistic SFX makeup and recreations of famous characters. It’s still just a middle-of-the-road kind of talent competition, though, since once you see one fish-face makeup depiction, you’ve kind of seen them all. But that doesn’t stop this series from showing some super impressive looks and giving artists a chance at propelling their careers.
9. America’s Next Top Model
One word can describe this show: iconic. The reality TV modeling competition became so much more than anyone could have predicted. The Tyra Banks helmed series introduced audiences to “smizing,” the power of a transformative haircut, and how brutal the modeling world could be. Sure, none of the winners really did anything of consequence. And most of the competitions were ridiculous and no indication of anything actually happening in the fashion industry. But we couldn’t help but love it all. It falls towards the middle of the rankings, though, because despite how big of an impact it’s had, it’s fallen pretty far in the last chunk of cycles. But when you go over 20 seasons, that’s bound to happen!
8. Last Comic Standing
This is one of the most innovative talent competitions to ever be on TV. While there are tons of singing and dancing competitions, there is only one comedy competition. The series pitted wannabe stand-up comedians against each other until one lucky winner earned their big break. Unlike many reality competitions, some of the winners and contestants actually went somewhere. Some of the famous alumni from the series include Amy Schumer, Iliza Shlesinger, and Doug Benson — all of whom have gone on to big comedy careers. The success of many former participants, along with the innovative format, rank this show pretty high!
7. RuPaul’s Drag Race
Is there any talent competition on TV quite as fun as this one? Doubt it. Drag Queens compete to be America’s Next Drag Superstar on this hilarious, catty, and inclusive bit of television. It’s just good old-fashioned reality TV, full of catfights and bitchy drama. But it’s also one of the most accepting TV programs there is. While many shows do poor diligence to LGBT characters, this one is framing an entire series around Drag Queens, a mainstay in the LGBT community. It gives a platform to those that may otherwise be shunned by the entertainment industry or, even worse, bullied by it. And that’s definitely something to admire!
6. Ink Master
This is a talent competition that takes real talent to be good at. Not just anyone can be a tattoo artist! The series pits aspiring artists against each other in extreme challenges, testing their abilities and teaching them a little bit along the way. It’s super entertaining to see what the contestants can do with a little color, a needle, and a skin canvas. It began the craze of tattoo shows on TV, but it’s always going to be the one that does the trend best. I dare you to watch and not immediately want tattoos everywhere!
5. The Voice
One singing competition to rule them all! The Voice has surpassed every other singing show in the last few years to come out on top. The show focuses solely on talent and voice alone, with judges choosing the successful contestants based on their singing skill alone. It also has one of the best judging panels on TV, and gave us the bromance that is Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. And also the less romantic coupling of Shelton and Gwen Stefani! The show allows people who have had record contracts in the past, but little success, to compete adding a new layer to the show. Cassadee Pope and the late, great Christina Grimmie are among some of the wildly talented contestants the show has bred. With fun judges, a fair system, and supremely talented singers in its midst, the show definitely deserves a high ranking!
4. America’s Got Talent
In a ranking of TV talent competitions, you can’t forget the biggest talent show of all: America’s Got Talent. The show focuses on a broad range of talents, not pigeonholing anyone into “singers” or “dancers.” It will bring you back to the days of sitting in your high school auditorium watching the yearly talent show. You never know what you’re going to see on that stage! There is extreme variation in the contestants and what their skills are. You have little kids and the elderly competing side by side, with race and ethnicity diversity throughout. It’s just good, clean fun and will wow you with the things some people are able to do!
3. Project Runway
Make it work! And make it one of the most entertaining reality TV talent competitions of all time. The show follows aspiring fashion designers as they try to win a cash prize, a collection at New York Fashion Week, and the means to launch their own line. The series shows the diversity among designers and how objective fashion can really be. It delves into how much hard work it really is to create cohesive looks and styles that are flattering, stylish, and actually make sense!
Since fashion is always changing and evolving, it’s always thrilling to see what each new season will bring. Also, don’t rewatch season one if you don’t want to be reminded of early-’00s fashion nightmares! The show has launched the career of Christian Siriano, and brought Tim Gunn into our lives, so it definitely deserves a top spot!
2. American Ninja Warrior
Adapted from the Japanese show Sasuke, the series is the ultimate in physical talents. Contestants compete in a complex obstacle course, trying to get the best time and just try and finish! What makes it unique is the years the show has spent cultivating talent, introducing us to stand-outs and making them our favorites, and the exciting new challenges at each qualifying and final round. Everyone has their favorites on the show who return year after year. And there are always thrilling newbies waiting in the wings, showing off insane ability. You’ll even find yourself thinking you can do this yourself! You can’t, but you can sit on the couch and enjoy all the impressive action!
1. Top Chef
Top Chef basically invented — and definitely perfected — the elimination style you see in many talent TV shows today. The “quickfire round” followed by the “elimination challenge” is a format that almost every show follows and it all began here. So, it’s pretty iconic. It’s also the first cooking reality TV competition of its kind to air on TV and it introduced America to something we had no idea we needed so bad. There are few things as drool-inducing and relaxing as watching people cook amazing dishes on TV, that’s just a fact. It remains one of the most consistently entertaining and innovative shows on TV, constantly changing up the locations and tweaking the format to keep up with today’s changing TV landscape. After over a decade on television it hasn’t waned, and for that, it’s the number one talent competition on TV.