How Canada’s ‘The Launch’ Is Retuning the Reality Singing Competition Formula

Says Big Machine Records chief Scott Borchetta, who conceived of the show: "We might really have something here."

Scott Borchetta, Jennifer Nettles, Ryan Tedder
Mark ONeill

The Launch,” Big Machine Records President/CEO Scott Borchetta’s singing competition on Canadian Television (CTV), is getting a second season, having landed an exclusive worldwide distribution deal with Sony Pictures Television (SPT). The show is set to begin filming in Toronto this coming Fall for the 2018-19 season.

After just one season on the air, the show has seen success from its graduates the likes of which most reality competition shows strive for: six of the series’ singles have seen major traction, including four No. 1 songs on iTunes Canada: POESY’s “Soldier of Love,” Logan Staats’ “The Lucky Ones,” Elijah Woods x Jamie Fine’s “Ain’t Easy,” which was recently certified platinum, and The Static Shift’s “Wide Awake.”

That success, Borchetta tells Variety, is validation that “we might really have something here.”

The idea for “The Launch” came to Borchetta shortly after completing his final season as the in-house mentor on “American Idol.”

“Fans want new music immediately, instead of having to wait 20-plus weeks to get to a winner,” he says.

To do that, he envisioned a show where at the top of the hour, artists would be paired with a producer and original song. The format is simple: in each stand-alone episode, unsigned artists audition for the opportunity to learn, record and perform their version of a new original song by a world-famous songwriter/producer. The contenders are mentored by a panel of internationally renowned artists — the first season featured Shania Twain, Boy George, Fergie, Alessia Cara, Nikki Sixx, Julia Michaels and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles — and choose songs written by such hitmakers as One Republic’s Ryan Tedder (pictured above at right with Nettles and Borchetta), Busbee (Pink, Shakira, Blake Shelton), and producers Dann Huff, Ian Kirkpatrick (Jason Derulo and Selena Gomez) and Stephan Moccio.

The concept differs from shows like “The Voice,” which releases cover songs on iTunes every week. “You’ve got to be a little more creative with the audience to give them something that they really are intrigued by,” says Borchetta, who famously signed and helped develop Taylor Swift. With covers, he explains, “You’re redoing all of the great songs, so ultimately, how special can you make it?”

Borchetta also wanted to turn the process on itself. “We wanted to make sure that we created the record in the image of the artist,” he says. “And that’s why [“The Launch”] isn’t a show for somebody who doesn’t have any experience. It’s not for that person who’s only done karaoke in their bedroom. That is really critical. We’re not looking for a season long arch of taking them from completely undiscovered in their bedroom in Texas to winning the show. We are looking for the person that’s ready. They just need a great song, a great producer and a label, and they can launch.”

With one season in the can, and plans to get “edgier” the second year, Borchetta has his eyes on expansion beyond Canada.

“We wanted to go out and say: we think there’s a hit song, and we think this act is ready. Canada, what do you think?” Borchetta says. “Hopefully, someday, we’ll be able to say: America, what do you think? Great Britain, what do you think.”

The show is now accepting applications for auditions. The deadline for submission is Monday, June 11 at 11:59 PM ET. For all casting details and updates, head to CTV.ca/TheLaunch.