Grimes, Nick Lachey, and will.i.am, three of the judges on the new singing competition Alter Ego, which premiered on Wednesday, said the show’s technology heightened contestants’ humanity. Contestants in the singing competition perform as computer-generated avatars of their own design.
“This is your spirit, tailored,” will.i.am said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel. “This is like your passion, tailored.”
The contestants design their avatars, which include flamboyant hair and costumes, and even wings in one case. They perform wearing a facial capture headgear that transforms them into the avatars the judges see.
Grimes, 33, who released her first album in 2010, said the popularity of video games has made audiences comfortable interacting with avatars.
“It’s taking to the next level this giant movement that is already happening,” Grimes said of the show.
Lachey said he was skeptical about singing avatars, but was moved by the way the avatars captured contestants’ emotions. The 47-year-old Lachey said Alter Ego will display just as many tears as competition shows like American Idol.
“There’s such a humanity, despite all the mind-blowing technology,” Lachey said. “If the alter ego is crying, you see that. The alter ego has, literally, tears running down the face.”
Will.i.am said he was also moved by the humanity underneath the avatars.
“There’s humanity just zapping you coming out of all these different angles,” will.i.am said. “It’s the bridge between ultra-animated, ultra-technology, humanity, colorful, bright energy [and] love.”
The show’s fourth judge is Alanis Morisette, who was not part of the TCA panel. Rocsi Diaz hosts Alter Ego.
The 46-year-old will.i.am is a founding member of Black Eyed Peas, solo artist and producer. Will.i.am said all musical artists adopt a persona when they perform, so Alter Ego allows artists to take on personas that would not be possible with wardrobe and makeup.
“This is beyond makeup,” will.i.am said. “This is beyond a hat and glasses. It’s beyond tailored suits that fit you perfectly.”
Grimes recently submitted a digital avatar for a profile in The Face magazine. She said she related to the pressures on singers’ appearances because she was criticized for not wearing makeup in her early performances.
“I just slowly started feeling this pressure to be physically beautiful,” Grimes said. “I think [Alter Ego] could really democratize the music industry and make it less about people who look the part.”
Grimes said she also struggles with being the face of her music, saying she wanted to support Alter Ego‘s technology that allows people to express themselves without being in the spotlight.
“This show represents a future in music where there’s a lot more possibility for different types of brains,” Grimes said. “We don’t need to be super confident, always good on camera, always happy to perform without anxiety.”
Yet Grimes said the Alter Ego performers only became more interesting to her once she saw their true forms. The “Oblivion” singer said many contestants were hiding qualities under their avatars that they should have embraced all along.
“The things that might have made that person think they couldn’t be a performer actually made them a more unique performer,” Grimes said. “I feel like that was a really beautiful thing.”
Lachey sang with the boy band 98 Degrees before becoming a solo artist. He competed on another Fox singing show, The Masked Singer, in which performers hide their identity.
The Masked Singer features celebrity contestants wearing elaborate costumes to fool the judges. Lachey said he observed Alter Ego contestants become liberated in their singing, the way he felt liberated singing as Piglet on The Masked Singer.
“You would maybe do things, try things, experiment with things as Piglet that you wouldn’t do as Nick Lachey,” Lachey said. “Stepping into an alter ego gave them an opportunity to truly feel liberated, and let their true talent shine through.”
Will.i.am stated that he became a songwriter for other artists in order to express different personalities. He claims that if Alter Ego technology had existed when the Black Eyed Peas formed in 1995, the three founding members would have created additional personas.
“You could be as many different versions of yourself, more feminine, more masculine,” will.i.am said. “This technology gives you complete freedom.”
Alter Ego airs on Fox on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9 p.m. EDT, and on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in the future.