In 2010, Conan O’Brien took the reins of The Tonight Show. Ratings failed to thrive, Jay Leno wanted his spot back and, in the end NBC and O’Brien parted ways in what, to most of us, appeared to be less than friendly terms.
So, when Jay Leno left the late night ranks for real, real questions arose about who could take his spot, and if there were any chance for such an individual to succeed.
Enter Jimmy Fallon.
Fallon had succeeded on Saturday Night Live and gone on to success as the host of Late Night. He got the nod as Leno’s successor, but questions lingered about whether one of the quirkiest of all late night personalities could thrive in the highest profile spot in the business.
It turned out just fine.
In Fallon’s first months on the air, his exploits included a history of dance segment alongside Will Smith, a follow up installment in history of rap series with Justin Timberlake, a lip synch battle with Joseph Gordon Levitt, and an inspired reimagining of “Let It Go” with Idina Menzel and The Roots (right after John Travolta flubbed her name at the Oscars). In doing so, Fallon held nothing back—capitalizing on what was hot, what was topical, and on an innate sense of what his audience would most like to see—spanning late night television and the YouTube audience that has expanded his reach in remarkable ways.
What can a cappella group learn from Jimmy Fallon’s example?
Too often, artists are prepared to settle. They learn a killer new song and settle for that as their crowd pleaser or their statement or their new signature piece. Or they develop a new repertoire of songs chosen to fulfill certain interests and flesh out a comprehensive set for an upcoming concert.
But what about doing more?
Consider the Pentatonix model of releasing new YouTube videos of current hits or mashups or medleys. It’s not easy, but in staying on top of the current trends and thinking about what they can give their audience that will truly appeal to them, they’ve managed to stay the all-around most relevant a cappella group in the world for three years and counting.
It’s possible Jimmy Fallon will run out of rabbits to pull out of his hat as he enters his second full year hosting The Tonight Show. More likely, though, I suspect he’ll keep pushing the envelope, keep innovating, and keep an ear out for what his audience wants to hear and see. Can your a cappella group say the same?