LOS ANGELES—Hey, kids, are you falling short of your pop stardom dreams? With so many TV talent shows after you, there's scant excuse for reaching adolescence without a record deal.
Among the options is "The X Factor," Simon Cowell's extravaganza, with the door open to contestants age 12 and up. The finalists picked last week include more than a dozen solo and group singers under age 18 -- but they face competition from wily adult contenders, including a 60-year-old.
"The Voice" (minimum age: 16) and "American Idol" (15) also pit the young against the old, or at least older, this being youth-obsessed television. "America's Got Talent" has a no-ages-barred policy.
There are, however, level playing fields for tender talent. The Hub channel's "Majors & Minors" is exclusively for aspiring pop stars from 10 to 16, while Disney Channel's "Next Big Thing" (aka "N.B.T.," also on Radio Disney), accepts those ages 13 to 17.
"Majors & Minors," airing 7 p.m. EST Sunday, tracks 12 youngsters through a season of work and competition with the help of pop singers including Brandy, Avril Lavigne, will.i.am and Jennifer Hudson. Colbie Caillat is this week's mentor, with Adam Lambert set for Nov. 13.
No contestant is eliminated but one "star-in-the-making," as the show puts it, gets a record and concert deal with the RCA-Jive Label Group. The winner will be picked in January by the show's producers, vocal coaches and others who work with the youngsters.
"I feel like some of the other shows that are pure competition shows are very dismissive," said executive producer Evan Bogart. "We think all 12 kids are very talented. ... For us, it's a shame to send them home after a week or two weeks. Let's give them the benefit of all they can learn."
Brandy, a child performer who starred as a teenager on TV's "Moesha," was attracted to "Majors & Minors" for that reason. She's a recurring mentor.
"I started very young and always wished I could get in touch with famous people that inspired me and already experienced things I hadn't and I wanted to know about," she said. "I thought it would be great to be a part of these young artists' lives and give back to them what I've learned in the industry."
The 32-year-old also is struck by the generational difference. "The talent is insane now," Brandy said, and has a wealth of ways to get attention.
"There were fewer opportunities when I was coming up. There wasn't `American Idol' or `Majors & Minors.' `Star Search' was the only show out there. You had to grind and grind to be discovered," she said.
Talent and the ability to handle the show's challenges were key in choosing the contestants, Bogart said. And there was another important element.
"I wasn't going to cast anyone who was overtrained. I didn't want to spend three weeks `de-learning' anybody," he said, adding, "We saw plenty of `pageantry' kids, those who were told every step to take for every note."
Instead, he wanted youngsters who "were primed for someone like myself to step in and say, `I know what you're going through and I want to help you,'" said Bogart, a songwriter (including Rihanna's "S.O.S.") and music executive.
"N.B.T." takes a more traditional approach, with its compact field of five contestants gradually whittled down by viewer voting over 10 weeks. The winner will be announced during a Dec. 7 live concert.
The contest, with episodes debuting Fridays, offers a "great way to showcase brand-new talent and expose them to our audience, who's looking for other artists to relate to and get excited about," said Kelly Edwards, Radio Disney's executive director of music and programming.
"N.B.T." launched on Radio Disney four years ago and branched out to TV in its second year. It gives singers a potential entry point to the
Edwards spots contenders in clubs, online, through video submissions from kids or their families and with the help of talent representatives.
"I joke that I'm like a 12-year-old," Edwards said, with her radar always on for new performers who will appeal to preteens and teenagers. "I found some of my favorite artists looking on YouTube, some of them kids who are not looking to be discovered but are expressing themselves online."
The winner gets Disney concert exposure -- season two winner Jasmine Sagginario opened for Justin Bieber -- and a shot at recording. But, as with other talent contests, it's not all about being No. 1. Season three finalist Coco Jones is co-starring in a 2012 Disney Channel movie, "Let It Shine."
Contestants who "resonate with the audience and who have the talent and skills" can find opportunities at the Walt Disney Co., Edwards said.
Grown-ups need not apply.