American Idol has become one of the most popular television shows of all time. The show has changed the way we view television, and also how we view musical talent. Each season it seems like more viewers watch than the previous television season. Now, the weekly results have become a segment of the morning news. More hour-long conversations are prevalent throughout workplaces in every city about the contestant performances each week. But the question I ask now is this: Is American Idol still relevent?
To really answer the question of relevence we need to go back to the creation of the show and the original premise. Honestly, I think Simon Cowell is a genius for creating the shows’ concept. Think about it: the show started with Cowell himself (an industry insider), Randy Jackson (from the production and performance side), then Paula Abdul (a performer who has experienced both highs and lows of the business). I can remember some of the early shows in which Cowell bristled at bad performances, and offered derogatory comments to those who could do better, but just had a bad night. “There are no bad nights in show business” he would exclaim. True! I grew to love what Randy Jackson would offer; especially when performers had minor pitch problems in tough spots of a song. Quite common, these pitch problems, but something that can be corrected by a top producer or music director, most definitely by a good vocal coach. Then there was the empathy of Abdul that seemed to drive Cowell crazy, but with the reality Simon and Randy dished out, sometimes the young performers needed a little “hug” to keep them going. It all looked good as the show went to Hollywood and the judges really put the contestants through rigorous situations that newer performers may face on the way to the top. Yes, all was well until the public started to vote for performances. Now I know many of you will read this and say here is democracy at it’s best. The public being able to choose what they like, and not record execs giving you what they think will sell! But, in watching the shows, I saw some real bad decisions choosing the best of the best. Or are they mistakes to begin with?
At this point of the blog I must tell you that I watched (past tense) American Idol every week in the beginning. I remember my last viewing like most remember their first date, or first kiss. It was during season three. The season Fantasia Barrino won top honors. As I watched the results of the weekly American vote was revealed. The judges seemed shocked to hear the results. The bottom three were: Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson (yes the Oscar winner), and Latoya London (Broadway’s The Color Purple). I know, many of you know the controversy surrounding this vote. Elton John’s words did not help to smooth things over by any means, saying the vote was racially motivated, and others calling the voting process itself into account. I’m not going to say anything about racism because as mentioned, Fantasia eventually won. As did Rueben Studdard before her. The problem seems to come from “America’s vote”. I know this is a major draw of the “reality” series. But, I would feel better if the judges had the final vote, or a panel of celebrity vocalists made the call. Not to say that the show has not given us some good performers. Even right after my personal last viewing season Carrie Underwood won and has not looked back. But what about today. Now that Paula Abdul is gone, Simon is about to leave after this season, and Ellen Degeneres has been added; I wonder if the show will still work?
I have my doubts. My reason for doubt is that I wonder what the judges will be able to say during performances. Randy seems less willing to offer solid musical critique, and Simon just seems to want to say mean things because that’s what drives the ratings. You know, I’ve been to some open auditions, and then some auditions by invitation only. The latter are the type for guys like Simon Cowell. Very few words are said other than a “thank you for your time” or “come back tomorrow”. He never would sit through some of those silly early auditions in the variety of cities. But AI now is the forum for crazies to come in and give everyone something to laugh at. That’s TV! But for a few, this is a serious opportunity. A small number of these vocalists’ have real talent, and deserve a shot at the top. I really like Ellen, but I wonder what she will offer some of these folks. I really wonder what American Idol will offer any serious singers. Maybe it’s a chance for another label or producer to notice their signing talent and sign them. If you are an aspiring singer, I wish you the best. And if you are going to an American Idol audition, use it to further your career, one way or another.