Tuesday, February 15, 2005
First, I will freely admit that I am an American Idol fan...I've watched nearly every episode since the show began. I cheered when Kelly and Ruben and my girl Fantasia won out. I was miffed when personal favorites like Tamyra Gray, Ryan Starr, and Latoya London got voted off before lesser talents did. I've snickered at Ryan Seacrest's smarmy "charm" (including and especially his stupid "Seacrest Out!" tagline) and rolled my eyes at Randy Jackson's incredibly tired urban hipster routine (if someone of his years really goes around saying things like "you did your thang, dawg" all the time he really needs a intervention from people who know and love him...it's okay to be a grown-up, RJ.)
I've found it ironic that Paula Abdul (more testy than perky this season for reason...guess the Polyanna tag finally got on her nerves), a singer of decidedly limited range and ability, gives earnest advice to would be pop stars who have instruments far superior to hers. And I've decided that, while I often agree with him, Simon Cowell needs to stop reading his press clippings and stop trying so hard to live up to the snarky persona he's crafted for himself (or at least get better writers for his "impromptu" quips and insults.)
All that said, it's apparent that while AI makes for "good" television (in a decidedly "guilty pleasure" sort of way, of course), it is also part of the problem...and definitely not part of the solution...when it comes to the state of popular music these days. Short sighted, much more concerned with commerce than with art, and presuming that pop music fans have the attention spans of fruit flies (which, unfortunately, is too often true), AI is all about style over substance and, apparently, quite proud of that fact.
The "kids" (they've raised the age limit to 28 this season) aspiring to follow Kelly, Ruben, Clay, and Fantasia up the charts have to cope not only with the capricious whims of the judges (who will champion someone's uniqueness one week only to slam them for being too unique the next), the kareoke on steriods formula, the silly voting "system" that allows people to vote as many time as their redialing programs will allow (so that Seacrest can boast that "18 zillion votes came in this week"), and, worst of all, the hypocritical mixed messages about who and what the show is looking for.
Cowell, Jackson, and Abdul will blather on pompously that they're looking for someone "fresh", "original", "unique", "different" but, when push comes to shove, they shy away from traits like that (Jackson especially seems perplexed by anything outside of his comfort zone..."Dude, I wouldn't know that to do with that") in favor of those with perceived mainstream appeal.
The "kids" hear "be original...but not too original"..."be different...but sound just like whatever's hot on the radio now"..."be hip and fresh...but don't scare the old folks (rockers? hip hoppers? yeah thanks, but no thanks)".
They put the contestants through weeks of having to struggle through performing music older than they are (Motown, Bee Gees, Barry Manilow, Big Band, etc., etc.) and when it's all done they will put them through the pop "blanderizer" trying to purge any lingering hints of originality in favor of shaping them to fit into the myopic, anal retentive format of American pop radio with an eye towards having immediate success rather than building lasting careers. (Kelly...especially with her second CD...and Fantasia managed to have a great deal of their personality infuse their music despite the best efforts of their handlers...but they are exceptions that sadly prove the rule.)
I'll continue to watch...AI has a cheesy charm despite its shortcomings...but I'll also continue not to expect much from the show (which will allow me the luxury of being pleasantly surprised when and if some interesting music escapes the AI grinder with its integrity more or less intact.)