I hate reality TV. Always have. Now, there’s a few exceptions, for shows like “Mythbusters” aren’t only entertaining, they’re educational! But singing shows, I roll my eyes at every one. It’s overdone and has been for a while now.
Then why oh why do I end up setting that DVR for “American Idol” every January?
I’ve been watching the show since season one. It’s my guilty pleasure, my “I’ll never talk about it openly” show. This show has a history of pissing me off. It wasn’t until David Cook in season seven that my favorite actually won. My favorite hasn’t won since. I’m rarely in tune with the rest of America though, which is why I often wonder how this show ends up on my season pass every year.
My daughter was 4 years old when “American Idol” premiered. My son was just born. Now my daughter, someone who loves to sing, is a year away from audition age. It didn’t occur to me until she said something yesterday that kids have grown up actually aspiring to be one of the 100,000 to audition each year. It’s been ingrained in their minds by just watching the show during their upbringing. One of my daughter’s teachers has earned rock star status in her school just because she auditioned for American Idol once, before she became a teacher. It’s quite surreal the impact this crazy show has on the kids who ended up watching it because their parents did.
Still, watching this show can be very infuriating. Every year I sit through the judges’ hidden agendas, trying to manipulate the results through comments and tactics like judges’ choice songs that are so incompatible with the singer it makes a cruise ship performance more respectable. Oh, and the clichés like the vocal sounded like they were on a cruise ship. Sure, this heavy handedness has waned a bit since Simon Cowell left, but that’s the other problem. Simon Cowell was half the fun. He was cruel, but it was a tough love these kids needed. That’s the biz. He’s not anywhere near as entertaining on “The X Factor” which I watched at first just so I could see Simon Cowell. I stopped.
Every year I watch at least one bad contestant go farther than they should. I’ve dismissed it though, for I believe in the power of “Vote For the Worst.” Every year someone from the South wins it (with one exception) because there’s a strange power to the southern voting block that has seeped into other reality shows as well. I don’t want to speculate that people who live in these areas of the country have no life, but the evidence is pretty profound. If you’re a contestant from Los Angeles, you don’t stand a chance.
This year especially I heard the complaints, WGWG. White Guy With Guitar. Oh no, you all have that wrong. It’s WSGWG. White Southern Guy With Guitar. Only Lee Dewize doesn’t fit that profile and look what happened to him. The South makes superstars I’ll tell ya!
Every year I watch a finale with delight (the two hour closing freak show is half the fun), smile over the coronation with confetti, hugs, and tears, and turn off the TV knowing I’ll never hear from most of these people again. Our time together is done. In the past several years, I’ve bought on iTunes one David Cook album and one Adam Lambert single. Oh, and the Clay Aiken Christmas album. I still really love Clay Aiken (he was my first true “American Idol” crush).
Every year I see the phoniness of the entertainment biz on full display. Back in the early seasons they couldn’t pay a top selling recording artist enough to appear on the show. They were blasted by those in the business as not being a legitimate way to foster young talent. These people are undiscovered for a reason. Once American Idol became a hit machine though musical artists started lining up. Many started using it as a promotional tool without any regard to the young singers on the stage who want to be like them. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen these kids perform with an artist who took the stage and strutted around up front pretending these kids weren’t there. The truly gracious artists, the ones that collaborated on stage rather than steal the spotlight, have usually been classic rockers and country artists. Or former contestants that do remember what it was once like for them. You won’t see a pop star like Lady Gaga be that gracious, yet she gets air time anyway. Then again, if these kids want to pursue music, they need to learn the harsh realities of the superstar ego. It isn’t just the musical artists though. TV and movie stars are constantly appearing in the audience trying to get in their shameless promo opportunity. It’s distracting from the real intent of the competition.
Yet, despite all this animosity, I know why I still watch “American Idol.” It’s the real intent of the competition that keeps me coming back every year. My favorite contestant may rarely win, but at least they were given a shot. It’s a harsh world out there and it’s hard for people outside of Los Angeles or Nashville to get attention (or even in those places). Lives are changed. Only a small fraction of these contestants go on to be recording artists for a living. A recent article in The Daily Beast
showed that most of the former idol contestants are working other jobs or still struggling in music. But where else would these people have an opportunity to at least chase that dream? These former contestants at least have knowledge that they tried. To some that’s little consolation, to others it means the world.
By watching, once in a while a true gem comes along that you remember for ages with a smile. Clay Aiken’s “Solitaire” making guest judge Neil Sedaka cry. Bo Bice’s “In A Dream.” Constantine Maroulis stunning us by taking on “Bohemian Rhapsody” (something unheard of at the time). David Cook’s “Billie Jean” and “The World That I Know.” The fake Clay Aiken being surprised on stage by the real Clay Aiken. Adam Lambert and Elise Testone both rocking “Whole Lotta Love” even though Led Zeppelin is way too cool for this amateur hour. Speaking of Adam Lambert, could you imagine Kiss making an appearance on this show for any other contestant? There’s also Joshua Ledet this season proving he’s the second coming of James Brown. I could go on and on, but that would only prove that yes, I have watched this show for eleven seasons.
By continuing to watch “American Idol,” I’m showing my belief that despite favoring certain types of contestants, America is smart enough to look through the bull crap of the Hollywood promotional machine and see the genuine talent that’s before them every week. Viewers want to believe that the common person from small town America can make it in the big time. It’s in the power of the people to make that happen. What other forum gives America that kind of power? Where else can a 21 year old son of a pawn shop owner from rural Georgia get a lucrative recording contract? There are stories behind every contestant and we soak in them all because in the end, it makes us feel better.
So yeah, in a nutshell, that’s why I still watch this show. Will season 12 make it on my DVR? Probably. Will I let my daughter audition for American Idol? Never.